Places to visit in Tulum for a 4 day itinerary
We spent 4 days in Tulum in October and were slightly worried about the fact it was rainy season. However, apart from the odd heavy rain shower lasting 5/10 minutes, the sun then came back out which was perfect.
Tulum is split into two areas – downtown and the beach front which are around a 5 minute drive /15 minute cycle away from one another. The downtown area, as you would expect, is more the ‘real’ Tulum where more of the locals live and work. The beach front is absolutely stunning but has been made up for tourists – however I am not talking about huge sky towers, just smaller modern boutique hotels with beautiful views of the beach.
I loved our time in Tulum and set out my itinerary for four days in Tulum below.
Villa Geminis offers free bike rental so we headed off to Tulum Ruins (built by the Mayans) which took around a 20 minute slow cycle ride, mostly along cycle paths so I felt really quite safe.
There are sufficient places to lock a bicycle by the ruins but get there as early as possible to avoid the queues. As with most places, it is better to arrive earlier as it is a little cooler. The entrance fee is only 70 pesos which is fantastic value and around 500 pesos for a guide.
Given the ruins are positioned right by the sea, it offers magnificent views with the stunning beach and turquoise waters and there is a small cenote – Casa del cenote – named for the small pool at its base. It is the only Mayan settlement positioned by the Caribbean sea so absolutely worth visiting!
Make sure you walk up to El Castillo, a lighthouse that is the tallest building in the Tulum Ruins – the views over the sea is absolutely stunning.
After the ruins we hopped back on our bicycles and rode to the beach. Before the roundabout splitting the east and west sides of the beaches, there is a small stop off point where you can lock up your bicycle and walk down to a public beach area (note parts of the beach are all privately owned by hotels) and dip your toes in the glistening turquoise waters.
We spent the morning in our villa basking in the sun and cooling off in the pool before we caught a taxi to one of the newest cenotes in Tulum – Casa de Tortuga – around a 10 minute drive from the centre of town. That is now the second time I have mentioned cenotes so I better tell you what one is –given there are over 8,000 in the Yucatan Peninsula. A cenote is a sinkhole resulting from the collapse of limestone that exposes groundwater underneath, which make a large turquoise pool! They were previously used by the ancient Maya for sacrificial offerings.
Don’t be afraid to haggle with the taxi drivers a little and just feel confident with some basic Spanish such as cuanto cuesta (how much is) and muy caro (that is expensive) and know your numbers. We probably paid a little more than necessary at 200 pesos (one asked for 500!) but the driver took us right into the cenote (they are normally a 5/10 minute walk through the jungle from the entrance off the road).
The entrance fee is 350 pesos each (around £15) which includes a guide, lifejacket, lockers and snorkeling gear (make sure to bring a towel). We were lucky that it was not too busy (and as it was new not many people knew about it) we had our own private guide, Leo, who was very patient when I was a little nervous because I am not too fond of the water!! However, I felt a lot safer in a lifejacket (obviously) and because I knew Leo was there in case anything happened! There are three cenotes in casa de tortgua (so excellent value for money) – two were underground in caves which was absolutely amazing – there were stalactites, stagmalites, amazing fossil shapes, fluorescent lighting and the occasional bat!! It was the first time I have snorkelled and managed to see different fishes and all rock formations – it was pretty awesome!
Casa De Tortuga was such a fun trip which I would recommend and there is a small bar area if you want a cerveza afterwards. On the way back we went to the main highway (a man from the cenote took us) and flagged a Collectivo down. Think Uber pool but on a larger scale – normally sitting around 12 people a Collectivo is a minivan that transports people within Tulum and further. There are usually fixed fares at the front of the van and we only paid 50 pesos for both of us for getting back. What an efficient and cost effective way to travel but just learn how to say ‘stop please’ in Spanish!
Named one of the modern Seven Wonders of the World, we couldn’t go to Mexico and not visit Chichen Itza which is around 2 hours from Tulum. We chose a day tour with Mexico Kan tours who came recommended from our villa and we were certainly not disappointed.
We ended up on a private tour as no one else booked on to the trip and spent the day (from 8am – 6pm) visiting Chichen Itza (which means the mouth of the well of Itza), Cenote De Yokdzonot and Valladolid for around £100 each which included all transport, entrance fees, snacks in the van (amazing healthy seed bars!!) light bites at the cenote and a large lunch in Valladolid. Our guide, Angela, was passionate about her country and gave us an honest and informative overview of Mexico and the various historical sites we visited.
Again, try and arrive before 11 to avoid the large crowds on bus tours and the afternoon sun which comes burning down in the middle of the day. Expect a variety of souvenir market stalls offering a number of products but if you are really interested in purchasing something handmade, look out for the odd stall or two where you can see the locals painting and decorating their products.
From the main entrance you cannot help but notice the amazing El Castillo (castle) in a pyramid shape (although it is not a pyramid like you would see in Egypt) is one of the new seven wonders of the world and stands at 24 metres high. Interestingly it has recently been discovered that there are in fact two other temples within the pyramid shape! You are no longer allowed to climb to the top like you could years ago but the amazement from below is more than enough to suffice. What is really interesting are the acoustics where you can clap very loudly and the temple actually makes a noise back at you!!
You could spend hours in Chichen Itza admiring the carvings and roaming around the site. Other than El Castillo, the main sites within Chichen Itza are Gran Juegor Del Polata (The Great Ball Court) where the mystery of the games that were played remains a mystery, albeit it was clear from the skull carvings that there were numerous humans beheaded.
It was also interesting to see the temple of warriors and spiral domed observatory where it was previously used to forecast the future.
Just south of the main ruins of Chichen Itza are the temple ruins of old chichén, an area away from the tourists and just as impressive.
To cool ourselves down after the sun at Chichen Itza, we drove 20 minutes to Cenote De Yokdzonot which was an open air cenote. When we arrived it was raining but lucky for us this meant people left the cenote and we had it to ourselves which was SO amazing!! It was actually pretty cool in the rain and we could swim around and take shelter under some rocks.
You are able to swim through small darker areas but just being outside in the middle is pretty amazing. Again lifejackets are mandatory and you feel completely safe. Angela took some awesome pics of us! After the swimming, we had a light snack at the cenote of empanadas, tostadas and pinchos with beans and pork, salsa, sour cream and jalapenos, which were delicious.
Finally we made our way to Valladolid around 40 minutes from the cenote – a small town with amazing pastel colours with Arab influences, hence why it actually reminded me of Panjim, the capital of Goa. The church is the main centre with a park and shops around the outside.
We wandered down some of the side streets to gaze at the different coloured houses and definitely recommend visiting Yalit, a fairtrade arts and crafts shop which has a large outside area like a traditional Mayan town offering handmade goods, honey and chocolate.
We had lunch at Meson Marques, which is a hotel and restaurant with bright colours inside, a mini statute with a waterfall in the middle and some really tasty food. We had the traditional pork steaks with beans, rice and chicken in a tomato sauce served with tortillas. You could make your own, combining all the ingredients, including guacamole handmade at your table.
This really was a worthwhile team and I highly recommend it.
Coba is a village of Mayan ruins deep in the jungle, around a 40 minute drive from Tulum. We got a Collectivo from Avenue de Tulum straight to the Coba ruins for 70 pesos each – a real bargain and very easy to do. Entrance to the Coba ruins was also 70 pesos a person. I would recommend getting there early, before 11am, to avoid the worst of the heat and to beat the large tour groups.
The Coba ruins are expansive, set across many kilometers of jungle track. To assist in getting around, we hired bikes from just inside the entrance for 50 pesos per bike. I would definitely recommend getting a bike (or a tricycle for 150 pesos where a nice man does all the peddling for you!) as in the jungle heat the walking between ruins can be quite long and tiring – the cycling makes for a nice breeze.
There are lots of amazing ruins set throughout the site, including a small ball court, Grupo Coba containing a large church and Grupo de las Pinturas where you can see a temple. The main sight, however, and by far the busiest, is the Grupo Nohoch Mul, which is a 42m high pyramid that you can climb. Whilst the climb may be somewhat daunting, it is definitely worth it and was one of the highlights of our trip. The view from the top above the tree line over what appears to be a never-ending jungle is incredible and a sight not to be missed – photographs do not do it justice. Of course, after the climb up, you have to get down which makes for an interesting experience but there is a rope to assist and lots of tourists shuffling down on their bottoms! You will want an ice cold bottle of water after you are finished and thankfully there is a small shop at the bottom of the pyramid hidden away in the trees.
If you are lucky enough or willing to wait for one you can catch a Collectivo just outside the main gate opposite where it drops you off. Alternatively, there are lots of taxis waiting to take tourists back to Tulum. We shared a taxi with a French couple who were also heading in our direction (and who thankfully spoke good Spanish!) and after a bit of negotiating it cost 100 pesos per person.
We had such an AMAZING four days in Tulum and would thoroughly recommend a visit to everyone!!
East London Girl: Things to do in Tulum / 4 day itinerary in Tulum