Turquoise blue cenotes, stunning Caribbean coastlines, and ancient Mayan ruins are just some of the things that keep bringing visitors from around the world to Tulum, Mexico.
And whether this is just one stop on a long Mexico backpacking trip or your final destination for a well-deserved vacation, this Tulum itinerary with 3 days of incredible activities will help you make the most of your time.
Today’s guide is written by Annie – the owner of Your Friend the Nomad.
In this guide, she’ll give you an overview of some basic need-to-know information, like location, the best time to visit, and transportation options.
She’ll then walk through the ideal itinerary day by day, including unmissable things to do and places to eat.
You’ll also find some additional things to do in Tulum so you can perfectly customize your trip, plus hotel recommendations and frequently asked questions.
So without further ado, take it away Annie!
Where is Tulum
Tulum is located in the state of Quintana Roo on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
It’s about two hours south of Cancun and an hour south of Playa del Carmen.
Once an off-the-beaten-track destination, it’s now one of the most popular vacation spots in the world.
Although Tulum is known as a beach destination, the centre of town (called Tulum Pueblo or Tulum Town) is about 5 kilometres from the beach.
While the beach is lined with luxury hotels, eco-resorts, designer stores, and upscale restaurants, Tulum Pueblo is rustic and budget-friendly.
Below is an interactive map so that you can see the exact location.
Best time to visit Tulum
The best time to visit Tulum is between November and April.
However, below is a more in-depth look at what you can expect by season.
Dry season: November to April
The weather is pleasant with warm temperatures and lower humidity.
Rainfall is minimal during these months.
This period aligns with the peak tourist season, so you can expect larger crowds and higher prices for accommodations and activities, especially around major holidays like Christmas and New Year’s.
It’s recommended to book well in advance if you plan to visit during this time.
Shoulder seasons: May and October
These months fall between the dry and wet seasons.
May is slightly warmer but is before the rainy season kicks in, while October is just after the wet season.
Prices are more reasonable compared to the peak season, and crowds are thinner.
However, keep in mind that October is still part of the hurricane season, so it’s important to monitor weather forecasts if you plan to visit during this time.
Wet season: June to September
The wet season in Tulum corresponds with the hurricane season in the Caribbean.
While you’ll find some good deals on accommodations and activities during this time, there’s a higher chance of rain and tropical storms, which can impact your plans.
If you’re okay with occasional rain and are looking for a more budget-friendly trip with fewer tourists, this might be an option.
Just be prepared for some attractions and activities to be closed due to weather conditions
Tulum itinerary: 3 days
Tulum itinerary day 1
Breakfast at Botanica Garden Cafe
Every single day in Tulum starts with breakfast or brunch at a cute cafe.
There are tons of great breakfast spots in Tulum, both in town and along the beach road.
I recommend starting off your first day at Botanica Garden Cafe in Tulum Centro.
Situated in a gorgeous tropical garden this cafe serves a delicious and decently priced brunch menu, with vegan and vegetarian options, as well as great drinks.
There is live music in the morning most days, so don’t miss this spot!
Just be aware that the serving sizes can be a little small, so consider ordering two things instead of one.
Discover the hidden gem of Cenote Aldea Zamá
Once your bellies are full, you can get on your way to the beach, with a stop at Tulum’s only free cenote along the way.
Cenote Aldea Zamá is located about 1.5 kilometres away from the cafe and is a hidden gem that few tourists know about.
This small but gorgeous tranquil cenote will give you a tiny taste of what you’re going to experience on day two.
Take a dip in the crystal-clear blue water and consider bringing a pair of goggles to see the fish underneath.
Beaches and beach clubs
After a visit to the cenote, it’s time to head to the beach.
Which part of the beach you go to depends on what you’re looking for.
You can either head to a free public beach or a beach club (or your hotel, if you’re staying on the beach).
Here are some of the best beach clubs in Tulum:
- Coco Tulum: Known for its laid-back atmosphere and rustic-chic design, Coco Tulum offers a bohemian beach club experience. It’s often praised for its comfortable lounging areas and picturesque swings overlooking the ocean.
- Ziggy’s Beach Club: Ziggy’s is known for its relaxed vibes, comfortable seating, and beautiful views. It offers a range of amenities including beachfront loungers, umbrellas, and a restaurant serving fresh seafood and Mexican cuisine.
- Papaya Playa Project: This beach club combines music, art, and nature to create a unique beachfront experience. With its eco-conscious approach and vibrant events, Papaya Playa Project is popular among those looking for a lively and eco-friendly atmosphere
Whichever you choose, it’s important to know that the beach might not always look like the pictures.
Unfortunately, Tulum and other beaches on the Mayan Riviera deal with frequent outbreaks of sargassum seaweed due to environmental issues.
But don’t worry, hotels and government agencies scoop and discard the seaweed along many parts of the beach, but just know that sometimes it can be difficult to manage and doesn’t always look perfect.
You’ll still enjoy the beach despite the sargassum issue, it’s just worth flagging so that your expectations are set.
If you need something to eat while on the beach, there are tons of options to choose from.
One of my favourite spots is the Raw Love Beach Smoothie Bar.
Raw Love serves fresh, healthy favourites like avocado toast and smoothies in several locations around Tulum.
Their beach bar is one of the most affordable places to get a bite to eat (or drink) directly on the beach.
Dinner at a rooftop restuarant
After an afternoon at the beach, head back to town for dinner at a rooftop restaurant called Casa Vegana.
Casa Vegana is not only one of the best vegan restaurants in Tulum, it is also one of the most beautiful.
The rooftop restaurant and bar features delicious, fresh food and a gorgeous pool.
You can even show up early and sunbathe by the pool before dinner.
Tulum itinerary day 2
Discover the most popular cenotes in Tulum
The Yucatan peninsula’s water-filled sinkholes called cenotes which are easily the area’s most unique and enchanting feature.
Filled with gorgeous turquoise blue water, each cenote is different.
Some are fully underground, others are partially covered, and others are open-air.
Whether you’re interested in scuba diving deep into cenotes, jumping into Instagram-famous cenote pools, or taking in cenote’s beauty from outside the water, Tulum has something for you.
To reach most cenotes in and near Tulum, you’ll either need to take a colectivo, drive, or sign up for a guided tour.
Here are some of the best tours to consider if you’d prefer to have everything organised:
- Tulum Ruins and Cenotes Guided Tour
- Cenote Triple Adventure Tour
- Small Group 3 Cenotes Adventure Tour
Take an independent trip to cenotes around Chemuyil
There are dozens of cenotes to explore around Tulum, but if you prefer to explore independently, then my recommendation is to head a few minutes north to the small town of Chemuyil.
Chemuyil is home to some of the area’s most stunning cenotes and has with fewer crowds with more affordable entry fees compared to cenotes closer to Tulum.
Don’t miss Cenote Dos Ojos, one of the most popular cenotes for scuba divers and swimmers alike.
There are actually three cenotes you can visit at Dos Ojos.
The first two share the Cenote Dos Ojos name and are connected underground.
While swimming between the two is not possible without scuba gear, you can access each side separately.
The third cenote at Cenote Dos Ojos is called Bat Cave and can only be visited with a guide.
If you want to scuba dive at Cenote Dos Ojos, I’d recommend booking a tour such as the 2 Tanks Diving Adventure ahead of time.
Otherwise, just show up and pay the entry fee (pesos are recommended).
Another cenote worth visiting in the Chemuyil area is Cenote Xunaan Ha.
Rarely busy, this gorgeous open-air cenote is a bit of a hidden gem.
The cenote features a large wooden deck that you can jump off into the deep blue water.
There are also a handful of beautiful cenotes near Cenote Xunaan Ha that are unmarked on Google maps and difficult to find on your own.
Pizza, downtown Tulum and ice-cream
Once back in Tulum, grab a delicious sourdough pizza from Pizza Papi.
Before heading back to your hotel, take some time to wander through downtown Tulum, stopping in shops and perhaps grabbing a scoop of ice cream at Aldo’s.
Tulum itinerary day 3
Muyil River Float and Mayan Ruins at Sian Ka’an
Did you know that you can float down ancient Mayan lazy rivers just a few minutes outside of Tulum?
These lazy rivers are actually pristine turquoise-water canals created by the Mayans thousands of years ago.
They connect several local lagoons to the Caribbean Ocean, which enabled the ancient city of Muyil to trade with groups in Belize and other locations across the Mayan world.
Today, a limited number of visitors are granted access to float down these ancient canals daily.
In my opinion, this experience is a must-do activity on any Tulum itinerary.
The Muyil River Float is located in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the largest natural reserves in Mexico.
The reserve is massive and has several entry points, but the access point for the Muyil River Float is just about twenty minutes down the road from Tulum.
In addition to floating down the canals, you must also check out the ancient ruins of Muyil, which are connected to the lagoon by a jungle boardwalk.
While the excavated ruins are not as expansive as some of the other archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, they are definitely worth checking out.
The towering El Castillo is the most iconic spots in Muyil, with a unique architectural style that isn’t found in many places elsewhere on the Yucatan.
After walking through the ruins, wander down the jungle boardwalk, where you can spot tropical birds and other local wildlife.
After about 10-15 minutes of walking, you’ll arrive at a wooden tower that you can climb for a view of the Muyil lagoon and surrounding jungle.
The tower is very rickety, so climb with care.
Continue walking along the boardwalk, which will take you directly to the lagoon, where you can board a boat to head over to the Mayan canals.
Insider tip: If you’re exploring independently, then be sure to bring cash (pesos) as you will have to pay $70 pesos to enter Sian Ka’an, $50 pesos to walk along the jungle boardwalk, and $850 pesos (or more) per person for the boat ride to and from the Mayan canals.
If you prefer to have things readily organised, then here are some of the very best tours for this activity:
Last night in Tulum
After a day at Muyil, head back to Tulum town and squeeze in any last activities and shopping you might want to do before you leave.
What to do if you have more than 3 days in Tulum
There are plenty of other things to do if you have more than 3 days in Tulum, or if you want to substitute any activities on this itinerary for something else.
Here are a few more things to add to your Tulum itinerary:
- Visit more cenotes such as Cenote Carwash, Cenote Calavera, Gran Cenote, and more
- Explore the stunning Tulum Ruins, which are up on a hill above the beach with a gorgeous view
- Spend an afternoon at the neon blue Laguna de Kaan Luum
- Go on a snorkelling day trip off the coast of Tulum
- Visit Mexico’s most famous ruins at Chichen Itza
- Take a day trip to Cozumel island
- Visit Coba, an ancient Mayan city near Tulum
- Take a day trip to Valladolid, a colourful colonial city
- Go to the lagoon of seven colours (Bacalar) on a day trip or overnight trip
Where to stay during your 3 days in Tulum
When travelling to Tulum you have two main options of where you can stay: in Tulum town, or along the Tulum beach road.
Accommodations in Tulum town are more affordable, and it’s easy to get around the town on foot.
Of course, you miss out on water views and being able to walk to the beach.
But since there are so many other things to do in Tulum besides the beach, many visitors opt to stay in the town.
On the other hand, accommodations along the beach road tend to be more luxurious and pricey.
The advantage of staying on the beach is that you often get automatic access to the beach, without having to pay to visit a beach club or journey to a public beach.
Whether you stay along the beach road or in downtown Tulum depends on your personal preference, travel goals, and budget.
Personally, I stayed in downtown Tulum for a month and a half while working remotely and found it to be a great base.
Best hotels in downtown Tulum
Immersed in the jungle, highly-rated Chill Kanil features luxurious apartments for a bargain price.
The apartments all feature air conditioning and wifi and include access to the property’s beautiful outdoor pool.
Check prices: Chill Kanil
Within walking distance of all the excitement of Tulum Centro, Botånica Tulum is a highly-rated hotel with swimming pools, air conditioning, and an onsite bar.
Private rooms are available for an affordable rate and the property also has dorm rooms onsite.
Check prices: Botanca Tulum
This adults-only hotel is located on the edge of Tulum Centro and perfectly blends nature and luxury.
The hotel features a gorgeous swimming pool, free bikes, a bar, and an onsite restaurant.
In addition to the large swimming pool, each villa features its own small private pool.
Check prices: Hotel Bardo
Best hotels on the beach
The cheapest place you can stay on the beach in Tulum is Selina.
Located in the Tulum hotel zone, Selina is a beachfront hostel with dorm beds as well as private rooms.
The hostel is a popular spot for backpackers and digital nomads, with a beach club, pool, yoga retreats and classes, coworking space, restaurant and bar, and more.
If you want to be close to the beach but don’t want to pay several hundreds of dollars a night, check out Pal Mar Glamtainer Tulum.
During the off-season, you can stay in a basic room in a remodelled shipping container for super cheap.
Check prices: Selina Tulum
La Valise is an intimate beachfront hotel in Tulum with incredible service, eco-chic design, and all the amenities you need.
The hotel features private seating on the beach with comfy lounges and hammocks, two heated pools, onsite restaurants, and spacious rooms.
If you’re looking for luxury, La Valise is the place to go.
Check prices: La Valise Tulum
How to get to Tulum
The closest airport to Tulum is Cancun International Airport.
Cancun to Tulum is around 2 hours drive.
You have many options to consider when it comes to getting from the airport to your accommodation in Tulum, but here are some I’d recommend:
- Private Transportation or Airport Shuttle: Many hotels and resorts in Tulum offer private transportation or shuttle services for their guests. This is a convenient and comfortable option, especially if you’re travelling with a group or have a lot of luggage. You can usually arrange this service through your accommodation in advance.
- Rental Car: Renting a car at the airport gives you the flexibility to explore the region on your own. The drive from the airport to Tulum is approximately 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on traffic and road conditions. The main road connecting Cancún to Tulum is Highway 307 which is fairly straightforward.
Check prices: Rentalcars.com
- ADO Bus: ADO is a reputable bus company that offers comfortable and air-conditioned buses between the airport and Tulum. Buses run regularly and provide a cost-effective option. The ADO bus terminal in Tulum is located near the town centre.
Check prices: Busbud.com
- Taxi: You can find authorised taxi services at the airport. It’s recommended to use the official taxi stand and be sure to negotiate the fare with the driver before starting the journey.
Unfortunately, there is no Uber or similar services that operate in Tulum.
If you’re backpacking around Mexico or looking to explore multiple cities and towns across the country, then the bus is usually the most cost-effective way to do so.
Plus, the bus network here is actually pretty good.
Mexico has an extensive and well-developed bus network that connects cities, towns, and even remote areas.
The best platform to check out the cost and timetable for all the different bus providers is Busbud.
How to get around Tulum
Since Tulum’s beach and town are separated by almost five kilometres, and many of the best attractions are a short drive outside of town, it’s important to figure out your transportation plan ahead of time.
There are a few ways you can get around Tulum.
- Walking: You can easily walk in many areas of Tulum, but you will probably want some type of wheels to get you to and from different areas.
- Bikes: A bike is a great way to get from Tulum Centro and the beach, as long as you are not short on time and don’t mind pedalling in the hot sun. Depending on the exact location you’re travelling to, you can expect the ride to take a minimum of an hour one way on the bike. Renting a bike is easy and cheap, with bikes for rent around nearly every corner in Tulum. Some hotels even offer them to guests for free.
- Scooter: One of the most popular ways to get around Tulum is to rent a scooter. You don’t need a special license to rent one and they are fairly affordable (about $25 USD per day). Scooters can get you to and from the beach with ease, and allow you to explore some other attractions outside of these two main areas. However, if you don’t have experience driving a scooter, moped, or motorcycle, be aware that Tulum is not a good place to learn with its bumpy roads and unpredictable drivers.
- Rental Car: A rental car is a great transportation option for a group. While car rentals are more expensive than most of the other transportation options in Tulum, they tend to be cheaper than taxis and give you the most freedom.
- Colectivo: Colectivos are shared shuttles that typically only cost a few pesos and run frequently on certain roads in and around Tulum. While I don’t recommend the colectivos that run between the town and beach (they tend to be unreliable and slow), taking a colectivo is the best way to get to certain cenotes and nearby towns along Highway 307.
- Taxi: Anyone who has travelled to Tulum will likely tell you to avoid ever taking a taxi. The taxi prices in Tulum have been compared to the prices in Manhattan, which is wild. You’re better off choosing one of the other options on this list unless you’re in an emergency or don’t mind spending a large amount.
Is 3 days enough in Tulum?
If Tulum is just one stop on a longer Mexico trip, three days is an adequate amount of time to spend in Tulum.
If Tulum is the only place you are visiting, consider extending your trip to a minimum of five days so you are able to fully relax and experience more of what Tulum has to offer.
Is Tulum worth visiting?
People seem to either love or hate Tulum.
After a month and a half in Tulum, I fall somewhere in the middle.
I think Tulum is the perfect home base to explore some of Quintana Roo’s most stunning natural wonders, including cenotes and lagoons.
However, with frequent sargassum blooms, Tulum’s beaches aren’t as great as some others like Cabo – which also has great beach clubs.
If you do plan to head there, we have a great Cabo San Lucas itinerary that includes whale watching, too.
And, with the city’s rapid development and gentrification, it feels a bit like a Disneyland for hippies and influencers rather than a real Mexican town – which some people love – it’s just not 100% what I look for.
But, even if these issues bother you, you will no doubt still be enchanted by Tulum due to the area’s undeniable natural beauty and charm.
If you’re looking for spotless white-sandy beaches, you may want to consider visiting somewhere else like Bacalar or Cozumel (which can be reached from Playa del Carmen) or even check out this Cancun itinerary and head there.
However, if you are drawn to Tulum for its turquoise blue cenotes and lagoons, go ahead and book your trip – you’ll certainly love many aspects of it.
Is Tulum more beautiful than Cancun?
Though many vacationers compare Cancun and Tulum, the two are very different.
Cancun is a large city, with hotel-lined beaches and a centuries-old history as a vacation destination.
Meanwhile, Tulum was a small town just over a decade ago and has grown massively in the past few years.
While hotels and apartment developments have taken over much of Tulum, the area still feels more rustic than Cancun.
In general, I would say that Tulum does have more natural beauty than Cancun because jungles, rather than city streets, still dominate most of the area.
In addition, most of Tulum’s cenotes and lagoons are preserved and easy to visit.
Is Tulum a luxury destination?
Tulum’s beach and hotel zone is a luxury destination teeming with eco-boutique hotels, expensive restaurants, and designer stores.
While Tulum’s Centro neighbourhood is more rustic, the destination overall attracts luxury travellers and influencers.
Explore beyond Tulum
And thats a wrap, you’re Tulum itinerary with 3 days of incredible activities is complete!
If you’re looking to explore Mexico further, then head to navigation menu or search bar to see where your next adventure could be!
Or, if you fancy the USA, then this 10 day Florida itinerary could be great for you.
Stay Wild Travels.
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About our author: Annie is a writer, photographer, traveller, and vegan foodie who has lived abroad in several countries. She currently shares her travel tips for destinations across Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and beyond on Your Friend the Nomad. You can also find her on Instagram and Pinterest.