DescriptionTulum (too-LOOM), which anchors the south end of the Riviera Maya, benefits not only from Mexican Caribbean tourism in general but from proximity to the Tulum Ruins and several other nearby attractions. And it's compact enough that you can walk around and really soak up the local atmosphere, which radiates plenty of bohemian charm. The town is a bit of an international melting pot, where American tourists and young European backpackers mix with locals like the elderly matriarchs wearing huipiles, the colorfully embroidered white cotton blouses that remain standard garb for many Yucatecan women.
Mex. 307 is the main thoroughfare, and for more than a mile it is lined with restaurants, souvenir shops and small businesses—internet cafés, laundromats, loncherías (open-air lunch counters), tortilla stands, ice cream parlors, zapaterías (shoe stores), auto repair shops. Open-air produce markets are filled with clusters of bananas on stalks, green coconuts, tropical fruits and sacks of coffee beans.
Gift and souvenir shops along Mex. 307 offer the usual array of Mexican handicrafts along with hammocks, textiles, rugs and jewelry. Mixik, just north of Calle Jupiter (next to the ADO bus station), sells hand-carved wooden masks, hand-painted pottery and other high-quality folk art. There's another branch on the Tulum beach road to Punta Allen, across from the Zamas Hotel.
One of the best places to browse for treasures is Galería La Llorona, also on the beach road to Punta Allen (next to the Posada Lamar Cabanas). Here you'll find everything from Day of the Dead skeleton figurines and vibrantly colorful shoulder bags to blankets, handmade pillowcases and toys. The top floor of this large emporium is filled with antiques, custom-made furniture and works by local artists.
Explore Tulum's side streets, which extend a couple of blocks on both sides of Mex. 307. Note: Lateral streets with diagonal parking spaces run along either side of Mex. 307; use caution when entering the highway from one of these streets.
Parque dos Aguas, the town plaza, is just east of Mex. 307 behind the Ayuntamiento (City Hall) building, bordered by calles Osiris Sur and Alfa Sur. Shaded by coconut palms, it has a gazebo and is a community gathering place where kids play basketball and vendors set up shop on the adjacent sidewalks. The neighborhoods are a mix of cement block houses, traditional Mayan huts and dwellings with thatched roofs and walls made of sticks.
Early evening is a pleasant time for a stroll. Restaurants along Mex. 307 are casual; several have open-air seating in a garden setting, and some feature live music and dancing on certain nights. You're likely to hear the seductive sound of reggae wafting out of doorways and from behind courtyard walls.
Sidewalk taco vendors fill the air with the tantalizing aroma of grilling chicken and pork. In fact Tulum has a reputation for outstanding tacos, and a good place to sample them is Antojitos La Chiapaneca, on the west side of Mex. 307 near Calle Acuario. The specialty at this taqueria is tacos al pastor, rotisserie pork shaved off a slowly revolving spit onto corn tortillas and served with lime wedges. The salsa bar offers some fiery choices.
Seafood lovers should check out El Camello (The Camel), on Mex. 307 at the south end of town (on the east side of the highway at Avenida Kukulkan). This thatch-roofed, very casual joint has umbrella-shaded tables and simple plastic chairs out front. It serves up fresh fish and shrimp ceviches, octopus tacos and ice-cold cervezas. Try the shark dip, a spicy concoction of shark meat and salsa.
To reach the beaches, take the Cobá/Boca Paila road east off Mex. 307 (the intersection with a traffic signal at the northern end of town, signed “Playas/Punta Allen”). It runs through open scrub for about 3 kilometers (2 miles) before reaching the coast, where it forks north (toward the Tulum Ruins, with access to beaches along the way) and south to the hotel zone.
Take the right (south) fork, a narrow, winding paved road that hugs the coast. Campgrounds, cabanas and small boutique hotels line this lovely drive, bordered by lush growths of palms and other tropical vegetation. Some properties are nothing more than a grouping of palapa-roofed huts just steps away from the beach. Some of these laid-back accommodations have signs designating them as “eco chic,” meaning that they might rely on a generator for electricity and dispense with such amenities as TVs and phones.
Even if you're not staying in the Tulum hotel zone, it's well worth stopping at a restaurant for lunch and picture-postcard Caribbean views. The restaurant at the Zamas Hotel draws a loyal following to a breezy dining deck overlooking an unspoiled stretch of beach. Farther down the road, the restaurant at the Ana y José Charming Hotel & Spa serves great seafood and cocktails. You can dine inside under a big palapa roof, or if you prefer, atop a king-size beach bed. Bring lots of cash.
Keep going to the southern end of the hotel zone and the beachfront, rustic-chic La Zebra Hotel. It attracts vacationing hipsters, but the excellent Mexican food at the Cantina restaurant—as well as the specialty cocktails and mojitos made with fresh sugar cane juice—will satisfy anyone. And the stretch of sand here is gorgeous.
The beaches along this section of coast not only boast powdery white sand and luminous turquoise water but are all but deserted. South of the entrance to the buffer zone of the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, miles of uninhabited beaches edge the Boca Paila Peninsula.
Note: These are natural beaches, unlike the “groomed” stretches that front resort hotels; foot protection is recommended since the bottom is often rocky. Swim or snorkel only when seas are calm, beware of strong currents and stay close to shore; there are no lifeguards. Pull off the coast road to park, and do not leave valuables in your car. There are no facilities at these beaches; bring your own water and food.
Numerous cenotes dot the jungle scrub in the vicinity of Tulum. Technically speaking, a cenote (pronounced say-NOH-tay) is a sinkhole that forms when the ceiling of an underlying cave collapses. The Yucatán Peninsula, honeycombed with an underground network of porous limestone rock, also has many cavern systems through which subterranean rivers often flow. The pile of rubble left by a collapsed cave ceiling typically contains very few nutrients, so trees and plants that do manage to sprout send their roots through the rocks to tap the water below. This is why you'll often see tree roots descending into an underground cave from above.
From above ground many cenotes look just like normal ponds, and locals use them as swimming holes. Small tropical fish—such species as tetras and mollies that are commonly seen in home aquariums—live in these freshwater sinkholes, making them great places to snorkel. Most also have remarkably clear water, although the tannin from fallen dead leaves can stain the water in some cenotes, giving it the appearance of freshly brewed tea. In the heat of summer warm temperatures promote algae growth bloom that turns the water a cloudy green.
Cenote Cristal and Cenote Escondido are about 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) south of Tulum on opposite sides of Mex. 307 and can be reached via short gravel walking paths. These are typical cenotes of the “pond” variety. Watch for the Cenote Cristal parking area on the right side of the road (if headed southbound). Pay the 120-peso entrance fee at the palapa, which allows you to also visit Cenote Escondido across the road. Lock your car and do not leave valuables inside. You can also take a taxi here from town.
A sloping path leads to the pond, which is surrounded by tropical scrub vegetation. There's also a wooden platform from which you can take a dive into the cool, clear water. Snorkelers will see turtles and small tropical fish. At Cenote Escondido a ladder descends from a stone platform to the water. There are no facilities at either cenote, so bring your own drinking water and snacks. Both are open daily 9-5.
Things to SeeGran Cenote
Things to SeeMuyil