Why Is Everyone So Obsessed With Tulum?
Just a few years ago, Tulum, Mexico, wasn't on many travelers' radars. Situated south of Cancún on the Yucatán peninsula, the quiet beach getaway is tucked far enough from the big city that it has, until recently, been a hidden gem. Well, the hidden gem was exposed in all its shiny glory — because the beach has blown up. Travelers are seeking out everything Tulum has to offer, but luckily it still has the essence of what made it such a perfect spot in the first place.
Tulum Beach is an endless source of oceanside activity, an ideal wedding and honeymoon destination, rich with an ancient Mayan history and Mexican culture, teeming with authentic cuisine, and still off the grid enough that it doesn't feel overly touristy. I've been lucky to spend time there over the past few years, and it never disappoints. In addition to stuffing myself with farm-to-table food and lounging for hours by a crystal-clear ocean, I once woke one morning to find a massive sea turtle laying eggs behind my beach house, swam in a deep cave whose roof opened to the dangling roots of an enormous tree, and overall took in the atmosphere unique to Tulum. Here's why people are obsessed with the place — and to be honest, I totally get it.
The Muyil River Float
The Muyil River Float at Sian Ka'an is one of the most tranquil things I experienced in Tulum. A local tour guide takes you on a boat over the turquoise waters of the Chunyaxche freshwater lagoon and shows you around the ancient Mayan temple "Ixchel," which is made of limestone and built around 1100 AD.
You then hop into the refreshing and slow-moving water of the Muyil and float slowly down a canal that is tucked away from the harsh rays of the sun. When you reach the end, the boat meets you and brings you back to where you started.
If you want authentic Mexican food, you can definitely find it in Tulum. Restaurare serves only traditional Mayan food — and it's all vegan. There are countless places to tuck into some of the most amazingly good eats, and most of them come with quite a view of the ocean or jungle, depending on which side of the main beach road you're on.
Travelers can also get a taste of other cuisine if they're in the mood for woodstove pizza from the island's Juanita Diavola, seafood, tapas, and more — it's honestly hard to find a place that isn't amazing.
The Mayan Ruins
There are several Mayan ruin locations in the vicinity of Tulum Beach, but if you want to make a quicker trip of it, then a visit to the Tulum Ruins is definitely your best bet. The site is just a few miles from Tulum, and the ancient structures sit above a cliffside overlooking the ocean.
The Mayan ruins of Cobá are spectacular as well but are farther away, so you will need to carve out a bit more time for these.
Countless yogis have discovered that Tulum is the perfect place for yoga retreats and peaceful getaways. While many people bring the yoga with them to the beach, there are plenty of places in Tulum itself that offer a variety of yoga classes.
Yoga Shala at Petit Hotel Tulum offers Ashtanga, Kundalini, Vinyasa, and Anusara/Hatha styles; Yoga Dicha — or Yoga "Bliss" — is a Tulum studio dedicated to yoga, retreats, workshops, and trainings; and Sanará Tulum is a self-described space to "breathe, heal, and be free."
Cenotes — or "sinkholes" in the ground filled with water, caused by the collapse of cave ceilings — are some of the most amazing natural wonders you can explore in and around Tulum.
In many cases, you can explore the underground water systems, while in other cases, you can swim in the waters above ground. Some of the more popular and family-friendly cenotes close to the main strip of Tulum are Gran Cenote or Cenote Dos Ojos, which have scuba diving options as well as snorkeling and swimming. To get away from the more touristy atmosphere, you can drive a little bit farther and sneak off to Cenote Samulá, which has rows of kiosks for food and shopping and quiet cenotes that are more secluded.
Many people opt to stay on the main strip of Tulum Beach that borders the ocean, but travelers should definitely make time to venture into the actual town of Tulum. There are wonderful shops and authentic Yucatán Peninsula Mexican food, and you can experience the real feel of the area with the people who live there.
When I visited, we walked into a seated area that turned out to be a restaurant serving the best tacos, tamales, beans and rice, guacamole, and fresh-squeezed juice I've ever had — and all prepared in the kitchen of the restaurant owner's own house!
The sandy Tulum Beach road is lined with shopping gems that you'd expect to see in the hippest cities in the world, but maybe not in a small beach town.
La Troupe's merchandise merges the culture of Mexico with impeccable design, colors, and fabrics. All of its products are made in Mexico by Mayan locals and community members. Mr. Blackbird Tulum offers unique handcrafted jewelry and accessories, and Josa Tulum clothing is a chic collection of pieces that effortlessly transition from day beachwear to evening attire.
Expect to run into wandering iguanas and adorable coatimundis (South American mammals from the raccoon family) — particularly at the Mayan ruins near Tulum Beach.
You may encounter dolphins, sea turtles, and colorful bird life. And if you decide to go scuba diving or snorkeling, a whole other world of wildlife is waiting for you.
The Action-Packed Adventures
If you're feeling adventurous, Tulum is a prime area to kite board and kite surf. Many places in the area offer lessons and intro courses for beginners, so don't let your inexperience stop you from checking it out!
The Beachside Dining
You can't go far when walking down Tulum Beach without encountering inviting signs offering drinks and seaside dining. There's nothing nicer than taking a break from the heat for a cold beverage and a quick bite. You may hear live music coming from some of the restaurants, especially at night, right about the time a nice ocean breeze blows in.
Posada Margherita had some of my favorite decor — with a full garden in the front, rustic furniture, and adorable wooden menus with the items hand-painted on them.
The Crystal-Blue Waters
One vacationer described the waters of a biosphere near Tulum: "A wild dolphin in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere. This was one of the most beautiful places I have ever been. It is home to thousands of species of flora and fauna. Some of the more commonly seen wildlife are dolphins, turtles, different species of fish and birds, manatees and crocodiles."
The Observation Tower at Sian Ka'an
Another can't-miss activity at Sian Ka'an is the observation tower. One visitor said, "climbing up these stairs that are practically slightly inclined ladders, you get high enough to look over all of the tree canopy. Just beautiful."
Watch the Danza de los Voladores — a breathtaking display that takes place on a high pole. The ancient ceremony is performed by five flyers who climb the pole, four of whom swing in time to the fifth's music.
Zamas Tulum is a place to eat, drink, sleep, and enjoy the essence of Tulum. The hotel is colorful and comfortable, with both individual cabañas and larger bungalows to stay in, a delicious restaurant, and unparalleled ocean views.
The Akumal Area
About a half an hour north of Tulum is Akumal, notable particularly for its incredible scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. Snorkel with sea sharks and sea turtles during the day, or experience the ocean come alive at night with a night snorkel.
You can also explore underwater caves and caverns with a scuba diving tour of the area and go sailing or fishing.
Xel-Há, meaning "where the water is born," is one of the world's largest natural aquariums. The all-inclusive park describes itself as "a place of unparalleled beauty; you can swim and snorkel among hundreds of multicolored fish that have made the river and the lagoon their home." You can explore Xel-Há by walking, by bicycling, or on the mini train, where you can "admire different species of flora and fauna in their natural habitat."
The park has caves, cliff jumping, zip-lining, snorkeling, rope swinging, swimming, hiking, kite flying, multiple restaurants and bars, dolphin and sting ray swims, and so much more.