Tulum is a coastal town located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. It is well-known for its white-sand beaches and the ancient Mayan ruins. Along with the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, I was looking forward to exploring the Tulum ruins because of the picturesque landscape and the gorgeous Paradise Beach (Playa Paradiso).
Tulum, literally means a “walled city” in the Mayan language. It is believed that the town’s original name was Zamá which meant – “Place of the dawning sun.” The archeological site in Tulum is the last known Mayan ruins. Tulum is newer then Coba and Chichen Itza, in terms of construction dates. These ruins were built after a prolonged drought of 10 years. It was one of the few enclosed cities that the Mayans built. With walls on three sides and the Caribbean Sea on the other, Tulum was built to be a fortress and also served as a religious and ceremonial center.
The town of Tulum was a major trading port for connecting Yucatan and the Gulf of Mexico with the Mayan peoples of Honduras and modern day Central America.
Quick Facts about Tulum Ruins
How to get to Tulum?
- Getting to Tulum is very easy. And you have tons of options to choose from – you can rent a car, use local buses or ADO (shared coach). Taxis will be expensive than ADO of course. And if you think you don’t need a car for the rest of your trip, then you can save the car rental fees and just opt for an ADO. Colectivos are also one of the nicest options to choose from. It is like a mini-van, fully air-conditioned and lots of room inside it.
- Cancun Airport to Tulum is about 1.75 hours and you pay just $7 USD in an ADO. Convenient and economical. You will find an ADO stand at the airport. Taxis are also available at the airport area.
- Tulum is about 1 hour from Playa del Carmen and about 2 hours from Cancun.
- If you are staying in one of the resort areas in Playa del Carmen or Cancun, then you can also consider taking a day trip to Tulum. Most day tours are for 8-9 hours in duration. They cover the return trip and pick you up from your resort. Tours can also include a lunch and entrance fees to the archaeological site and a guide. Day tours start at $55 USD+. Playa del Carmen to Tulum ruins is about 1 hour.
Getting Ready for Tulum
- Never-mind the time of the year, always carry an umbrella and water
- Don’t forget sunscreen and mosquito repellent
- Wear comfortable shoes, lots of walking!
Amenities on the Tulum Archaeological Site
- Car parking is available on site and is paid parking. (but cheaper if you park by the shopping center).
- Parking here is a pain. It is not close to the archaeological site. You will either have to take a train (for 20 pesos) to get to the entrance. (taking a guided tour is what I would recommend, keep reading to learn more)
- Washrooms located on site
- Information Center
- Entry fee to the site is $3.5 USD (or $72 pesos).
- No entry fee on Sundays for visitors
- They are open 08:00 am to 05:00 pm everyday.
- Other fees – For parking – $3.5 USD (or $72 pesos).
Read about Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza
A DAY AT THE TULUM RUINS OF MEXICO
Salil and I were very excited about visiting the beautiful Mayan ruins of Tulum. We have seen a lot of pictures of the gorgeous ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea and the lovely palm trees swinging in and around it. That image was more than enough to make us wake up early at 6:00 am and head to the ruins.
We considered a lot of different options to get to Tulum and arranging for a tour seemed to be the best option for us. We love to support the locals and booking through them made us happy. So we booked our trip through Yalku Tours. They picked us up from our Playa del Carmen resort in the morning, provided us with a welcome breakfast.
For $60 USD, it covered our return coach trip, lunch and entry fees to the site. We met a guide who took us around the beautiful archaeological site.
As soon as the coach/mini van dropped us at the main gate, we had to walk a little to reach the washrooms and the information center. This is where the tour officially began. We pass through a forested area, with tall trees and occasionally we would see iguanas. Most of these trees were living for decades and some of the trees were poisonous. So if you are a tree hugger, be careful and stay away.
From the entrance to the ruins
As you reach the ruins, there is a ticketing area, information center and a seating area. On to your left are washrooms. You will be collecting your tickets and walking to the right of the tourist center to head to the ruins.
The entrance to the ruins is about a 5-minute walk from the archaeological site. The city square below includes a bookstore, a museum, a restaurant and a ticket booth.
Structures at the Tulum Ruins
Tulum ruins are smaller in comparison to Chichen Itza or Coba, but its scattered across the archaeological site. The site is beautiful and you can expect a lot of wind as you wander in the Tulum complex.
The Tulum site is surrounded by a 16 ft thick wall on three sides, interrupted by five gates. That’s why the name “walled city”.
At the Tulum ruins, “the diving god” or “the descending god” is honored and its evident from its main structure which is the El Castillo.
The House of the Cenote
To enter to the ruins, you will have to cross a walled structure. This was the 8 meter thick wall that protected the inhabitants of the city. This also differentiated the superior class from the common people that lived outside of those walls. The first structure is called The House of the Cenote. A “cenote” is a natural sink hole. Our guide mentioned that this structure was built on top of a cenote, which we found to be quite interesting. The local Mayans still rely on the cenote water. And in bygone days, this was a freshwater source for its residents and traders.
The largest and most prominent building at Tulum is El Castillo (every Mayan site has an El Castillo structure, its actually the “Castle”). It is located closest to the sea and might have been used like a lighthouse or as a landmark for sailors.
A temple as well as a fortress, El Castillo was originally covered with stucco and painted red. Much of the paint is gone right now, but you can still see a few corners that are smeared in red paint. A wide external staircase leads up to the temple, which has three niches above the doorway. A beautiful sculpture of the descending god is in the central niche.
Temple of the Frescos
The Temple of the Frescoes is located directly in front of the Castillo. It was used as an observatory for tracking seasons and the movements of the sun.
This structure is actually very small and short (not a tall building). The frescoes were dedicated to the rain god – Chaac and Ixchel – the goddess of weaving, women, the moon, and medicine. The Tulum ruins were built after the Mayans suffered a drought and hence the significance of the rain god is huge.
Its believed that the frescoes were covered in different colors. But you can now only see some red paints here and there. This struture is unique because you can actually see some beautiful cravings from 600+ years ago that the Mayans built. There are supernatural serpants, gods and many other Mayan symbolic arts were carved on those. This structure seem to be almost crumbling and hence they have iron bars holding up the roofs and entry inside is prohibited. There is an altar outside the temple of frescoes.
Temple dios del Vinlo (God of the Winds Temple)
You must have seen hundreds of images of Tulum with this iconic building and wondering what is it or is it the entire Tulum ruin. Well, this is the God of the Winds Temple. This structure is very small and you will encounter this temple as you make your way to the main Tulum site. We are unclear about the purpose of the structure being situated so close to the coast. But it looks like a small temple honored to the God of Winds.
Visitors are not permitted to climb or enter inside the temple. As you walk along, you will see that the temple is located on an inclined hill (sort of).
This image was taken on the other end of the site. We wanted to get a good view of the beach as well hence we selected this spot and you can use stairs to get down to the beach from there.
The Great Palace or the Palace of the Great Lord is one of the prominent structures in the Tulum Ruins archaeology site. The great palace has several large rooms which are supported by columns. Its believed that this is where the most important members of Tulum lived. Great Lord” or “ruler” with his family lived in this palace and they performed their religious ceremonies at the altars located in the site.
There are many smaller ruins located in the archaeological site – many had beautiful cravings on them and many were in dilapidated condition. But the entire is beautiful with lots of greenery around and a cool breeze and every now and then you can see iguanas and mini ruin-structures popping in and out of the lush greenery.
Tulum ruins are unique due to its proximity to the Carribean coast. The Tulum ruins are located 12 meters above sea-level. From the ruins site, there are stairs from where you can descend to the beach. This beach is called the Paradise Beach or Playa Paradiso.
The stairs were blocked off during our visit, so we had to take another route to reach the beach area.
This image was taken from the ruins site itself and you can stairs from where you can capture some amazing shots of the blue waters.
The beach is beautiful and clean. There is a cute restaurant and there are tons of activities that you can participate on the beach.
We were so excited to see this shack and we thought, we gotta have some chilled beer and sit for a bit. This place is called “Pancho-Villa” and they served beers, cocktails, coconut water and light food and fruits. They had a swing and lovely thatched-roof umbrellas with turquoise blue chairs. You can sit, relax, drink a beer or two, read a book and admire the beautiful beach.
Activities at the Beach
Swimming and sunbathing seems to be the most popular activity in this beach. We were at the beach at around noon time and it was slowly getting crowded. Snorkeling and diving can be done here. Most prices for snorkeling and diving were not included in the day-trip voucher. But for an additional time and extra $50-100 USD, you can do a range of activities here.
We had an amazing time at the Tulum ruins. There is so much history to this place than just an Instagram picture perfect spot. And the greenery is heavenly. I think you will get a sense of how natural and green this place generally is when you are flying close to the Yucatan peninsula.
Oh so beautiful!