Tulum Mayan Ruins
The Tulum Mayan ruins are one of the most spectacular national parks on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. Perched upon a bluff overlooking a white sand beach and the turquoise Caribbean Sea, Tulum is an easy drive from the resort towns of Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Visiting the small, but beautiful Mayan ruins is one of the best things to do in Riviera Maya.
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TULUM MAYAN RUINS - HISTORY
The Mayan archeological site at Tulum National Park was home to about 1600 high-ranking members of the Mayan royal court during the 13th to 15th centuries. The walled-city served as an international trading hub and ceremonial center. Tulum was built as a fortress with three sides of the city enclosed by walls, and El Castillo on the fourth side standing guard from atop a cliff.
Tulum connected the Mayan population centers of Coba and Chichen Itza to goods flowing in and out of the Gulf of Mexico and Central America. Food, building supplies, and precious commodities such as xocolatl (chocolate), honey, jade, and obsidian (solidified lava) flowed through the seaport.
The town was also an important religious center. Buildings were constructed to align with the solstice and the movement of the sun. Tulum, meaning “wall,” was originally called Zama, meaning “place of the dawning sun.” Ceremonies, including the sacrifice of humans and animals, were performed in the city.
After some seven centuries, disease introduced by Spanish explorers is thought to have brought an end to the beachfront fortress. The citizens of Tulum died or fled to other areas. In time, the jungle overtook the walled-city and surrounding villages.
Today, Tulum is a vibrant seaside community made up of three distinct parts. There is Tulum Pueblo (aka Tulum Town), Tulum Beach (a series of white sand beaches lined with all-inclusive resorts), and Tulum National Park (aka Tulum Ruins or Tulum Archeological Zone). The Tulum Ruins sit above a small portion of Tulum Beach that can be accessed from the National Park via a staircase. The Tulum ruins are about 3km outside of Tulum Town.
To enter the National Park, visitors must pass through a commercial area that contains a parking lot and Viva Mexico Ruinas shopping center. From this area, visitors walk, or ride a bus, over a 1km road to the park’s admission booth.
Once gaining admission, visitors tour the ancient city by passing through a thick stone wall. Within the fortress, guests wander over lawns dotted with sacrificial temples, watch towers, a castle, and pyramid. Due to preservation efforts visitors cannot climb on the ruins, but are able to view them up close.
WHAT TO SEE AT TULUM MAYAN RUINS
Tulum City Walls: One side of the fortress faces the Caribbean Sea, but the other three sides of the city are surrounded by huge defensive walls that measure 3-5 meters in height and 8 meters thick.
El Castillo: The castle is the tallest structure in Tulum. It stands 40 feet high and sits atop a cliff overlooking the ocean. The limestone structure served as a lighthouse, watchtower, and ceremonial center. Its windows align with the sun on the summer solstice.
Temple of the Initial Series: This temple sits at the southwest corner of El Castillo. In this structure, archeologists identified the earliest recorded settlement date (at 564 AD).
Temple of the Frescos: In a small temple in front of El Castillo visitors can see painted murals created by the ancient Maya. The colorful illustrations depict the natural world, the dead, and gods of rain and creation.
The House of Columns: This large building (aka the Palace) is supported by columns. The building was the home to Mayan community leaders, and a ceremonial center.
Temple of the Descending Gods: This temple sits to the left of El Castillo and is known for its intricate carvings. The etchings depicted gods and other revered symbols of the Mayan culture.
House of the Halach Uinic: This well-preserved building was the residence of Tulum’s leader and high-priest (who was known as the “Halach Uinic”).
THINGS TO DO AT TULUM RUINS
Hire a guide to tour the Tulum Mayan ruins. There are small signs offering educational tidbits throughout the park, but a well-versed local guide will bring the experience to life. Guides can be booked through a tour or hired privately onsite. Plan for about 45minutes to tour the main temples and buildings.
Walk the trails that surround the ruins. The paths that run around the perimeter of the property will take you along the walls, and through the jungle. Trails that run along the cliffs will take you to awesome vantage points for photographing El Castillo looming over the sea.
Bring your swimsuit and lounge for a while on Tulum Beach. A wooden stairway leads from El Castillo down to the water (there are many stairs). The beach opens at 10AM. It tends to get very crowded (and narrow at high tide), but the experience of frolicking below a Mayan castle under the blue sky in crystal clear water should not be missed.
Rent a bike, and pedal around the surrounding area for an hour or two. Bikes are not allowed within the archeological zone, but can be rented right outside the park. A beach bike is a great way to explore the neighborhood.
Shop for souvenirs at the Viva Mexico Ruinas shopping bazaar and mall by the Tulum National Park parking lot. In this area there are many shops, restaurants, stalls, and kiosks to peruse. The area is touristy, and likely overpriced, but it is also colorful and full of local wares such as tequila, beach clothing, and handicrafts.
Watch a performance of the Dance of the Flyers outside the shopping center. The pole flying enactment is a ritual performed by local Mayans. In addition, there are also street performers who dress in tradition Mayan costumes and circulate with exotic animals (snakes and iguanas) in this area. Many visitors will pause to have their photo taken with the pole flyers or street performers. Be aware that if you watch a pole flying performance or take a picture of any of the performers, there is an expectation of payment (tipping or passing the hat).
The Tulum Mayan ruins are open every day from 8:00AM to 5:00PM (last admission 4:00PM). Cost per adult is $85 pesos (around $3.50 US dollars). The cost to park in the around $8 US dollars per day.
There are ramps throughout the Tulum Archeological Zone to accommodate people in wheelchairs and walkers. However, it is a hilly outdoor site with many rocks and changes in grade and surfaces. There is little shade, and few railings or benches. This site would be difficult to navigate via wheelchair or walker, especially in the rainy season.
TALUM MAYAN RUINS TIPS
The temperature at Tulum stays constant in the low 80’s year-round. There is little shade in the park and the climate is humid. Apply liberal sunscreen. Wear a sun-blocking hat and apparel. Wear sturdy shoes with a good grip. In rainy season, bring bug repellent and an umbrella.
There is no food or drink sold within the Tulum Archeological Zone. Visitors are allowed to bring in water (bring plenty!). Food and drink can be purchased at the shopping center by the parking lot if needed. Take care not to purchase drinks on the street.
There are no bathrooms or trashcans within the park. Use the bathrooms in the shopping center outside of the park before entering the archeological zone. Be prepared to carry out any items you carry in that need disposal.
The site is visited by about 2000 tourists each day. Visit shortly after opening to experience the park in its most natural (and coolest) state. The crowds get very thick between 10:30am-2:30pm.
Most visitors arrive at the Tulum ruins by rented car, taxi, bicycle, or tour vehicle. For the safest and most relaxing experience, we recommend visiting the site with a guided tour group. Many tour companies will pick up and drop off guests at their hotels. Many operators also combine morning tours of Tulum with excursions to swim in cenotes, snorkel with turtles, or see other Mayan ruins and Riviera Maya attractions.
Buy your tickets at the official park entry. As you enter the parking lot and shopping mall you may be approached by individuals selling passes or tickets for Tulum. Politely decline and move on to an official ticket booth.
Be aware of pick-pocketers. Keep valuable secured close to the body and in zipped pockets at all times.
Avoid visiting the park on Sundays when Mexican citizens get free entry. The park tends to be very crowded.
There are no changing rooms within the archeological zone. If you plan to swim, change into your bathing suit before entering the park.
If you plan to shoot video within the park, there is an extra charge (about $4 US dollars).
For best photographs, follow the path to the right of the stairway leading to the beach (looking out at the ocean). The path leads to a series of overlooks where you can capture stunning views of El Castillo.
Adios from the Tulum Ruins, Laura and Randy
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