Tulum has become a very popular tourist destination, in large part thanks to Instagram. This Mexican beach town is known for its gorgeous white sand beaches, turquoise waters, and ancient Mayan ruins. However, there is so much more to Tulum than Insta-worthy photo ops. There are tons of fun and cool things to do in Tulum.
So many ‘what to do’ lists include activities such as going to the beach or renting a bicycle. You won’t find those basic activities in this list of awesome things to do in Tulum. These are too obvious and you don’t need me to tell you about them.
This is a list of some crazy awesome and cool things to do in this fun destination that you won’t read about in other posts. You likely don’t even know that number one exists. Check it out and let me know!
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15 cool things to do in Tulum
There are so many different things you can do in Tulum, but these are my top fifteen cool things to do in Tulum. I hope you get a chance to check them out.
1. Tour Pablo Escobar’s mansion
Did you watch Narcos? Are you curious to see how Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar lived? Now you can! His former mansion has been turned into a 71-room luxury hotel located right on the beach in Tulum. Lio Lamca, a Colombian art dealer based in New York renovated it and transformed it into Casa Malca.
While I didn’t stay there, I did tour around the mansion and it is stunning! Check out my reel on Instagram and see for yourself. You can buy a day pass to enjoy the beach and amenities. If you wish to dine at the restaurant, there is a minimum spend if you aren’t staying on-site. We tried to go in for one drink but we were told that wasn’t possible.
If you are in the area and want to see how a former drug lord lived, I highly recommend checking out a tour of Pablo Escobar’s Mansion, Casa Malca. Mexico has a lot of famous artists so if you’re into art, this is a place you don’t want to miss.
If I had more time, I would definitely have paid for a day pass to lounge by the pool and enjoy all of the art surrounding it. Simply walking around Escobar’s mansion for a half-hour was one of the best things I did in Tulum.
2. Go scuba diving in Tulum
Sure, there are tons of places all over the world where you can scuba dive, but Tulum has something nowhere else does. Cenotes. For an amazing experience, try scuba diving in a cenote. A unique activity you can only do in the Mayan Riviera is to scuba dive inside a cenote. I haven’t done this yet, but with more practice diving I just might!
If you aren’t too sure about diving in a cenote, Tulum is still a great place for you to scuba dive. There are lots of amazing dive sites here. You can explore the underwater world without having to travel too far on a boat tour. As a certified scuba diver, this is one of my favourite cool things to do in Tulum, Mexico.
Spoiler alert: check out #6 for a truly amazing cenote that is only accessible to scuba divers. You are not allowed to swim or snorkel there, only go scuba diving.
3. Explore Mayan ruins
This just might be one of the most popular things to do in Tulum. Tulum is situated in an area of Mexico known as the Mayan Riviera. It is popular because of its proximity to some of the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico.
These ancient structures were once home to people who lived there thousands of years ago. Today, visitors come to see them and learn about the history of the area. There are several different Mayan Ruins to visit in the area.
Which ones you visit will depend on where you are staying and how far you wish to travel in a day. I know people that will do a 14-hour tour to get to see an attraction and others that won’t venture far from their resort. Thankfully, you don’t have to travel that far from Tulum to see Mayan Ruins. Ek’ Balam, pictured above, is approximately 2 hours from Tulum.
Other popular ruins to visit are Coba and they are less than an hour’s drive from Tulum. At both Coba and Ek’ Balam you can still climb the ruins, at least for now, so be sure to wear running shoes. I didn’t, as you can see above, and it was a huge mistake.
4. Snorkel in a cenote
If you love snorkelling, then you should definitely visit Tulum. This is by far one of my favourite cool things to do in Tulum. There are tons of cenotes in the area where you can go swimming with sea life. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes that are a very refreshing way to cool off in the hot Mexican sun. The last time I went swimming in a cenote I saw tons of fish as well as a turtle.
There are thousands of cenotes in the Tulum area. Some are above ground, while others are below. Last time I visited Tulum I swam in a cenote that was inside a cave. The options are endless! The cave cenote was a very cool experience but I didn’t see any wildlife inside. I did hear bats flying above my head though.
Before you head out to a cenote, do some research to see what kind of cenote it is. If you are hoping to snorkel and see wildlife, it’s best to visit one that is at least partially above ground. If it’s completely underground, you won’t be able to see anything.
5. Zipline through the Mayan jungle
Another fun thing to do in Tulum is go zip-lining through the jungle. This activity will give you an adrenaline rush as you fly through the trees at speeds up to 60 miles per hour. Climbing up the zip line towers gives you beautiful views of the jungle before you zip down.
As someone who loves adventure, I booked an ATV, Zipline and Cenote tour. It was definitely a fun-filled day! We whizzed down four different ziplines, flying above and amongst the trees in the jungle.
I have gone ziplining in several places, but it’s included in this list of cool things to do in Tulum because here you get to fly through the jungle – and that’s pretty awesome.
Pro tip: if you book a tour that includes both cenotes and other activities, bring or wear water shoes. I really wish I’d had mine for this tour! That’s a mistake I won’t make again.
10 more cool things to do in Tulum
6. Swim in Laguna Kaan Luum
Among the locals, this is one of the top activities to do in Tulum. Located a short 15-minute drive south of Tulum is this stunning swimming haven. It’s been touted as a local secret, but the secret is getting out! This swimming lagoon is very shallow and super warm. The dark blue water you can see in the above image is a very deep cenote.
You are not allowed to swim in this area, but you can book a scuba diving tour as long as you are a certified scuba diver. And yes, they take this rule seriously. I wasn’t aware of the rules when I visited Kaan Luum. I did swim out to the cenote but was turned around by a diver who was in the area and notified me that I wasn’t allowed to be there.
There are no amenities at Kaan Luum so be sure to pack a picnic for your visit. I did snorkel here, but I didn’t see any wildlife other than lots of small fish. I suggest enjoying the shallow waters and swings and hammocks placed in the water. You can also sunbathe on the docks.
7. Watch the sunset above the jungle
Tulum is unique because it has the ocean on one side and the jungle on the other. The best way to gain perspective is to get up high and see for yourself. There are several rooftop bars along the beach road where you can sip a Margarita and watch the sun go down.
I have to admit that it is pretty magical to watch the sun set behind the jungle trees with the warm ocean breeze blowing behind you. Having a Mezcalita in hand makes it even better 😉
If you haven’t ever tried one, a Mezcalita is like a Margarita, but it’s made with mezcal and fruit juices so it’s kinda sweet and kinda smoky at the same time. It’s my new favourite summer drink.
8. Go sailing on a catamaran
It only makes sense to get out on the water when vacationing in a beach town. While I love riding a sea doo, it’s nice to let someone else do the driving, or in this case, sailing. This way you can just relax and enjoy the scenery.
I have to admit that the above photo was taken in Bacalar and not Tulum, but you can absolutely go sailing in Tulum. Bacalar is a 2.5-hour drive south of Tulum and it’s a gorgeous, quaint town. If you have the time, spend a couple of days here. I swear time slows down in Bacalar.
9. Visit Akumal Monkey Sanctuary
Have you ever wanted to get up close and personal with monkeys? Then this is the attraction for you. The Akumal Monkey Sanctuary is an ethical and sustainable tourism attraction. The animals at the sanctuary are rescues. With your purchase, you are supporting the sanctuary’s efforts to keep these rescued animals in a safe home.
The sanctuary tour is 2 hours but this can be upgraded if you wish to also swim in a cenote or ride an ATV through the jungle to the cenote. That sounds like an awesome day to me!
I haven’t yet visited the monkey sanctuary, but it’s on my list of cool things to do the next time I visit Tulum. Knowing me, I’ll combine it with the ATV ride and cenote swim. Stay tuned for an update…!
10. Watch an acrobatic show
If you love acrobatics, then you should definitely check out the night show at the Xcaret Adventure Park. This incredible show features 300 artists on stage that will entertain you with music, regional dances and Mexican folklore. When the sun sets and you see a line of Mayan warriors and priests guard the way to the theatre, you know it’s show time.
If you want to combine watching an acrobatic show with a trip to Playa del Carmen, I highly recommend checking out the Coco Bongo show. This nightclub-style venue hosts the most insane acrobatic show! We had a blast dancing, singing and watching the aerial artists swing around.
Cirque du Soleil also has a permanent show in Playa del Carmen called Joyà. I haven’t seen it yet, but I have heard great things. I often see the Cirque du Soleil shows when they come to Vancouver and they rarely disappoint.
5 more cool things to do in Tulum
I hope you’re enjoying this list of awesome activities so far. I saved some of the best things to do in Tulum for last. This next one is a must and number 12 was one of my favourite afternoons!
11. Rent an ATV
Driving in Tulum can be a crazy activity on its own, so why not up the ante and drive an ATV? The best way to embrace the uneven roads is with a helmet, lol! I simply love the fact that you can drive around on the roads with an ATV. This isn’t something you can do everywhere as it’s illegal in most parts of the world.
The roads in Tulum are pretty much like off-roading so it’s ideal to rent an ATV to explore, especially along the beach road. The beach road, and many of the roads in town, are not paved. In fact, the highway is one of the only roads that is paved. I think renting an ATV is definitely one of the very cool things to do in Tulum that’s also practical.
12. Train at the Tulum Jungle Gym
If you’re someone who likes to work out while travelling, then you must check out the Tulum Jungle Gym. This real-life Flintstone gym is the most fun and unique place I have ever worked out. There are two locations, one in town and another on the beach.
I visited both locations but decided to only work out at the beach location. It’s much more rustic and only has sand for flooring. You’ll have so much fun lifting rocks and doing squats with the sand between your toes that you might even forget you’re working out.
I had so much fun training here that I wrote an entire post all about it. For more detailed information and tons of pictures of the fun equipment, visit my Tulum Jungle Gym post. Many people struggle to stay healthy while travelling and a visit to this jungle gym is a great way to fit in a workout that’s more fun than work.
13. Hop on a ferry over to Cozumel
Okay, so this one isn’t in Tulum, but it’s a super fun day trip from Tulum. There are several different ways you can go about this excursion. You will need to catch the ferry in Playa del Carmen, about 40 minutes from Tulum.
If you don’t have a rental car, I suggest joining a tour group as taking the local bus will eat up a lot of your time. Depending on where you are staying, you might be able to get a taxi. Be sure to ask about the price first, and always pay in pesos. This is one Tulum travel tip that will save you a lot of money.
Once in Cozumel, you can explore ancient ruins, visit a Mayan bee sanctuary, go surfing and so much more. Measuring 46 kilometres (26 miles) from one end to the other with no elevation gains, you could easily explore Cozumel on a bike. We opted to rent a car so we could see as much as possible in one day.
14. Visit the seventh wonder of the world
That’s right, the seventh wonder of the world is in Mexico and it’s a short drive away from Tulum. The Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá are an incredible sight to see firsthand. The massive stepped pyramid, named El Castillo, rises 24 meters above the Main Plaza and features a total of 365 steps.
Unfortunately, you can no longer climb the 365 steps up to the top, but it’s still amazing to see and that’s why it’s on this list of cool things to do in Tulum.
There is no shade so I recommend wearing a hat and bringing water to stay hydrated. The Mexican sun is extremely hot, especially mid-day so be prepared and plan accordingly.
If you have a car, it’s a 2-hour drive from Tulum. Alternatively, you can take the bus or join a tour group. Plan to spend about 3 hours exploring the ruins. I was very young when I visited Chichen Itza with my family, but I recall how amazing it was, even as a child.
15. Check out one of the Xcaret adventure parks
And finally, one last cool thing for you to do when you visit Tulum is to check out one of the eight parks in the Xcaret group.
You can immerse yourself in the Mexican culture aboard a floating fiesta. Xoximilco is a Mexican gondola complete with a host, and a mariachi band with traditional Mexican music. Try authentic Mexican cuisine, beer and tequila aboard your floating party.
Or go where your imagination has no limits. At Xenses Park, you’ll experience 50 different scenarios that challenge your perception. From a village that tests your balance to flying like a bird on a zipline, there is something for everybody.
If you love the water, check out Xcaret and its underground rivers or play on the waterslides at Xel-Há water park. I thoroughly enjoyed my day spent exploring Xcaret and recommend it.
Is Tulum nicer than Cancun?
Comparing Tulum to Cancun is like trying to compare apples to oranges. Yes, they are both cities in Mexico but it ends there. Cancun is a very touristy and expensive area. It is full of resorts and nightclubs. Tbh, it’s not my scene but it might be yours if you are looking to spend a week at a 5-star all-inclusive resort and simply enjoy the food, drinks, beaches and clubs.
Tulum is the opposite. Tulum’s vibe is chill, bohemian, toes-in-the-sand and beachy hair. You won’t see stiletto heels here because you’d break your ankle on the soft sand and dirt roads. Tulu is half-jungle, half-beach and all casual.
If you are trying to decide between the two, it comes down to what vibe you’re looking for in your vacation. Playa del Carmen is somewhere in the middle and that’s where I love to spend my time. It’s an easy drive in either direction, but I usually enjoy the cenotes around Tulum and the nightlife in Playa.
How to get around Tulum
If you plan on doing a lot of things in Tulum, then I would suggest renting a car. If you are staying in town, it can take upwards of an hour to get to the beach. Yes, really. You can take taxis everywhere, but it will end up costing you a lot more than renting a car.
If you have your motorcycle license, I’d suggest renting a scooter. That would be way more fun and it would be easier to get around Tulum’s sketchy roads. Renting a car or scooter is the best way to get around Tulum.
You can rent an ATV to get around the beach roads, but if you plan to visit a cenote or wish to leave Tulum, you can’t drive an ATV on the highway. You can join tour groups instead if you don’t have your own vehicle.
Conclusion: 15 cool things to do in Tulum, Mexico
I hope that I’ve given you some great ideas for your Mexican vacation. You really can’t go wrong with a tropical vacation to the Mayan Riviera. It’s a gorgeous place. It’s always a great time to visit Mexico, but read this if you want to know when is the best time to visit Tulum.
Before you start planning your trip to Tulum, you may want to read these helpful Tulum travel tips. Number three will save you some serious money!
If it’s your first time visiting this beach town in Mexico, check out my post on what to wear in Tulum so you know what to bring on your epic beach vacation. Unlike other cities in Mexico, Tulum has its own vibe and the dress code is quite different here. But don’t worry, I think you’re going to love it!
And finally, if you want to check out other parts of Mexico, I got you! Here are 13 fun things to do in Costa Maya, Mexico.