The process of planning a trip has always been so exciting for me since it gives me the freedom to research and piece together the perfect itinerary. During my first visit to Cancun with my family, we actually didn't venture too far off and only did a day tour to Chichen Itza during the week. This time around, I was most excited to visit Tulum, as a suggestion from one of my boyfriend's close friends who had visited before. Tulum is a beautiful village located at the southern end of the Riviera Maya that has deep rooted history in the culture of the ancient Mayan people.
I did some preliminary research to figure out if it made the most sense to do a day excursion there, or whether we should rent a car, drive down, and spend a night or two exploring Tulum and Playa del Carmen instead. Out of convenience and the fact that we would be able to cover what we want to see in a one-day tour, we chose this hassle-free option.
Tulum 1-Day Tour
For those interested in doing an incredible 1-day Tulum tour, I highly recommend the package we purchased through TripAdvisor: 3-in-1 Discovery Combo Tour: Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling Plus Cenote and Caves. We were picked up at our hotel lobby in the Marriott Club Resort a little before 7am, and then scooped up a few other passengers along the way to our first stop (Tulum Ruins) until we were a full shuttle of 5 couples. This tour option includes two different price options for those who are either staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, which is great since we didn't have to worry about adding a transportation aspect to our list of things to book and worry about.
Our tour guide, Stephan, was upbeat and very knowledgeable about all of the places we visited, and I had a wonderful time talking to him and learning about what brought him from his home of Germany to Mexico. In short, it was a combination of sun and love, and I don't blame him - Cancun is beautiful. Our day was split up into a few different portions:
7 to 9:30 am : Shuttle to Tulum Ruins
10 to 11am : Ruins Tour
11 to 1 pm: Cenote Tour and Swim
1 to 2 pm : Lunch
2 to 4 pm: Snorkel in Coral Reef 4 to 6 pm : Drive back to Cancun
Note: We had a photographer follow us around for most of the day, and at the end of the tour, you can purchase all of the photos and also their stock photos for $40 USD. We didn't buy them, but one of the couples on our tour offered to email our photos to us, which are the ones of both of us in them!
1. Tulum Ruins
Mexico's Tulum Ruins are located in the southern end of the Maya Riviera and is one of the most visited sites in all of Mexico. In fact, it is actually the only archaeological site overlooking the Caribbean Sea, so you already know that the views here are second to none. The ancient walled city was actually a thriving civilization at one point, and it's name is quite appropriate given that "Tulum" is a Yucatec term that means "trench" or "wall". The walls are said to have been built around 465 AD but peaked in the 13th-15th century. The city was previous called "Zama", meaning “dawn,” an appropriate name given its eastern location.
The tour guide that we booked for the entire day actually was not able to operate the tour at the ruins, so we followed another guide who took us through a 45-minute walking tour/story of the birth and history of the ruins. From learning about the depictions of the diving god or descending god and the way of life for those who used to live here, to understanding how to Tulum was a used as a crucial trade port, we learned quite a lot in the hour. The ruins are very well-preserved and I definitely recommend coming early in the day since it gets quite packed by the afternoon.
Cenote Tour & Swim
The absolute highlight of our trip was definitely our early afternoon visit to the famous Yucatan Peninsula cenotes. If you're looking for something different than resort lounging and sun basking on the beach, exploring the mysterious underworld of turquoise pools and hidden caves is an easy way to fill your day. Cenotes (pronounced SEE-NOTE-TAYS) are natural swimming holes formed by collapsed bedrock, and we were shocked to find out there were actually hundreds of miles of mineral-rich waterways right under our feet while exploring above-ground in Tulum.
Stephan first took us to a dry cenote where we were allowed to bring our cameras to take some cool snaps of the underground caves. I visited the Luray Caverns a few years ago in Virginia and these cenotes really reminded me of what I saw during my weekend trip there! Our second cenote visit was SO much cooler since we were able to jump into the water to swim and explore the caves for half an hour. As we went deeper into the cenote, it became darker and darker, but luckily our guide brought a water-proof flashlight to guide us through and back to the entrance. It was seriously one of the coolest experiences and I don't think I have done any thing similar to that in the past before. It's interesting because I feel like the more I travel, the more I find similarities in the places I see and activities that I do, and sometimes I actually don't get as excited as I could because I compare it prior experiences or say to myself that I've already done something so similar before. Our dip in the cenote was exhilarating because we honestly didn't know what to expect, and I'm not sure if there are too many other places in the world where I'll be able to do it again!
Snorkeling in a Coral Reef
I've snorkeled only a handful of times in my life, but in some of the most beautiful places in the world. Exploring coral reefs in Phuket and Kauai were once in a lifetime experiences, but Tulum was also pretty cool! I actually don't remember the exact reef we visited during the tour (although I'm sure you would visit the same one if you booked with the link above), but it was very well-kept and the water was really clear. I had so much fun following schools of fish and spotted some of the most beautiful exotic creatures. You can rent snorkel gear at the many snorkeling places in Tulum, but our tour provided all of our equipment so we didn't have to worry about it. We did, however, pay an additional $10 at the beginning of our tour for the Conservation of the Marine Fauna fee.
Every snorkel adventure is a unique experience for me, and I can't wait to one day snorkel in Bali and Australia (maybe 2019?) We'll see!
And that's a wrap for our day in Tulum! There's so much more that we didn't get a chance to explore in this beautiful city that if the opportunity ever came to visit again, we would come back in a heartbeat. Thank you so much for following along! My full Cancun post is coming next :)