Our Favorite Nature Excursions & Eco-Tours in Tulum
Surrounded by lush jungles, pristine white sand beaches, and home to some of the most awe-inspiring natural wonders in the world, Tulum, located in Mexico's Riviera Maya, is a paradise for nature lovers and eco-tourists.
But, where should you start your exploration of this ecological haven? How can you ensure you make the most of your trip and truly immerse yourself in the natural beauty Tulum has to offer?
I’ll help you with the answers to these questions thanks to my own explorations of Tulum's incredible landscape. My first visit to Tulum was in 2009 on holiday and I moved to nearby Playa del Carmen in 2018 because I was captivated by the area’s natural beauty and vibrant culture. I've handpicked my favorite nature excursions and eco-tours that I’ve been fortunate to experience over the years, and am here to guide you toward the experiences that will take your breath away and etch Tulum in your heart forever.
Why You Should Consider Nature Excursions and Eco-Tourism in Tulum
Tulum's reputation as a haven for nature lovers and eco-tourists isn't just a fluke. There's something genuinely magical about this part of Mexico. It’s blessed with an abundance of natural beauty and unique ecosystems and the 'Tulum nature' is its own brand of enchantment, drawing visitors from across the globe.
One of the most compelling reasons to consider nature excursions and eco-tourism in Tulum is the opportunity to immerse yourself in the natural world in a way that few other places allow. Whether you're snorkeling in the vivid azure waters of Tulum's natural pools, hiking through the lush, vibrant greenery of a Tulum nature reserve, or discovering the stunning underwater world of Tulum's cenotes, you're guaranteed an experience unlike any other.
And then there's the biodiversity. Tulum and the surrounding region are home to a wealth of plant and animal species, many of which can't be found anywhere else. Monkeys, flamingos, jaguars, sea turtles - the list goes on. It's not just about seeing these creatures, though; it's about understanding their role in the ecosystem and appreciating the delicate balance of nature.
I’ve been fortunate to see Tulum grow as an eco-tourism destination over the years. There are many cenotes that were once impossible to access but are now some of the highlights of a visit to Tulum. I remember my very first visit to the Tulum Ruins back in 2009 where you could park right next to the entrance and visit at any time or day and only see a handful of other tourists. Now, the ruins has its own dedicated arrival centre and even a small train that will take you from the car park to the entrance. Tulum has grown up a lot in a short time!
Tulum's natural beauty extends far beyond its famous beaches. With lush jungles, secret cenotes, and an abundant array of wildlife, Tulum is an eco-travelers’ dream.
When embarking on a nature excursion or eco-tour, you'll have the opportunity to delve into this natural wonderland and explore some of the diverse ecosystems of the Yucatan Peninsula. Expect a rich adventure filled with birdwatching, hiking, snorkeling in crystal clear waters, and learning about the delicate balance of these environments.
Pricing & Costs in Tulum
Let's talk numbers. As with any travel destination, the cost of your trip to Tulum can vary greatly, depending on your preferences, the season, and how you choose to spend your time.
Trekking through one of Tulum’s eco-parks with a knowledgeable guide might be on your wish list. If so, you can expect to pay between $30-$60 per person. These tours often include transportation, an expert guide, and sometimes a meal.
Tulum’s cenotes are a sight to behold, and even more incredible to snorkel in. A snorkeling adventure can range from $40 to $100 per person. This usually includes gear rental, a guide, and occasionally a light lunch or snacks.
For a more exclusive experience, private tours are available. These are typically more expensive, starting from $200 and can go up depending on the activities included.
Sometimes, the best way to save money and experience a variety of nature's marvels is by booking a combination tour. These often combine an adventure activity like ATV riding through the jungle, a snorkeling session in a cenote, and perhaps even a stop at an archaeological site. Prices can range from $100-$150 per person, depending on the length and inclusivity of the tour.
What to Pack
Packing for an adventure at an eco-park or a day at the cenote? Here's your trusty checklist.
- Comfortable clothing: Pack lightweight, breathable clothing. Quick-dry materials work best for nature excursions and eco-tours. Don't forget your swimwear for the beach and cenotes!
- Good walking shoes: A pair of sturdy walking shoes is crucial. Whether you're hiking through reserves or exploring ancient ruins, comfort is key.
- Footwear for water activities: When snorkeling in cenotes or wading through wet areas, water shoes can be a lifesaver. They protect against sharp rocks and provide a better grip on slippery surfaces.
- Sun protection: The Mexican sun can be intense. A wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and high SPF, reef-safe sunscreen are essentials.
- Reusable water bottle: Stay hydrated with a refillable water bottle. It's eco-friendly and a real money-saver!
- Snacks: Pack some light snacks like trail mix or fruit for a quick energy boost during your adventures.
- Bug repellent: Outdoor adventures can invite tiny, uninvited guests. Keep them at bay with an effective bug repellent.
- Camera: Capture the beauty of Tulum nature! Whether it's a high-tech DSLR or your smartphone, make sure you have something to snap those unforgettable moments.
Finding the perfect tour or experience in Tulum can be a tricky task. With so many tempting options, where do you even start? Here's a helping hand to guide your decision-making.
What's Your Idea of Fun?
First off, ask yourself, "What do I enjoy most?" If you're all about animals, consider the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve tour. It's a wildlife lover's dream come true. Dolphins, manatees, crocodiles, and countless bird species call this UNESCO World Heritage Site home.
Are you a water baby at heart? Cenote diving and snorkeling might be your thing. Dive into the cool, crystal-clear waters of these natural sinkholes to marvel at underwater caves and rock formations.
Mix History with Nature
For history buffs, a Tulum Ruins and Beaches tour is a must. Picture this: ancient Mayan ruins perched on a cliff, the Caribbean Sea as the backdrop. After soaking in the history, you can take a dip in the sea or lounge on the beach.
The Miracle of Life
Visit between May and October and you're in for a treat. Turtle nesting experiences offer a unique chance to witness sea turtles laying their eggs. If you're lucky, you might see baby turtles hatching too!
Sailing and Snorkeling: A Double Delight
Yearning for marine life encounters? Consider a sailing and snorkeling tour. Sail the turquoise waters of Tulum, stop for a snorkel, and swim with vibrant fishes, rays, and maybe even a sea turtle.
A Taste of the Ancient
For those intrigued by Mayan history, the Muyil Archaeological Site tour is a great choice. After touring the ancient structures, enjoy a serene boat ride or float in Chunyaxché Lagoon.
Ancient City and Cenotes Combo
Lastly, consider a Coba Ruins and cenote tour. Explore the ancient city, climb the Nohoch Mul pyramid, and then take a refreshing plunge in a nearby cenote.
Tulum serves as an epicenter of eco-tours and nature excursions in the Riviera Maya. It's a paradise for eco-conscious travelers that blends cultural heritage with striking biodiversity. Let's dive into the best Tulum nature trips you can embark on while you're here.
Crowned a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1987, the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve is a must-visit when in Tulum. It's an opportunity to observe an array of marine life, birds, and forests in a uniquely protected environment. You can rent a kayak or boat for an even closer look at the thriving ecosystems.
This Tulum nature reserve is best visited by tour both because of how vast it is and also how inaccessible it can be. Unless you’re visiting during a very dry period, the dirt road to get in and out can be particularly challenging. You’ll at the very least need a 4x4 or vehicle with a high wheelbase. Trust me on this, people have gotten stuck after a rainy day and there is very little phone signal so you might be stuck waiting a couple hours for someone to help you out.
Nested within the northwest boundaries of Sian Ka’an Reserve, the Muyil Ruins are a delightful blend of historical exploration and natural beauty. This ancient site offers an intriguing look into the past while surrounded by lush greenery. Don’t be confused when booking your tour as they often go by the local name Chunyaxché.
Top Tip: A combined Sian Ka’an and Muyil ruins half-day trip gives you an in-depth experience of both the reserve and ancient Mayan ruins.
Coba is very high on my personal list of Tulum nature must-dos. You’ll get to experience the ancient city of Coba, its Nohoch Mul Pyramid, and intriguing cenotes on a single tour. It's a less-crowded alternative to other ancient sites, with the rare opportunity to climb a pyramid.
If you're traveling with your little ones, don't worry! Coba is not just about climbing. You can have a fun-filled day exploring its three cenotes. They're just next to each other and nestled near a nearby cave.
You also have the choice of renting a bike while there and while the bikes are not in the best condition (read: very old and rusty), they’re a great way to get around the large site. You can consider it part of the adventure!
Top Tip: If you’re looking to do some activities on a budget, this is one you can easily save some money on. You can take the ADO bus to Coba for around $5. It’s a comfortable first-class bus that only takes around an hour.
Isla Holbox is a charming island about 104 miles from Tulum and is perfect for a laid-back day trip. The journey here might be long but I personally think it’s worth it if you have the time.
It offers one of the last glimpses of idyllic island life in the region. You’ll find vibrant buildings, shallow, calm waters, and the bioluminescent lights on the island shore at night are an otherworldly spectacle. Cars and paved roads are a rare sight here and golf carts rule the streets instead.
If you’re visiting Tulum during what’s becoming known as the “sargassum season”, Holbox and Isla Mujeres’s North Beach are two spots that are usually sargassum-free.
If swimming with sea turtles sounds like a dream, Akumal is where it comes true. Akumal offers an enchanting and rare opportunity to swim with wild loggerhead and green sea turtles in the wild. It's a delicate ecosystem that's now strictly managed to protect the turtles.
You can book a tour with a reputable agency that will take you to the best spots to snorkel alongside these gentle creatures and get a taste of what it’s like to call these beautiful waters home.
If you decide to do this on your own, the protected bay limits the number of visitors, so make sure you get there early. Keep in mind the golden rule: respect the turtles and their space, and definitely DO NOT touch them. A direct bus from Tulum takes around 20 minutes which makes it an easy and affordable day trip
Tulum is home to some of the most spectacular cenotes (natural sinkholes) in the Yucatan Peninsula. These cenotes are ideal spots for swimming, snorkeling, and diving, with crystal-clear waters teeming with marine life. There are some cenotes where you can even try out cliff jumping!
Here are some of my top picks near Tulum:
- Best for crystal-clear waters: Cenote Cristalino
- Best for snorkeling: Gran Cenote
- Best for cave diving: Dos Ojos
- Best for cliff jumping: Cenote Calavera
- Best for a jungle vibe: Cenote Multum-Ha
- Best for underwater photography: Cenote Carwash
- Best for swimming and relaxing: Cenote Zacil-Ha
- Best for a mangrove and cenote combo: Casa Cenote
- Best for Instagram-worthy photos: Cenote Suytun
- Best for off-the-beaten-path exploration: Cenote Escondido
There are tours that visit multiple cenotes in one day trip or you can combine it with a visit to a Tulum nature reserve.
Located about 2.5 hours from Tulum by road, Bacalar is often referred to as the "Lake of Seven Colors" because of the mesmerizing range of blues you can observe in its clear, shallow waters. This freshwater lagoon is one of the most stunning natural wonders in the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s still considered a bit of a hidden gem so if you do go, you’ll feel like you have the whole lake to yourself at times.
In Bacalar, you can indulge in a bunch of water activities including kayaking, paddleboarding, and fishing. Alternatively, you can simply relax by the lagoon and soak in the beauty of the pristine waters and surrounding landscapes. Many say the waters have healing properties and I honestly agree.
A boat tour of the lagoon is a popular activity that takes you around the major points of interest, including Cenote Negro, a deep part of the lagoon that has a depth of over 90 meters. Another highlight is the Pirate Channel, where pirates allegedly used to wash their bounty to remove salt. The sulfur-rich mud in the area is believed to have rejuvenating properties for the skin.
Located approximately 70 miles north of Tulum, you can reach Isla Mujeres by taking a bus or driving to Cancun, followed by a quick ferry ride. The island is small - only about 5 miles long - but it’s brimming with charm and natural beauty.
You can rent a golf cart, the island's most common mode of transportation, to explore the island at your own pace. Garrafon Natural Reef Park is a must-visit spot on the island. This park is known for its beautiful reefs, ideal for snorkeling and diving. If you're into marine life, a visit to the Turtle Farm (Tortugranja) will provide you with an opportunity to see sea turtles and learn about conservation efforts to protect them.
The North Beach (Playa Norte) of Isla Mujeres is often rated as one of the best beaches in the world. Its shallow, crystal-clear waters are perfect for swimming and snorkeling. After a day of exploration, you can unwind by enjoying a meal at one of the many seaside restaurants, with fresh seafood being a local specialty.
One of the most thrilling experiences that Tulum can offer is the chance to swim alongside whale sharks, the largest fish species in the world. Despite their size, these creatures are known to be docile and pose no threat to humans.
Between May and September, these gentle giants migrate through the waters north of Tulum. Local tour operators offer organized tours that include a boat ride out to the sea, full snorkeling equipment, and often a guide who can teach you about whale sharks and how to interact with them respectfully and safely.
As you float in the clear blue waters of the Caribbean Sea, these majestic creatures, which can reach up to 40 feet in length, glide gracefully beneath you. It's a surreal experience that provides a unique perspective on the immense diversity and beauty of ocean life.
While many visitors flock to the more famous Mayan sites like Chichen Itza and Tulum ruins, Ek Balam offers a quieter, less crowded alternative.
One of the highlights of Ek Balam is the El Torre pyramid, one of the few Mayan structures that visitors are still allowed to climb. At 95 feet tall, reaching the top can be a bit of a challenge, but you'll be rewarded with a breathtaking panoramic view of the surrounding jungle. The detailed and well-preserved sculptures and carvings are also a sight to behold.
Near Ek Balam, there's the beautiful Cenote Xcan Ché. After exploring the ruins, you can take a refreshing dip in this natural sinkhole surrounded by lush vegetation. There are also platforms for those who fancy a thrill and want to jump into the cenote's cool waters.
Tulum's surrounding jungle is full of opportunities for adventure and exploration. There are a variety of tours in the area that offer a stack of activities designed to give you an adrenaline rush while connecting you with nature.
You could find yourself zipping through the canopy on a zip-line, navigating the tranquil waters of Tulum natural pools by canoe, or mountain biking along jungle trails. Some tours also include guided walks, where you can learn about the local flora and fauna.
For a truly unique experience, consider a night-time jungle tour. Armed with a flashlight, you'll get to see the nocturnal creatures of the jungle come to life.
What's the best time of year to visit a Tulum nature reserve?
The best time to visit Tulum and its natural reserves is during the dry season from November to April. However, for turtle nesting tours, the season is from May to October.
How much do nature excursions in Tulum cost?
Prices can vary widely depending on the type of tour, duration, and included amenities. On average, expect to spend between $50-$150 USD per person.
What should I pack for Tulum nature excursions?
Consider packing light breathable clothing, sturdy shoes, a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, insect repellent, a swimsuit, and a reusable water bottle. A waterproof bag is useful for cenote diving and snorkeling tours.
Are Tulum natural pools safe for swimming?
Yes, the natural pools or cenotes in Tulum are safe for swimming. However, always follow safety guidelines and respect the environment.
Are the Tulum nature excursions suitable for children?
Most nature excursions in Tulum are family-friendly, but it's always a good idea to check with the tour operator for specific age restrictions or recommendations.
What marine life can I see while snorkeling in Tulum?
Snorkeling tours can bring encounters with a variety of tropical fish, rays, sea turtles, and if you're lucky, even dolphins! Remember, never touch or disturb the marine life.