Sparkling turquoise waters.
Private beach cabanas.
The sound of waves crashing along the shore as a gentle breeze blows over your sun-bathing body.
Sound like paradise? Pretty close. It’s Tulum, Mexico — the perfect vacation spot if you’re looking for a place to relax and get away from it all without having to tackle the crowds of other Mexican hot-spots like Cancun or Playa del Carmen.
This past August, we spontaneously traveled to Tulum while on a trip to Belize and Guatemala. We realized a week into our three week adventure that we had planned for too much time in Guatemala and a particular part of Belize with little to nothing available to fill so much time in those particular regions. After seeing a poster advertizing a water taxi from Caye Caulker, Belize (where we were staying) and Chetumal, Mexico, we realized we could add another country to our itinerary and explore the Caribbean coastline of Mexico for a few days. Because we’re usually so limited in the time we have on our vacations, deviating from the original agenda is not something we’re accustomed to. Tulum proved to be well worth the change in plans.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula region of Mexico, Tulum is a worthwhile destination to visit for its natural beauty and historical significance, even if you only have a few days to spare.
Here’s how to make the most of just 48 hours in Tulum:
[10 AM] – Swim in the Gran Cenote
Cenotes are underwater caves believed by the Maya to be sacred waters. Today they are hubs for snorkeling, spelunking, and SCUBA diving enthusiasts. The Gran Cenote is very well equipped to accommodate whatever level of adventure you seek. Much of the water is shallow and easy to navigate for more relaxed swimmers. For the more adventurous explorers, snorkels are available for rent to explore the underwater stalactites throughout the cave. SCUBA expeditions can also be arranged. The Gran Cenote is located about ten minutes outside of Tulum and can be reached by taxi. Expect to pay around 50 Pesos each way. Plan to spend at least two hours relaxing at the site. If you tire of swimming, there are plenty of places to sunbathe.
Head to downtown’s Tulum Avenue for a taste of the local cuisine. We enjoyed some spicy meatballs and fajitas!
[2 PM] – Head to Boca Plaia Beach for fun in the sun and sand
The beach is located just a ten minute cab drive from the center of town and is a great place to spend a relaxing afternoon. There are plenty of waves to play in, though not much marine life for snorkelers — unless you plan to venture further out. We recommend bringing your own snacks and drinks as the restaurants along the beach can be rather pricey. If you’d prefer to stay on land, join in with some of the local youth playing beach volleyball or flying kites. Just watch you don’t step on a nest of turtle’s eggs! They’re staked off and labeled to avoid disturbance.
[6 PM] – Watch the sun set along the beach
If you’re up for it, stick around along the beach to watch turtle eggs hatch or mother turtles come ashore to lay their eggs. Most of the hotels and cabanas along the beach arrange trips for you. They will come to your room to wake you and take you down to the beach during the time most of the turtles arrive or hatch. This will be a long night, but well worth it if you’ve never had the experience before!
[8 AM]- Visit the ruins of Tulum
Tulum’s main attraction is by far its Maya ruins. Although it is not necessarily the architecture of the site that impresses, its setting is spectacular. These fabulous stone structures tower along a beautiful cliff overlooking azure Caribbean waters. Allow an hour and a half to explore the ruins themselves, but spend another hour or two relaxing at the private beach accessible only from the site of the ruins. The site is open from 8 am – 5 pm, but be sure to visit early in the day if you want to beat the crowds arriving from cruise ships and day tours. Be sure to bring your bathing suit and a towel if you plan to swim.
Tulum is a popular destination among yoga tourists. Many of the hotels along the coastline offer yoga classes and workshops, as well as massage studios. You can also head to the Maya Spa Wellness Center, which is open from 8 am – 8 pm. Take a yoga class and follow it up with a relaxing massage or beauty treatment. Talk about the ultimate way to relax!
[4 PM] – Head downtown to shop for local crafts
The stores along Tulum Ave. offer some beautiful Maya and Mexican crafts. Because many of them offer the same or similar products, we recommend you shop around a bit before making any purchases to compare prices. You’ll find sombreros, pottery, ponchos, and more! Our favorite find was a wall hanging carved out of tree bark! After you’re finished shopping, take a seat at one of the open-air cafes, order some appetizers, and catch a Mexcian football match.
If you have more time in the Tulum area, you may also want to check out:
More Maya Ruins: The most popular site in perhaps the entire Maya world, Chichen Itza, is located within a few hours of Tulum. You will find plenty of tour operators offering day trips to Chichen Itza along Tulum Ave. in the center of town. Allow a full day for this excursion. Another nearby Maya site worth investigating is Coba. Located about thirty minutes from Tulum, these ruins will offer a less pristine impression of Maya architecture as they are not fully excavated and restored. Allow a half day for this excursion.
Photo Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mananetwork/358007257/
Other beaches: Playa del Carmen and Cancun are the most popular, though they will be more crowded than Tulum. If you like snorkeling and diving, then you’ll want to check out nearby Cozumel. Although these locations are not far from Tulum, it is best to stay overnight instead of attempting a mere day trip. This will reduce the stress of travel and allow you more time to relax on the beach and check out what the local towns have to offer.
Marine Reserves: Tulum is located near several beautiful eco and marine reserves. Each of these can be enjoyed on just a day trip, and you can arrange your excursion with any of the local tour companies in Tulum. It is not necessary to book in advance, unless you are traveling during peak tourist season. We recoomend the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve just south of Tulum. You will find an abundance of birdlife in the wetlands, as well as diverse marine life if you snorkel the reefs.
What else you need to know:
When to visit: As with other Caribbean destinations, the busiest — and therefore most expensive — time to visit the Maya Riviera is from November through March. The low season is June through August. Rates for accommodation will be lower and space in tour groups will be readily available. If possible, avoid traveling to the region in September and October as this is peak hurricane season. (Check the latest on cheap flights to Mexico!)
Health & Safety: Although parts of Mexico can be dangerous, the Riviera Maya is pretty safe. It is heavily patrolled by military and police to ensure the safety of its tourists as they are vital to the Mexican economy. Tourists here are subject to the same risks of petty crime — pickpocketing, etc. — as in any other part of the world. To protect your health, use only bottled water both for drinking and brushing your teeth. Avoid vegetables and fruits with thin skins as they will have been washed in the water and bacteria can absorb through the skin into the produce. Cooked vegetables are preferable. Be sure to consume only fully-cooked meats. As a precaution, bring appropriate medication in case you develop a case of traveler’s diarrhea, such as Cipro, Immodium A-D, or Pepto-Bismol.
Whether you have a week to spare, or just a few days, we hope you’ll consider an escape to the Riviera Maya for your next vacation!
Have you traveled to the Maya Riviera region of Mexico? Share your tips and experiences below!
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