No visit to the Riviera Maya would be complete without checking the world-famous ruins of Tulum. And while I’ve been there multiple times in the past few years of being based out of this part of the world, I haven’t yet written anything about them despite the numerous photo albums we have. When Cris’ sister came to town at the end of March of 2014 while she was recuperating from her surgery, I finally took the time to shoot some video of the park, and get around to writing a blog post about one of the easiest day-trips you can take while visiting this part of Mexico.
Tulum was a major port for the city of Cobá, some 44 kilometers northwest of the coastal ruins that remain. Both of these once-epic ruins are part of the remains of the Pre-Colombian Maya empire that once spanned the entire Yucatan and beyond into Southeastern Mexico, Belize and Guatemala. It was one of the last cities they built and maintained, and had its peak during the 13th and 15th centuries; not so long ago, in the grand scheme of things.
This was one of the most important cities on the coast due to its access for both land and sea, especially in the obsidian trade. The city still managed to maintain its importance for some 70 years after the Spaniards first invaded, before finally falling to the conquistadors, and while it then spent many years fading into history, during the 20th century and beyond it has become one of the major tourist hubs and best preserved sites for a glimpse into the Mayan world of old.
There are three major structures of interest at the Tulum site. El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God, and they certainly stand out from the rest of the rubble. I won’t bore you with a history lesson here, as there is already a treasure-trove of information out there on the history of the place and the significance of the buildings. A great place to start is at the Wiki page.
The reason Tulum is one of the easiest day trips you can make while visiting the area is that it is a very compact site that can easily be seen in an hour and a half if you are on your own, or you can take a tour with a guide and spread it out into a two or three hour affair. That leaves plenty of time for enjoying the beach that lies below the ruined city; a stretch of sand that is perpetually filled with visitors and boasts some of the best views of the overall city.
I’ve been here half a dozen times over the past few years, and while it has never been as awe-inspiring as places like Palenque where you can spend several days crawling through the entire ruins before you reach the end, it is nevertheless one of the places you should mark down on your map as a “must see” if you are in this part of Mexico. It’s only a couple of hours from Cancun, an hour or so from Playa del Carmen, and it’s a great way to get your feet wet with the Maya architecture and style, even if it is lacking in any of the grand pyramids that you can see at the major sites in the Yucatan.
Be aware that the ruins themselves are quite a ways out from the pueblo that takes the same name; you won’t want to make that hike during the heat of summer. But there are always plenty of taxis, buses and combis that make their way between the ruins and the eponymous town, so don’t worry! Just remember to bring plenty of water and a fully-charged camera so you can make the most of your time.
View Tulum Mayan Ruins in a larger map