Excursion Focus: Tulum Ruins and Mayan Cenote Tour in Cozumel


Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is known for its ancient Mayan ruins and freshwater cenotes, and I wanted to experience the best of both worlds on my recent port day in Cozumel.

I booked the Tulum Ruins and Cenote Maya tour through Royal Caribbean. This excursion combines a visit to the Tulum archaeological site by the sea with time to swim in nearby cenotes.

This tour was located on the Mexican mainland as opposed to the island of Cozumel, so I knew I was in for an adventure.

Booking options

Due to the ferry involved from the island of Cozumel to mainland Mexico, I booked this excursion directly through Royal Caribbean.

I generally prefer to book smaller tours through independent companies, but I had heard stories of delayed ferries and causing the cruise ship to miss.

I thought it best to book directly through Royal Caribbean for extra protection.

Related: Is it better to book excursions through the cruise ship?

I purchased the Tulum Ruins and Mayan Cenote tour for $101.99 from Royal Caribbean’s Cruise Planner website.

Transportation to mainland

All tours traveling to mainland Mexico from Cozumel met in the ship’s theater at 7:45 a.m. Up early in the morning, I expected to leave shortly after meeting time, but we didn’t leave the theater until around 8:20.

We boarded the Winjet Fast Ferry to the mainland, and there are two levels: an outdoor deck and an indoor deck with no window view.

I chose to sit inside and that turned out to be a huge mistake. I had heard stories about the miserable ferry in the choppy waters between Cozumel and the mainland, and those stories are all true.

The ferry ride has been beyond miserable. Several people were vomiting around me and I was doing everything in my power not to vomit!

I have never wanted to kiss the ground so much as when I got off the ferry on the mainland. Fortunately, the non-drowsy Dramamine I took before the ferry saved me and I arrived in Playa del Carmen unscathed.

On the way back, I sat on the upper deck so I could keep my eyes on the horizon throughout the trip. Being outside was much better than inside.

Ruins of Tulum

After the 45 minute ferry, our group of 44 passengers boarded a 1 hour bus to the archaeological site of Tulum.

The archaeological site of Tulum is the only site in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo facing the Caribbean Sea, and the city was once the center of land and sea trade in the region. It is believed to have been built between 1200 and 1450 AD.

Many temples and buildings are located directly on the ocean, offering spectacular views of ancient history mingled with the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Our tour included a wonderful guide, Tony, and it was fascinating to learn about the traditions and culture of those who once lived at this site. We were given headphones to wear so everyone could hear the guide.

The archaeological site was not overly busy when we visited, and we had an hour of free time to explore after our approximately 1 hour tour of the ruins.

I always like to visit archaeological sites, and the Tulum ruins are particularly beautiful because they are right on the water. They were all well preserved and I appreciated that visitors were not allowed to climb the ruins or walk on the beaches to keep the site in top condition.

After exploring on my own, I returned to the entrance of the archaeological site, where there are souvenir shops and restaurants. Our visit included a small sandwich in the morning, but most guests ordered tacos from the site.

Cenote visit

After about two hours at the ruins of Tulum, we boarded the bus for a quick 15-minute ride to the second part of our excursion: a visit to the cenote.

Cenotes are natural sinkholes formed by the collapse of limestone bedrock, exposing the groundwater below. The Yucatán Peninsula is said to have over 6,000 cenotes.

These have become popular tourist destinations in recent years, allowing visitors to cool off in the region’s hot temperatures in a natural tropical oasis.

Our tour took us to two cenotes. I had never seen a cenote before and they were as beautiful as I had imagined.

The first cenote was completely exposed to the open air and had clear, cold water perfect for swimming. Life jackets were provided to us as the cenotes are quite deep and many visitors were jumping into the cenote from above.

The 5 minute walk to the second cenote was beautiful along a path through the mangroves.

The second cenote was in a cave and our group was guided through the small opening in the cave and through an underground passage to the other side.

Food and drink stalls were available throughout the cenote complex, and I ordered a fresh mango and passion fruit juice before starting the long journey back to Cozumel.

What I liked about this tour

I felt this tour had a good mix of history, natural beauty and adrenaline. It was interesting to visit mainland Mexico from Cozumel even if it required the choppy ferry ride, and both destinations we visited were undeniably beautiful.

I loved being able to cool off in the cenotes after walking through the ruins of Tulum in the September humidity, and would love to explore more cenotes on my future visits to Mexico.

Our driver and two guides were friendly, knowledgeable and professional throughout the tour.

What I did not like

One of the reasons I don’t book Royal Caribbean excursions or large group tours very often is because of the slow pace of the tours.

Much of this excursion was spent waiting for all the guests to finish the bathroom, get on the bus, arrive at the theater in the morning, etc.

Also, while the cenotes were beautiful and refreshing, our stay at the cenotes was very brief. We were only given about 15 minutes to swim at each cenote, and it was very crowded. I felt our time at the ruins was a good length, however.

The ferry was by far the worst part of the day, so if you’re planning this visit, it’s a must to pack motion sickness medicine and sit on the outdoor patio.

Should you book this shore excursion?

While this tour had its drawbacks, it still offered the quintessential Yucatán vacation experience of visiting ruins and cenotes. The Tulum ruins are larger and more impressive than anything in Cozumel, so if you’re interested in visiting Mayan ruins, it’s worth a visit.

Plus, when you think back to the tour 10 years from now, you won’t remember the nausea-inducing ferry ride or the summer humidity. What you will remember are the fantastic sights, history and nature you experienced!

If you choose this excursion, I strongly recommend that you plan more relaxing port days for the rest of your itinerary. This visit is tiring and busy; it lasted 9 hours!

Booking an all-inclusive beach club or catamaran excursion for the other port days of your cruise is a good idea to ensure you don’t overexert yourself.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to do this excursion on your own. Due to the long travel time required with the ferry, it is best to book directly with Royal Caribbean.

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