19 stunning photos that show why this small Mexican beach town should be on your travel bucket list

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Tulum beaches are perfect.
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Sarah Jacobs

If you’ve spent one too many vacations fighting the crowds at the beach in Cancun, it’s definitely time to visit Tulum, Mexico, instead. An hour-and-a-half drive from Cancun International Airport, Tulum has become a destination thanks to its crystal-clear waters, white-sand beaches, and relaxed yet vibrant hippie culture.

The small, magical town has been gaining in popularity in recent years as celebrities and fashion moguls have declared it one of their favorite vacation spots – but the swarms of tourists still haven’t yet descended on this slice of paradise.

I visited Tulum with my family in July, and the best word I can use to describe the atmosphere is dreamlike. Tropical jungle foliage combined with picturesque beaches, historic Mayan culture, and fantastic food moved this town to the top of my vacation destinations list. Ahead, take a look at my favorite part of the summer.


We rented a home in the Sian Ka’an Reserve for the week. At 1.3 million acres, it’s the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. The house had its own private beach access, and it ran partially off solar and wind power.

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View of our private beach access.
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Sarah Jacobs

Driving to the house in Sian Ka’an included a bumpy 20-minute drive from Tulum’s tourist strip, which runs along the coast on Quintana Roo 15.

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Sarah Jacobs

Sian Ka’an is home to thousands of animals and a wide range of flora. 379 species of birds have been identified in the reserve, in addition to 115 species of mammals and 318 species of butterflies.

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Sarah Jacobs

During our weeklong visit, we spotted sea turtles, manatees, pelicans, and numerous fish as we snorkeled off the coast.

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Sarah Jacobs

We toured the reserve’s lagoons via boat, going fly-fishing for bonefish. The lagoons also offer a fantastic lazy-river trip. After a long morning of fishing, we got to dip into the water, slowly floating down a channel filled with mangroves.

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Sarah Jacobs

Click here to learn more about Sian Ka’an »


Of course, our own backyard also offered hours of wonderful beach time, with white sands and vibrant blue, clear waters. Boogie boarding was the family’s favorite activity during the week.

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Sarah Jacobs

Temperatures hovered in the upper 80s. On one particularly hot day, when even the ocean water didn’t feel like a reprieve from the heat, we headed to El Gran Cenote for snorkeling. Marked by fresh, clear water that flows through an underground network of rivers, this was a place of worship and sacrifice rituals for the Maya people.

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Shutterstock/Elzbieta Sekowska

Click here to learn more about El Gran Cenote »


We ventured onto the main tourist strip of Tulum to dine out for dinner. One of the best spots we tried was Hartwood, a well-known tourist favorite where the menu changes based on the fish that was caught that day. The cocktails, ceviche, and jicama salad were all extremely flavorful. While the wait for a table may be long, it’s definitely worth it.

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Jicama salad
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Sarah Jacobs

Casa Jaguar is another restaurant worth checking out in Tulum. The menu features a good amount of delicious vegetarian options.

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Sarah Jacobs

All of the restaurants had equally fresh and amazing food, and the atmosphere was incredibly relaxed as we sat and dined under thick layers of tropical plants.

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Lentils
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Sarah Jacobs

Although we had rented a car, plenty of tourists checked out bikes from their hotels, making their way along Quintana Roo 15 to the beach.

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Sarah Jacobs

It’s always good to get off the beaten path and explore some local favorites. We asked some locals about their favorite restaurant in town — obviously, we had to try it out.

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Sarah Jacobs

We headed to Tulum Pueblo, which is less than three miles inland in the main part of town. Restaurants, bars, hostels, and shops line the roads here.

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Sarah Jacobs

At local favorite Taqueria Honorio, we enjoyed some Yucatan-style pork tacos.

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Sarah Jacobs

The corn tortillas were handmade fresh.

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Sarah Jacobs

Suckling pig was served with pork rind on top. We downed these with a refreshing Mexican Coca-Cola: a heavenly pairing.

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Sarah Jacobs

The local bars opened early in the afternoon, and mezcal was poured while live music played.

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Sarah Jacobs

Although there are some Mayan ruins in and around Tulum, the two-hour drive to Chichen Itza — one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world — is definitely worth the trek. The breathtaking 365-step El Castillo is a testament to the Mayans’ astronomical skills.

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El Castillo
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Sarah Jacobs

The atmosphere in Tulum delivers a truly relaxing vacation, with plenty of activities to explore if you want more of an adventurous trip. I’ll definitely be going back next season.

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Sarah Jacobs