Tulum Mayan ruins – Image courtesy of kuoni.co.uk
Tulum is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city on the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula facing the Caribbean Sea.
Constructed between 1200 and 1450 AD, Tulum is renowned as one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans.
Perched atop a cliff, the city was an important Maya spiritual and cultural centre, and managed to survive about 70 years after Spanish conquistadores arrived in Mexico in 1518.
Today, Tulum consists of three different areas: Tulum Pueblo (or town) bisects Hwy 307 where it intersects the road to Coba. It offers a range of commercial outlets including shops, banks, small hotels, restaurants and a modest nightlife.
Tulum Ruinas is the site of the Maya ruins, and can be reached by following a flat, 1.6km-long road from Highway 307. The road is lined with restaurants, some small hostels, a commercial area, a small bus station and a large parking lot.
Tulum Playa (or Tulum Hotel Zone) stretches along a coastline of white-sand beaches from the archaeological site to the biosphere reserve of Sian Ka'an. It’s here in the hotel zone that you can find a more upmarket selection of boutique and spa hotels, as well as a good selection of restaurants and nightspots.
Stroll around the much-photographed El Castillo (Castle), which sits stop the 12m-high cliff. Check out the stucco ornamentation and the faint carvings of the Descending God depicting the plumed serpent god, Kukulcán.
See fine examples of classic Mayan architecture at the two-story Templo de los Frescos, which boasts blue-green frescoes depicting the three worlds of the Maya and their major deities. Look out for one scene that portrays the rain god seated on a four-legged animal.
Elsewhere, wander the site among small ancient altars and at the Templo del Díos Descendente, don’t miss the carving of a winged god plummeting to earth set above the doorway.
Beneath the picturesque ruins of the Mayan Temple lies a beautiful, powder-soft, white-sand beach that stretches south, dipping between rocky headlands and offering a secluded escape away from the often crowded main beach beneath the ruins.
Swim out from the beach into the warm, azure Caribbean Sea and look back at the ruins for an unforgettable memory.
Continuing past a rocky promontory, the beach emerges into a long and wide sweep of sugar-white sand at Tulum Playa.
Known as Main Beach, this is lined with popular upmarket beach clubs and palapa hotels (open-sided, thatched-roof structures), where you can use the facilities for either a day, overnight or longer.
Tip: To avoid the crowds it’s best to stay overnight and visit the archaeological site in the early morning (before the tour buses arrive) or during late afternoon. You can either walk the 3km to the site from the car park or ride the shuttle bus.
Location: 130km south of Cancún, around an hours drive.
Admission: US$5 entrance, US$3 parking, US$4 video fee, US$1.5 shuttle from parking to ruins
Hours: Daily 8am-5pm