Once-sleepy Tulum has developed into a relaxed, stylish alternative to the all-inclusive excesses of Cancún. In addition to white-sand beaches and sparkling waters, the area is home to several fascinating Mayan ruins, countless cenotes (freshwater limestone pools), and excellent dining options. Of course, it would be understandable if you wanted to simply enjoy the sun and sand, but if you want to spend some time exploring all that Tulum has to offer, check out our long-weekend itinerary.
Make your first day a beach day. Though currently afflicted with a bit more seaweed than in past years, Tulum's beaches offer soft, white sand, gentle waves, and unbelievable, turquoise-colored waters. Playa Paraiso—the last beach on the road to the ruins—offers views of Mayan seaside structures while you sunbathe or swim. If you find yourself feeling peckish, head one beach over to the restaurant at Villa Pescadores, where you can dig into margaritas and tacos, burgers, or seafood. Another lunch option worth going out of your way for is Taqueria La Eufamia, an affordable taco shack located on the sand in front of the Coqui Coqui Tulum Residence & Spa. The vegetable tacos and salsa bar are particularly excellent, and you can wash your grub down with a tasty piña colada or cold cerveza.
When your long day at the beach comes to an end, head to Mateo's to watch the sun set over miles and miles of green jungle from the bar's Sunset Lounge (while enjoying two-for-one happy hour drinks). For dinner, you'll find some excellent, if pricey, options along the beach road. Hartwood offers a daily changing menu of farm- and sea-to-table eclectic cuisine cooked over a wood grill, and it’s known as the best restaurant in Tulum. The place only takes in-person reservations (line up at 3 pm to put your name down), but a group of two or three can chance it by showing up for a cocktail (try the pineapple-jalapeño margarita) and hoping space opens up at the communal table. For some post-dinner fun, check the scene at Casa Jaguar or Gitano.
Tear yourself away from the sand to hit one of the area's many cenotes: the freshwater limestone pools that offer a natural way to cool off. Gran Cenote is an easy bike ride away—less than two miles from town—or you could add on a trip to the ruins of Cobá, where you can climb up intriguing, half-ruined structures nestled deep in the jungle. Another great cenote is Dos Ojos (the name means “two eyes” in Spanish). Popular for guided diving tours, these twin caves boast crystal-clear water and an underwater channel linking them. For lunch in town, Taqueria Honorio has the best tacos—be sure to try the cochinita pibil and the relleno negro (turkey meat stewed with chile de arbol), both local specialties. Make sure to arrive before 1 pm or 2 pm, when the spot closes for the day. If you still have energy, the Tulum ruins are open until 5 pm. The easternmost site in the ancient Mayan empire is situated on cliffs above the sea, and there's a lovely beach to clamber down to. so bring your swimsuit.
Make reservations in advance for dinner at Posada Margherita, a shabby-chic beachside place offering simple, fresh Italian fare. If you'd rather go cheap and local, Antojitos La Chiapaneca in town offers 50-cent tacos and other snacks—try a panucho, a griddled masa cake stuffed with a layer of refried black beans and your choice of meat or vegetable (go for the al pastor, which is sliced thinly from a rotating spit) then topped with cabbage, pickled onions, and avocado. For a nightcap in town, Batey offers mojitos made with fresh sugarcane juice, or see what's going on at Papaya Playa Project, which sometimes throws Saturday-night ragers.
You may be tempted to spend your last hours in Tulum on the beach (and we wouldn't blame you), but if you're considering an excursion, the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve (about six miles south of town) is so rich in wildlife (include howler monkeys, anteaters, jaguars, pumas, flamingos, and crocodiles) that it's been classified as a UN World Heritage Site. Ask at your hotel about arranging a tour, which typically includes a trip up a viewpoint tower to take in the landscape from above, a boat ride, and life-jacket-assisted float in the reserve's magnificent blue lagoon.
If you have time for lunch before heading to the airport, indulge in a seafood extravaganza at local hangout El Camello Jr. Everything on the menu is fresh and tasty, from ceviche to sautéed octopus. Don't miss the Yucatán specialty known as fish tikin xic—delicious flaky white fish cooked in a foil packet and coated with a mix of spices including achiote, which gives it an intriguing, lipstick-red color. Wash it down with a spicy, Worcestershire-doused michelada.
Planning Your Trip
Before booking your flight, remember that the region's dry season, from November to May, is the best time to visit, and July and August are the rainiest months. You'll find better deals overall during the off-season, though not everything is open then. Direct flights to Cancún are available from many U.S. cities. From there, you can rent a car (it comes in handy for getting around) and drive the one-and-a-half hours south to Tulum or grab a shuttle or taxi from the airport.
Once you arrive, as a 20-plus-year veteran of the zona hotelera (the hotel zone along the beach), Zamas offers some of the funky spirit of Tulum's earlier days in the form of brightly painted chairs and tables and thatched roofs. Spacious luxury cabanas boast huge bathrooms stocked with dreamy bath products and front porches complete with hammocks. The location at the north end of the beach road makes it conveniently located near beaches, ruins, and town. The restaurant on the premises attracts guests and non-guests thanks to its nightly live music and tasty fare, like garlicky shrimp Pil Pil. A bit farther down the beach road, Casa Violeta is a chic option on a beautiful stretch of sand with six beachfront rooms and four others nestled back among the property's garden, where there's also a yoga space, benches, and small boutique. The beachfront restaurant serves wood-fired pizzas and other Italian-inflected fare indoors or directly to your lounge chair.