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Experience Tulum Like a Local: Non-Touristy Things to Do

We all love the tourist spots full of history and beauty — but a lot can be said for going off the beaten path. When you go where the locals go, you get to experience the authentic side of a city. Skip the typical Tulum travel guides and read our travel tips to learn about the best non-touristy activities in Tulum, Mexico.

Meet Tulum, the “It” Place of Quintana Roo

Move over Cancun: Tulum is the new Mexican hotspot!

What was once a sleepy beach town-turned influencer’s paradise is grown up with drum circles, full moon parties, boho beach bars, lively nightlife, beach clubs, and bougie vibes. Digital nomads, yogis, spiritual seekers, eco-entrepreneurs, and more have flocked here in droves for the sheer natural beauty, timeless culture, and chill atmosphere.

From white sandy beaches, snorkeling, wellness retreats, and Tulum ruins to Insta-worthy photo ops, a sizzling food scene or dancing the night away, the small town of Tulum on the shores of the Caribbean Sea’s Yucatan Peninsula in Quintana Roo has something for everyone. It’s no wonder Tulum has also become a magnet for celebrities and the jet set!

Best Times to visit Tulum

The best time to make your way to Tulum is between the months of October and May.

March to May is known as the shoulder season to visit Tulum, making your travel dollars go much farther. Keep in mind that this time of year can also be hot, humid, and buggy, with the occasional chance for a hurricane.

If comfort is more your style, Tulum is a balmy paradise between January and May, but you will pay for it in swelling crowds and prices. The months of October to mid-December are a nice compromise as it is toward the end of hurricane season, the crowds have thinned out, and the temps start to cool down.

How to Get Around Tulum

It is very easy to get around Tulum! Hop on a small ADO bus, catch a cab, or rent a car on the cheap. Budget-friendly bicycles and scooters are a fun way to see the city from a different point of view, and they can go down the small alleyways and other places that cars and buses cannot. Most places in Tulum accept credit cards and US currency, but its good to carry around Mexican pesos, Tulum’s local currency, in case you need it.

Beach or Cenote Hopping?

Ahhh, the beach… with its powdery soft sand and gently lapping water, what’s not to like?

While Tulum has many of the best beaches in the world, we propose a tantalizing alternative: cenote hopping. It is truly a Tulum must do!

What’s a cenote, you ask? Simply put, it is a natural limestone sinkhole fed with crystal clear, cool spring water that is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. These sinkholes are access points to a network of underwater cave systems and were very important to the Mayans, both as a water source and for sacred ceremonies.

Each cenote has its own characteristics, meaning your experience will likely differ between one cenote to the next. Cenotes typically fall into 3 types:

Open Cenote

Open — this type of cenote is completely open to the sky, which happens after a cave sinks in on itself, and some resemble lagoons.

Semi open Cenote

Semi open —these cenotes are undergrounds with small openings in the top of the caves which allow light to beam inside.

Underground Cenote

Underground — these cenotes are found in completely closed caves; an artificial light source such as a flashlight is usually provided to help you while your eyes adjust to the dim light.

There are about 6,000 cenotes dotting the Yucatan Peninsula, so plenty of opportunities to get your cenote on! Ditch the beach and check out our favorites:

Cuzama — the group of 3 cenotes in this town are among the most interesting. Upon arrival you hop into a horse-drawn buggy that takes you around to the cenote entrances. Access the cenotes via stairs and ladders that take you down into the caves where you can slip into the waters and take a refreshing swim.

Caverns of Tzabnah — this system of ornate caves and caverns has 13 cenotes full of stalactites, stalagmites, columns, deep precipices, and photo opportunities galore. This underground experience is otherworldly and does not disappoint!

El Corchito Cenotes Natural Reserve – swim in the pristine waters of 3 cenotes surrounded by lush jungle foliage. These waters were special to the Mayans, who believed they held healing properties.

Cenote Ik Kil — a short distance from the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins, this cenote is one of the most popular and most photographed in the region. You’ll understand why as you travel along a hand carved stairway leading to the entrance of the cenote. Once in the water, look up and see tree roots raining down into the leaf-covered circle.

Cenote Ik Kil

Fact: this cenote was used for human sacrifices in times past, with the proof in the bones and jewelry discovered in the depths many, many years ago.

Nah Yah – this semi-open cave cenote next to the Mayapan ruins is perfect for scuba diving and for those who enjoy a plunge into deep waters. Take the wooden stairs to enter the water from the cenote’s shore, or jump into the waters from the platform. You can also take advantage of the attached circular float if you just want to relax back and soak in the surrounding beauty.

Jade Caverns — nestled in the heart of the jungle, this cenote’s emerald green waters and natural rock bridge overhang will mesmerize you! Wooden stairs and a series of wooden platforms will lead you to this lush jungle oasis. Bonus: this cenote is one of the least crowded ones to visit, thanks to its remoteness.

Other Notable Cenotes:

Dos Ojos — translated as Two Eyes in Spanish, this particular set of 2 cenotes is a favorite with snorkelers and divers due to the passageway between the 2 sinkholes.

Cenote Zacile-Ha — this open cenote is most reminiscent of a swimming pool, thus great for families who want to swim in its waters or lounge in its hammocks.

Casa Cenote — located near Tulum beach, this shallower cenote is unusual for your ability to kayak or paddle board in it. It is also popular with divers thanks to its cave system that connects to the ocean.

Cenote Tips

When visiting the cenotes you will want to bring a mask and snorkel, biodegradable sunscreen, natural insect repellent, and a waterproof case for your phone or camera. Microfiber towels are great for drying off after you get back to the bus or car. Water shoes or exercise sandals are a good choice to wear as they will give you sure footing on the stairs and protect your feet from contact with the limestone edges.

Be aware that you may encounter steep stairs, narrow passageways, dark tunnels and cenotes that can be very deep in spots. This can be challenging for those who have a fear of tight spaces or deep water; if that is you, make sure to research the cenotes before you go.

A few things to keep in mind when visiting cenotes:

Help protect the environment by not hanging or swinging from any tree roots, stalactites, or stalagmites. Don’t leave trash or personal effects behind. And, out of respect for the sacredness of the space and your fellow visitors, do not shout while in a cenote; instead, enjoy the peace and tranquility of the area.

Seven Things We Bet You Haven’t Done in Tulum and Nearby Cozumel

If you’re looking for an alternative to beach lounging or ruin hopping, we’ve got you! Try one of these unique activities:

Ride a Submarine — explore the famed Chankanaab Reef without a diving certificate! Take a ride inside a Coast Guard-certified submarine to see colorful coral and tropical fish up close from the windows while you stay dry and comfortable.

Learn Salsa Making from the Pros — with this hands-on salsa class you will learn the secrets to making mouthwatering salsa. Afterward try your salsa on several ingredients at a delicious buffet, then take a salsa dancing lesson!

Amazing Race Hunt — this Amazing Race-style mystery scavenger hunt will have you and your friends (and newfound friends) on the prowl through less trodden paths and to hidden gems as you solve clues and race other groups to the finish line.

Immerse Yourself in Mayan Traditions — venture into the jungle to Kun Che Park for the ultimate immersive Mayan Experience! Go through a purification ritual by a Mayan priest, then play the ancient ball game of Pok Ta Pok. While here, learn the history of Mayan chocolate, observe the preparation of authentic Mayan food, then enjoy a fiesta followed by a regional folk dance.

Experience a Tezmecal Ceremony — sit and chant with others in a heated sweat dome that brings you incredible detoxifying benefits.

Tour Pablo Escobar’s Mansion — Casa Malca, a beachfront hotel and spa, used to be the hidden hideaway for the notorious Pablo Escobar. This property’s oddities include reinforced walls able to withstand bullets as well as a tunnel for Escobar to escape.

Enjoy a Pirate Beach Workout — this jungle gym workout on the beach is like no other, using bars, weights machines, and more fashioned out of stone, wood, rope, and bamboo.

So You’re Going to Tulum? What to Pack

Tulum is a beach town, so think of lightweight clothes, swimwear (and related coverups), shorts, tee shirts, sundresses, sandals, flip flops, and comfy sneakers. A cap or sun hat will help keep you cool and protect your face from the intense sun.

Biodegradable sunscreen and sunglasses are a must, as well as insect repellent — you’re going to be on a jungle peninsula, after all (you’re welcome).

Things to Do In Tulum at Night

Tulum is quickly gaining a reputation for being the party capital of the Riviera Maya!

Did you know Tulum had a rooftop bar scene? Enjoy a drink in the Nana Rooftop Bar with its jungle treehouse vibe, or nosh on local delicacies at the Bhanu Sky Kitchen at the top of the beachside Kimptun Aluna Resort Tulum.

Live music can be enjoyed in many bars and restaurants where you can eat, drink and dance the night away. Casa Jaguar hosts international DJs and is the place to be for their Tuesday night parties; ditto Papaya Playa Resort on Saturday nights. Sip on cocktails in Azul’s hot tub, or enjoy movies with popcorn at Teetotum. And if you want to party with the locals, head on over to Santino.

What to Do in Tulum When it Rains

There are people who see the rain as a welcome reprieve to the heat while exploring the ruins; others are already wet from swimming around in the cenotes.  

Sometimes, though, the rain can come down really intensely or just persist beyond a few sprinkles. Those times cry out for a calming yoga class or a relaxing massage in one of the many spas around town. It’s also prime time to take advantage of the circumstances by searching the Tulum food scene for the best tacos, seafood, or mezcals.

What and Where to Eat in Tulum

Recommending places to eat can be dicey, as everyone has different tastes and preferences… so we’re not even gonna try. What we WILL do is share with you the top regional dishes for your consideration:

Ceviche — a culinary staple throughout Mexico, Central, and South America, ceviche is a specific way of preparing seafood. Raw, fresh fish and shrimp are “cooked” in a lime juice marinade with special spices and served up with salsa and homemade tortilla chips. No oven or pan required!

Cochinita Pibil — a Yucatan favorite, the pork in this dish is tenderized in sour orange juice, achiote, and spices, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted. It is used like pulled pork in tacos and sandwiches, and it is typically a morning staple.

Sopa de Lima — the Yucatan version of chicken noodle soup; the key ingredient here is sour lime, which gives the soup its fresh kick! Combined with chicken or turkey, broth, tomatoes, sweet chiles, and fried tortilla strips, this soup revives the soul as well as the bones.

So there you have it! We hope you enjoy these alternative ways to experience Tulum.

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