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What to Do and Photograph in Tulum, Mexico (part 1)

One of our favorite places to vacation is the slightly off the beaten path city of Tulum, Mexico (about a 1.5 hour drive from Cancun). We like like the fact that you can get a bungalow steps from the beach in a relatively non touristy area. The area is known for “eco hotels,” hip restaurants, and spectacular becaches and cenotes (underground freshwater lakes inside of caves).

If you ever find yourself in this slice of paradise on the famous Riveria Maya, you’ll find plenty of things to photograph whether it’s wildlife, town life, ancient Mayan ruins, or the beautiful beach.

Tulum, Mexico fishing boat During the day, the palm tree lined beaches are full of tourists, joggers, sunbathers, and locals. There are plenty of opportunities to eat, drink, take a stroll on the beach, or simply relax. You can hire boats to go snorkeling for relatively cheap, and there are lots of sea turtles in the region during certain times of the year.Tulum, Mexico scuba boat workers The beaches on the Tulum Playa are great for people watching. We love just relaxing on the beach and watching the people go by… occasionally playing in the clear blue water.Tulum, Mexico shopping If you get bored of hanging out on the beach or tired of paying hotel prices for food, you can head into the small downtown area of Tulum to do some shopping or to eat some local, inexpensive grub. There are tons of souvenirs all along the main street that runs through the town.

Tulum, Mexico scooterThe back streets behind the main road have a more local flavor, and you get a feel for the “real Mexico” if you just walk a block or two in.

Tulum, Mexico town buildings

There are lots of colorful houses an hole in the wall restaurants all around the small city center.  Most folks at the touristy spots speak English well, but you might have to resort to pointing and using Spanish in the places frequented by locals.

Tulum, Mexico Playa sunset

The beaches are absolutely beautiful at sunset, and you can find lots of people hanging out at all times during the day.  Here on the northern side of the beach closer to the Mayan ruins,  there is a makeshift beach soccer goal made out of wood and a fishing net.

Tulum, Mexico Ruins - Fisheye

The Mayan ruins are one of the main attractions in Tulum, and while not as impressive as Chicen Itza (which is a 2.5 hour drive away) – it is the only Mayan Ruin that’s on the beach, and it is walkable from the North side of Tulum Playa.

Tulum, Mexico iguana time

The ruins in Tulum are home to lots of iguanas, who love sunbathing and posing for photos like this one. They come in all sizes and they’re often just relaxing on the side of pedestrian paths.

Tulum, Mexico souveniers

Traditional fabrics are typically very colorful and most hotels have these very photogenic hammocks hanging from porches or palm trees.

Tulum, Mexico beach sunrise

Sunrises in Tulum provide opportunities for very directional, dramatic light that make almost anything look more interesting. If you happen to visit Tulum in the summer, the early morning is the best time to go to the beach because of the intense afternoon sun.

Tulum, Mexico boat

Boats like this are common on the north side of the Playa Tulum (in the national park area). They make great backdrops for photos.

Tulum Playa

Seaweed sometimes washes up on shore and makes for interesting photos.

Tulum sunset - Mezzanine restaurant

Many Tulum beach restaurants offer great views of the beach, but you have to pay a little extra. One thing to watch out for during the evenings are mosquitoes – especially in areas near any large shady areas or on the jungle side of the beach road.

La Vita Bella bungalow sunset

The Vita e Bella Hotel has some beautiful bungalows that are just about 10 steps away from the beach and reclining chairs where you can relax, people watch, or spend all day reading.

backlit palms

Palm trees abound everywhere on the beach and in the jungle in Tulum.

Tulum, Mexico La Vita Bella porchAgain, the light is beautiful in the mornings on the beach in Tulum. You get a nice , soft directional light underneath porches.

La Vita Bella beachThis ice cream cone on the beach outside of the Vita e Bella hotel makes for a good photo backdrop for portraits.

Tulum Ruins beach The beach at the Tulum Mayan ruins is a famous spot for photos, but you’ll have to get there early if you want to actually walk on the sand. At high tide, they close it off.

Cenote doge Friendly dog at Cenotes Labnaha – one of the underwater caves best in the region… offering private tours through the completely dark cave.

Tulum, Mexico beach hammock Hammock relaxation right on the beach

Tulum, Mexico beach sunrise slow shutter

Sunrise on the Playa Tulum

Chetchen Itza Beach Sandcastle Sand castles of Chichen Itza are pretty common in the area

Cetli wall art Tulum, Mexico  Cetli restaurant offers delicious, creative mexican fare and very interesting decor

Interior Mexican food at Malquierda Mexican ceviche and octopus at La Malquerida – a restaurant in town that has friendly service, good light, and a free tequila shot at the end of the meal.

Gitano Tiki drink Tulum is also known for it’s nightlife. This tiki drink at Gitano, which is basically a nightclub in the middle of the jungle, was delicious and innovative. You can see a burning cinnamon stick for ambiance on the side of the drink.  This spot is a little pricey and very hipster, but have you ever been to a restaurant with live music and a disco ball hanging from palm trees?

In conclusion, Tulum is an amazing place to visit.  Its tropical location provides warm temperatures even when it’s freezing further north. It is a little cheaper to go during the summer, but you’ll have to prepare for scorching hot temperatures.  The best times to go to Tulum are in the fall, winter and spring.

Do you have recommendations for things to do or photograph in Tulum?  Let me know in the comments!



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