Tulum has the perfect location for day trips around Quintana Roo and even to some in the state of Yucatan. Located pretty much in the middle along the Riviera Maya, the coastline on the east of the state Quintana Roo, a lot of spots worth visiting are within 2-4 hours from Tulum.
There are several means of transport available for your day trips, ranging from first class buses to bycicles. It all depends on where you are heading and what kind of experience you want to have, a more local one, a very unique one or maybe just the easiest and most comfortable? It is totally up to you and your needs, Tulum has something for everybody.
Babe and I stayed with friends at their beach restaurant for almost 7 weeks last year and this year we spent another two weeks exploring the beautiful surroundings of Tulum and of course the town itself. There are always new ventures popping up, a nice new cafe, a unique new restaurant – you never know. The place is changing fast and even taxi drivers don`t know all the names. The kilometre is always a good reference point and also big hotels that have existed under the name for several seasons.
Several weeks in Tulum made us curious about what else there was. Tulum being undescribably beautiful, the state had to have some other stunning things to see. Our first road trip adventure was an intense one. We had our rental car for 3 days in a row and wanted to make the most of it, which in the end meant 3 roadtrips in 3 days. Valladolid was the first town we discovered more or less accidentally. We just started driving in a random direction and having read the signs indicating Valladolid for a few times, we decided to follow them. I remember having read about the town once but really wasn`t sure what to expect. With no beach around, no coastline in sight, the town itself had to be stunning to make the trip worthwhile. And, believe me, it exceeded my hopes and wage expectations by far!
Valladolid is now one of my favourite towns in Mexico, being super local, vibrant, colourful and welcoming. It is home to one of my favourite cenotes (click here) and by now, we have visited three times. On our first visit, sitting at the side oft he road nibbling on some fresh mangos, a family father and his two daughters noticed us and welcomed us, were curious how we like their hometown and what we had already seen and done. They were so friendly and warm and even sent wishes through our camera to our families and friends in Germany encouraging them to visit Valladolid one day. It was one of the best experiences ever!
Located in the state of Yucatan, you can easily take an ADO bus for around 128 pesos one-way or a Mayab that`s a little cheaper, around 90 pesos. The first two times we had a rental car and it was less than a 2 hours drive from Tulum. Probably, if you are not planning on having the car for any further adventures, I`d recommend the bus, it saves you the hassle with renting the car, insurance etc. Plus it`s cheap and convenient.
A little further from Tulum is the beautiful village of Bacalar, home to a stunning lagoon, the Laguna de Siete Colores. By now we have only ever seen 5 or 6 different shades of blue at the same time, but being higher up, you can probably see all seven. If I remember correctly, it took us around 3 hours to get down there by car, however, we started off early and were home by dawn, which is something I recommend. The street lights are not working well despite the fact that some streets don`t even have any and it can get a little tricky driving in the dark. ADO also has several buses a day. There is a Mayab going, however, it takes many hours because of stopping at a lot of places along the way so I wouldn`t really recommend it as usually the price difference would never make up for it. Rather pay a little more and get down there within 3 – 4 hours depending on traffic.
The lagoon doesn`t charge any entrance fee and when taking a little lunch package from home, it can be a very budgetfriendly trip. Bacalar itself is a very laid-back village with not a lot to do or see, just enjoy the local vibe and friendly people. For vegans and vegetarians there are a few good options with Bacalar having become very popular amongst backpackers. We did Bacalar on a day trip last year and stayed for 3 nights in a local guesthouse this time, enjoying it a lot. The lagoon is beautiful and the locals very warm and welcoming. Read more about our recent stay in Bacalar here (coming soon).
The tiny village of Muyil is home to some Maya ruins and close to several cenotes and the Kaan Luum lagoon (click here). The ruins aren`t spectatular and despite the rainforest which you can walk through to get to the Sian Kaan Nature Reserve, there are only 2 ruins to visit. The village itself is located on the other side of the road, just a few small houses and a small grocery store and restaurant. We had a cold drink there and took the collectivo to the lagoon closeby. I would recommend to take the collectivo when visiting Muyil, it is very fast, convenient and cheap. Look for the ones heading to Felipe Carrillo Puerto and tell the driver to stop at the ruins. If there are 4 of you, it might be worth getting a taxi.
Sian Kaan / Punta Allen
The Nature Reserve of Sian Kaan is a true gem. It is one of those spectacular natural wonders you only find very rarely. For visiting the reserve, I highly recommend booking a tour or finding a local with a lancha (speed boat) to take you there. You can see turtles, dolphins and tons of different birds in their natural habitat. From Tulum there is a road to Punta Allen, a fisher village at the end of the reserve, where the tours often stop for lunch. Last year, on our third roadtrip, we were planning on starting the day early, driving down to Punta Allen for breakfast. We hardly took any water and no food at all and were not at all prepared fort he adventure. The road conditions were so bad that it took us hours to get down there. There is not a single ATM in the village and only very small kiosks. In the end, we didn`t see much of the Nature Reserve and decided to go again, with a tour guide, the following year. Well, that didn`t really work out as we planned the trip for our last day in Tulum before bringing friends back to Cancun airport and continue our journey. On the day of the tour, the weather was so bad out on the ocean with very strong winds, that the tour was cancelled out of security reasons. So, we learnt our lesson never to wait until the last day again and Sian Kaan is still on our bucket list. Punta Allen is a cute little fisher`s village though with a beautiful lonely beach and picturesque view – the ideal spot to take pictures that make everyone jealous.
The ruins of Coba are only a short drive from Tulum on the way to Valladolid. The most spectacular about them is the one pyramid you are allowed to climb up. The view is really good and it`s a great feeling to stand on top. Overall there are definitely more impressive and more picturesque ones around the peninsula, but if you don`t have a lot of time, the ones in Coba are good to start with. There is a big lake nearby, which is especially beautiful when the sun sets behind. If you want to visit the ruins, go early. I remember the enstrance fee being higher in the afternoon. The town itself is really not worth a visit, unless you want to try some local Maya dishes.
Cancun / Isla Mujeres / Playa del Carmen / Cozumel / Akumal
The city of Cancun is about 2 – 2,5 hours from Tulum and buses, ADO and Mayab, go very frequently. You can also take a collectivo to Playa del Carmen and then change for another collectivo to Cancun. My opinions about the city are kind of split. I do like parts of it on the one hand, but don`t really like being there on the other hand. Read here (coming soon) about our most recent stay in Cancun and our day trip to Isla Mujeres.
Playa del Carmen is the one place in Quintana Roo that I personally can`t stand because of the tourist crowds and being overloaded with bars and souvenir shops. It`s the most touristy place along the Riviera Maya and I would not recommend it. Same with the island of Cozumel that can be reached by ferry from Playa del Carmen.
Akumal is another town at the coastline and home to several luxury and holiday resorts. If I would go there again, then only for the turtles you can swim with. Definitely not worth an overnight stay – if you want to check it out, go for a day trip from Tulum and bring your own snorkelling gear. Bying it in the supermarket is way cheaper than renting it there or going on an expensive tour. The place with the turtles can easily be reached without a boat.
Okay guys, I am curious about your thoughts! Have you ever been to Riviera Maya? What did you like / dislike? What places have you visited? Share your pictures with me on instagram using my Hashtag #jotravelholic or simply comment below.