Mexico is one of the hottest beach vacation spots in the world. People travel from all over North America to bask in the sunshine and squish their toes in the pure, white sand. The waters are warm, crystal clear, and you might get to see a turtle or two running for the water.
There’s a somewhat hidden paradise in Mexico that tourists are just starting to get wind of. It’s called Tulum, and it’s located about 45 minutes from Playa del Carmen. It’s growing in popularity as one of the world’s premier beach destinations.
In the past, Tulum has been somewhat overlooked, thanks to its close proximity to Cancun, which is often called a mini Bora Bora. But the beaches of Cancun are often crowded, and tourists have taken to driving along the coastline in search of beaches that aren’t packed with people they don’t know.
This has led them to discover Tulum, and you should too. It’s on track to becoming just as crowded and touristy as Cancun in the next few years, but as of now, you can still find beautiful, pristine wonders without getting random strangers in your pictures.
If you haven’t been already, here are 25 reasons that you need to make a trip to Tulum a priority this year.
25 Consume Mayan History in the Form of Ruins
Whether you’ve watched the movie “The Road to Eldorado,” or you’ve heard stories of the ancient civilization in school, Tulum is a great place to check out Mayan history. This group has one of the most unique cultures in history, and there’s still a lot of mystery surrounding some of their buildings and practices.
There are ruins all over Tulum, but one of the most famous is Chichen Itza. This massive structure has been named one of the new wonders of the world because it’s incredible that the ancient pyramid, which is still in-tact, was constructed by such a primitive people. It’s nowhere near the beach, but it’s certainly worth the drive.
24 Lounge on the Best Beaches in Mexico
This may be somewhat of an opinion, but many people who have visited the beautiful beaches in this stretch of the Mexican coast say they’re the best they’ve ever visited, whether they’re swimming or basking.
Some of the most popular destinations include Akumal Beach, Las Palmas Public Beach, Playa Paraiso, Secret Beach, and Playa Ruinas. Each of these beaches offers stunning views of the Caribbean, including several layers of blue that can be seen from anywhere on the shoreline.
These beaches, for the time being, are also much less crowded when compared to other popular tourist destinations in Mexico.
23 Have a Close Encounter with Wildlife
The beaches are wonderful, but Tulum is a big region, and there’s a lot of jungle if you move inland. There are several national forest reserves including Muyil Forest and Punta Laguna Nature Reserve. There's also a great monkey sanctuary near Akumal Beach.
If you go on a guided tour through these jungles, you’re sure to see a diverse ecosystem of both plant and animal life. Don’t be surprised if you see monkeys leaping from tree to tree or even a jaguar.
On the beach, you’ll see sea turtles and iguanas. You’ll also see rope bridges above the roads for monkeys and other animals to run across. This is one of the world’s best eco-tourism destinations.
22 See Some of Mexico’s Best Cenotes (Swimming Holes)
There’s a lot of limestones all over Tulum, and over time, that limestone can collapse, forming a natural pit or sinkhole. It forms a cave of sorts with perfectly transparent groundwater for a natural swimming hole. In local terms, it’s called a cenote, and they’re all over the place.
These cenotes are not well-known among the tourist community as of now. You could easily have the little pool all to yourself. The heat in Tulum is powerful at times, so you’ll enjoy a dip in one of these cool pools.
21 You’ll Have Your Choice of Delicious Mexican Cuisine
If you could eat Mexican food every single day, that’s a good reason to go to Mexico. You can find excellent street vendors in the evenings with the best tacos and tamales you’ve ever had.
But Tulum offers even more than that. As it’s grown in tourist popularity, more chefs and restaurateurs have wanted a piece of the growing market. You can find a huge selection of vegan and vegetarian food choices as well as traditional cantinas, smoothie bars, and other amazing gastronomical options.
If you’re there in May, go to the Tulum Food, Spirits, and Wine Festival to taste some of the best cuisine in the world.
20 Enjoy an Authentic Mexican Experience
If you’ve ever been to major touristy destinations in Mexico like Puerto Vallarta or Cabo San Lucas, you’ve probably stayed in a resort and been treated to miles of restaurants and bars along the beaches. They all take US currency, and you can easily find a cheeseburger.
But if you crave a real, cultural experience, Tulum is a great place to visit. There’s more culture on the beaches in this area than in some other regions, but if you want an authentic experience, just drive a few miles inland.
You can walk along colorful shops and pick up some souvenirs, then stop at a taco stand for a fresh, authentic meal.
19 Stay in a Luxury Eco Hotel
Because of the extensive efforts being taken to preserve the wildlife and ecosystems along the beaches and in the rain forests of Tulum, there are a lot of eco-friendly amenities. They’re famous for their luxury eco-hotels.
In these establishments, you’ll see a lot of evidence of recycling and reusing. There are comfortable furnishings made from salvaged wood, deck chairs made from recycled plastic, and hammocks woven by locals.
They also work hard to conserve resources within the hotel, so you can enjoy all the perks of resort living without worrying about your carbon footprint.
18 Take a Zipline Tour Over the Jungle Canopy
The rainforests are fun to explore on foot, but the experience doesn’t compare to soaring over the treetops in a zip line. You’ll see the jungle from a perspective that very few have experienced, with up-close encounters and fun photo opportunities.
Look for a guided zip-line tour. Most take a few hours and include several zip-lining opportunities as well as opportunities to rappel down a rock face and go snorkeling in the cenote below.
17 Stay Out All Night Long
The nightlife opportunities are nothing short of world class. In some areas, it could even put Cabo San Lucas, the party beach of Mexico, to shame. You can hop from cantina to cantina, ordering your drink of choice and dancing the night away.
Many of these restaurants and clubs have outdoor areas where you can eat, drink, or dance, depending on the establishment. Some also offer opportunities to take a dip in the ocean with lights all around.
16 Swim in One of the World’s Deepest Cenotes
Outside of Tulum, you’ll find Kaan Luum Lagoon. It’s a typical beach area with gorgeous blue water and sand, as well as a boardwalk that stretches far into the water. But there’s a hidden surprise in the center of this lagoon: It’s home to one of the deepest cenotes in the world.
Although it hasn’t been measured, tour guides say that it’s 80 meters (262 feet) deep, but it’s not just the depth that makes it famous. The locals believe that the lagoon has healing powers, and if you take a swim there or collect mud from the lagoon to spread on your body, it will cure any ailments you have.
15 It’s Easy to Walk Around and Find Everything You Need (Or bike!)
Tulum is conveniently set up with tourists in mind. Unless you want to visit surrounding ruins or tour the in-land jungles, you shouldn’t need a car when you go. The region’s economic sector is growing rapidly with the influx of tourists, so more restaurants and shops are popping up all the time.
You can spend your days on the beach, resting under a cabana or lying in a hammock. Or you can walk along the beach front and into the town for accommodations, restaurants, entertainment, bars, shopping, and more.
14 It’s Very Close to Bacalar Lagoon
Bacalar is widely considered to be one of the most beautiful beach destinations in Mexico. This lagoon is a secluded, private beach area with huts built on the shallow water, just like in Bora Bora.
It’s also home to the Lagoon of Seven Colors, where you can see seven shades of blue, ranging from turquoise to deep blue. The trip from Tulum to Bacalar won’t take you long—about two hours by car or three hours by bus, and when you arrive, it will be worth every minute.
13 Munch on Fresh Fruit in Between Meals
Mexico is one of the largest producers of the world’s fruit, so most of the fruit we get in the grocery store comes from there. However, once it reaches the grocery store, it’s not fresh like it is in Mexico.
In Tulum, you can eat a variety of delicious fruits including green coconut, mangos, melons, pineapple, bananas, oranges, and papaya. You’ll also find lots of fresh fruit that’s popular in Mexico, but less popular in the United States, like guava, passion fruit, prickly pear, and jicama. Try any of these sweet treats sliced or in a smoothie.
12 Visit the Natural Habitat of Sea Turtles
When visiting a Caribbean destination, everyone is hopeful that they’ll get a glimpse of a baby turtle racing for the cover of the ocean, or perhaps a large turtle swimming beneath the surf. In Tulum, the chances of seeing a turtle are much higher.
If you visit between May and October, you’re likely to see thousands of turtles emerging from the powdery sands to race to the beach. The turtle nesting areas are protected by the surrounding nature preserves, so you can’t get too close, but it’s a tantalizing experience nonetheless.
11 Visit Sian Ka’an, a Nature Biosphere
Sian Ka’an is a protected biosphere where hundreds of animals and thousands of plants call home. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most ecologically diverse destinations in the world. The park is about 1,080 square miles, so you could easily spend a full day or two wandering around, taking in the breathtaking sites and getting glimpses of animals in their local habitat.
You can observe pumas, ocelots, and jaguars from a safe distance, and monkeys have been known to walk up to people there. The biosphere extends to the ocean, so you’ll get a glimpse at the Great Barrier reef too.
10 It’s Pretty Affordable by Resort Standards
There are exorbitantly priced luxury resorts throughout Tulum, but most resorts are pretty affordable. You’ll probably fly into Cancun, one of the busiest airports in the region, which makes the pricing competitive, and you can rent a car to drive the 90 minutes to Tulum.
Once you arrive, you can easily walk from place to place, so you can return your car. There are also hundreds of free things to do and experience, and restaurant prices are affordable.
It’s important to note that as Tulum gets more popular, prices may rise, so going now is a great option!
9 There Are Cozy Beach Bars Everywhere
You don’t have to fight through the crowds to order a drink at the bar, then scour the area for an empty table. There are dozens of small beach bars with sun shades and tables, so you can sit and enjoy a drink without the fuss.
You’re right on the beach, so if you want to sip a mojito while you wade into the water, feel free! They’ll collect your glasses when you’re done, even if you leave them on the beach. The atmosphere is exactly what you’d expect in a quiet Caribbean destination.
8 Do Yoga in the Yoga Capital of Mexico
Unless you’re a major yogi, you probably didn’t know that Tulum was a premier destination for yoga. The region is dotted with wellness spas, yoga studios, and spiritual retreats, perfect for those who want to practice at any level.
Of course, there are also classes on secluded beaches, so you can reach vinyasa to the sound of the water lapping onto the sand. If you’re not a serious practitioner, you can always take a class. You’ll learn from the best here!
7 Go Spelunking in Untouched Caves
Besides the cenotes all over the area, you can go exploring in the caves surrounding Tulum. It’s perfect for those days when it’s too hot to be inside. The cool air and water of these stunning underground caves will be a welcome reprieve.
One of the most popular spelunking destinations is a cave system next to Cenote Carocol. Stalagmites hover over shallow, reflective water. It’s hard to tell the difference between the top and bottom of the cave, and it makes for stunning photo opportunities.
6 Find Private Beaches
There are no privately-owned beaches in Tulum, even those in front of the resorts. However, you can find your own secluded area with virtually no people in sight. It’ll feel like you’re relaxing on your own private beach.
All you have to do to find these secluded areas is to go off the beaten path a little way. Follow the small pathways between hotels and resorts, and you’ll find unlettered stretches of beaches with white sand and gorgeous blue water, just waiting for you to arrive.
5 Explore the Area by Bike
As mentioned previously, the setup of Tulum is such that you can walk everywhere, but you’ll get around faster by bike. There are plenty of places to rent a bike and explore the area. In fact, you’ll probably see more bikes on the roads than cars. There are even places on the beach where you can safely park your bicycle while you’re there.
A bike is the perfect mode of transportation to take you from the beach to the many shops and restaurants that appear as you move inland. Just make sure you carry plenty of water with you, as it can get pretty hot during the day.
4 Catch the Sunset Over a Rocky Cliff
Not all of Tulum’s coastline is pristine beaches. There are many rocky cliffs overlooking the water. Most have stairs or pathways that you can walk down to reach a secluded beach area, but it’s a breathtaking view from the top of these outcroppings.
The sunset is particularly spectacular. As the sun starts to set, grab a drink from the many bars that line the beach, find a comfortable rock, and watch the colors of the sky and water change from blue to orange, pink, and purple as the sun sinks over the water. It can only be described as magical.
3 Go Swimming with Sea Turtles
You can watch sea turtles dash for the sea, but your encounter with them doesn’t have to stop there. Rent some snorkel gear for a few dollars anywhere on the beach and swim out past the shallow area. The water is crystal clear, and you’ll be able to see sea turtles and stingrays swimming through the water.
If you’re nervous about snorkeling on your own, go on a guided tour. Guides will teach you how to use the gear, and depending on the time of year, they can take you to known areas where turtles spend their time. Be sure to pack your waterproof camera because sightings are almost guaranteed!
2 Relax in Small Resorts and Hotels
The beaches in Miami are very nice, but the effect is slightly marred by the massive hotels and resorts all over the beach. All-inclusive resorts and fancy hotels can be nice, but when you’re looking for a pristine beach vacation without the commercial frills, Tulum is the place to go.
Instead, you’ll find smaller resorts and cute huts that blend in with the natural jungle and ocean scenery. The beauty is totally preserved, and you’ll be staying in paradise.
1 Tulum's Popularity Is on the Rise – Go Now!
The biggest reason that you need to make Tulum a travel priority is the fact that it’s growing so quickly. Right now, it’s escaped the curse of high-rises and overly-commercialized beach resorts, but in a few years, that might not be true.
Tulum isn’t overrun with people on holiday just yet. There’s still plenty of time to enjoy the peace and quiet of the beaches, the rustic charm of the beach-side hut, and the untouched beaches that make you feel like you’re on a private island.
References: under30experiences, culturetrip, travellemming, journalistontherun