Tulum should be at the top of your list when visiting Mexico. It’s one of the most beautiful places you’ll find with beaches, turtles and ancient ruins all on your door-step.
Your first stop? Tulum ruins. The actual structures are relatively modest in comparison to other Mayan ruins around Mexico, what makes the place so unique is its stunning backdrop. Set along a rugged coast the ruins are dotted along a strip of white sand and turquoise water. The sight is heavenly. Head there first thing in the morning when it opens and you’ll largely have the place to yourself. Within an hour tourists will start to pour in so the early rise will be well worth it.
Another highlight of the ruins is the nearby beach Playa Paraiso. Tulum’s main beach is mostly taken up with resorts now, so unless you want to pay for food or drink you need to know where to go. Playa Paraiso is one of its best public beaches, with untouched sands and looming palm trees. For something more secluded check out Las Palmas. The lack of vendors makes it less convenient but much more authentic and natural.
But enough about ruins and beaches, what you really want to know about is the turtles… and more importantly, how you can swim with them.
Head to Akumal beach for turtles. You can hop on a bus from the centre of Tulum town and it takes about 25-30 minutes. When you get off the bus you’ll need to walk towards the main beach. Unfortunately all the way down to the beach it’s likely you’ll be harassed by vendors trying to sell you snorkelling trips for 30 dollars and upwards. Ignore them. Put your head down and walk quickly past. Don’t even stop, honestly it’s not worth your time or money. They’ll claim that you need to listen to them to learn the rules of the beach but really they’re just trying to sell you something.
They are right about the rules though. With so many tourists visiting Akumal beach the coral started to deteriorate, so the government introduced various rules to stop it from worsening. But you don’t need to listen to the vendors to know that. Just read the signs along the beach or do your research beforehand. In essence the rules just state you can only swim in certain areas (ones you can’t are roped off), wear a life jacket and treat the turtles with respect.
Once you’ve made it onto the actual beach there aren’t anymore vendors trying to sell you snorkelling trips so you can relax… and let the fun begin! Turn right and walk along the beach to the dive shop. Here you can hire jackets and snorkelling kit for about 12 dollars. Unlike an expensive tour which only lasts an hour, hiring your own kit means you can spend all day on the beach lazing around and dipping into the water to search for turtles when you please. It’s way better value.
Doing it on your own means you get the turtles to yourself once you find them, rather than trying to cram a look in with a ton of other tourists around you. But if you’re really struggling to find one just look to where the groups are hovering in the water! If they’ve found one they won’t be moving so you can just swim on over to have a look or wait until they’ve swum away. The tours are usually only an hour so they won’t stay in any one place for too long.
There’s loads of rumours online that you should go with a tour as they have exclusive access to the roped off areas that normal tourists aren’t allowed to go. Yes this is true, if you don’t go with a tour you can’t swim in the roped off areas. However turtles swim where seagrass is and seagrass is right by the shore, so you’re actually way better off not swimming in the roped off areas if you want to see turtles! Just swim around for twenty minutes or so near the beach and you’re bound to stumble upon one.
If you feel more comfortable in a group then by all means book onto a tour, but not with one of the vendors on the way to the beach. Do your research beforehand and book onto one you choose with good ratings.
The most important thing is that you treat the animals with respect. Don’t touch them and keep your distance. And also enjoy the beach, it’s a beautiful location and great for spending the day tanning on when you’re not in the water.
So what else?
Gran Cenote is well worth a visit. A cenote is a natural sinkhole in the ground and this one is crystal clear with terrapins swimming around. The underground cavern also has stalactites hanging down from the ceiling and is great for snorkelling or diving. The water is considered sacred by Mayans and gets very popular so head there during off-peak times. If you don’t own snorkelling gear then you can hire it there, along with lockers. But the water is literally so clear you can see the terrapins and fish anyway so you probably won’t even need it.
When looking for somewhere to stay you have three options: Beach Road North, Beach Road South and Tulum town. Both the beach roads are in prime location with properties right on the waterfront. Beach Road North has better beaches and bigger resorts, but this can feel a bit artificial at times and gets very crowded. Beach Road South has smaller hotels with enough yoga and indie stores to satisfy your inner hippie. Both options are amazing locations but can also be very expensive.
If you’re on a budget head to Tulum town instead. The town itself is really authentic and lively, with plenty of bars, shops and restaurants. If you want to get to the beach it’s a 15-20 minute drive and you’ll need to buy a drink as the beach is mostly taken up with resorts. However it’s really easy to get around. You can either hire bikes, take buses or get taxis.
It really depends on what type of holiday you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a beach holiday and just want somewhere to laze around and drink then pick one of the beach roads – it’s worth the extra money if you want somewhere to relax. On the other hand if you’re looking for an action packed trip then choose Tulum town. It’s the perfect place to base yourself with easy access to public transport to get to places like the ruins, beaches, cenotes and more.
Want to know where to head after Tulum? Check back next week for a post all about Bacalar and the lagoon of seven colours.