A week in Tulum
Sun Sand, Cenotes and a wonder of the world. Is this paradise on Earth?
I really loved Tulum, and what it included on our great trip, being able to take a short drive for a dip in a cenote, some breathtaking, some less so, to being on the beach in one of the coolest places I have ever been. Tulum had enough going on, party nights and beach bars, but you always felt like you were able to relax and enjoy your stress free little paradise.
Here's some details on my trip, and some tips to how I think you could also fall in love with Tulum.
Day 1-5 in Tulum
I would recommend staying in Tulum for a minimum of 5-7 days to have the full experience of cenotes, ruins and beaches, we stayed 5 days as we were visiting some of the ancient Maya sites from Valladolid instead.
Tulum ruins is about a 20 minute bike ride away from Tulum town and was worth the visit, we made the mistake of visiting late morning so other than it being busy, it was HOT. They open at around 8am so I would recommend visiting at this time. Guides are available at the entrance for a fee too, although there are a numberof information plaques around the ruins you are able to read yourself.
Coba is a 45 minute drive from Tulum town, as we were spending some time in Valladolid after Tulum we actually visited here on our travel day to Valladolid as its about half way between the two. Due to its more remote location, it seems it is less popular with tourists and wasn’t at all that busy when we visited around lunch time. Unlike other sites you are still able to climb the 42m high pyramid, and the view from the top is totally worth it! There is a rope down the middle to hold on to for safety, I found climbing back down the steep steps were worse than going up them!
A day at Coba Ruins
If you are going to choose between Tulum Beach and Akumal Beach, there's a clear winner- Tulum Beach
Akumal beach was the first beach we visited for a ‘beach day’ and I wasn’t that impressed. There was nowhere to hire sun loungers or parasols from unless you are staying in one of the beachfront hotels, and it is busy, so if you get there later on like we did there were towels and sun bathers all over. There was snorkelling and boat tours available but the vendors there were pretty harassing and persistent! We didn’t stay long however from what we saw the water itself seemed pretty clear and very little seaweed, there were areas you could and couldn’t swim for protection of the turtles and sea life but could swim with a guide. We did visit one of the little restaurants whilst we were there, Lol – Ha, which offered good food at a pretty good price!
Tulum beach was gorgeous and pristine, but very inconsistent depending on where you were. The south seemed to have a LOT less seaweed than further up the beach near where we were staying, we went for lunch at Casa Malca and the beach there was pristine. The sand was powdery white the whole way down though, with a number of beach clubs and bars to visit along the way. So if you start on the north side of the beach, don't give up, better things should await!
Although not a beach, we decided to take the 2.5 hour drive down to visit Lake Bacalar. The waters here are crystal clear, there are a few swings and hammocks dotted about in the water which were free to use. You could sunbathe on the grassy banks and kayaks cost around $200pp (£7). There are some hotels dotted along the lake front, which would have had some good views. Overall, I wouldn’t recommend driving the 5 hour round trip in a day, however if you are staying closer to Bacalar or plan on spending some time there then it would be worth visiting.
There are a number of cenotes close to Tulum town and on the drive to Coba and Chichen Itza, and you’ll see signs for even more as you drive around! We visited a few but I have only listed the ones I personally think are worth visiting.
Cenote Cristal/Naharon: this was one of our favourite cenotes we visited, more of a lake than an underground cave like a number of the rest. It was empty when we visited and saw both turtles and fish, diving board over the lake too.
Cenote Dos Ojos: around a 20 minute drive from Tulum depending on where you stay. Two popular cenotes, however if you’re short on time I would give this cenote a miss unless you are wanting to dive here, it does offer diving and snorkelling equipment if you don’t have your own.
Gran Cenote: around a 10 minute drive from Tulum town, this popular cenote was becoming pretty busy by the time we arrived after opening. Snorkelling options are available but unable to dive here. Water was clear for swimming and you were able to swim through one cave to the other.
Cenote Calavera: another 10 minute drive from Tulum town, this cenote consists of a large hole in the ground you are able to jump through to enter the water, (there is a ladder too for anyone not wanting to jump). Next to this large hole there are 2 smaller holes you are also able to jump into, but watch your head! We arrived later than the opening time and it was already pretty busy.
Cenote Tamcach Ha: this cenote is part of the 3 that you can visit from Coba, we paid $100pp entry (£2pp). A deep underground cave with two fun(?) diving boards, one at 5m and one at 10m. The water is roped off, half for jumping off the board and the other half if you just wanted to take a swim. The steps down into the cave are pretty slippy so be careful!
Day 6-8 – Valladolid and Chichen Itza
So we decided to stay in this colourful little town due to its close proximity to Chichen Itza, however if you wanted to miss out Valladolid and have extra days in Tulum and head to Chichen Itza and Coba from there they are perfect for day tours.
One of the new seven wonders of the world and considered the most important Mayan site in the Yucatan peninsula, you can see why it is such a popular tourist site.
We arrived here around 15 minutes before opening at 8am and there was a small queue starting to form, there were a couple of smaller tour buses arriving who were able to go through as they were with a tour however the big buses did not start arriving until around 830-9am. I had originally read to take our own water as once you were in there was nowhere to purchase from, however we did notice a few small shops you could get a drink or snacks from. The street vendors were not pushy at all like I had read previously, they would try to get your attention on their ‘jaguar whistles’ but if you turned them away, they would leave you alone. We do regret wandering around Chichen Itza alone, we found that there were limited information plaques unlike a number of other sites, so I would recommend getting a guide from the entrance if you are not visiting with a tour group.
Whilst we were in Valladolid we were also able to visit even more cenotes! These are pretty close to Chichen itza so still able to visit easily without having to stay here.
Cenote Suytun: probably one of the most instagrammed cenotes, although not one of the best for swimming due to the shallow waters. We visited at opening time and was one of three couples there, as we arrived at an earlier time, we were lucky enough to get some clear photos without a hoard of swimmers in the background, however we then missed the sun coming over and beaming through the hole at the top of the cave onto the concrete platform.
Leaving Valladolid and on our way to the Chiquila port for Holbox, we visited Las Coloradas, a tiny fishing village to see the pink lakes. Close to the Rio Lagartos nature reserve (famous for flamingos) I had envisioned a ‘pink’ lagoon, however the pink lakes are part of a salt factory. We took a boat ride and was admittedly underwhelmed. Maybe it was the time of day, we probably got there around 11am and I had read that after 12 was the best time as the sun was higher = pink colour was more visible! Or maybe it was just that really, the pink lake isn't really that, pink! As the salt lakes are private property, we had paid our guide in advance to take us to the gates, which get you close to the water, however there is security riding around to ensure no one gets into the water. We did manage to see some crocs and a pat of flamingos, and as we were pretty close to here after Valladolid we didn’t feel too let down, although from Tulum I probably wouldn’t recommend going all that way for a visit.