One of the best day trips from Tulum is to Cobá and Valladolid and the cenotes around them. Tulum is a beautiful town for beaches, food, and a good time (see my Tulum Travel Guide or guide on Where To Eat In Tulum for more), but it’s also a great base to explore the Yucatan Peninsular. The area is full of Mayan history, and truly authentic Mexican towns. Spectacular Cenotes are everywhere and are well worth the further travel to see them. One of my favourite day trips was from Tulum to Coba and Valladolid and the Cenotes in the area. This is where you can see a more authentic Mexico and travel back in time.
In this guide, I’ll detail how to do a day trip from Tulum to Cobá and Valladolid, and add in visits to three of the incredible cenotes in the area.
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GETTING TO COBÁ AND VALLADOLID
The easiest way to get to Cobá and Valladolid from Tulum is to have a hire car and drive. The highways are wide and quite smooth. This also allows you to stop along the way and explore different Cenotes and markets on the side of the road.
We encountered no problems with safety while driving, as it is a popular tourist route. Having a hire car is definitely the most flexible and best way to get to Cobá or Valladolid and the cenotes. The journey usually takes just under an hour to Cobá, and then it’s another hour from there to Valladolid.
Getting to Cobá or Valladolid by bus is definitely doable, but you won’t be able to visit all the Cenotes and experience the places in your own time. You’ll also have to choose to do one as a day trip, or overnight in Valladolid so you can do more. The buses are usually quite good in Mexico with air conditioning and comfortable seats. You can take the Mayab bus or the First Class ADO bus from Tulum to either Cobá or Valladolid.
If you don’t have a car, doing a tour of Cobá and the surrounding area will be your second-best option. This way you can pick a tour that visits some of the places that you’d like to see. You can check out some of the best options below.
BEST TIME TO GO TO COBÁ AND VALLADOLID AND THE CENOTES
Cobá is an amazing place to visit, full of history and ancient ruins. It’s a large complex so getting there as early in the day as possible will make your visit much more enjoyable.
Visit Valladolid at any time. It can be a great choice for lunch while exploring the area. You’ll get to try some seriously authentic Mexican food and wander the pretty streets.
This place can get super busy, as it is one of the pretties and well-known cenotes in Mexico. Your best option is to get there when it opens in the morning or go in the afternoon when the tour buses for Chitzen Itza have been and gone.
This cenote is not as well known, so even when it’s busy it’s not too bad. Turning up in the morning or later in the day when their kitchen closes (4:30 pm) can avoid more peak times.
WHAT TO BRING FOR YOUR DAY TRIP FROM TULUM TO COBÁ AND VALLADOLID
The Yucatan Peninsular is mostly hot year-round so that will affect what you need to bring. Being comfortable will make your day better. You can still look good (I wore a light dress and sandals good for walking), but comfort is key for a day trip.
Make sure it’s breathable and cooling. You’ll be doing lots of walking or cycling, so you don’t want to overheat. For the cenotes bring a towel and your swimsuit.
HAT AND SUNGLASSES
When it’s really hot a hat can save your head from burning as well as developing a headache. Sunglasses will definitely help in the same way.
Whatever you do, whether it’s exploring Cobá or discovering awe-inspiring cenotes you’ll need comfortable footwear. When walking around Cobá you’ll be dealing with gravel paths, tree roots, and ancient stone stairs if you choose to climb the Grand pyramid. Good footwear is just as important for the cenotes, as all of them are accessed by old stone stairs.
Opening Times: 8:00 am – 5:00 pm
GETTING AROUND COBÁ
Cobá is one of the best day trips from Tulum. Cobá is estimated to be the biggest Mayan complex in Mexico. The current site has 6500 ruins that have been uncovered. Some of these are still lost in the jungle, but you can visit several of them. Because of this, the site is huge. All paths are large and covered with gravel with signs to point you in the right direction. One of the best things about Cobá is that it’s still located in the jungle. This means plenty of shade on the path. There are several easy ways to get around Cobá.
WALKING IN COBÁ
You can easily walk around Cobá. The paths are wide and there are multiple stops along the way to marvel at Mayan ruins. However the path is gravel, so make sure you have comfortable shoes. You will also do lots of walking due to the size of the park, so be prepared for long distances.
BIKE HIRE IN COBÁ
The bike hire shed is a short walk from the Cobá entrance. Here you can hire a bike to ride around the Cobá complex. This is, in my opinion, the best way to get around Cobá. Just be prepared, as the bikes are definitely not in the best condition. Some of the bikes need you to brake using the pedals, which was confusing until we figured it out. They get you around from A to B and it really makes your wandering around the immense park a lot easier.
RICKSHAW IN COBÁ
If you don’t want to walk and you don’t want to ride then the next best thing is a rickshaw ride. You will be pedalled around in style to the different sections of the park. These can also be hired at the bike shed area.
TOUR IN COBÁ
Another option is to pay for one of the guided tours in Cobá. This will be the best way to learn as much information about the archeological site and immerse yourself in the history of Cobá. You can book one before you arrive, or pick up a guide at the front gate (make sure they’re legitimate).
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT COBÁ
Cobá is an excellent day trip from Tulum. The archeological site is much larger than the Tulum ruins and has more to see and learn. It’s also a lot closer to Tulum than Chitzen Itza and doesn’t get the same amount of people visiting. There’s more shade for those extremely hot days during summer in Mexico.
Cobá was one of the largest Mayan cities recorded in Mexico. Back in 600-900 AD, they have estimated that 100,000 people lived in Cobá. Many ancient roads came to Cobá and you can still see some of the walls today. The Grand Pyramid is the tallest Mayan Pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsular. The other big difference to Chitzen Itza is that you can still climb this pyramid. I’m not sure how ethical this is, because it is an ancient archeological monument, but the Mexican government are still happy to allow it.
Jump on a bike or go for a walk and immerse yourself in the amazing history of this jungle complex. The Grand Pyramid is huge and has amazing views over the jungle once you reach the top. There are many other temples to explore. My favourite was discovering a temple lost in the jungle that people rarely visit. I really had it all to myself. Another amazing sight was at the second grand pyramid at the beginning of the park. The top was covered in vultures, which I imagined were the priests making up for all the sacrifices they made. I really enjoyed Cobá, and I highly recommend it for a day trip from Tulum.
A perfect day trip from Tulum is Valladolid. It’s another hour further inland from Cobá. Adding them together makes for a great day trip from Tulum. Valladolid is known for its colourful buildings and cenote in the centre of town. If you’re after the authentic Mexican experience then Valladolid will be much better than Tulum for this. It’s very small with local houses and local restaurants to dine at.
THINGS TO DO IN VALLADOLID
Opening Times 8:00 am – 5:30 pm
Zaci cenote is the cenote located in the centre of Valladolid. Once you pay the small entrance fee you can descend into the garden and go swimming in the pool. The water is not as clear as other cenotes, but there are not as many stairs, making it easier to get to. Make sure you don’t put sunscreen on and shower before you get in. This keeps the water pure, which is very important to the Mexicans.
CASA DE LOS VENADOS
10:00 am – 1:00 pm
Casa de Los Venados is one of the best places to visit in Valladolid. It is actually a private home, but open to the public so you can view the 3000 plus artifacts and Mexican folk art in their collection. You can take tours through the residence in either Spanish or English.
CONVENT DE SAN BERNARDINO DE SIENA
Opening Times: 8:00 am – 6: 00 pm
This ancient convent is an easy walk in the town and classed as one of the best places to visit in Valladolid. The building is beautiful and they have a small museum which will tell you about the secrets of the cenote Sis Ha which is located underneath the grounds (and is unfortunately covered). You will also learn more about the convent, which was one of the most important in Mexico.
Opening Times 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
There are three different types of tickets to get into the area. The prices can change, but it is a cheap cenote being relatively out of the way.
- Cenote only
- Cenote and restaurant discount
- Cenote, pool, and restaurant discount
GETTING TO OXMAN CENOTE
To get to Oxman cenote you will need a hire car, or you can take a taxi from Valladolid. A tour would be another option, but Oxman is definitely not as popular as Suyton cenote so it will be trickier to find one.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT OXMAN CENOTE
Oxman Cenote is a great add on for a day trip from Tulum to Cobá and Valladolid. The Oxman cenote is located at Hacienda San Lorenzo Oxman, which a big red building just outside of Valladolid. They have a restaurant and a pool so you can easily spend the day here, and of course, the most important feature, the cenote.
The cenote is at the bottom of a huge sinkhole. Vines and plants drape over the edge and down into the water. There is a viewing platform from up above so you can see what it’s like. To get down to the cenote you have to take eighty stairs that have been carved into the rock. Once you make it down there’s a stone platform and wooden railings on one side of the Cenote.
Oxman Cenote is one of the deepest in Mexico. It’s forty meters deep, so all you can see is a never-ending blue. The colour of the water is very intense and changes with the light streaming in from up above. There are little fish swimming around and green vines hanging like streamers into the water. To get into the cenote you can either take the rickety stairs or swing out on the rope swing. You can use life vests if that makes you feel more comfortable, and there is a rope in the water that you can hang on to if you get tired.
Oxman cenote is truly a magical cenote. The depth creates mystery and an otherworld feeling. If you can brave the stairs and the rickety ladder into the water then you’ll be rewarded with something quite different from other cenotes. It was one of my favourites.
Opening Times 8:00 am – 6:00 pm
You can buy tickets at the entrance and this will include two cenotes. The price can change depending on the season but it’s still an average price.
GETTING TO SUYTUN CENOTE
Suytun Cenote is very close to Valladolid and Oxman Cenote. If you’re doing a day trip from Tulum to Cobá and Valladolid you should definitely add it in. By car, it’s very easy, and there is a large free car park for this. You can also hire a taxi from Valladolid quite cheaply. A lot of the tours that go to Chitzen Itza stop at this cenote so that can also be an easy way to see it.
WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT SUYTUN CENOTE
Suytun Cenote is probably the most recognised cenote in Mexico. It’s popular for a reason and needs to be added to your day trip from Tulum to Cobá and Valladolid. Photos of the platform surrounded by blue water and illuminated by sunlight are in tourism advertising and all over Instagram and Pinterest. Because of this, it does get busy.
If you want to see the light streaming down upon the platform then you need to go when the sun is overhead. This is a very popular time, because most people want this in their photo. We drove by at lunchtime and there were three huge tour buses all parked out the front. If you prefer to have a more private experience, then I recommend you go when it opens or later in the afternoon when the tours have moved on to Chitzen Itza or Cobá.
You can go swimming at Suytun cenote and lifevests can be used if you wish. Again the water isn’t very clear, but it’s definitely an experience to swim in a huge cavern.