What most folks really need to know, and only manage to figure out once there, is the fact that there are really three different areas all referred to as TULUM only minutes away from each other, not close enough though to walk to and from.
Tulum Pueblo sits split by highway 307 running South-North. "El Pueblo", as referred to by locals, is home to most workers of the tourist industry and where many of the stores, supermarkets, two bus stations, inns, hostels and small hotels are found. This section of town has a definite feel of existing mostly to cater to the Tulum ruins. Tulum pueblo is indeed a destination for shopping, great restaurants, a modest night life, studying the language at Instituto Chac-Mool Spanish School, booking tours, banking, shopping for food, local vegetables, fruits, cafes, and local flavor. Do not miss it.
Tulum Playa nests along the coastline that leads into the Sian Ka'an Biosphere [Ecological Reserve], the Caribbean white sandy beaches to the east, an impressive mangrove & wetland reserve to the south. Tulum Playa embraces many of the fancier, ecological, boutique and spa hotels, and it has a decent to excellent selection of restaurants and night spots.
It should be noted most of these establishments are Eco-friendly and do not provide electricity past midnight. Toilet pap er can not be flushed and it is asked that water and other resources be used sparingly. The hotels in Tulum aim to keep Tulum as it is and stop the ecological problems that have already taken hold in Cancun and Playa Del Carmen.
If you are staying on the beach and trying to save money, it is wise to stock up on food and drinks in the pueblo. There are not too many restaurant options on the beach, and the ones that are operational are comparatively quite expensive.
Taxis have a near monopoly on transport to and from the playa. Buses come from time to time, but hitchhiking can also get you where you need to go.
Tulum Ruinas is the archaeological site where the Maya ruins of Tulum stand. It is conformed by a-mile-long road leading into the ruins from highway 307. The road is flanked by several restaurants, a commercial area geared to one-day visitors, a huge parking lot, a small bus station that operates part-time and a handful of middle range hotels.
- Tulum archaeological site
- Muyil archaeological site
- Grand Cenote
- Cenote Calaveras
- Dos Ojos Cenote - 100 pesos for entrance only (good if you bring your own equipment and are ready to walk 3km to the cenote). 300 pesos for a guide, ride to the cenote, snorkel equipment, lamp, and wetsuit if you want. Set aside around 2 or 3 hours total.
- Sian Ka'an Biosphere - The reserve features acres upon acres of pristine mangrove swamp and wetlands. Just past the information center pull into the dirt lot on the left and walk out to the beach. There are a few fishermen that dock here and are willing to take you on a tour that is much cheaper than the organized tours offered in the area. The fishermen will take you on an hour to two hour boat tour of the reserve anyt time of day. Near sunset is a great option. They will often work for hire for 100 to 200 pesos or 10 to 20USD.
- Coba ruins - Be sure to visit the Coba ruins. They are not in as pristine shape as the Tulum Ruins, however they feature "el castillo" the tallest of the Mayan ruins that juts up above the treetops in the jungle. You can still climb el castillo in Coba and the sight from the top is spectacular. A fun and efficient way of exploring the ruins is renting a bike ($35 pesos); just go to the rental place inside the ruins. You can also rent bikes to get around Coba. Coba is only a 30 minute drive west of tulum on the main road off 307. Just follow the signs to Coba!