Tulum, Mexico

Best Things to do in Tulum, Mexico

What to do in Tulum, Mexico?

Tulum is on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula. Once a quiet fishing village, this beach town has become one of the most popular destinations on the Riviera Maya. 

Tulum is best known for its wellness retreats, hip boutique hotels, and laid-back bohemian vibe. While you will certainly find these qualities here, the list of attractions is much more diverse. You can also enjoy miles of pristine beaches, social media-worthy scenery, ancient Mayan ruins, and a full menu of outdoor adventures. 

Here at Exceptional Stays, we have in-depth knowledge of this beautiful corner of the Yucatan. Here are the insights you need to have to ensure you place all the best things to do in Tulum on your itinerary. 


Top 12 Things to Do in Tulum

What should be on your list of things to do in Tulum Mexico? From art and nature to spa treatments, outdoor adventures, and shopping in one-of-a-kind boutiques, here are a dozen must-do activities for your trip. 

Tulum, Mexico


1. Take a Plunge into El Gran Cenote

Overview: You will encounter hundreds of cenotes in the Tulum area. These natural sinkholes occur when limestone cave roofs collapse, exposing groundwater below. The most famous and picturesque of these unique geographic features is El Gran Cenote.  

Why is it so popular? The lush jungle comes right up to the water, which is so clear you can see fish swimming far below the surface. Be sure to bring a mask and snorkel to get the full cenote experience. 

Duration: Half-day.

Perfect For: Families, couples, and snorkeling enthusiasts.

Why Go: A truly unique experience in surroundings you won't find anywhere else. 

Insider Tip: El Gran Cenote opens at 10 a.m. every day, so arrive then if you want to spend the whole day exploring. 


2. A Day of Sun, Sand, and Swimming at Tulum’s Beaches 

Overview: Tulum has a diverse array of attractions, but the beaches are still the stars of the show. Playa Paraiso has the most picturesque sands on the Riviera Maya, and it's long enough that it never gets overcrowded. If you're looking for something more secluded, Secret Beach in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve is an excellent choice. 

Families will enjoy a day trip to Akumal Beach, which has plenty of cafes, umbrellas, and a population of resident sea turtles. Playa Ruinas, fronted by ancient Mayan ruins and sea cliffs, and Las Palmas, a long public beach, round out the impressive menu of Tulum sands. 

Duration: Two hours to one day.

Perfect For: Couples and families.

Why Go: You can't visit the Riviera Maya without visiting the beach at least once, and you can find the perfect fit for your beachgoing preferences somewhere around town. 

Insider Tip: You can rent an umbrella, but many beaches have sand-side cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy the same views for the price of a drink. 


3. Underwater Adventures at the Great Mayan Reef

Overview: The Great Mayan Reef (also known as the Mesoamerican Reef) is the second biggest barrier reef on earth after Australia's Great Barrier Reef. It runs parallel to Mexico's Caribbean shoreline and is accessible from most major destinations on the Riviera Maya, including Tulum. 

If you venture under the waves, you might encounter manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, and other reef inhabitants. The surrounding waters have a large population of gentle but enormous whale sharks. 

Duration: At least one day.

Perfect For: Scuba enthusiasts.

Why Go: This is the largest barrier reef in the Northern Hemisphere and one of the most underrated dive destinations in the Caribbean. 

Insider Tip: Many of the most popular dive shops are on Highway 307, which is the main street in Tulum.


4. Step into the Past at the Mayan Ruins near Tulum

Overview: The Mayan Empire stretched across Central America well before Columbus landed in the Americas. Today, some of the most impressive buildings from this ancient heyday are on display near Tulum. One of the most impressive structures is a castle (El Castillo) perched on a limestone cliff. An adjacent temple contains well-preserved frescoes and examples of sophisticated Mayan writing.

Duration: Three or more hours.

Perfect For: Families, history buffs, and anyone with an imagination. 

Why Go: The limestone walls protected this settlement for centuries, making it one of the best-preserved examples of ancient architecture in the Americas. 

Insider Tip: Admission is 90 pesos ($4.50), but you also have to pay for parking, making package tours a more convenient and cost-effective option. 

Tulum ruins

5. Take a Pic with Daniel Popper’s Ven a la Luz Sculpture

Overview: South African sculptor Daniel Popper is famous for his whimsical, oversized sculptures. His Tulum installation, titled Ven a la Luz ("come into the light" in English) is one of his most impressive. Made of wood, rope, steel, and living plants, the 33-foot work depicts a woman opening her chest to welcome visitors, who can walk underneath the statue.

Ven a la Luz was once at the entrance of a local hotel, but it now sits in the Tulum Sculpture Park, which has other impressive installations that make it worth a visit. 

Duration: One to two hours.

Perfect For: Art lovers and anyone who wants to impress their social media followers.

Why Go: The sculpture is a popular target for Instagrammers, but it's impressive even if you do not want to snap a pic. 

Insider Tip: The sculpture is popular, but if you visit the park right after opening (9 a.m.), you can avoid the crowds.


6. Make the Scene at Tulum's Bars and Restaurants

Overview: Tulum is not known as a party town like Cancun. Its understated, slightly-upscale bar and restaurant scenes attract visitors looking to avoid the Cancun experience. You can enjoy a few daytime cocktails or cervezas at one of the chilled-out beach-side bars.  

At night, spots like Nana Rooftop Bar, Gitano, and Casa Jaguar serve drinks and electronic music in natural settings. You can also enjoy creative takes on local specialties like ceviche at open-air restaurants along the beach and on 307 Highway. 

Duration: Afternoon and evening. Bars close by 2:30 a.m.

Perfect For: Couples and single travelers. 

Why Go: Tulum's nightlife is more laid-back and mature than elsewhere along the Riviera Maya. The food is always creative and delicious.

Insider Tip: Central Tulum, around Calle Centauro, has cheaper nightspots, while the more upscale venues are near the beach. 

Tulum, Mexico

7. Mingle with Wildlife at Punta Laguna Nature Reserve

Overview: Punta Laguna Nature Reserve is an hour outside of Tulum. This protected area is home to one of the Yucatan's most unique species: spider monkeys. You can spot these small primates in the treetops, and the park also has populations of jaguars, pumas, howler monkeys, and dozens of tropical bird species.

A nearby Mayan village offers a look at the traditions and culture of native Mesoamerican peoples. If you enjoy nature, the park is one of the top things to do in Tulum.

Duration: One day.

Perfect For: Families and nature lovers. 

Why Go: The 12,000-acre park is teeming with wildlife and boasts well-kept trails.

Insider Tip: Guides are available at the park. Hire one to ensure you can spot the wildlife you came to see.  


8. Splash Your Way through the Day at Xel-Ha Park

Overview: Xel-Ha is a waterpark, but it is not the type of venue with wave pools. Instead, it has natural attractions like cenotes, caves, gardens, and beaches. The center of the park has a huge natural pool with plenty of aquatic life. You can snorkel in this natural aquarium, which has buoys and flags to mark areas where specific fish species live. 

Xel-Ha does have a few slides, ziplines, and a long lazy river for those who want a more traditional water park adventure. 

Duration: One day.

Perfect For: Families and anyone seeking a casual snorkeling experience. 

Why Go: The park puts many of Tulum's main attractions in one place, so you can hit cenotes, snorkeling, and beaches in a single day. 

Insider Tip: Xel-Ha is an all-inclusive park, and admission covers all food and drinking (including alcohol). Arrive early before you eat or drink elsewhere to get full value. 

Tulum water park

9. Get in Touch with Your Healthy Side at a Spa or Yoga Studio

Overview: Despite its scenic beaches, ruins, and water-related activities, Tulum is best known in travel circles as a wellness destination. The town is filled with spas catering to people in all budget ranges. Unique offerings include pre-Columbian treatments, such as Mayan sweat lodge treatments and massages using traditional herbs grown onsite. 

Yoga is also on the menu at studios, hotels, and wellness centers around Tulum. Whether you prefer Hatha or Vinyasa, an hour-long session is likely within walking distance. 

Duration: One to two hours. 

Perfect For: Couples, groups, and anyone looking to relax. 

Why Go: The natural settings and unique Mesoamerican treatments make for a unique spa experience. 

Insider Tip: Tulum is one of the few places to try a temazcal (traditional Mayan sweat lodge). 


10. Hiking: Venture into Tulum's Untouched Nature on Foot

Overview: Many visitors find nature in the fresh and saltwater settings around Tulum. However, land-based adventures are also on the menu. Some of the hikes are easy to add to your itinerary. Trails lead to Playas Akamal and Paraiso, and crisscross several popular cenotes areas. 

It's also possible to plan an inland adventure involving popular ecotourism activities like zip lining, mountain biking, horseback riding, and kayak excursions. 

Duration: 30 minutes to one day. 

Perfect For: Outdoor enthusiasts and families. 

Why Go: Hiking is the perfect way to immerse yourself in the lush landscapes that define inland Tulum. 

Insider Tip: You are likely to encounter mosquitoes on your Tulum walks, so carry insect repellant with you whenever you hit the trail. 


11. Strap on a Snorkel or Scuba Gear for Underwater Exploration

Overview: Anyone can don a mask and snorkel while visiting Tulum's cenotes, but it takes a bit of planning to find the best spots for true underwater exploration. Freshwater cave and cenote spots include Dos Ojos, Casa Angelita, and Casa Cenote.

You can venture out to the Great Mayan Reef. Many dive shops offer one or two-dive excursions. One of the best beginner reef spots is Cuevitas, which is a shallow spot with colorful reef life.

Duration: two hours to one day (for reef dives).

Perfect For: Certified divers and those who want to learn.

Why Go: It's rare to have world-class fresh and saltwater diving so close together. 

Insider Tip: Tulum is an ideal destination for diver certification. You can easily find a certified dive school offering PADI certification. 


12. Shop ‘til You Drop at Tulum's Boutiques

Overview: Tulum isn't a destination for malls or brand-name boutiques. However, it has some of the best shopping along the Riviera Maya. The Tulum Beach Road and Tulum Bazaar provide unique handcrafted items that can serve as souvenirs for your time in the Yucatan. 

Local wares are also on display at shops like La Troupe and Kaahal Home, which are boutiques selling handmade local goods and clothing. 

Duration: Stop by for 20 minutes or shop 'til you drop.

Perfect For: Couples, families, and retail enthusiasts.

Why Go: It's easy to support local craftspeople and businesses in Tulum. 

Insider Tip: Mercado Maya Tulum is the perfect spot to window shop and buy a few souvenirs. 


Top Excursions in Tulum 

Here are the top excursions in and around Tulum. Each of these is worthy of a day trip. 

Tulum, Mexico

Chichen Itza & Tulum Private Tour

Chichen Itza is another Mayan ruins site. You can combine both tours of both sites into one. Guides take to both sites by bus or private car. 


Cenotes Exclusive Guided Tour

While you can visit individual cenotes on your own, a private guided tour to whisk you to all the top freshwater sinkholes on the same day. The tour can help you get to the most popular sites at off-peak times so that you avoid the crowds. 


Isla Holbox Adventure Tour

Isla Holbox is a Caribbean island that appeals to ecotourism enthusiasts. In addition to hiking and kayaking, you can head to the water to dive with whale sharks. 


Reef Snorkeling

You don't need PADI certification to experience the colorful aquatic life of the Mesoamerican Reef. Snorkeling excursions to shallow portions of the reef will put you face-to-face with Caribbean sea life.


Private Sailing Cruise

A private sailing cruise allows you to experience Tulum from the water. You can opt for a trip to secluded beaches or a dinner and sunset experience. 


Best Things to Do in Tulum for Families 

The kids won't want to spend time in boutiques, clubs, or spas. Luckily, there are plenty of things to do in Tulum Mexico for families. 


Day trip to Akumal

Akumal Beach has a population of resident sea turtles. You can't touch these protected creatures, but you can see them up close in water and on land. Akumal has plenty of restaurants and ice cream shops. 


Swim with dolphins in a natural lagoon

Xel-Ha Waterpark is an excellent family-centric attraction. Families can swim right next to aquatic life in natural pools. The highlights for most visitors are the dolphins, which you can swim next to in a huge natural pool. 


Tulum’s beach clubs

Tulum's beach clubs aren't just for adults. Spots like Ziggy's Beach Club offer family-friendly experiences, services, and attendants who can help everyone in the family find activities that suit their interests. 


Enjoy an ice cream on Avenida Tulum

Avenida Tulum is lined with shops, including several serving ice cream. Spots like Aldo's are extremely popular for their homemade treats, which hit the spot on hot Yucatan days. 


Top Romantic Activities in Tulum 

Tulum is a popular wedding and honeymoon destination thanks to its picture-worthy settings and quiet vibe. There are plenty of things to do in Tulum for couples. Here are some highlights. 


Swimming in magical cenotes

You can head to secluded cenotes to swim together in crystal clear water. You can take a guided tour or try places like Cenotes Yaxmuul, one of the less crowded near Tulum. 


Dine by candlelight

Tulum's creative restaurants are perfect settings for food lovers. If food is your love language, beachside spots like Mezzanine, which serves Thai food, and Medetteranean-flavored Mi Amore are two of the most romantic options. 

romantic dinner

Diving Tours

Couples who want to experience adventures together can try a dive tour to the Great Mayan Reef or to some of the deeper cenotes. If you are looking for something slower-paced, you can opt for a snorkeling trip instead. 


Enjoy a Mayan clay treatment and massage

Mayan clay treatments rejuvenate your skin and remove toxins. Couples can book a treatment, followed by a relaxing massage or other wellness treatments.


Uniquely Tulum Experiences 

Tulum is a unique destination, thanks to its ancient ruins, unusual waterways, and diving attractions.


Go swimming in the crystal-clear water of a cenote

Tulum is one of the few places to find cenotes. These unique limestone sinkholes have completely transparent water. There are few other places in the world where you can swim in bodies of water this fresh and clear. 


Explore an ancient Mayan city

One of the most well-preserved Mayan settlements is located just two miles outside Tulum. Reasonable admission fees and a stunning setting on top of limestone cliffs make this one of the most unique ancient sites on Earth.  

mayan ruins

Discover the Great Mayan Reef

The Great Mayan Reef is one of the few places in North America to see whale sharks and other wildlife. This is the largest reef in the Northern Hemisphere, so it is a dream destination for diving enthusiasts.