Cenotes dives, street tacos, beach time, and Mayan ruins: Tulum, Mexico makes for the perfect long weekend getaway. If you’re looking for a relaxed itinerary that combines both sights and the sun, here are the top things to do during your three days in Tulum.
In the last two years, Mexico has become our favorite last-minute trip abroad. Gorgeous white sand beaches make it feel miles away from home, but it’s under six hours from almost anywhere in the U.S.—and only about four from Denver.
Mike and I both had busy November/Decembers with work and holiday travel, so we decided to spend my 30th birthday in Tulum. This itinerary combines some of our favorite things to eat, see, and do in Mexico’s hippie-chic heaven.
Visit the Mayan ruins.
There are hundreds of sites of Mayan ruins in Mexico—including the uber famous Chichen Itza, but Tulum was the only Mayan city built along the coast, meaning the ruins are along the cliffs overlooking the ocean.
A 784-meter wall encloses what was Tulum city on three sides, protecting the seaport. Wear your swimsuit so you can jump into the refreshing emerald water. For the lightest crowds, arrive right when the site opens at 8 am. (If you have more time during your trip, you can also visit the more impressive, farther-awa ruins at Coba or Chichen Itza.)
Dive or snorkel Dos Ojos Cenotes.
The Yucatan has plentiful cenotes, or sinkholes that result from the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing the water underneath. One of the most well-known is Dos Ojos (“Two Eyes”), named for the two neighboring sinkholes that appear like two large eyes in the ground. You can see incredible geological features in the crystal clear water snorkeling or even swim into a cave filled with bats. If you’re scuba certified, diving is the best way to see the stalagmite and stalactite formations.
We had a great experience with Mariano at MexiDivers, which charged about $140/person for two dives. I'd recommend doing the afternoon if you can; the caverns have less tourists at the time.
Have drinks on the beach at sunset.
The best part of staying in Tulum for me is honestly just relaxing at the property. I love spending our first night having a cocktail on our beach before we head out. If you’re wandering off property, I love this list of Tulum bar recommendations.
Dine at Kitchen Table.
Many rave about Kitchen Table as the best meal in Tulum. Think locally sourced produce, wood-fired dishes, and a Portuguese flair. The menu’s signature dishes include vegetable tempura tacos; quesadilla de cuitlacoche con flor de calabaza, ahi tuna steak, arrachera angus, and fresh lobster when it’s in season.
While popular, it’s still possible to get a walk-in table and reservations are decidedly easier than Hartwood.
Take a boat ride and float in the canals at Sian Ka’an.
This tour of the Si’an Ka’an biosphere was a unique half-day trip that gives you a huge appreciation of the natural beauty beyond Tulum’s beach and hotel zone. A boat takes you along a glassy green freshwater lagoon toward a mangrove forest in the distance—slowing right as we slipped into a tiny opening, with leafy trees enshrouding us.
You can see straight through the crystal clear water to the bottom. We entered by ladder into the canal, opened up our life vests, and used them as little floaties on our backs, laying at a 45 degree angle. While the canal looks nearly completely still from the boat, once you’re floating, there’s a slight current that drifts you along, lazy-river style. Between the complete silence and refreshing water, it’s a meditative experience. During the float, our guide pointed out air plants / bromeliads, orchids, wasp/termite nests, different types of mangroves.
Because the canal is Mayan-owned and protected property, only a restricted number of tourists are allowed in the canal at any given time. At 9 am, we had it nearly to ourselves.
November offered the perfect weather for the canal float—the water was cool upon entry, but the air outside was warm enough that we never got cold. Francisco mentioned that flowering bromelias and orchids are stunning in the hotter months of summer, but the tradeoff is that it can feel more like bath water.
Osprey Tours took us on this excursion—they were on the pricey side, but I’d highly recommend them otherwise. There were no other guests with us and the tour and the guide were both of high quality.
Snorkel in the ocean.
The reef in the Yucatan is the second largest in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. While Cancun/Cozumel have the better ocean diving, the waters of Tulum had plenty of sea life just 25 meters away from the shore. We spent an afternoon swimming in the ocean right by our hotel and saw turtles, barracuda, squid, and even a stingray less than 50 feet from shore.
Have dinner at Hartwood.
I anticipated being underwhelmed by the extra-hyped, extra-hipstery Hartwood, only because I’d heard so many good things about it that it was entirely possible they just have an incredible marketing team. (After all, they do have a published cookbook.) Nonetheless, because I’m a total sucker, I couldn’t help but try it and grabbed a reservation here anyway. To my surprise and delight, it did not disappoint.
The restaurant prides itself on locally-sourced, seasonal ingredients with a menu that changes nightly. In an attempt to veer away from easy-to-find menu items, we tried the jicama salad (240), a roasted whole beet Betabel (120), and a flakey white fish of the day (480). Reservations open a month out and disappear quickly, so stay on your game or prepare to wait for walk-in. The restaurant does three seatings a night—at 6, 8, and 10.
Sip on mezcal at Gitano.
Gitano feels like a cool New York cocktail lounge transported to the middle of the jungle, with a neon sign marking the entrance and disco balls hanging overhead. They have a menu of 50+ Oaxacan mezcals, plus cocktails made with daily fresh squeezed juices.
I thought cocktails here were hit or miss (while cocktails in Tulum are better than I’ve found elsewhere in Mexico, Tulum still doesn’t escape Mexico’s tendency to do only lightly boozy, overly sweet drinks). Try the Kisses in the Car cocktail and ask them to kick the spice up a notch with a little extra habanero syrup. Or—you can’t go wrong with mezcal.
Bike along the main strip of the hotel zone.
Before the rest of Tulum wakes up, take a bike ride along the main road of the hotel zone. You’ll catch a glimpse of Tulum’s Instagrammable cafes and shops before they’re swarmed with people. Many of the hotels offer free bike rentals—if yours doesn’t, you can easily rent both regular bikes and e-bikes at Playitas Ecobikes.
Playitas Ecobikes Ebikes Rentals
Location : Carr Tulum Boca Paila Km 7.5 Tulum, Quintana Roo. CP 77780
Eat street tacos at Taqueria Honororio.
You can’t leave Tulum without trying the street tacos at Taqueria Honoria. The authentic taco shop is located outside in the hotel zone and in Tulum town, meaning it’s still primarily a locals’ joint, though tourists are catching on quickly.
The cochinita pibil—slow roasted pork—is a traditional Yucatan dish and my favorite food of the region. The lechon al horno—marinated baby pork cooked in a stone oven—was another must-try. I recommend the tacos so you can taste as many meats as possible (I had four, so you can too)—but the tortas looked incredible, too.
Seat yourself and order everything that looks good. At 16 pesos per taco and 35 per torta, it’ll be the cheapest and possibly best meal you have in Tulum. They also have cold juices, sodas, and horchatas to wash down your taco feast.
Shop in Tulum town.
Save a little room in your luggage: A few minutes’ walk away from the taco shop is the main road of Tulum town, Avenida Tulum, where you’ll find shops selling clothing, handicrafts, artwork, and many locally made items you can pick up as souvenirs and gifts.