Whenever I visit a new beach, I can’t help but compare it to some of the incredible ones I’ve had the fortune of visiting so far. As much as I battle to retain my childlike excitement when checking out somewhere new, a small part of me is always a little disappointed if it doesn’t live up to expectations. And for Tulum, my expectations were sky high.
I was excited to see how it would compare to some of my favourites: Boracay in the Philippines; the surfing beach in Raglan; and the sandfly-ridden paradise of Cambodia’s Koh Rong.
I was a little startled, then, when I first stepped onto the warm sand in Tulum and realised it was my ultimate beach.
It was the best.
You’ll find Tulum on the Yucatan coast of Mexico, about a 45 minute drive from Playa del Carmen. It’s a huge tourist destination for the country, thanks to its spectacular location overlooking the Caribbean sea, but it’s best known for being home to some gorgeous cliff-top Mayan ruins — some of the last ever inhabited.
I’ll let you in on a secret. If you’re going to be visiting Tulum, you should absolutely be waiting to get inside when the gates open at 8 in the morning. Everything we’d read online had mentioned the heaving crowds and dozens of tour buses, so if we knew that if we were going to stand any chance of avoiding them, we would need to be early. We arranged to meet our friend Brian at 7 a.m., and we were in a colectivo (a shared minivan) just a few moments later.
I couldn’t believe it when we were first in the queue, and we excitedly bought our tickets as soon as we arrived. We rushed through the turnstile, jumping for joy at the sight lay out before us.
We had the entire grounds to ourselves.
To be honest, I’m not a huge ruins person, so while I could trawl through archeological websites to find out what the buildings in Tulum were used for, I won’t, because I’m hoping you’re as uncultured as I am.
But in all seriousness, as a ruin-hater, these were some of the best I’ve come across in three years of travel.
The ruins here are a mix of palaces, temples, and pyramids, and Tulum is unique because its the only Mayan site where no signs of human sacrifices were found.
I was most excited by their picturesque location.
And when I saw this beach (can you spot the iguana in the photo above?), I squealed.
Because look at that water! And look at that deserted stretch of sand! And that perfect palm tree!
This was heaven.
With still only a handful of people in the complex and exploring the ruins, nobody had yet to wander onto this perfect beach. I immediately decided I’d had enough rock inspecting for one day and descended the wooden staircase onto the soft, warm sand.
With my friends following close behind, I picked out a patch of sand near to the cliff, then set about going for a swim.
Out into the ocean, the sand was soft with not a rock in sight. The water was so clear I could see my chipped toenail polish in neck-deep water, and the temperature was the perfect bathwater-temperature warm. In the patches where the water wasn’t quite as clear, talcum powder sand swirled around me, forming a cocoon against my body.
Back on the beach, I nervously sunbathed amongst roaming iguanas, every now and then squinting skywards to catch a glimpse of the Mayan ruins towering above us.
“This is the best beach I’ve ever been on,” I declared.
“What?” Brian said in disbelief. “But you’ve been to Boracay.” Back in 2011, I had written such a glowing report of Boracay, that after reading it, Brian had headed there himself and fallen just as much in love with that crowded paradise.
“But Boracay has so many people!” I retorted. “We have this beach all to ourselves.”
He rolled his eyes and laughed, and I knew he was thinking I probably say that about every beach I visit. Which is, um, occasionally true.
But this was definitely the best beach ever.
But then the tourists came, complete with fanny packs and defining voices.
They came and they came and they came.
It was time to leave.
How to get to Tulum from Playa del Carmen
Super easy and super cheap! Calle 2 is the place to go. Between 15th and 20th Avenue, you’ll find a row of colectivos with men shouting, “Tulum! Tulum!” Nod your head, jump inside, and you’re good to go. The 45 minute journey costs around $2.50 (40 MXN).
Entrance fee for Tulum: 59 Mexican Pesos, around $3.50.
Where to Stay in Tulum
Not staying in Playa del Carmen? If that’s the case, you’ll be in an even better position to discover the best beach in Tulum. Here are some of the places I recommend staying in.
If you’re on a really tight budget: Tubo Tulum hostel is one of the cheapest spots in Tulum that still receives excellent reviews. You can stay in a tent for just $17 a night, or opt for a private room in the hostel for $32 a night, including a free breakfast. Check availability here.
If you’re looking for romance without breaking the bank: Villas H2O comes in at around $75 a night and is an excellent option for couples who don’t want to splurge on an expensive resort stay. The rooms are sleek, clean, and modern, the staff are welcoming and friendly, it has a kickass swimming pool and spa, and is perfectly located for exploring Tulum and its ruins. Click here to check availability.
Where’s your favourite beach in the world? Does Tulum seem like your kind of place?
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FANTASTIC pictures, this place looks amazing! I really want to go here now.
Thank you! It would be hard to take a bad photo somewhere this pretty! :-)
First I have to say. What a f**** excellent blog.
Loved some of your older stories.
My favorite beaches are in Croatia. Vis Island. You should check it out.
Srebrna beach is my favorite.
Now that’s the type of comment I like to receive! :-) I’ve spent quite a bit of time in Croatia, but never Vis island. Looks beautiful, though! On my list!
Which hotel is closest to those nice beaches?
It is definitely a beautiful beach. Tulum has some of the best beaches I have ever seen along with the beaches of the Yasawa Islands in Fiji, Northland in New Zealand and the beaches around Cape Town. Isla Mujeres has a beautiful beach too with even finer sand than Tulum
I’m heading to Fiji in a couple of months! I can’t wait to see it :-)
That water looks like a DREAM! I haven’t experienced a clear water beach in soo long. I live in America but I’ve never been to Mexico — hopefully I’ll be able to visit it soon!
I hope so, too! The Caribbean side has some amazing beaches.
I loved Tulum too — more for the ruins, than the beach. My all time favorite beach is Siesta Key in Sarasota FL. Certainly not as exotic as other places you’ve been, but plenty of room for people. I’ve never felt crowded.
I’ve definitely got to explore more of Florida :-)
I enjoyed your photos. Lauren. It brought back memories of my visit to Tulum a decade ago. It was such fun riding with the locals in the colectivo and trying to find the camouflaged iguanas amongst the ruins. Such a fascinating place!!
Wow! I bet it was much quieter 10 years ago.
I love your images and your way to write.
It seems that you’ve made a fantastic trip!
I was in Sardegna this this year and visited Rom.
Sardegnas beaches are also amazing.
My images and story and a recipe you can find on my Blog.
(Translation: scroll down)
Thank you so much, Kat! :-) Sardegna looks beautiful!
Ruins and beach, culture + leisure: it is SO my kind of place! It looks like you have to time it right to enjoy it fully though, I’ll remember the advice about getting there early.
It’s pretty perfect, isn’t it? It has something to please everyone! Well, at least until the crowds descend on you :-)
WOW! That’s the sort of place where you have to keep rubbing your eyes, cartoon style, to make sure it’s not some sort of mirage.
Exactly! I couldn’t believe we had it mostly to ourselves for the first few hours, too :-)
Lauren, pics are really amazing!!! If you wouldn’t have shared, I would have never known about this beautiful place. Really want to visit this place once in my life time
I hope you get to visit!
Ahhh this post is making me so anxious to get down to Mexico!! I’ve been living in Houston, TX for the past 6 months, and it’s only a 2 hour flight down to that area of Mexico from here. I still can’t believe I haven’t been yet!
I love this part of Mexico and highly recommend it! Lots of really pretty places in the Yucatan!
Please tell me you used a filter in these photos….Ive never seen a sky and water so blue!
I edit all of my photos in Photoshop before posting, but not drastically so.
Ahhhh it’s SO PRETTY! Great tip on going early – I wouldn’t mind having that beach to myself, either!
Isn’t it gorgeous? I couldn’t believe we were the only people on it for a while!
Oh, Tulum.. Seeing your photos brings back so many good memories. Like you, I loved this place, especially because we had it all to ourselves. Boracay is still my favorite though :)
Haha! Boracay is a close second for me :-)
I’m in Playa del Carmen, and the seaweed has been so bad the last 8 months that you can’t even see the beach…and the water is brown/green, not blue :( You have to go to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel to see a nice beach.
Ack, that sucks! I’ve seen some pretty awful photos of it online. Hope it clears soon!
Mmmm. Oh well. I have been to Tulum 3 times (twice to the archeological site).
The first time I have been there, I had no idea I could actually access the beach from the site, and ended up jumping in the ocean in my undies because I just could not resist.
Having said that, even then I knew that Tulum is not the best beach I have ever seen. But then, I am from Sardinia so I do have very high expectations when it comes to beautiful beaches and crystal clear waters.
Then I visited Tulum again in January and in February 2015 and the beach below the site could not even be accessed (and it still is the case, from reports I have been reading online) because it is full of seaweed. It was like that all around the area. I spent a day at the beach in Tulum Playa and did not even get close to the water as I was grossed out with the seaweed and the horrible odor that came from it.
I think the way we see a beach (and a place) really depends on our mood. Any place looks quite incredible if it is deserted. I’d recommend you visit some of the best Sardinian beaches at 8:00 am to get my point! In fact, I would love it if you visited! You’d love it too!!
Ah, that sucks. I can’t believe how much seaweed there is, and how much of the coastline it’s been affecting.
I’d love to go to Sardinia! Hopefully next year when I’m based in Europe.
It probably only was one of the best beaches ever for you because you came early and beat the crowds. When we went there we didn’t even go down to the beach because there were so many people.
Best beach we have ever been to is Winnifred Beach in Port Antonio, Jamaica. The water there was even clearer than it was in Tulum and you pretty much have the beach to yourself until late afternoon.
Ah, so it’s definitely key to go early! When we were the only people on the beach and in the ocean, it was incredible :-)
Hey…inspires curious imaginings about the Mayans who lived here…this was their super awesome beachfront villa spot! haha
So, question: what time did those 5 million people show up? The iguana tourists are cool, but your later images do show that the site and beach are really popular.
They turned up around an hour after opening. You have to get in there fast!
If the seaweed is so prevalent and odorous as well, how could this be your favorite beach? I understand it is a natural thing, and I am sure Tulum is wonderful as a whole, but still.. with all of the beaches you have been to a seagrass-ridden, smelly, crowded beach is your number one?
Look at my photos. There was absolutely no seaweed when I was there!
Right. It seems to come and go. I will be there in a couple of weeks so hopefully it is not a distraction.
I hope so! :-)
Wow! That looks incredible! Now the interesting thing is, is that I was actually in Tulum in August, and I guess that they just began to have a major seaweed problem so when I saw the beach, it was mostly covered in seaweed. but these pictures really encourage me to make the trip back!
Seems like the seaweed has been there for the best part of the year. Such a shame considering how beautiful the beach is without it! :-)
Reading this comments while looking at Tankah Bay in Tulum…I agree with you, one of my favorite beaches, but….you need to check out Los Roques Archipelagos in Venezuela, to bad the country is in such bad shape but still Los Roques is incredible!!
I’d love to visit one day when the country is on its way to recovery.
Thanks dear for this great and informative blog post! This excellent post is perfect timing for us as we are just planning to make a beach tour. Once again, thanks for the amazing list.
Looks gorgeous. About how long did you have on the beach before the crowds descended?
About half an hour.
Hey do you know the name of this beach?
I don’t think it has one.
Your pictures are splendidddd and it is like a heaven on earth!!
Is this the Playa paraiso beach?? I am planning for a trip to Cancun on Nov12,2016 and i would want to spend 1 full day in Tulum.
Thanks in advance :)
No, it’s the beach inside the Mayan ruins. Just head to the ruins early in the morning (if possible) and you’ll have the beach to yourself. Playa Paraiso looks gorgeous, though — I didn’t manage to get there, but I’d definitely check it out if I return!
Gorgeous but seaweed! Oh no. Any new reports on the current status of the seaweed problem? Planning a trip in a few weeks and am having hesitations. FYI, Sardinia beaches are amazing. Not only was the water the clearest I have ever seen it was like a magnifying glass.
It sounds like the seaweed is all cleared up now, so you should be good to go! :-)
This is so gorgeous! What month did you go?
I went in January.
I love your site and the way you describe Tulum. Actualy is my favorite beach by far too.
Thanks so much, Mario! :-)
Do you have any recommendations as to where to stay in Tulum? Are all of the beaches equally as nice? I’m looking to go in April with my kids. I’m looking for a place blindly online, which is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Great blog!
Lauren, you are a refreshing fountain of information. I love Mexico! I am currently planning our trip for August and every town I google brings me to one of your blogs. Thank you! I already have my accommodations for 4 nights in Playa, but I am considering adding 2 in Tulum. We are a family of 5. Girls are 8,11,13 and very adventurous. 11 and 13 year old are SCUBA certified. 8 Year old will be when her cardiovascular is more mature. If you had t extra days to spend in that vicinity, where would you suggest? Thank you so much for your help.
Hi, what time of the year did you visit? I’m curious because the water is so clear and beautiful. I’d like to go during a time when the beaches look like this.
I went in mid-January.
You are right on the money! My wife and I went to Tulum for the first time in 1989. The beach next to the temple is spectacular. Back in 1989, Tulum had little development. The only other place that I have been to that has the combination of beautiful sand and spectacular water is Bora Bora, but that was little difficult to get to from the east coast.
I was once at the old hotel bora bora where the sand was so fine that your feet would sink about 3 or 4 inches into the white sand. What an experience. Bora Bora is essentially a sunken volcano with tips of the mountain ridge creating a protected lagoon that acts as a giant aquarium. We stayed at the BoraBora Lagoon resort located on a “motu” or little island across the lagoon from the main town on the island of bora bora which was accessed by a speed boat that constantly drove back and forth between the hotel and the main island. Absolutely great experience using the resort as a base to explore bora bora islands. Michener said it is the most beautiful place on earth,
As beautiful as Bora Bore and Hawsii is, I love the combination of Mexico’s quintana Roos unsurpassed aqua marine and turquoise water, pristine and un crowded white sand beaches, and outstanding hotels restaurants and entertainment. It is an unsurpassed combination that is readily accessible to the east coast, or any US location for that matter. My two cents. Mike