Tulum, Mexico is a slice of Caribbean paradise for the vacationer who wants great weather and culture in equal measure. However, it can be notoriously pricy if you opt to stay on its popular coastline rather than in the town center, which is nowhere near as scenic. Located on a highway, it can save you money to stay in the town center, but you will miss out on the special beach quality of the Tulum coast.
Luckily, we have curated a list of 9 things you can do for free while you’re staying in Tulum. Mexico is a country full of beauty and culture, and a lot of it can be enjoyed without spending a dime if you know where to look. There should be something for everyone to enjoy while you’re staying in Tulum.
If you’re looking to save money on activities so that you can stay in some of Tulum’s luxury resorts or beautiful coastal hotels, or you’re just trying to do Tulum on a budget, we have all the free activities you can do to make the most of your stay there.
1. Go to the beach
A trip to the beach is the obvious free activity when you’re taking a trip to somewhere as close to paradise as Tulum. Mexico has no shortage of beaches, and the coastline of Tulum is one of the country’s best and most beautiful. Better still: it’s completely free. If you’re looking to make the most of your Mexican vacation while spending as little as possible, there are few better things to do than spend days spread on the golden sands of Tulum’s beaches.
Playa Ruinas is probably Tulum’s most popular beach, and so is a great destination for sun, sea, and people watching. Plus, you are not too far away from shops and restaurants when you’re in need of refreshment. Undoubtedly, sunbathing on a beach like this is one of the most relaxing and refreshing free things to do in Tulum. All the while, you can be secure knowing that there are lifeguards to keep an eye on you and your friends or family when you’re taking a swim in the crystalline waters, too. Exploring the gorgeous beaches of Tulum is a real no-brainer when you’re in search of something free to do.
2. Visit the Cenotes
The cenotes are a massive draw to the Yucatan region of Mexico because of their superb natural beauty. With thousands of these sinkholes spread throughout this peninsula, Tulum is actually home to many of the most popular. This being the case, if you want to explore the surrounding areas on a budget, visiting these sinkholes is a fantastic free activity to do on your vacation to Tulum.
Cenotes are naturally occurring sinkholes that appear frequently in limestone and become filled with water. Not only do these cavernous tourist attractions make a perfect backdrop for a vacation selfie, but they are places of tranquility and calm that are bound to make your vacation memorable. Whether you want to explore the natural history of the region or fancy taking a dip in some gentle and secluded bodies of water, the cenotes surrounding the area of Tulum are a must-visit for any tourist, whether you’re on a budget or not.
3. Explore the Mayan ruins
One of the many good things about going on vacation in Tulum is that you’re so close to the heart of some of the remnants of one of the oldest civilizations in the world. This particular region of Mexico is positively dappled with Mayan ruins and plenty of history to keep you intrigued and interested while you’re on vacation. Doing activities on a budget doesn’t just mean sunbathing, you can see some seriously impressive and unique sights for free if you do your research.
The ruins of Tulum are situated on the area’s rugged coastline and are well worth a visit while you’re in the area. You can pay to take a tour and watch the sunrise over the stunning views of these ancient ruins if you’re willing to pay for a more premium experience. There are plenty of other guided tours, too, that will give you a comprehensive overview of their history. However, when trying to keep costs low on this trip, you can simply pay a visit to these Mayan ruins yourself and imagine the world of Mexican beauty that stood there far before your vacation. You can spend an entire day here, exploring the Ancient temples, city walls, and fortress ruins that are still standing on the same spot to this day.
4. Explore El Castillo
Exploring El Castillo in Tulum is the perfect low budget alternative to taking a lengthy and expensive trip to Chichen Itza. Of course, Chichen Itza is considered to be one of the seven modern wonders of the world, so this certainly is not a fair comparison. However, the entire settlement of Tulum is built in an extremely similar way to that of Chichen Itza, as they were both founded in the same era, but on a far smaller scale. Bottom line: if you’re not bothered about ticking this wonder of the world off your bucket list, but still want to experience the breadth and depth of Mayan history, architecture, and culture, then seeing El Castillo in Tulum for free will be just the ticket.
Being so close to Chichen Itza, both geographically and in terms of its style, El Castillo in Tulum has several similar features to Chichen Itza. For starters, it has snakes carved into the corners of the building like its famous counterpart and also has depictions of Mayan Gods on its façade. Making up a significant part of Tulum’s Mayan ruins and heritage, El Castillo is a must-visit for all tourists in the area, not just those looking to save money.
5. Take a picture by the Tulum sign
This is a majorly touristy item on the Tulum itinerary, but who doesn’t love getting cheesy with a selfie stick when on vacation? Tulum is actually home to a number of different tourist-aimed signs and so you can make sure that at least one of your holiday snaps turns out to be on for the ‘gram.
Much like similar signs in places like Amsterdam, this sign is not only a great way to commemorate your time in this beautiful town, but it’s an opportunity to get goofy and creative with your vacation pictures. Plus, it’s obviously a fantastic way for Tulum to promote its position as a tourist destination, and certainly one to visit. For when you want to venture more into the touristic heart of the town and take it easy out of the beating sun, doing a photo trail around the town is a great free thing to do in Tulum. Don’t be shy; say cheese!
6. Visit the Coba archaeological site
Coba is located almost 30 miles north of Tulum, so right off the bat you will need to pay for transport there. However, if archaeological sites are what you dig, then you’ll want to see this one for yourself. Entry to the site itself is completely free, so it is still a perfect option for people wanting to do Tulum and its surrounding areas on a budget.
Unlike Chichen Itza, the Ancient pyramid that stands at the Coba archaeological site can still be publicly accessed by foot. So, you can really get up close and personal with this important part of history and walk in the footsteps of the Ancient Mayans to the top of the pyramid. Being less touristic than Chichen Itza, too, you will be able to get yourself there and back for a fraction of the price. More than just a cheap dupe for Chichen Itza, however, it is actually home to a plethora of historically and culturally significant artifacts itself, including informative carvings of ceremonies and the way of life back in the world of Ancient Mexico. Coba is an incredibly important site for preserving the native culture and history of Mexico and is certainly a fantastic location to visit if you’re using Tulum as your base for a vacation.
7. Visit Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
When considering how to do Tulum on a budget, you can not fail to include the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Nature Reserve on your list of must-visit attractions for the region. Literally meaning “where heaven begins” you will certainly see how it gained its angelic name when you pay a visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987, this is truly one of the most precious jewels in the crown of the Yucatan peninsula in Mexico.
Located just south of Tulum, this place of outstanding natural beauty and sublime biodiversity is a really breathtaking place to spend a day. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is completely free to explore the gorgeous expanses of this attraction. However, transport from Tulum center will obviously come at a small fee. There is also the option to take guided tours and boat rides while you’re there, but these, again, are obviously at a cost. Nevertheless, when looking to explore this region as cheaply as possible, you must pay a visit to Sian Ka’an and marvel at the communities of monkeys, alligators, birds, and reptiles that are being kept in conservation there by a team of experts. Regardless of what time of year you visit here, you are bound to discover some truly fascinating and captivating wildlife in this highly regarded part of the world and, better still, you will be able to experience the integrity and power of nature without having to spend a single penny.
8. Watch the turtles on the beach
When in Tulum, you have to pay a visit to the beaches of Akumal in order to have one of the most unique and special experiences of your life. The area surrounding Tulum is a special part of the world because, in the right season and at the right time of year, you can sit on the beach and watch the turtles emerge onto the golden sands in order to lay their eggs. You may get lucky and be able to see this, or at least get up close and personal with some turtles in the ocean, at some of the other beaches surrounding Tulum. However, if you want to have the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming alongside these beautiful creatures, you will have to pay a visit to Akumal.
Akumal is truly one of the most magical places on Earth because it is here that you can actually find yourself gliding beside the turtles in their natural habitat. This is so much more than just a free activity you can do when exploring Tulum on a budget: this is an experience that no one should pass up. Experience the true magic of nature and the mystery of the ocean at these beaches, swimming alongside families of majestic turtles. This will undoubtedly be the highlight of your vacation in Tulum and is certainly not one to be missed.
9. Pay a visit to Punta Allen
The beauty of traveling to Tulum is that you don’t have to pay through the nose for a taste of a secluded paradise. In fact, just down the road from the town center is a tiny little fishing village known as Punta Allen. Whether you’re on honeymoon or with family, taking a day trip here is guaranteed to have you feeling calm and blissed out thanks to the laid back vibe and dazzling sunshine here at Punta Allen.
Officially within the area of the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve, this small fishing village has an array of exciting wildlife and nature as well as a tranquil vibe. For spending a relaxing day on a quieter beach, a trip to Punta Allen is your best bet. If you’re looking for something fun to do yourself or with the kids, there is also ample opportunity to try your hand at some sports fishing or go snorkelling in the gorgeous reef.