You could spend your time in Tulum, Mexico kicking back, relaxing and doing nothing but burying your toes in the powdery white sand and gazing out to the unreal shades of ocean blue. Or, you could explore incredible underground caves, SUP board through lagoons and mangrove forests, and zip line through the Mayan jungle. Don’t miss these 10 fun adventures in Tulum, Mexico!
Back before the turn of the century, Tulum was a remote jungle town in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The picturesque but crumbling Mayan ruins served as a reminder of the town’s once important role in the Maya Empire. Long stretches of its pristine, white sandy beaches were undeveloped, with only a few backpackers and campers passing through.
Fast-forward 20 years and much of Tulum has taken on an upscale, hippie vibe. The tourist strip in Tulum is lined with high-end shops selling beach clothing and dreamcatchers, elaborate eco-chic boutique hotels, and vegan smoothie bars. While Tulum has developed a reputation for its food scene and fancy yoga retreats, there’s also a lot for the adventure traveler. There are still a few spots to camp, but we opted to glamp next to a cenote on the fringes of Tulum. We spent our days hopping from cenote to cenote, exploring the surrounding jungle and snorkeling with sea turtles. If you’re ready for an adventure, check out these exciting things to do in Tulum, Mexico.
1 Swim in Cenotes
Cenotes are above-and-beyond your average swimming hole. A cenote is technically a sink hole, where the earth has given way and revealed the massive underground river running through the Riviera Maya. Some cenotes are ground level, so you can swim, snorkel and dive in the sun. Others are deep underground, where you’ll have to go down a long set of stairs to reach the water, surrounded by a cave of stalactites and stalagmites.
Gran Cenote and Dos Ojos are the two most popular cenotes near Tulum, but we’ve put together a guide for the best cenotes you won’t find on the top 10 lists.
➳ Read more: Best Cenotes near Tulum, Mexico
2 Scuba Dive in (and between) Cenotes
If swimming or snorkeling in a cenote isn’t enough of a thrill for you, then book a dive. Three of the longest underwater cave systems are right in this area, so there’s no better place to do some cave diving. Many of the routes are rich with rock formations, so most aren’t beginner dives as you’ll have to carefully control your buoyancy to not destroy the fragile stalactites and stalagmites.
Some dives enter and exit from the same cenote, but others will take you through the underground river where you’ll pop out in another place! We saw a few divers exit Cenote Calavera but had started in another cenote.
3 Explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Just south of Tulum lies the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a protected area with tropical forests, mangroves, and lagoons. It also includes over 120 kilometers of coastline protected by a barrier reef. The reserve covers over 5,000 square miles, so you’ll probably only be able to explore a portion of it on your trip. This ecologically diverse area was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; it’s home to over 300 species of birds, has an incredible marine population, plus plenty of land animals call it home too, like jaguars, pumas, and ocelots.
The area can be a bit difficult to access and explore on your own, so there are a lot of tours to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve offered in Tulum and Cancun. Through most of the tours, you’ll have the opportunity to visit Mayan ruins, float through the Mayan Canal, go snorkeling along the barrier reef, visit remote beaches, and explore a bit the lagoons and mangrove forests on a kayak or SUP board.
Check the list of tour companies offering excursions on TripAdvisor here.
Access the Reserve via Muyil
If you prefer to visit the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve on your own, there are two access points. The closest one to Tulum is called Muyil. Muyil is only about 20 minutes by car, or you can take an ADO bus. Once you’re at Muyil, you can explore the ruins, walk along the boardwalks through the marshes, and then head to the boat dock for a boat tour of the lagoons and canals. This is the inland portion of the reserve, so you’ll be going through freshwater lagoons, mangrove forests, and even a Mayan canal. The boat tours last about 2 hours and cost 700 pesos per person.
Access the Reserve via Punta Allen
If you want to experience the coastal areas in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, you’ll have to travel about 2 hours from Tulum down to Punta Allen. You’ll also most likely need a 4wd vehicle as the road conditions are pretty rough on the later stretches. Once in Punta Allen, you can hire a boat to explore the barrier reef, go snorkeling, and visit beaches that look practically untouched.
There are also a few hotels in Punta Allen, where you may consider booking a room overnight since the journey to and from Tulum makes it pretty long for just a day trip. Check out Villas Roseliz which runs around $75 a night.
4 Kayak or SUP Board in Cenotes or Lagoons
You can explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve by kayak or SUP, but there are a few cenotes closer to Tulum where you can also paddle around.
We glamped right on the edge of a cenote at the end of the main tourist strip in Tulum, where we had both kayaks and SUP boards provided as part of our hotel stay. Most SUP rentals will cost you $80 a day, and a tour will cost you more. We thought our stay at Nativus Glamping Tulum, which ran around $150 a night, was a great deal to have all the extras of SUP boards and kayaks already included. Check availability at Nativus Glamping Tulum here.
There are a few companies that offer tours or rentals in cenotes or lagoons near Tulum. Mexican Caribbean Kitesurf, Extreme Control, and Yucatan Outdoors all offer SUP board tours and rentals at spots including Casa Cenote and Kaan Loom Lagoon near Tulum.
5 Go Zip Lining through the Mayan Jungle
Once you go inland from the beautiful beaches of Tulum, you’ll find a thick verdant jungle where one of the best ways to explore is from above! We booked a zip line tour at the Selva Maya Eco Adventure, which is just a few minutes out of Tulum. The zip lines were at the very tops of the tries, so you were swinging over the canopy.
The staff and guides at Selva Maya made the tour so fun and remembered everyone’s names. They kept everything running smoothly and safely, you hardly even noticed that they were transitioning your harness from one zip line to the other. This tour also includes a visit to two stunning cenotes on the owner’s private property (one above ground, the other underground). You can read more about our experience on this tour here.
6 Snorkel with Sea Turtles in Akumal
Akumal, located about 30 minutes north of Tulum town, is well-known for turtle sightings because they come to feed on the tall sea grass that blankets the calm bay. Due to so many visitors, the turtles’ habitat and food sources were threatened, so there’s been more regulation surrounding Akumal Bay in recent years.
Because there are so many restrictions, the best way to visit snorkel in Akumal Bay is with a tour. We saw at least ten sea turtles while snorkeling around the bay, swimming around and feeding on the grasses.
We snorkeled in Akumal Bay in conjunction with the zip line tour above, which you can book with Edventure Tours Tulum. The Xtreme tour includes zip lining, swimming in the two cenotes on private property, snorkeling with sea turtles in Akumal Bay, and snorkeling in Yal-ku, a small inlet that has so many fish it’s basically a natural aquarium.
7 Bike Ride through Tulum
One of the most fun ways to explore Tulum is by bike. You can bike along the main tourist stretch that’s lined with resorts, shops and restaurants. This is pretty leisurely bike riding so it’s a bit of a stretch to include it on a list of adventures, but it’s fun nonetheless. The biggest challenge on this bike ride through Tulum is choosing where to stop for the best smoothies and acai bowls. We loved Matchamama and Raw Love Beach for smoothies and Origami for gelato.
A lot of the resorts will either have bikes included as part of your reservation or have some available to rent from a company like Ola Bike.
8 Explore Mayan Ruins
The Mayan Ruins in Tulum are one of the most popular tourist attractions in the area, with bus tours coming on day trips from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. If you’re already staying in Tulum, get there first thing in the morning so you can explore the ruins in its stunning seaside setting before the crowds come. Plus, this area has little shade and gets really hot once the sun is overhead, so it’s better to get out before you start baking.
Afterward, head down to the beach below. This stretch of sand is one of the prettiest beaches we visited in the Riviera Maya.
If you’re really interested in ancient civilizations, there are a few more Mayan ruins in the area. You can still climb the pyramid in the ancient city of Coba, which is about 45 minutes northwest of Tulum. If you drive another hour and 45 minutes along the highway, you’ll reach Chichén Itzá, one of the new seven wonders of the world. This is another incredibly popular tourist spot, so it’s also best to get here first thing in the morning. Since it’s such a long drive from Tulum, we’d recommend staying the night before in Valladolid, a fun and colorful town about 45 minutes away.
9 Take a Swim in the Bright Blue Sea
Don’t just enjoy Tulum’s stunning beaches from its white sands and resort lounge chairs – jump in! The waves aren’t that big along the beaches in Tulum, so there’s not much to surf. But, that makes it more relaxed to swim and body surf. The weather is warm and the water is an intense shade of blue. It’s hard to resist diving in for a quick swim!
10 Ride the Waves – Go Kitesurfing
The winds tend to pick up at the beach in the afternoon which makes Tulum a great place to kitesurf. There are a few companies offering kitesurfing lessons in Tulum, which you can check out here. Beginner lessons last 3 to 4 hours, and cost around 80 USD per hour.
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