There are tours, but you are right it is better done on your own.
It can be done in a day. If you wanted to do it on the same day I would get to Tulum as soon as it opens and then head to Xel Ha. You want to be at the ruins in the morning before the heat gets to be too much, but you also want to get to Xel Ha early enough to beat the large tour groups that will come after they leave Tulum.
We were at Tulum ruins last week, and it took about two hours to see all of it. The best part is when you get to the top and can see the water, the view is beyond spectacular!
Yes, it can be done in a day. like others have said get to Tulum first thing early in morning. Also, you will want your swimsuit on for Tulum. The beach below the ruins is gorgous and you can swim there. Xel-Ha was really cool too. The tube float through the mangroves and across lagoon can take awhile because there isn't much of a current to keep you moving. The cliff jump at Xel-Ha was fun. We did a little snorkeling while there and we swam with the dolphins there as well. We did Tulum and Xel-Ha on 2 different days because back then we had a 3 year old that would not have lasted all day. If you are travelling with older children or all adults both excursions can be easily accomplished in 1 day.
We got a collectivo into tulum did the ruins and a meal in 3 hours. go early it gets very hot!
I am wondering about how the collectivo works?
Personally I prefer a taxi. You can get the collectivo along route 307. The collectivo doesn not drop you off at the Tulum Ruins. You will have to walk which is ok if you are into that. We used a taxi and liked the freedom of getting picked up at our resort and taken directly to where we wanted to go. Its all in what you like.
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