Tulum snorkeling – discovering the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef

Spectacular coastline, ancient Mayan ruins, magical underwater rivers… All these things make Tulum one of the most celebrated destinations in Mexico! On the top of the historical attractions, ocean lovers can choose from a wide variety of programs including Tulum snorkeling tour to the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, cenote snorkeling or professional cave diving depending on skills and qualification.

Discovering land and sea: Mayan ruins and Tulum snorkeling

Year after year, more and more tourists choose Tulum as their holiday destination over staying in Cancun resorts. Most people think about the famous Mayan ruins when it comes to Tulum. Well, visiting one of the most well-known archaeology sites in the world definitely needs to be on your bucket list. Although Tulum ruins are not the grandest but are well-preserved and due to their special location must be seen! What else you should do in the area? Here is our Tulum activities top list with detailed information on Tulum snorkeling opportunities!

Mayan ruins Tulum - Caribbean Sea

Best 5 things to do in Tulum

Visiting the Mayan ruins
The dramatically situated ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea became the symbol of the whole area. Travel back in time and explore this ancient Mayan city! Arrive early in the morning to avoid the crowd! Don’t leave your swimsuit at home in order to enjoy a relaxing swim just right in front of the ruins at Playa Ruinas!

Playa Ruinas Beach - Tulum

Chilling on the breath-taking white sandy Tulum beaches
Although most Tulum beaches belong to hotels, therefore, are open for hotel guests only, but good news is that the public beaches are beautiful too! Las Palmas Public Beach and Playa Maya Public Beach are popular among tourists who want to escape the crowded Cancun beaches.

Snorkeling Tulum Reef and in cenotes
The Tulum reef is part of the Mesoamerican Reef System that stretches over 1000 kilometers from Isla Contoy to Belize and Bay Islands in Honduras. Have you ever snorkeled in sinkholes filled up with fresh water? If not, put cenote snorkeling on your list too! We have a full post dedicated to the best cenotes around Tulum!


Discovering the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
With its rich flora and fauna, tropical forests, mangroves and preserved marine section Sian Ka’an is a place to visit for nature lovers. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home to over 400 species of fish, 300 species of birds, 100 mammals and 40 amphibians.

Treat yourself with yoga and meditation
In this spiritually abundant town, you find many different retreat centers. Join their courses, workshops and get back to balance!

Tulum snorkeling – reef snorkel trips and cenote wonder

Snorkeling from shore Playa Maya Beach

If you check on Google Earth or on Wikimapia, you will see that the Tulum coral reef is not so far from the shore (about 250-300 meters). In fact, it shouldn’t be a problem to swim there if you are a good, confident swimmer. We snorkeled from the shore at Playa Maya Public beach. On the internet we found mixed information about free shore snorkeling. We were not sure if it is allowed or not therefore decided to check it out on the spot. Actually, there was no sign or information at Playa Maya Beach that you cannot swim out to the reef. The weather was ideal, bright and sunny with a light breeze, no waves so we decided to go snorkeling from the shore.

Flamingo tongue orange sea-slug - Caribbean Sea

We swam about 300 meters until we reached the reef built up from different hard and soft coral species (mainly sea plume, sea fan, Caribbean Sea whip). Tulum reef as part of the Great Mayan reef is home to over 75 coral species and 500 species of fish like barracudas, surgeonfish, butterflyfish, parrotfish, sergeant majors and blue tangs just to mention a few that you will see for sure while your Tulum snorkeling trip. If you are lucky enough you might spot rays and turtles too!

Yellow Stingray - Mexico Tulum
Always stay on the inner side of the reef with attention to boats! The traffic is quite big, hence for your own safety always carry a surface marker buoy with you! For novice snorkelers, we recommend signing up for a Tulum snorkeling tour!

Tip: if you don’t find turtles in Tulum, organize a day trip to Akumal Turtle Bay which is home to a big population of sea turtles!

Tulum snorkeling tour

Booking a snorkel trip in Tulum is as easy as ordering a pizza! Most companies offer Tulum snorkeling tour, you can book these in your hotel or in the city center. Of course, booking can be done directly at Tulum public beaches too. Reef snorkel trips are often combined with a short trip to the Mayan ruins too where you can have a look at the archaeological site from a different angle, from the sea! The spot where you boat captain will let you jump into the water always depends on weather and sea conditions.

Tulum snorkeling at Tulum reef
If you have special needs, book private a Tulum snorkeling tour! Tour operators can arrange you any combination: visit different cenotes in one day or combine the Mayan ruins trip with swimming in cenotes! Obviously, private tours give you the most flexibility but are more expensive.

Tip: Our favorite snorkeling spot in Mexico was the Puerto Morelos reef. Although it is closer to Cancun but a day trip is manageable from Tulum or Playa del Carmen as well.

Cenote snorkeling

Did you know that there is a whole underwater system in the Yucatan Peninsula? This hidden wonderland consists of submerged caves, sunken labyrinths, and tunnels flooded with fresh water. Since the system is still under exploration, most parts are open for professional cave divers only. However, you also have a chance to experience this beauty when visiting cenotes! These natural sinkholes can be found often in the jungle surrounded by lush vegetation with the chance of spotting iguanas and tropical birds too. Cenote snorkeling gives you the opportunity to observe freshwater fish species and in some cenotes, you might spot crocodiles too!

Cenote snorkeling trip -Tulum

Tulum travel tip

It seems, Tulum has changed a lot recently due to aggressive developments and disrespectful behavior towards nature. Sadly, it has a very negative impact on the local flora and fauna as well as on coral reefs too. Local organizations put a lot of effort to stop mega developments in order to prevent this lovely Mexican town becoming a mass tourism destination. They are trying to protect it from pollution, stop illegal developments and urge proper waste management. Traveling was never as easy as nowadays, and even the most remote destinations are facing serious problems as a result like plastic pollution just to highlight the biggest one. Please, think about being sustainable on your trips!

Anett Szaszi

Anett fell in love with the ocean immediately when she put her head underwater in the Red Sea back in 2010. Discovering megacities is not her style but getting lost in tiny coastal villages, capturing the beauty of the sea while snorkeling. Wherever she goes, she takes her mask, fins and underwater camera with her. She has a big interest in exploring the world’s last hidden underwater paradises and marine conservation. She hopes to inspire people to protect our oceans by sharing her underwater stories. Find her photos on @anett.szaszi Instagram too!

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