Mexico, the country of burritos, tequila and guacamole, where you can enjoy the tropical beach life, visit one of the world wonders, and cool off in one of the many cenotes. There is a lot to do and to visit in Mexico, it’s such a large and diverse country with an interesting history. Which part you need to visit depends on your needs. If you’d like to combine beach life with culture and history you have to go to Yucatan! In this blog post you will find the best travel tips for Tulum and the Riviera Maya region.
Tulum was built to be a seaport fortress, with steep ocean cliffs providing protection from the East, and a large limestone wall enclosing the rest of the city on three sides. The population of Tulum was once 1.600 people and was an important trading center for the Mayan world. Goods like turquoise, jade, cotton, food, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans were traded here. Nowadays, Tulum has evolved into a very popular beach get away. Especially for people who like the boho-chic vibes combined with a Mexican influence.
How to get to Tulum
The nearest airport from Tulum is Cancun. After landing you can take a local bus to Tulum which is the cheapest option. Or if you want to explore more of Yucatan and make a road trip, you can better hire a car. But be careful, rental car companies take your money where they can…
When to go
The best time to go to Mexico is between December and April when there is almost no rain. But because this is high season, the prices for hotels will be (much) higher and it will be busier with tourists. November and May can be a good option if you want to avoid those crowds but take into account that you might have some rain and seaweed. We went to Tulum in June, actually because we found a very cheap flight from Amsterdam. But we were unlucky and had almost one full week of tropical storms. Also the beaches were full of seaweed. Yes, we just want to be real with you and not only share the best side of Tulum.
How to get around
The public transport in Tulum is reliable and cheap, but it is not our recommendation to travel through Mexico with public transport. You will lose a lot of time this way, and you are not flexible in where and when you want to go. If you rent a car you can go your own way, and of course, if you want to take photos with the best light and fewer people, you have to arrive early at the hotspots. We enjoyed our road trip through Yucatan a lot. The roads are good, Google maps works perfectly and we felt safe everywhere we drove.
There are over 6000 different cenotes in Yucatan alone. But Suytun cenote was our favorite cenote of all because of several reasons. The first reason is the magical light ray shining through a hole from the roof at a specific time. Also, the impressive stalagmites and stalactites are amazing to see and interesting for photography. Last but not least, it looks like this cenote is not that overrun by tourists as the others we went to. We were the only ones there which gave an extra magical feeling to the experience. Especially when I captured the light ray while Atiba was standing on the platform of the cenote. This was for sure one of our most exciting things to do around Tulum! If you want to read more about the best and most popular cenotes, then read this blog post.
Getting there: Just a short drive outside of Valladolid, this cenote can be combined easily with the others around Valladolid. Drive all the way down the dirt road until you see a parking lot where you have to buy a ticket at the restaurant to enter the cenote.
Entrance fee: 70 pesos per person.
Best time to go for photos: If you want to catch the light ray in your shot you have to come in between 11 AM and 1 PM when the sun is at its highest point and will shine straight down through the roof. You have to be lucky with the weather conditions because even when it’s a little bit cloudy, there will be no light ray.
Photo tip: The best angle is from the stairs with the big stalactites framed in your picture. Set your aperture completely open and if necessary put your ISO a bit higher.
Maybe a bit obvious, yet a must visit when you’re in Yucatan. One of the world wonders, the famous Mayan Ruins Chichen Itza. So impressive to realize that the Maya people build this site thousands of years ago, without any machines. When visiting Chichen Itza you have to take into account that is might be very busy, depending the time of the day. If you are not interested in archaeological sites or photographing them, and you’re getting stressed of too many tourists, then don’t go to this place. For us it was a ‘must visit’ on our itinerary.
Getting there: Very easily with a bus, tour or your rental car.
Entrance fee: There are rumors that the entrance fee of Chichen Itza is doubled in 2019, from 242 pesos to 480 pesos per person. Please check this before you go, because ATM machines might not work there, so take enough cash with you.
Best time to go for photos: The best time for photos is also the best time of the day to visit this site because of the heat, being early in the morning. Of course, the afternoon is also possible when the light gets softer before sunset. Be aware that you can’t bring a tripod or gimbal inside!! You even have to pay extra if you have ‘professional camera gear’. So be sure to put everything in your backpack so you’re not attracting attention to your gear from the security. Of course a drone is strictly forbidden!
Photo tip: Try to be creative with the framing and angles of your photos. There are enough plants or trees where you can frame the Chichen Itza in.
There are many amazing restaurants and cafes to get your belly satisfied. The food in in Tulum is generally very good and tasteful. One of the spots that we really loved to get our breakfast was at Matcha Mama. The perfect spot to snap an instagrammable picture while eating a smoothie bowl and sipping your morning coffee or smoothie. This cafe has swings as chairs and is so nicely decorated. The food is also very tasteful and beautifully decorated. If you are in Tulum, you can’t miss a shot at one of the many cute cafes. But Matcha Mama was our favorite spot though 🙂
Getting there: On the bike or with your rental car, and Google Maps will help you to find it!
Entrance fee: Of course you will order some breakfast or brunch here. Prices for a smoothie bowl are around $9.
Best time to go for photos: When you’re having breakfast or brunch of course! There are a lot of trees around so the sunlight will not be too harsh here.
Photo tip: Depending on the framing, you can set your camera on a tripod at the opposite of the road and sit in the swings with your travel buddy and your Matcha Mama breakfast.
Visit Holbox Island
If you want to relax on a paradise island pretty close to Tulum, you’ll have two options. Go to Cozumel or Isla Holbox. Cozumel is the perfect island for dive lovers. But if you just want to relax, and maybe go snorkeling with whale sharks (only if it’s the season for that), then Isla Holbox is your place to go! We choose to go to Isla Holbox as we’d heard it is such a tranquil island without many tourists. And yes we can agree now! If you want to get away from the busier tourist areas as Cancun, Playa del Carmen or even Tulum, then you definitely need to go to Holbox Island! Read all the details and best things to do in this paradise island in this blog post!
Getting there: You can only get to Holbox Island with the ferry from Chiquila. It’s a short 15 min ride away from the mainland and you can buy tickets at the harbor counter. Find the time schedule and up to date prices here.
Visit the Tulum Ruins
The Tulum ruins are perched on tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The archaeological ruins of Tulum are one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites in Mexico, as well as one of the most photogenic and popular spots among tourists. The Tulum ruins were a major trading and religious center between the 11th and 16th centuries and is one of the coolest Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, just like the other popular ruins like Chichen Itza and Coba.
Getting there: You can rent a bike if you’re coming from Tulum, or go with a colectivo to get to the ruins. Once you arrive at the site, you will need to walk about 500 meters from the site car park to the ticket booth. There is a small tram that shuttles visitors back and forth throughout the entire day if it’s too hot to walk. Getting a lift on the tram costs 20 pesos.
Entrance fee: 65 pesos per person. If you’re planning on bringing a camera (even something as small as a GoPro), note that you will need to pay an additional photography fee of 45 pesos at the ticket booth.
Best time to go for photos: There are many reasons why you have to go early. It is too hot to walk around during midday, there is no shade at the ruins so go as soon as the site opens at 8 AM. The most tour buses arrive around 10 – 11 AM, so you will be alone for hopefully an hour with some other early birds. This will also give you the opportunity to photograph the ruins without too many tourists in your shot. Also the light is still soft and there are no hard shadows.
Photo tip: Frame your shot behind something to create depth and of course don’t forget your wide angle lens here!
Hotels in Tulum
There are many luxury boutique hotels along the coast of Tulum. But you can also find more affordable apartments in Tulum town. Usually, all the hotels near the beach in Tulum are expensive. But if you go to Tulum in low season as we did, you can get great deals! Sometimes it even is 50% cheaper than during the peak season.
Because we had a special occasion as it was my birthday while staying in Tulum, we choose to stay a few days at a beachside luxury glamping boutique hotel. I wrote a review of our experience as it was very special to camp (read glamp) in the jungle so close to the beach! Read the hotel review combined with photos about Habitas glamping boutique hotel here!
Via Booking.com or Airbnb you will find many possibilities for luxury or more affordable accommodations in Tulum.