This post is part of the series Yucatán
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“Tulum is the jewel of Mexico’s Riviera Maya”, they said. “Tulum is one of the best destinations in Mexico”, they said. “Tulum is the Ubud of Mexico”, they said. “Tulum has some dreamy beaches,” they said. “Tulum is THE hotspot for Instagrammers and bloggers”, they said. “Tulum is the eco solution if you want to escape the mass tourism of Cancun”, they said. “Don’t expect too much, in the end, you will be disappointed”, they said.
Well, they all were right! Tulum is controversial no matter how you look at it. When a travel destination is being too overhyped, it also happens to be overrated. The question is if Tulum is overrated? Depends on what you are looking for.
I tried not to expect too much before visiting Tulum. But one sentence I read numerous times on internet, stayed in my mind: “Tulum is the Ubud of Mexico”. There is no doubt – Ubud is one of my favourite places not only in Bali but in general. A place that has a special vibe to it. A place, different to all I’ve been too. A place where you can feel the pulse of Mother Earth. So trying not to expect too much from Tulum (after reading numerous articles written by travel bloggers who claimed the similarity) was not really possible. I was even hoping to experience the Mexican Ubud!
But what you want is not always what you get. I’m not trying to rail at Tulum for what it has become. I’m just saying that I didn’t experience the Ubud vibe as expected, but rather a Black-Sea-resort-vibe from the ‘90s. If you ask me what makes Tulum unique and why are people going there instead of going to Playa del Carmen or Cancun? Well, because of the people! Tulum has a specific target group – Instagrammers, wanna-be-hippies, hipsters, easy-going people. Tulum has changed in order to win this target group and become a popular getaway and a hot spot for yoga retreats, festivals and boutique shopping.
Tulum has also become ridiculously expensive! Everything is more expensive here than anywhere in Riviera Maya. The boutique prices are like those in Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles. In Tulum, you can easily pay between 200 € and 300 € per night to stay at a 3-star hotel on the beach (even Santa Monica was not that expensive!). You can find the same stuff in Playa for less than half of the prices in Tulum. Taxis, restaurants, shopping work the same way. The restaurants and cafes are way too fancy … And of course expensive. The food was always good, but nothing spectacular, to be honest!
Let’s talk about the beaches – Tulum is situated on the coastline of the Caribbean Sea and is claimed to be “a must” on every beach lover’s bucket list. Yes, the beaches of Tulum are Caribbean white sand beaches with turquoise water, but here it comes the big “BUT” – sargassum!
Sargassum is a seaweed that smells bad and looks unattractive. Sargassum is invading all the beaches of Riviera Maya since 2017. The massive amount of seaweed is turning the beautiful turquoise waters in brown and the sugary-white sand beaches in a stinky area. The seaweed problem has seriously affected the whole business during the last couple of years. There are parts of the beach that are clear though (if the hotel decides to clean the beach or not!)
Another problem is the fact that Tulum has become a hotspot for Instagrammers and bloggers. Some local restaurants and cafes are so frustrated that they even have no-Instagram-rules – meaning that people who take pictures for Instagram are not allowed to stay. You will ask yourself how it is possible to recognize these people – well, after meeting some of them, you will be able to recognize them all over the world. These people live for and from Instagram. But the truth is – Tulum has truly become an Instagrammer’s paradise.
Don’t get me wrong, we still had a great time in Tulum! I just was disappointed by the fact that I was expecting the Ubud vibe, everything was too expensive, and the beaches were not the dreamy beaches we were dreaming for.
Despite my subjective opinion, Tulum is a great spot from where you can explore Riviera Maya and many archaeological sites. Compared to neighbouring Cancun or Playa, Tulum is still winning my competition!
Cave & Cenote Scuba Diving in Tulum
Tulum’s diving scene is a unique mix of cenotes and reefs. Especially if you are into diving, Tulum is a great place for exploring not only the coral reef but you will also have the opportunity to dive in the unique underworld of Mexico!
Of course – cenote diving Tulum is an extraordinary experience! You can choose between cenote cavern diving and cenote cave diving. The best diving cenotes near Tulum are Pit Cenote, Dos Ojos Cenote, Angelita, Calavera and Grand Cenote.
Cenotes are a system of more than 6000 of natural sinkholes, found all over the Yucatan in Mexico. Cenotes are prevalent in the Yucatan Peninsula where the ground is primarily made up of limestone. In fact, a cenote is a deep sinkhole filled with rainwater and water flowing from underground rivers coming up to the earth’s surface. Cenotes are actually all connected with one another, forming the longest underground river in the world.
Cenotes are created when the roof of an underground cavern collapses. Many of the cenotes near Valladolid were slowly forming over hundreds of years. They served as an entrance to the underworld for the Mayans Civilization. The word “cenote” or “dzonot” means “location with accessible groundwater” in the Mayan language. The cenotes were and still are the main source of clear water in this area of Mexico.
Visit Chichen Itza
Holding the title as one of the new seven wonders of the world, Chichen Itza is the most well-known and frequently visited Mayan ruins site in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico. The pre-Hispanic city in Yucatan and UNESCO World Heritage Site has a challenging 1000-year-old history. The most famous attraction of Chichen Itza is the Temple and Pyramid of Kukulcan, known also as El Castillo.
Chichen Itza is located in the centre of the Yucatan Peninsula and is situated 150 km west of Tulum (2 hours drive). The best months of the year to visit Chichen Itza are the months between November and March. It is cooler than during the summer months, it is raining less but you will probably find more crowds. We went on the 24th of December, the temperature was about 27° and it was firstly crowded at 10 a.m.
This post is part of the series Mexico Other posts in this series: Is Cancún…
Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Coba
The Mayan ruins of Coba are some of the most spectacular and underrated ruins in the eastern part of Yucatán. The Mayan ruins of Coba are believed to be one of the most important in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. Coba has significantly fewer tourists than Chichen Itza, and you can pretty much have the ruins to yourself. Here, you are allowed to touch and even climb the Great Pyramid – the jungle views from above are brilliant and the experience is unforgettable!
Visiting Coba is an amazing day trip experience within reach of Tulum. We actually travelled to Coba from Tulum by car. The best way to explore the site of Coba is by yourself! You don’t have to book a private tour or guide. Just take your time and camera, climb the pyramid and wander through the pathways and tunnels of Coba!
Coba is located on the eastern side of the Yucatan peninsula, about 45 minutes drive from Tulum (50 km). The ruins are open daily all year round from 8 am to 5 pm. I’d recommend arriving before opening so that you are among the first to enter as it is much quieter and cooler in the mornings. You may also avoid (if possible) visiting Coba on Sundays, as the admission is free for citizens and residents of Mexico – it will get much busier!
Visit The Ruins of Tulum
The archaeological ruins are one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites in Mexico and probably, it won’t be the best idea to visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula without seeing the Mayan Ruins of Tulum.
If you cannot come as early as possible (which means before opening!) you will have to share the experience with hundreds of people and tons of guided groups. And it gets overcrowded! But it is a beautiful place to visit and still the most preserved coastal Maya city which makes it so interesting for tourist to visit. Back in the days, it was possible to climb the pyramids, but that’s no longer the case.
The main difference between Tulum and other archaeological sites in Yucatan, such as Chichen Itza or Coba, is that Tulum was built to be a seaport fortress and not a Mayan settlement. The walls and the steep sea cliffs of Tulum provided protection from the East during the centuries.
Visit The Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
Sian Ka’an has a national park status since the year of 1986 and is one of 34 UNESCO World Heritage Sites but luckily, mass tourism has not reached the wonderful biosphere reserve till nowadays. The statistic proves it – only 80,000 tourists a year visit Sian Ka’an Reserve.
Sian Ka’an is certainly the wildest place in the Riviera Maya which is home to thousands of species of flora & fauna including more than 300 species of birds, crocodiles, lamentins, dolphins, turtles and many others. The natural wonder of Sian Ka’an encompasses 5280 km² of a protected area which is a must-visit place especially if you are a nature lover.
he Mayan Ruins of Muyil and Sian Ka’an are located on the eastern side of the Yucatan peninsula, about 20 min drive from Tulum (25 km). The boat trip from Muyil is available every day from 8 to 16:30 and the price of the boat ride into the Sian Ka’an lagoon is $600 pesos per person (about 28 €).
Explore the Cenotes Near Valladolid!
One of the coolest things to do in the Yucatan Peninsula is visiting a cenote and this was also my favourite activity during our road trip in Mexico! Probably the most beautiful cenotes of Yucatan are located near Valladolid. Here you will find the best 7 cenotes near Valladolid:
This post is part of the series Mexico Other posts in this series: Is Cancún…
Want stylish accommodation you can afford?. Find the cheapest prices for the best accommodations possible:
- Click here to search for hotels in Mexico (Booking.com)
- Click here to search apartments in Mexico (Airbnb + up to 40 € off)
- Click here to search hostels in Mexico (Agoda)
If you are flying to Mexiko it is beneficial to use a flight comparison site to find the cheapest flights. I recommend and use Kiwi.com.
Click here to compare and book cheap flights to Mexico
Rental Car in Mexico
RentalCars.com searches all the big car rental companies in Mexico and finds the best price for you. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico and around the World.
If you are the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are all kinds of guided tours around Mexico including Chichen Itza.
Enjoy the day!
*This post contains Affiliate Links. I only recommend high-quality items and services I am confident about. The opinions are completely my own based on my experience.
Continue reading this series:
Yucatan Road Trip: 3 Weeks Travel Itinerary