Tulum is one of those places that has it all. It’s a cute little town filled with unique shops and restaurants, surrounded by ancient ruins, a number of cenotes and many beautiful beaches. Visiting Mexico and heading to Cancun or Playa del Carmen? Tulum is an easy and cheap bus ride away and gives you a completely different atmosphere. Relaxed, beautiful and culturally significant, here is why every backpacker should head here.
The environment in Tulum is much more backpacker friendly. Less party, more chill. This is a photo of the Hostel Sheck, a popular hostel for English speaking tourists. Beautiful hostel, with hammocks and a bar to keep everybody happy. The only thing that brings this hostel down is the lack of air conditioning inside the rooms that sat above the common outdoor/drinking area. The walls and windows were thin so if everyone is having a big night downstairs, it’s easily heard. All the more reason to join them!
The main reason people flock to the area are for the impressive ruins the Mayans built back in the 13th century. It’s one of the most well preserved ruins in Mexico, and was the only Mayan city built on a coast. Those Mayans sure knew how to pick a good location because the beach there is breathtaking!
Small town charm
Mexico isn’t known to be the safest country in the world, but because of Tulum’s small size and friendly locals that are used to tourists coming through, it is as safe as you could expect Cancun (the westernized version of Mexico) to be. But here, you will get the full culture, with cute restaurants and shops and friendly people.
A variety of cenotes
There are many cenotes across Mexico, but I definitely saw the most around Tulum. These beautiful underground swimming holes come in all shapes, sizes and variations. I went to Gran Cenote (pictured) which was stunning but very popular. Here, there were two cenotes with open tops connected by an underground cave which was cool to swim under. Getting to a lot of them can be a task, so try to bargain for cheap taxi’s or even hire one for a few hours if you get a good enough price and visit a few of them.
Explorable by bike
A very popular way to get around is by hiring a bike. Some paths are a bit more dangerous than others, and there are many mixed reviews about it. It is a cheaper and more enjoyable option than taking taxi’s everywhere but this could depend on where you plan to go. Ask a local, someone at your hostel or the bike hire shop (if you speak Spanish or they speak English) for tips.
I only had the luxury of visiting one beach (Playa Santa Fe, above) but it was some of the nicest, whitest sand I had ever seen and the water was gorgeous. There were many other beaches I didn’t get to explore but I heard many great things about other beaches in the area from fellow backpackers.
You can enter Playa Santa Fe two ways, but the most popular for tourists is via the same entrance as the Tulum ruins. In the village before entering the ruins, they offer snorkeling for around $20 USD or less at Playa Sante Fe. They also drive you past a ruin only visible by sea on the boat. It’s not a very long tour, and a very small boat but a great way to see some coral and fish in the area.