Tulum Travel Guide

GENERAL INFO

Click to enlarge & read.

GETTING AROUND TULUM

Tulum is divided into 2 different areas: Tulum town center and Tulum beach zone. Decide what kind of vacation you are looking for- relaxation? Then the beachfront is for you! If you’re off adventuring, getting out of tourist trap spots- then stay at the town center for a more authentic feel! Traffic is CRAZY since there’s only one road connecting the town center to the beach- keep that in mind. It can sometimes take 45 minutes just to go 7km to/from town center/ beach so if you’re constantly driving to explore other parts of Mexico, then staying at the beachfront will add time to your drive. Taxi ride from town to the beach is usually around 250 pesos. Always try to negotiate if they throw an unreasonably price tag at you. You can always rent a bike to get around too- only takes 30 minutes to bike the path between the 2 areas in Tulum!

ACCOMMODATION

Click here to read my review on the airbnb we stayed in! Depending on the kind of vacation you want, there are a ton of options to choose from- there’s a range from budget to luxury. Note: the beachfront properties are on the pricy end. 

RUINS

Chichen Itza

Truly a one of a kind archeological site! It is one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. The most well preserved, excavated ruin here in Mexico- you will NOT be disappointed. Because it is fully excavated, there aren’t many shady spots and the weather is oppressively hot. Make sure you bring a hat, sunscreen & stay hydrated.

Some fun facts about Chichen Itza.

  • Mayans were astronomically aligned! The main pyramid functions as one huge calendar. It has 365 steps total: 91 on each side and 1 at the top. Each side represents each season- Autumn, Winter, Spring & Summer. Coincidence? I think not!
  • Clap your hands at the base of El Castillo stairs. You will hear an echo that resembles the Mexican Quetzal- a bird that’s considered sacred in the Mayan culture & native to the Yucatan area! Mindblow!
  • The Temple of Kulkulkan forms the shadow of a serpent twice a year during Spring/Autum equinox. The body of the snake slowly moves down as the sun sets and merges with the serpents head at the bottom of the stairs. I mean, major goosebumps!!

The drive from Tulum takes about 2 hours. Come right at opening/ early in the morning to avoid crowds because this place fills up quickly with tour buses dropping off tourists. Literally over 2.5 million tourists visit Chichen Itza every year! There is plenty of space here to roam freely and local guides you can hire on the spot right as you enter. When you are putting in the address in Google Maps, type in Chichen Itza Parking Lot instead of Chichen Itza. 

Chichen Itza Entrance Fee is 533 MXN Pesos which translates to $27 USD approximately

Hours: Monday – Sunday 8AM- 5PM (last entrance at 4PM)

P.S.  Tripods are NOT allowed & GoPro’s count as a “professional gear” so they’ll charge you an extra $3 for it

Coba

Coba means “waters stirred by the wind’, which explains why this settlement is tucked in between 2 large lagoons. Coba is located deep in the jungle and not easily reached. You will truly have an authentic Mayan experience here & feel like you’re on an Indiana Jones adventure.

The main ruin (Nohuch Mul Pyramid) is deep in the jungle and requires you to trek a bit. The civilization here was a thriving so many of the sites are spread far apart. Your day at Coba can last up to 3 hours if you walk the site, 1.5 hours if you take advantage of the bike rentals or an hour if you opt for the Mayan Uber, a chauffeured tricycle where you just sit and take in the sights. Both bicycle options are inexpensive and super fun- definitely opt for it!

Some fun facts about Coba:

  • Coba structures show influences from Teotihuacan (near Mexico City) architecture- evidence that inhabitants had contact with Central Mexico.
  • It takes 120 steps up to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid (the main one), and reaches 137 feet in height. This is the tallest temple pyramid on the Yucatan Peninsula! (unfortunately, due to the pandemic, you are no longer allowed to climb it- it may change)
  • There’s more than 50 sacbes (white roads) that have been discovered within the Coba settlement with 16 open to the public. All roads originate at the main pyramid and stretch out in the four cardinal directions; east, west, north and south.

Coba Entrance Fees: 80 Pesos // $4 Parking Fees: 50 Pesos // $2.50 Bike Rental: 50 Pesos // $2.50

Hours: Monday-Sunday 8AM-5PM

CENOTES

What are Cenotes?

pronounced “seh-no-tay”

Cenotes are natural sinkholes, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes: caves, semi-open & open. The Yucatan peninsula use to be a gigantic underwater reef millions of years ago and as sea levels dropped, the limestone land mass was exposed and the network of fractures created an underground river system. As of 2021, there are over 7,000 cenotes in Mexico!

Importance of Cenotes

The Mayans considered cenotes as entrances to the underground world where the Mayan Gods were and it was a place that provided fresh water for them. These sinkholes holds significance to them, which explains why most temples & villages are built near cenotes. Some of the cenotes became sacred sites where human sacrificial offerings were made- many had human remains & gold at the bottom (eeeek!!)

Here are my thoughts on the cenotes we visited!

Click on image to enlarge & read!

Here are some more photos for you to get a better idea of each cenote’s vibe:

DAY TRIPS

IZAMAL

Izamal is nicknamed La Ciudad Amarilla– The Yellow City. It was founded nearly 2,000 years ago by the Mayans and became a center for the worship of the supreme god, Itzamná and the sun god, Kinich-Kakmó. We were told the town was painted yellow in honor of Kinich Kak Moo, a manifestation of the Maya sun god to impress Pope John Paul II visit in 1993. Izamal is often referred to as the ‘City of Three Cultures’ due to its fascinating blend of pre-Colombian, colonial and modern cultures. Around half the town’s population speak Mayan (along with Spanish).

The drive from Tulum to Izamal takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes. Alot of sites in Mexico can get extremely crowded, but Izamal is a hidden gem away from the tourists. It’s a little off the beaten path, but sooo worth it! Every inch of the town is photogenic & extremely instagrammable!

Izamal Sights

  • Kinich Kakmó Pyramid, translated to ‘fire parrot’, had the head of a macaw and was said to descend to Earth to accept offerings of fruit, flowers, animals and spices when the sun was at its apex.
  • Convento de San Antonio de Padua: one of the oldest Catholic monasteries in the Americas and its outdoor atrium is the second largest in the world (after the Vatican).
  • Dine at Kinich Restaurant: Yucatan food in a beautiful atmosphere

VALLADOLID

Valladolid is a breathtakingly restored colonial town UNESCO Heritage Site) It’s listed as one of Mexico’s “pueblos magicos”, aka magic towns! My favorite activity was wandering around the streets admiring the colorful buildings, street vendors & people watching! You instantly feel the vibrant culture & it transport you back to how the Mayans use to live. This town is centrally located from all the major hotspots- Chichen Itza, Cenote Suytun, etc so it makes for a great place to stay overnight too! Everyday at 7pm you can join a free walking tour with a knowledgable guide! 

VALLADOLID SIGHTS

  • Cenote Zaci: located in the heart of the city
  • Visit Museums 

Museo San Roque – archeology lovers

Choco Story – Chocolate museum and shop

  • Walk around the main square:Plaza Central, walk the Calzada de los Frailes to the Ex Convento.
  • Convent of San Bernardino de Siena: one of the oldest colonial sites in the Yucatan, the former Convent of San Bernardino de Siena dates to the mid-16th century and even has a cenote on-site, which was used as part of an irrigation system during the time that a Franciscan order called the convent home.

Dine at El Saxon De Valladolid

RESTAURANTS in Tulum

What makes Tulum so versatile is that you can get a 25 cent taco in one corner and walk a block away to dine at a Michelin level restaurant.

Annnnnd if you’re too lazy to go out? Trust me, I get it. After a long day of exploration, you kinda just want take out. Order delivery from tomato.mx . Simply set up an account, pay a little delivery fee and you’re good to go! Below are my recommendations on the spots we went to!

VERDANT

This place was SO phenomenal I wanted to expand on my dining experience here.

The chef’s tasting menu was a culinary delight! You can taste the love and care that goes into the food and they use all locally sourced ingredients. The farm to table experience is evident – make sure to tour the garden in the back to see where they grow a portion of their herbs and vegetable. Each dish is inventive, flavorful, ingredient driven & sustainably ethos. They incorporate a whimsical twist on simple ingredients & it was worth the splurge! Make a reservation ahead of time!

BEACH CLUBS

EXTRA TRAVEL TIPS

  • FLIGHT: Book an overnight flight to Cancun & find a flight that lands in the early morning. CUN Airport is the second busiest airport and immigration/TSA takes FOREVER. The airport is a lot less busy when you land in the morning.
  • SUNSCREEN: You’ve got to wear lots & lots of sunscreen, but please make sure we keep our ocean life happy by using non toxic chemicals. Here is a guide breaking down on what types of chemicals to look out for when purchasing sunscreen.
  • WATER: Bring your own canteen to prevent buying plastic bottles. DO NOT drink from the tap in Mexico!!  I personally don’t even like to brush my teeth with tap water. Take precautions, stay on the safe side and avoid spending your whole trip in the bathroom. My Zojurushi bottle is vacuum insulated which keeps the water SUPER ice cold all day. Highly recommend!
  • SAFETY: Yucantan peninsula is considered one the safest place to drive around in Mexico in the daytime. Make sure you get to your destination before it gets dark. Walking around Tulum center/ beachfront at night is okay as long as you are not traveling alone. Also, don’t leave things in the car- hide it in the trunk!
  • HAVE FUN: You’re on vacation!! Go with the flow and channel your inner child mode. Plans might change, things might not go according to plan, but stay open minded & enjoy the time off!

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