Tulum Travel Guide

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Known for its wide, endless beaches and turquoise waters, Tulum is an eco-friendly destination, ideal for those wanting to connect with nature without sacrificing the sophistication of more crowded, modernized destinations. It has been attracting international travelers for over a decade. Many of them, along with nationals from all over Mexico, have settled here to mix with the local Maya culture.

Tulum, located about 90 minutes from the Cancun airport, means wall or fence in Maya. It is thought that in ancient times its name was Zama, which means city of dawn or morning.  You can familiarize yourself with this history and more in the Archeological Zone during the day - exploring the Maya ruins, or at night - during its light show.

Past the Archeological Zone, Tulum divides into two parts: to the east is the playa (beach) and to the west is the pueblo (village). Joining the two is a dedicated path to move easily (15 minutes by bicycle) back and forth on rental bikes. In the pueblo, there are grocery and liquor stores, pharmacies, a gas station, small retail stores, bars, restaurants, economic hotels and all the services you may need. The playa consists primarily of boutique hotels, restaurants, and spas. Both the playa and the pueblo provide unique shopping for handcrafts, boutique clothing and jewelry. For dining, you have the option of a beach setting or one of the more urban settings in the pueblo. In both, you'll find international cuisine from some of today's hottest new chefs. The two, rather obvious, factors to consider when choosing between the playa or the pueblo are price and setting.  The playa tends to be more expensive, but it does have the beach and its unique style. The pueblo, with more of a traditional Mexican flavor, is more economical and has better access to services, but is a taxi ride (of 100 pesos) away from the beach.

At the main plaza, and more frequently at the Casa de la Cultura, you can often find painting, photography and performance events. You can even take classes at the latter. If you want to have a cocktail at sunset, the beach is loaded with options, each one unique and creatively designed. If you need loud music to drink by, there are three dance clubs in the pueblo and music and dance in a number of the beach bars, depending on the day of the week.

The area is even more exciting for those wanting an active experience in the outdoors. First, there are a number of archaeological sites nearby - Coba being the most impressive. Also, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere is brimming with outdoor activities such as fly fishing, kayaking, and hiking. It even has a Mayan ruin one can get too via one of its many lagoons. If serious sport fishing or bird watching is your thing, Punta Allen is a short distance (though it takes about two hours to drive there due to road conditions) from Tulum. Last, and best, are the many cenotes nearby. These are freshwater pools formed in the limestone by underground rivers. The name comes from the Maya word dzonot, or sacred well. In the Riviera Maya, there are hundreds such wells, all shapes and sizes, to swim, dive, or participate in the extreme sports activities offered by local tour guides.

Lodging in Tulum is at least half the travel experience and unique to this destination. Ecologically sound structures, which utilize local, natural materials, predominate the sand dunes of the playa. They range in environmental impact. The few, more modern hotels offer the familiar range of services found in Cancun or the United States. However, the most common form of lodging is a variation of the traditional Mayan structure, called a palapa. Though some (all in the pueblo) hotels have 24 hour electricity, most use some form of solar energy and/or generators to provide electricity during certain hours of the day and night. Do not be daunted if this sounds too rustic for your taste. Tulum now has some of the most creative boutique and luxury hotels in the area that make it possible to have the best of both worlds.

Remember to pack sunscreen, bug repellant (insects come out in the evenings, especially in the summer months) and, of course, your swimsuit. Depending on the source of electricity your hotel uses, a flashlight may also come in handy.  

Where to Go in Tulum

TOP PICKS BY OUR LOCAL EXPERTS

Playa Mambo

expert pick

Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila Km. 7.5

8 boutique, beach cabins with thatched roofs and king beds.

Muyil

expert pick

Carretera Cancun Chetumal Km. 206

Maya town south of Tulum with ruins and lagoon.

Hemingway Restaurant

Carretera Tulum Boca Paila Km. 5.5

Very small, beach dining and bar, serves Italian.

La Zebra

Carretera Tulum-Boca Paila Km. 8.2

Tulum beach bar. Band & salsa lessons on Sundays.

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