Hello and welcome to part two of my budget travel guide to Tulum. If you haven't read part one, you may do so through here. You read it? Good. So in part installment we are going to quickly run through the typical tourist sites most people who visit this area come to see. I'm sure there are more to see but during my visits, these are cenotes and archaeological sites I've been to. Some of them I've visited more than once. So here we go...
Mayan Archaeological Ruins
There are plenty of Mayan Ruins in this part of Mexico but the three that are normally featured in tours are Coba Ruins, Tulum Ruins and Chichen Itza. Since we're assuming you're based in Tulum, we'll start from there. The Mayan ruins in Tulum are located by the beach. The ruins, against the background of the Caribbean Sea, make for a very picturesque visit. The best part? After walking around the hot and humid sun, you can quickly head down to the beach and jump in the water to cool off. There are usually vendors right at the exit selling popsicles and fresh coconuts if you need refreshments. You cannot go into or climb the ruins since most of the structures are roped off to protect them. Don't be like that obnoxious blonde pop star who thought his fame would allow him to go beyond the roped area and disrespect this sacred space. Who am I referring to? Let's just say "Is it too late now to say Sorry?" Why yes, it is.
The small town of Coba is an easy 45 minute drive from Tulum. Signs are very easy to follow and the road runs straight from Tulum to Coba. Out of the three sites I'm mentioning here, this is the only one you can climb and touch. The ruins are located in the middle of the jungle and require a short 20-30 minute hike to get to Ixmoja, the largest pyramid in Coba. Ixmoja is about 42 meters high and you can climb the steps up to the top if you dare. The view from the top is amazing and you won't regret it. Be careful going up and down since the steps are uneven and may not bode well for those with fear or heights. They have pedicabs and bicycles for rent at the entrance for those who don't want to hike in the heat. We were trying to be cheap so we chose to walk. If I were to compare the ruins between Coba and Tulum, I would say Coba has a lot more interesting spots to see and feels a lot more interactive. The only downside to Coba is that after you scale up and down and walk through the jungle and back, you're sure to be a sweaty hot mess with no beach nearby to cool you down. Make sure you bring water and probably an extra shirt. I've been here twice and we always pair a visit to Coba with a visit to a cenote after. Try to be at Coba in the morning before the sun is high so you have time to drive back, have lunch and hit a cenote after. Cenote sites usually close around 5-6pm.
If you think of Mayan ruins or even Google "Mayan Ruins" Chichen Itza is usually the first thing that comes up. This is THE ruin of all ruins in my opinion. The ruins of Chichen Itza are a two hour drive from Tulum. Just like the ruins in Tulum, the structures are roped off but the perimeter is closer so you are able to see the carvings and designs on the stone. Chichen Itza is also the most beautiful and protected of all three. One can easily spend a couple of hours walking around exploring. Fun thing to try: If you stand at the foot of the main pyramid right in the center and clap your hands, the sound echoes back at you like the sound of a bird squawking. It was pretty cool. The drive to Chichen Itza, will take you through the beautiful town of Valladolid which has a charm of its own. If you rented a car, stop by here for a quick meal or a snack on your way back.
According to Wikipedia, a cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. Cenotes are found everywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula. You will find signs of them everywhere. We chose to go to the ones that are more established and maintained for cleanliness. I highly recommend bringing aqua shoes for swimming since cenotes can have sharp rocks or algae you wouldn't want to step on.
I will start here since it is close to Chichen Itza and the most picturesque of the cenotes I will mention here. Cenote Ik-kil is also one of those cenotes that are at the top of Google's image list when you look up "cenote." It is beautiful here but be aware that most tours that go to Chichen Itza stop here so expect it to be crowded.
This cenote is the closest one from Tulum. It's small but fun to explore plus there are small fish and turtles that will surely delight young children. On my first visit, the turtles and fish were free to swim around amongst visitors but the following year, we saw that they had netted a section of the water to keep them from swimming with the people. This is one of the clearest signs of Tulum's growing popularity. More areas are becoming less accessible due to disrespectful tourists. A few years ago, one could still climb to the top of Chichen Itza but have since prohibited it due to vandalism. I am sure in a couple of years, no Mayan pyramid will be available for tourists to climb.
Cenote Dos Ojos
Dos Ojos means "two eyes" which describes the layout of this cenote. Dos Ojos are two eye shaped caves next two each other. There's not a lot of life to see in the water but this place is popular amongst cave divers since you can go under one cave and exit the other. There are guides who offer snorkel tours for groups if you'd like to explore the cave further. I would have loved to do this but my companions and I were all afraid of the dark and have watched too many scary cave movies like The Descent and Sanctum. Maybe on my next visit, I'll finally be brave enough to try it.
This is a cenote that connects to the ocean is the only one not technically in a cave. You swim along a narrow straight along mangroves. The water is calm and some have chose to paddleboard here.
Of all the cenotes I've mentioned, this is the one most teeming with life. However, it is worth pointing out that because there's a lot of life here, that the water is also filled with algae. If this doesn't concern you, then it's worth a visit. I would also like to mention that it is HIGHLY recommended to use only BIODEGRADEABLE sunscreen when swimming to protect life under water.
There are plenty of dining options in Tulum. There's a whole stretch of resorts and restaurants by the beach that can cater to your cravings from Mexican, Italian and Japanese. But as I did with lodging, I mostly chose to eat in town where it's cheaper without sacrificing quality or flavor. Below are a list of restaurants I've been to and would highly recommend if you choose to dine in Tulum town proper.
El Camello Jr. (Mexican/Seafood)
This is number one on my list and always my first stop upon arriving in Tulum before we even check in to our hotel. I always visit this place at least three times during my visit because food is cheap but very good. Locals recommend this place and it gets fairly busy most days and there's typically a wait if you happen to arrive late in the day. What do I eat here? CEVICHE. Lots and lots of ceviche. We also order from grilled or steamed fish with rice but ceviche is the top item on everyone's list here.
La Barracuda (Mexican/Seafood)
Same type of food as El Camello Jr. It's good if you're hungry and there's a long wait for El Camello since it's just across the street.
Sale & Pepe (Italian)
Here's some Italian food when you're tired of eating tacos or ceviche. Pretty decent pasta and pizza options. This is literally on the corner of the hotel we stayed at that's why it's our first choice for dining when we're too tired to go anywhere further away.
Del Cielo Tulum (Brunch, Sandwiches, pastries, coffee)
Excellent for breakfast or lunch. Great coffee, delicious sandwiches, pancakes and fresh bread and pastries. You can't go wrong here.
Pizzeria Manglar (Pizza)
The best brick oven pizza at un unbeatable price. All their pies are around 5USD and can feed two people well. Or if you're starving from a day of swimming, get a pie and pasta to share.
La Malquerida (Mexican)
Typical Mexican fare. Good location for people watching and easy spot to catch a meal after shopping in town.
La Coqueta (Mexican)
Same as La Malquerida and good for breakfast and lunch.
Excellent steakhouse in town. Because they have an open kitchen, prepare to smell like grilled meat after dinner. Portions are hearty and delicious.
Batey's Mojito Bar
I don't drink much when I go on vacation but this place is very popular. They use fresh sugar cane juice in all their mojitos, which come in different flavors. They're delicious and occasionally will have a live band playing. I highly recommend grabbing a drink here at least once.
This isn't in Tulum town but I felt the need to mention it because the food is very good and the mango mojitos are DELICIOUS. It's located by the beach and according to a friend has a dedicated Salsa night one day of the week.
Hard to get reservations depending on the time of year. Visit their website here where they'll normally say if reservations via email are allowed. Otherwise, you will have to come midday to reserve a table for dinner. Or you could chance it and see if you can walk in for dinner. The wait can be long so come as early as possible. The food is a bit on the pricey side but very good. Reviews are mixed since their menu depends on that morning's catch so food offerings vary everyday. We ordered a variety of dishes to share and nothing was disappointing.
Very good gelato with fresh and local ingredients. Try the mango gelato! So good we kept coming back.
Hope you enjoyed reading my picture filled guide to Tulum. It is and will always be one of my favorite places ever. It's gotten a bit more expensive with every visit and the surge in tourism will only make it more so in the coming years. Visit soon while it's still pretty affordable.