It seems like Tulum is growing more popular by the day. Once a laid back beach town known for its Mayan ruins, Tulum is now full of pricey retreats and celebrity visitors.
Once a place gets so popular, what are travelers to do? Do we visit anyway, risking over tourism or do we stay away, risking missing out on this town at this time? Will traveling there support the local economy or make it more difficult for locals to afford living there?
There are no easy answers to these questions. However, sometimes there are compromises. As far as Tulum is concerned, you can compromise by visiting the town just for the day.
Tulum is easily accessible from other great towns of the Mayan Riviera (like Akumal). You can drop by for the day, see what all the fuss is about, and get back on the road before becoming overwhelmed by the town’s crowds and sky high prices.
Here’s your travel guide for what to do during a day trip to Tulum, Mexico.
Visit the Ruins
To start your day in Tulum, visit the Mayan ruins. The ruins do get crowded and the day only gets hotter as it goes on, so it’s important to get here first thing in the morning.
There are a couple entrances to the ruins. There’s a main entrance right off the highway along Av. Ruinas de Tulum. Surrounded by hotels, restaurants, and shops, this entrance gets crowded. However, if you need to grab a bite to eat or pick up some more sunscreen, there are plenty of shops around this area. Just a bit farther south on the highway, there’s another road. This route avoids the busy shopping area. At this entrance you can buy tickets from a salesperson or an electronic kiosk, which is a super convenient time saver.
Once inside, you can explore the ruins. The Mayan city of Tulum sits high atop cliffs overlooking the sea. The former port city thrived between the 13th and 15th centuries.
The city is quite well preserved, as far as Mayan ruins go. The area isn’t very large, so it won’t take up the whole day. Plus, once it starts to get warm, you’ll have a nice sea breeze to cool you off. Marvel at its palaces and temples and enjoy watching the local coati play.
Relax on the Beach
After visiting the ruins, simply spend some time relaxing on the beach. The ruins are located right on the coast, so you can easily walk down to the beach from there. There is a lot of activity in this area as well. There are boat or snorkeling tours, beach clubs, and restaurants.
If you’ve brought your own beach gear, simply choose a spot and relax. If you’d like to use a lounge chair, you can pay to do so at one of the hotels or beach clubs. One fun spot is Poc-Na, where they have lots of beach pillows for relaxing.
When you’re ready for some lunch, Kai Tulum Hotel & Beach Club is a good option. The stylish hotel has a restaurant right on the beach with a selection of food from traditional fare to Italian cuisine. It’s a great spot for a lunch break on the beach.
Keep in mind that depending on the time of year, there may be a lot of seaweed on the beach. Workers usually come by to clear it away, so it shouldn’t be too big a deal. Just don’t be surprised to see piles of sea stuff on those white sand beaches.
Swim in a Cenote
There are many cenotes all over the Mayan Riviera. Cenotes are natural pits filled with water that are common throughout the area.
One great option in Tulum is Gran Cenote. Gran Cenote is located about 6.5 km (about 4 miles) inland from the beach off highway 109. Admission prices may change, but at last visit a ticket was around $15 (USD).
Once inside the area, there are showers to rinse off, lockers to store your belongings, and hammocks for relaxing. You can also rent snorkeling gear if you haven’t brought your own.
Down at the cenote, you’ll find the large, water-filled cave replete with rock formations, vegetation, and little turtles. There is also a wooden deck where you can get in and out of the water or take a swimming break.
See the Town
Tulum is separated into a couple different areas. There’s Tulum town, or pueblo, which is a bit inland, and Tulum beach, or playa, on the coast. The pueblo and the playa areas are about 5 km (3 miles) apart, so you’ll have to bike or drive between them. There are lots of hotels, restaurants, and shops all over the area.
Over in the playa area, make sure to spend some time exploring. There you’ll find the hip beach clubs and trendy boutiques you hear so much about before visiting Tulum. This is where the popularity of the town is really clear — you’ll find cocktails that cost $15 and dresses priced at $300 (and we’re talking USD here). The prices here are way higher than the rest of the towns in the area (one of the draws of visiting only for the day).
While you’re there, though, treat yourself to one of those craft cocktails. There are plenty of well-known spots to choose from, but for a high quality beverage, stop by Gitano. The restaurant and bar is set in an outdoor space surrounded by palm trees with comfortable lounge areas and lights strung all around. Grab a drink and enjoy the atmosphere.
To get to Tulum, you have a couple options. You can take a colectivo, take a taxi, or drive a rental car.
Colectivos are the most budget-friendly option. Colectivos are public transportation vans. On the Mayan Riviera, the vans run from Cancun to Playa del Carmen and from Playa del Carmen to Tulum. The colectivos cost between 20-40 pesos and run every 10-15 minutes, depending on which route you’re taking. Travel Yucitan has some helpful colectivo information here.
Another option is to take a taxi. Depending on the size of your group and the distance you’re going, this can either be fairly inexpensive or a budget-buster. If you have three or four people and you only need to ride 15 or 20 minutes to Tulum, it’s pretty cost effective. Just make sure to always agree on the price of the trip ahead of time. If you get along well with the driver, you can sometimes even exchange numbers and he’ll come back and pick you up later.
Finally, if you have rented your own car, you can drive. Highway 307 is a straight, nicely paved route that runs from Cancun through Tulum (and continues farther). People often rent cars to get around the Mayan Riviera easily, so this is a good option as well if you’ll be doing a lot of exploring. The only issue is then you’ll have to worry about where to park in town.
Once you’re there, you’ll have to deal with getting around town as well. As mentioned, Tulum is separated into a couple areas, the town (pueblo) and the beach (playa). Plus, the cenotes are usually a bit outside town. It’s too spread out to walk, so you can rent a bike, take taxis, or drive a rental car to get around town.
As a beautiful town with historical sites and great food, Tulum definitely worth a visit. However, with its high prices and over-tourism, it’s perhaps best experienced on a day trip. That way, once you’ve had your fill of Tulum, you can head back to your home base. It’s the perfect compromise, my friend. ¡Salud!
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