An Unforgettable Private VIP Tulum Experience

When you’re visiting Playa del Carmen or other resorts near Tulum, Mexico, you’re sure to want to see some of the Mayan ruins and explore the area’s beautiful natural surroundings. Spending a day with a private tour guide is the best way to enjoy an amazing VIP experience filled with rich local culture and natural beauty.

I booked a full day tour with Bushman Photography, a private tour agency, to visit some of the most fascinating sites on the Riviera Maya (not sponsored – I paid full price). They offer a number of options for tours of the Tulum area, with VIP-organized day trips and snorkel tours that let you explore historic ruins or relax in the breathtaking allure of a cenote.

Tulum ruins

We chose to visit the breathtaking Tulum ruins, Muyil ruins, and the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, including a very cool floating tour experience. Our tour was a specially extended version of the Muyil and Sian Ka’an tour because we only had one day to fit in both sets of ruins and Sian Ka’an. If we had had another day, I would have wanted to do one of the cenote tours as well.

Even with just one day, it was an amazing chance to step away from Tulum’s beach clubs and mass tourism of the busy resorts and see a different side of the region. Though I had never heard of Muyil or Sian Ka’an before our personal concierge suggested it, this exclusive tour was one of the most special trips I have taken anywhere and I highly recommend it.

Transportation and Logistics

After you book your tour on the website, you simply contact Bushman Photography with the location of your hotel, and they arrange private transportation. We traveled in a private air-conditioned van, which was really comfortable, with plenty of room for our group of eight women to relax. 

Our day started at 8 am when our driver and two guides picked us up at our hotel. One of our guides was a bilingual certified archaeologist who provided us with historical and cultural information during our tour. The other guide, also bilingual, acted as our personal photographer throughout the day. Bushman Photography sent us a link to the edited photos within four or five days of taking the tour.

Having a professional photographer on hand really helped make our day more special. It meant we could just focus on enjoying the sights instead of worrying about capturing the best possible photos. We also got some great pictures with the whole group without one of us having to act as photographer. 

Discovering the secrets of Tulum

First, we headed to the 13th-century Mayan ruins at Tulum. As Bushman Photography had handled all of the entry fees throughout the day, we could just go straight in. Only a few people were there in the early morning, and we had a chance to explore some of the main temples and ancient ruins of Tulum National Park before the rush of tourists.

Regardless of what kind of tour you book, I highly recommend arriving at Tulum Ruins when they open. By the time we were leaving, around 10 am, lines were getting long, the sun was getting hotter (there is very little shade within the ruins complex), and it would have been much harder to avoid crowds.

Our knowledgeable guide shared some of the history of Tulum and facts about the ruins that we probably wouldn’t have known if we had been visiting on our own. We could explore the site at our own pace, and our photographer took some great pictures while we were looking around.

Unfortunately, the stairs that take you down to the beach under the Tulum ruins were closed when we visited in March 2024. Most guidebooks will tell you that you can cool off in the water after visiting the ruins, but this was not possible on our visit. 

The natural beauty of Sian Ka’an 

Once we’d finished exploring the Tulum ruins, we returned to our van for the 30-minute journey to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that covers 2000 square miles on land and in the Caribbean sea. 

On the drive, our guides gave us bottles of cool water to refresh ourselves and told us some handy tips and tricks for getting the most out of our visit. One of the major benefits of booking a professional tour is that they know all the best tips!

We parked and headed to a dock overlooking a lagoon, where we had a short wait for our boats to arrive. The area was pretty basic with just a couple of picnic tables, a small welcome center, and a simple bathroom structure. This is what Sian Ka’an is like: back to nature, undeveloped, and incredibly peaceful.

When the boats turned up, they weren’t the commercial tour boats you might expect. Bushman Photography uses boats belonging to local fishermen, which is a great way to support the local community. These were small but functional fishing boats, sitting two across. We needed 2 boats for our group of 8.

They also advise their visitors on how to protect the environment and keep a safe distance from the local wildlife. These wetlands are some of the most complex ecosystems on Earth, and Sian Ka’an is the home of a number of endangered species of wildlife. 

As we traveled across the crystal-clear turquoise waters of the lagoon and into the mangrove channels, our dedicated guide explained that these channels were built hundreds of years ago by Mayan sailors and merchants. 

The trees and vegetation grow right up out of the water and over the top of the mangrove channels, so it’s almost like a canal. You’re traveling through a natural tunnel that’s so narrow, you could reach out and touch the trees alongside the boat. 

An unforgettable swim at Sian Ka’an 

Once we’d traveled across the lagoon and through the mangrove tunnel, our boats docked, and we were told to put our life jackets on our lower half, a bit like wearing a diaper. Then you just slip off your shoes, hop into the channel and you can feel the current pulling you along – it’s like a natural lazy river ride.

This experience made the whole day one of the most unique tours I’ve been on. I’ve never felt anything like the natural tug of the current in these waters. It was strong enough that basic swimming against the current would keep you in place, but not allow you move upstream. We found that the secret was to stay relaxed. If you tried to fight the current or move too quickly, you could get pulled to one side or the other.

You’re on the edge of the jungle, so the weather will be hot and humid. That means there will be lots of mosquitoes buzzing around, but because Sian Ka’an is a biosphere reserve, the aim is to keep everything as natural and unspoiled as possible. So, you can’t apply sunscreen or bug spray for a while before entering the water. That’s something to bear in mind if you’re the kind of person the mosquitos like to feast on! We applied both as we got into the van after the Tulum Ruins, so they had time to absorb into our skin prior to arriving at Sian Ka’an.

We were probably in the channel for around 30 minutes, and floating along in the water was just so relaxing. The water was crisp but not cold, and very refreshing amidst the heat and humidity. Our guide pointed out some of the natural sights along the way, like beautiful orchids, exotic bird species, and even giant termite colonies up in the trees.

This unforgettable swim really was one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had. We only saw one or two boats during our tour, and the whole experience was so peaceful and serene. Some tour companies only take you through the channels in boats, but I absolutely recommend doing the float tour to get the most out of your visit to Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. 

At the end of the floating tour, we walked along a boardwalk through the marshland and back to our boats. The concierge service, One Tulum, had booked this tour for our group and told us we’d need to take our own towels, but the tour company provided towels on the day. They also ensured that our shoes were waiting for us on the boardwalk so we could just slip them back on. 

It’s the thoughtful VIP services like this that made our tour much more comfortable and a more enjoyable experience.

A gourmet lunch by the lagoon

The boats took us back across the lagoon to the dock, where a delicious lunch awaited us. We’d been out for about half a day by this point, so we were definitely ready for it!

They’d prepared a lovely spread, including homemade hummus, fresh fruit and vegetable crudites, cured meats, and a gourmet cheese selection. There was even guacamole, freshly made while we were out on the float trip. 

Our group of eight women included one vegetarian and one who can’t eat gluten. Our dietary requirements were catered for, and there was enough food for us all, but I’m not sure there’d have been enough if we’d had a couple of hungry men in our group. 

All the food was delicious and beautifully presented. It felt luxurious and gourmet, even though we were eating lunch at a picnic table in the middle of the jungle. Our food was accompanied by local rosé wine and bottles of water, and we could dig in and eat while we chatted with our guides.

Exploring the Muyil Ruins

After lunch, we headed off for the final part of our tour, a guided visit through the Muyil ruins which are also in the Sian Ka’an reserve. 

Like the Tulum ruins, the Muyil ruins are a Mayan site. This was one of the earliest Maya settlements on the Yucatán Peninsula, and one of the highlights of the site is a 57-foot Castillo (pyramid), the highest pyramid on the Riviera Maya. 

Muyil isn’t as well known as Tulum or Chichen Itza, so it tends to attract far fewer visitors. In fact, it was almost deserted when we visited, and we only saw a couple of small family groups the whole time we were there. We basically had the entire site to ourselves – it almost felt like being lost in the jungle. 

Like our visit to Tulum, we got much more out of the overall experience than if we’d visited the site on our own. Our guides led us through the jungle to see excavated sites and stone ruins of temples and houses. They shared tales of life in the Mayan community along with some myths and cultural stories from those times.

The pathways through the site were very clearly marked, and it’s easy to explore on your own, but there were things you would miss if you visited without a guide. One of my favorite parts was a ruined temple with a tree growing out of it, as if nature was reclaiming the site.

Once we’d finished exploring the Muyil ruins, we returned to our van for the journey back to the hotel. In a final touch of excellent customer service, the driver had brought the van round to the exit of the ruins, so we didn’t have to walk all the way back to it. 

We paid in advance for our tour, and lunch was included in the price, so the tips for the driver and guides were the only cost on the day. There was a sign in the van saying that they make 60% of their income through tipping, so there’s definitely an expectation that you will tip. You’ll want to factor this into your budget. We tipped about 10% of the tour cost, and they assured us they would distribute the tips to all 3 of our guides/driver.

Our driver and guides had worked hard throughout the day to give us the best experience possible, so I think they definitely earned a generous tip!

What to Bring

You’ll want to bring some things with you in an all-day tour in Tulum to get the most out of your day.

  1. Shoes – we were told that we needed sneakers, but in reality, flip flops were totally fine. You will want sandals of some kind that can get wet for the Sian Ka’an portion of the trip. Luckily, your van can hold any extras you pack, but our group got around fine at the ruins just in sandals. I wore these Olukai flip flops and they were easily rugged enough for the day.
  2. Packable sun hat – Some members of our group were smart enough to bring a hat, and the rest of us (including me!) were jealous. The sun is strong and you will be out all day, mostly in areas with little shade.
  3. Waterproof phone pouch – Again, some members of our group brought waterproof pouches for the floating portion of our trip, and they were able to get photos that the rest of us couldn’t get. You can’t bring anything into the water with you that you don’t want to get wet, and while our photographer took some photos during this time, I would have loved to be able to capture my own shots.
  4. Swimsuit – We all chose to wear our suit under our clothes, which made it easy to pack light. There are bathroom facilities at Sian Ka’an if you need to change prior to the boat trip. My go-to brand is Sea Level.
  5. Reef-safe sunscreen – the biosphere is very fragile, and safe sunscreen is a must. My favorites are Supergoop Play and Sun Bum, though the Sun Bum hurts my son’s eczema-prone skin, so it may not work for all.

Is a VIP Tulum Experience worth it?

We had a fabulous time on our tour of the Mayan ruins and Sian Ka’an with Bushman Photography. 

When we booked this tour, we were originally only planning to visit the Tulum ruins, but our guides really encouraged us to visit the Muyil ruins as well. I’m so glad we took their advice because Muyil was so fascinating, and you can get much closer to the ruins in a way you can’t at Tulum. If you’re looking to get off the common tourist path, you will want to visit Muyil.

Muyil ruins

Although I don’t think you should skip visiting the Tulum ruins, our visit to the Muyil ruins was much more memorable. It felt like a more authentic way to experience history.

A couple of things to bear in mind before you book this tour. A lot of walking is involved, and the terrain is uneven in places, so you must be comfortable with this. You’ll need to wear cool, comfy clothes over a swimsuit, and if you are prone to seasickness on boat trips, be sure to take the necessary precautions for that part of the tour. The boat ride was short (maybe 15-20 minutes in total) but fast, so if you’re traveling with children, you’ll want to keep them close.

For me, the standout parts of our day were the floating tour of the mangrove channels of Sian Ka’an and exploring the Muyil ruins. Our guides’ expertise and knowledge made our VIP Tulum tour an unforgettable experience.


I'm Ashley, the founder of Wanderlux and a travel junkie. When I'm not at home near Seattle, Washington, you can find me on the beach in Mexico or traveling the world. Wherever I am, I aim to travel respectfully, show my kids new things, and learn more than I teach.




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