Tulum is the third most visited site in Mexico and the first most visited site in the state of Quintana Roo. Although less popular than Cancun – the well-known hotspot just up the coast – Tulum is quickly finding its way into the hearts and minds of tourists heading to the Yucatan. With more visitors arriving every season, you might be wondering what’s so special about this destination.
Tulum is not only an important archeological site, it also boasts beautiful beaches and authentic Mayan culture. But, unlike many of the other popular sites in this part of the country, those attributes are relatively untouched and undeveloped. To help you understand why you should schedule this destination into your next Mexico vacation, we’ve narrowed it down to the top 3 things to do in Tulum. Keep reading to find out more.
Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya people of south eastern Mexico. It reached its zenith between the 13th and 15th centuries, during what’s now known as the Mayan post-classic period.
While it survived approximately 70 years into Spanish colonization, today all that remains of this spectacular city are the ruins of several temples and castles. But what makes this archeological site so special is its location atop a 39-foot cliff facing the Caribbean Sea. From that perch, the white ruins of one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites stand in stunning and vivid contrast to the turquoise waters below.
Visitors spend the day wandering through El Castillo (the Castle), peering into the Temple of the Frescoes to decode the three-section mural, and stepping inside the Temple of the Descending God. Or, for something a little different, you might consider exploring the surrounding area and the Tulum ruins by bike.
Heading directly north out of El Castillo takes visitors toward Tulum beach. After some hours spent meandering through the ancient ruins, the white sand beaches surrounded by tall cliffs offer both an opportunity for incredible photos and a chance to cool off in the Caribbean.
Walking along the beach, it quickly becomes apparent what sets Tulum apart from other coastal towns. Around every corner carved out by the cliffs you’ll find a new secluded stretch of beach, without any of the hotel and entertainment developments that characterize other Yucatan destinations.
And if the warm waters of the Caribbean aren’t enough for you to cool down, Tulum is the perfect place from which to explore the cenotes that are famous in the Peninsula. The closest and largest is Cenote Dos Ojos, but there’s also Maya Blue, Grand Cenote, and Naharon nearby.
Just south of Tulum is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Housing 1.3 million acres of wildlife and birdlife, this protected area is the largest in the Mexican Caribbean and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among the best ways to see the natural landscapes of Tulum is to tour Sian Ka’an. You’ll have the opportunity to snorkel in the world’s second largest reef, spot wildlife from monkeys to flamingos, and enjoy some time on a secluded sandbar you can call your own.
Greenwashing describes businesses that market themselves as environmentally conscious but do very little to minimize their impact on the environment. These businesses make misleading claims about their practices or ethos in order to attract a clientele that prefers to buy goods and services from environmentally conscious brands.
In a town full of vegan and farm-to-table restaurants, resorts claiming to be eco-friendly, and surrounded by cenotes of crystal clear waters, tourists trying to reduce their social and environmental impact are made to feel right at home. And while there are authentic sustainable experiences to be had in Tulum, tourists need to be wary of the growing number of greenwashing businesses here.
As an increasing number of tourists visit every year, corrupt developers have scrambled to build facilities that cater to the eco-tourist. But 80% of Tulum’s hotels don’t properly treat their water, and some pump sewage directly into mangrove swamps, ground water that eventually contaminates the underground river system (including the famous cenotes), and even into the ocean. Many resorts and other facilities generate electricity via generators, which not only causes noise pollution but also consumes vast amounts of diesel and releases emissions particulates into the air. There’s also concerns around how the buildings are built, where they source their food and other materials, and how they purify their water.
If you’re craving a truly sustainable getaway, be aware of these factors and ask the right questions. Or, book through Lokal. We do all of that research for you and ensure that the tour operators we work with put social and environmental concerns high on their priority list.
Some of the most popular things to do in Tulum are visiting the perfectly preserved ruins, walking along the Tulum beach, and touring the natural wonders found in Sian Ka’an Biosphere. But this untouched piece of the Yucatan Peninsula has so much more to offer than the things you can fit into a day trip. From immersing yourself in the Mayan culture to spending some time swimming in lesser-known cenotes, we’ve tailored a number of once and a lifetime experiences in Tulum. Check out more of what Lokal offers here.