Tulum is an archeological site located on sheer limestone cliffs overlooking the picturesque Caribbean coast. It is very popular for its beautiful setting and also because of its proximity to the resorts and developments in and south of Cancun. Landscape surrounding these ruins is unbeatable which hands down makes it a special place to visit.
Tulum meaning "wall or fence" in Mayan, also know as the "City of Walls", refers to the 8 meter thick walls surrounding the settlement on three sides while the 12 meter cliffs protected the city from the sea. It was originally named "zama" meaning "dawn", because it faces the direction of sunrise. It is known to have been the hub for Maya's trade network connecting both sea and land routes. It is also believed that Tulum served as a religious center that housed and protected some of its most important priests during the time. One does not have to be a history buff to fall in love with this site.
From our hotel in Playa Paraiso it took us about 1 hr to get to the site. We arrived by 8:30am to beat the tourist bus crowds that start dropping in around 10. We parked at the shopping center and followed the 1km road inwards by foot. The train service to the entrance passed by as we walked, but we preferred to walk while we could still handle the heat. At the end of the road was the ticket counter and entrance to the ruins. There were absolutely no one at the ticket counters and very few people were already inside the ruins.
Entrance to the ruins was through the 8 meter thick wall that protected the inhabitants of the city and also differentiated the superior class from the common people that lived outside the walls. The first structure as we entered is The House of the Cenote. Interesting how it was built on top of a water pool - cenote, which was a freshwater source for its residents and passing traders.
The Palace of the Great Lord is one of the structures with several large rooms supported by columns, where the most important members of Tulum lived. Halach Uinic translating to "Great Lord" or "ruler", with his family lived in this palace that had a sanctuary at the back where they performed their religious ceremonies.
Temple of the Descending God is one of the most beautiful structures in Tulum. It is named for the carving above its doorway of a winged figure falling from the sky. Back in the day it was one of the most decorated temples with mural paintings inside and out.
El Castillo - The Castle is the largest and most prominent structure in Tulum, and one of the most photographed. Like many structures in the Mayan civilization this castle was also built in stages and is known for its impressive architecture and decor. It grandly sits on a limestone bluff commanding beautiful panoramic views of the ocean. It is believed that religious sacrifices were performed in this building and also functioned as a lighthouse for ancient mariners.
There are many other ruins scattered across the site. With a guided tour one could leave from there with a truckload of history lessons. The wooden decked beach access was closed off. Not sure why but a little disappointing. The exit from the site was also through one of the openings in the thick wall.
We were the only ones at the ticket counter when we arrived, not the same on our way out. We could walk or ride a bike down the road from the entrance to get to the beach. But we decided not to as we were headed to Playa Paraiso next.
All the stores at the shopping center were now open. They displayed vivid artifacts and locally made goods, and invited tourist into their stores with great enthusiasm. We were just in time for a pole flyers performance to lively music, dressed in traditional costumes.
We used Fuji X-T1 with 18-55mm lens. As a secondary camera Fuji X-70.
Read Next: Playa Paraiso Beach, Tulum
Where to stay: We stayed just north of Playa del Carmen as it is a good center for multiple attractions in the surrounding area. We stayed in Senses Riviera Maya by Artisan. Other best rated hotels in that area: Hotels in Playa del Carmen or Hotels in Tulum.
Getting there: We had rented a car. Driving is relatively straight forward if you are coming from US. This site is 115km/1.30hrs from Cancun airport or 63km/50mins from Playa del Carmen. Head south on highway 307 and looks for sign to turn left to the ruins. Drive down till the shopping center on the right.
Hours and Cost: Open from 8am to 5pm.
For ruins - $70 pesos per person ($3.25 USD).
For parking - $70 pesos ($3.25 USD).
For train ride - $20 pesos round trip ($1 USD).
Trails: Rugged but flat for the most part.
Time to spend: 2-4 hrs.
In you bag: Sunscreen, sunglasses, swimsuit, hat, plenty of water, and a camera.