Mexico’s Riviera Maya is world famous for its exquisite beaches, wild nightlife and of course the Maya culture which remains deeply embedded in the area, something you’ll quickly notice when you arrive and have to pronounce the awkward names of ruins, small villages and parks.
But there’s much more to the area than what it’s mostly famous for, and I’m writing this post today from a hostel in Tulum, a small town that might not ring a bell but will definitely pop up as soon as you begin to prepare a trip here. So what is there to do in Tulum? There are two musts: visiting the Maya ruins (which I recommend you do on your own or with a company that works with local mayan villagers) and the cenotes, sinkholes with freshwater all connected by underground tunnels and caves still to be fully explored.
The Maya Ruins of Tulum
Tulum is a former walled Maya city that dates back to the 14th century, and was inhabited by the Spaniards in the later years of their empire- not for long. Today the most famous structure is known as the Castle, overlooking the turquoise ocean and adjacent to a fantastic beach. Nowadays the most popular beach is off limits to visitors, but the opposite site is still open and worth a dip. What remains of the ruins can be visited in 30 minutes if on your own- guides will take longer.
How to get to the ruins– From Tulum hop on any of the colectivos (vans) that run along the main road heading to Cancun and ask the drive to leave you at the road that leads to the ruins. The ride will last less than ten minutes and will cost 15 pesos. From there you will have to walk about 750 meters to the entrance, or you can ride the train/taxi or a cab (few people do).
Cost– The entrance fee as of April 13 2014 is 68 pesos
These sinkholes are well worth a visit particularly if you’re a diver. The water is crystal clear and there are guided tours for certified divers that will take you along portions of these underground tunnels. The most famous cenote is the Gran Cenote , but I recommend you visit Cenote dos Ojos instead as it’s very impressive too minus the crowds . When arriving to the first pool you may be deceived by the appearance, but it’s what you see underwater that makes the trip worth it. You’ll also see divers disappear into the network of tunnels who find their way with flashlights, following strings that have been anchored to the bottom. I took these pictures with a compact camera in a waterproof case- as you see the sinkholes are big and deep…
How to get to Cenote Dos Ojos– Again hop on a colectivo and ask the driver to drop you at the entrance of the road to it, about 10 minutes from Tulum. From there follow the path to the sinkhole, about 2.5 km away after paying the entrance fee. This is a 30 minute walk under the hot sun, so if you’re not in good shape or feel like walking you can hop on one of the cabs available where the tickets are sold.
Costs– The entrance is 150 pesos.
What to bring– Snorkeling mask (it’s what you see under the water that makes the place interesting; limiting yourself to what you see above the surface may disappoint you), sunscreen, towel, bathing suit.
Despite being a small town there are many restaurants and cafes where to eat but I kept returning to La Picadita Jarrocha, a small budget mexican restaurant with superb food at very affordable rates. There are also a few hotels and several hostels. I stayed in Jose at Mamas Home (Facebook.com/joseatmamashometulum) and highly recommend if for travelers on a budget. 120 pesos will get you a dorm bed and quite a good breakfast, and curfew times are respected, something I appreciate.
If its beaches you’re after they are nearby (5 km), yet oddly enough there is no public transportation to get there. Taxis will charge about 75 pesos each way though riding a bike (75 pesos/ day) is quite popular too.
How familiar are you with Tulum? Have you been here? Would you dare to dive in a cenote? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below and this post too if you think others might find it useful!