A Tulum Day Trip From Playa Del Carmen
Mexico has easily become one of my favourite places in the world. It’s where I spent my honeymoon this year! We flew into Cancun and drove down to Playa Del Carmen. Having visited Cancun just over a year before I was keen to check out somewhere else so we chose to base ourselves in Playa Del Carmen. While we were there we decided on spending a day in Tulum, and we both instantly fell in love with it. So much so that next time we return, we will be by-passing both Cancun and Playa Del Carmen to spend time more time checking out the beach and town.
Where is Tulum?
Situated along the Riviera Maya in the Yucatan Peninsula, Tulum is around an hours drive from Playa Del Carmen and 2 hours from Cancun.
The closest airport is Cancun and there are a few ways to get from Cancun Airport to Playa Del Carmen.
We weren’t sold on hiring a car and traveling through Mexico, since I can barely drive and this was Matt’s first time in Mexico. We also like to let someone else do the driving, and as always I enjoy a tour guide. I find listening to someone else who actually knows the area far more interesting than simply reading a booklet or signage.
Our tour had a Spanish speaking guide and an English speaking guide. Ulysses was our tour guide for the day and a local of Tulum. We loved him as a guide as he was very personable and it was clear to us he was very proud of his culture and loved sharing it with others.
Our tour pick-up time was 7am, and we met our driver just outside the Coco Bongo in Playa Del Carmen.
The Tulum Ruins
The first stop on our tour was the Tulum ruins. Nestled on the shores of the Caribbean sea, sitting 39 feet on a cliff, are the ruins of an ancient Mayan community. Bringing in just over 2million visitors per year, Tulum is a popular site for tourists, and it’s easy to see why.
The site in which these Mayan ruins sits was inhabited as early as 564 A.D. Tulum was one of the few enclosed cities built by the Mayas, and built to be a fortress. It was also one of the last cities to be built and inhabited by the Mayans.
The name “Tulum” means “wall” in Maya. Originally named “Yama” which translates to “Place of the dawning sun” as the city lies on the coast and faces east.
Tulum remained inhabited until the late 16th century and survived 70 years after Spanish occupancy in Mexico. As a result of the Spanish arriving, disease was brought with them, which resulted in the abandonment of Tulum.
The three main buildings of the Tulum Archeological site are the El Castillo, the biggest building, and Temple of the Frescoes & Temple of the Descending God.
The Tulum ruins site had been on my bucket list for a while, and after visiting Chichen Itza last year I was ready to learn more about the Mayan Culture. While Chichen Itza is an incredible sight, the Tulum ruins were somehwhat “rougher” and less maintained. Our guide explained that the restoration at Chichen Itza has taken approximately 90 years and therefore looks much cleaner and maintained.
As stoked as I was to be standing within the Tulum Ruins, my favourite part was all the wild Iguanas and Coatimundi’s we saw. The coatimundi’s were like big house cats, unfazed by visitors and loved to lounge around.
Tips For Visiting The Tulum Ruins
I was very thankful when our guide explained to us that this would be our first stop and why. There’s little to no shade in the Tulum ruins, and the humidity midday is very high. For that reason, we headed here first.
I’d already read that the mosquitos here were terrible, so we bought bug spray ahead of time. Unfortunately we were too excited to get out of the bus and left it behind! Our fellow tour buddies let us use theirs instead – and I was incredibly grateful for it! The biggest tip I can give you for this part of the tour is to bring bug spray! And a powerful one at that.
I’ve experienced 48 degree heat in the dessert of Utah with no shade, and I found that easier to deal with than the humidity and mosquitos of Tulum.
Our next stop after Tulum was Coba, another site featuring several ancient Mayan ruins. This area was a nice change from Tulum – less humidity, lots of shade and next to no mosquitoes.
Tulum and Coba share a history as Tulum was a port city for Coba. Unlike Tulum and Chichen Itza, Coba is not a single site, but a group of several sites that are all connected to the big pyramid. These sites are connected by “white roads” (Sacbéob). There are as many as 50 white roads that lead away from the main pyramid, and 16 of these are accessible to visitors.
There are several Mesoamerican ball courts in the Coba settlement, much similar to those of Chichen Itza. Ulysses, our tour guide pointed out several carved stone skulls close to each ball court. This indicates that the games were usually formal ritual events and would sometimes be combined with human sacrifice (sucks for the losers?)
Ulysses talked about human sacrifice like it was no big deal, and I guess back in the classic era maybe it was. But still, we were standing on the very site of several human sacrifices – thats just crazy mind-boggling to me. A pretty surreal feeling.
The finale of this part of the tour, was Nohoch Mul or “The big pyramid”. This is the highest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan and one of the only Mayan ruins in Mexico that you can still climb up. There are 120 steps in total and a rope leading up the pyramid to assist you in your climb. I’m not sure if it’s because we spent our summer hiking, but the climb to the top wasn’t that hard. If you’re wondering if you can do it – you can! Take your time, watch your step and you will be fine.
Coba covers much more ground than that of Tulum or Chichen Itza. There are bicycles, and tricycles with your very own driver, available to rent here to make the most of your visit. Both options are incredibly affordable to rent and we loved this part of our day. It definitely helped having someone pedal us back to the entrance after having climbed the big pyramid.
Included in our tour was a buffet lunch. I must admit, I was a little apprehensive as to where our lunch would be. The last time I did a tour in Mexico, the food was left out in the open and looked like it would give you food poisoning. I was happy to see that this was a real restaurant with equipment to store the food appropriately. We could have one alcoholic beverage included and food items included conchinita, chicken, rice, plantains, mayan soup, pasta, salads, and freshly made tortillas.
Visit A Cenote
I was once again thankful that they kept the Cenoté until the end, as it meant I wouldn’t have wet hair all day! After experiencing the humidity at Tulum the cool crisp waters were blissful.
There are several Cenote’s close to coba including Choo-Ha, Tamcach-Ha and Multun-Ha. A short 10-minute drive and we’d arrived at Tamcach-Ha Cenoté. There are over 2400 Cenotés in the Yucatan Peninsula. The Cenotés are formed when limestone collapses and creates a water-filled sinkhole.
Hancach-Ha Cenote is pretty deep so naturally I had my life jacket on! Deep water scares me and on my previous visit to a Cenote I wasn’t brave enough to get in the water. Hamcach-Ha has a winding staircase that takes you down to the cavern and along the way you’ll find two jumping platforms. Out of everything, the stairs scared me the most, they were incredibly slippery and I was more scared of falling off the platforms. (I’ve almost tackled my fear of water, now to work on heights!)
After an early morning and a day spent climbing ruins, we ended our tour by relaxing on Paradise beach, complete with a cocktail in hand. And it was exactly what it sounded like – Paradise! I completely fell in love with this beach. Bright blue clear waters, soft white sand, and a myriad of beach bars. We also noticed this area had substantially less people. We are sold – Tulum in one day has made us crave Mexico even more.
I had no idea I would fall in love with Tulum quite like I did. While I love the big resorts of Cancun, the laid back small-town vibe of Tulum won me over.
Best Tulum Tours From Playa Del Carmen
When I booked this tour knew I didn’t want to do it cheap. I wanted a tour that didn’t sell me something at every corner and a guide that was knowledgable. I booked my tour through Viator, a company I’ve never used until now. Being a trusted website, I assumed they would offer only the best tours. And I was very happy with my decision. There are a multitude of Playa Del Carmen tours that Viator offer. Here are just a few:
Looking For Tulum Or Playa Del Carmen Hotels?
Whether you are staying in Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, or Tulum the ruins of Both Coba & Tulum are a must see and an easy day trip. In my opinion a day trip to Tulum is not enough, you’ll need at least 3 days in Tulum to allow time to explore!
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