Having only a day to drive to and back from Cancun to Tulum left little time for exploring. Tulum is about a 1.5-2 hour car ride from Cancun. Tulum is more wild and less resort-like than Cancun and many of the Tulum hotels are focused on wellness, health, and a break from technology. I loved the grungy, natural feel of Tulum. It was beautiful and colorful in a very rustic and charming way--my only regret was not being able to spend more time there.
The best thing about Tulum for me were all the amazing cenotes. These natural beauties were so refreshing on such hot & humid days in the Yucatan Peninsula. The waters were completely crystal clear, allowing you to fully appreciate the gorgeous underwater vegetation & fishes. They don't allow you to use sunblock to preserve the water quality. I would suggest going as early as possible to avoid the crowd of tourists and their ugly neon orange life jackets. I feel like the experience is more special when there are not too many others around, when it's quieter and you get to enjoy the nature yourself.
Mattia and I were unfortunate to visit when there was a massive influx of seaweed on the Tulum beaches. The waters were unsuitable for even wading and much less for swimming. The strong decaying seaweed smell made it hard to enjoy staying near the beach too. I did some research and it seems like the seaweed problem exists all over the Caribbean, and has been getting worse in the past years. It's also quite difficult to predict. Luckily we got our fill of frolicking in waters in the cenotes and in beaches in Cancun.
On the way back from Tulum, it was getting late and Mattia was really tired, so we were rushing back to our hotel in Cancun. We were stopped by a police officer for speeding and he told us that we had to pay a fine if we didn't want our license to be confiscated.
Us: We can't go pick up our license tomorrow because we are leaving early tomorrow morning.
Police Officer: Then you can pay a fine in dollars or pesos now.
Us: How much should we pay?
Police Officer: How much do you have?
Us: We actually spent all of our cash today, both dollars and pesos, since we are leaving...
That was a pretty shady response from the officer--it was clear there was no standard fine to charge us and he was indirectly asking for a bribe. Luckily Mattia could sort of communicate in Spanish since it's really similar to Italian, and also luckily we had just spent up all our cash. The officer let us go after a few more exchanges, and I think he was more amicable since we did try to speak in Spanish. I guess this is just a warning that this might happen to you if you rent a car and get pulled over, try to be prepared with a few phrases. I'm sure every exchange with an officer is varies drastically, so I wish good luck to you all as well!
Some recommendations for Tulum:
CENOTE NICTE-HA Pictured above, I loved how this cenote was largely outside and had plenty of sunlight to look at the lily pads, other underwater plants, and cute fishes. It's an extremely refreshing way to spend an afternoon.
GRAN CENOTE Another beautiful cenote where you can swim with fishes and turtles. Lots of bats in the caves too! Great for snorkeling or scuba diving too.
LA FONDA CHIQUITA Good dining experience right off the rocky cliffs overlooking the water. Mattia & I watched had dinner overlooking the sunset.
MATEO'S MEXICAN GRILL This treehouse restaurant and bar has a fun vibe and live bands. Also have some TV's to watch sports and a view of the sunset. Try the famed fish tacos!
LA BUENA VIDA A great place for a meal right on the beach with a great casual vibe. There are cute bean bag chairs, hammocks, and swings at the bar. Includes a great view of the beach and the pool too!
CENOTES DOS OJOS You can go scuba diving with bats flying over over you. I wish we had more time to actually scuba dive or snorkel through the caverns.
MAYAN RUINS OF TULUM This is a gorgeous Mayan ruin that's on a cliff overlooking the water. Mattia & I didn't get enough time to come here since they close entry at 4:30PM.
PLAYA PARAISO Just north of the Mayan Ruins, this stunning beach is a perfect way to get some time in the sun.
SCUBA DIVING & SNORKELING Whether you scuba dive or snorkel in the cave cenotes or in the sea, Tulum is an excellent place for underwater activities. We didn't get to scuba dive or snorkel, we don't have specific recommendations for a company.
CURANDERO TULUM A great place to go out at night, have great local live bands performing. Great potential for a night of dancing, good music, and great drinks. Get the mojitos!
ZAZIL-KIN BAR Great bar right on the beach, includes awesome happy hours, good food, and decently-priced cabanas