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Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 | 14 comments

Tulum: Location Saved You

I am a hard core fan of Mayan ruins (just take a deep look at my site).

When I visited the Riviera Maya, Chichen Itza and Tulum were two of the must see spots.

Chichen Itza was just as I imagined it and much more (take a look at my posts here and here).

But Tulum, well, that’s another story.  In terms of architecture, I have to describe the site as simple.  Ohhh, and it is a very small archeological place.  The city had an estimated population of 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants.  Compare that number to the ones of bigger Mayan sites (who had more than 20,000 inhabitants at their peak periods).

The original name of the city was Zama, which means City of Dawn.  Experts believe the city was the port of the nearby (and much bigger) site of Coba.  Tulum was strategically located between sea and land trading routes.  Obsidian was one of the most traded products in the area.

There are three main structures located in the ruins: El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God.  The site can be seen in about an hour.

The city was protected from sea invaders by steep sea cliffs.  The part facing the land was surrounded by a 16 feet (5 m) wall.  This is one of the things I enjoyed mostly about the ruins.  The wall and watchtowers are still standing.  You enter the site by walking thru a gate.  This made me feel like I was entering a forbidden place.

The other thing that justifies a visit to this site? Its location.  Remember those cliffs I mentioned on the previous paragraph?  Well, they are the ones who made Tulum famous.  It is the combination of ancient Mayan temples against a turquoise colored sea which shoot the ruins to international fame.  The disappointment I was feeling after looking at the ruins faded away when I stood near the edge of the cliffs.  The winds, the sea, the sky, the sand and temples formed a perfect combination.  At that moment, I felt the magic of the place.

Of course, we couldn’t resist the call of the sea and had to jump straight to the water.  We stayed there until the guards kicked us out.  The ruins changed to a different color under the pale sun rays.

My verdict:  Tulum would be nothing without its fantastic location.  The Mayas, for sure, knew what they were doing.

Here is Tulum in pictures:

Residential Building


Building with Detailed Carvings


Another view of building


Little Temple


Beach next to the ruins


Temple and sea


Temple next to the sea


El Castillo


Bathing area next to the ruins


Palace of the Winds


Turquoise waters


People bathing in the heavenly sea


El Castillo at Sunset


Building in sunset light


Sky at sunset


  • Even though Tulum cannot be described as grandiose, hordes of tourists visit it every day.  Try to visit as early as possible or after 3:00 p.m.  You would have enough time to have a good look since the city is small.
  • The site is located 81 miles (131 km) from Cancun.  That is a 2 hours drive each way.  Consequently, a paid excursion will cost you $75 to $100.  Think carefully if you want to spend that money on this small and simple site.  In my case, I visited because I stayed a few days in town.

Have you visited Tulum?  What is your opinion of the site? Let me know in the comments section below.


  1. I was there in the early ’70’s. There was nothing there but the ruins and no guards chased us off the beach where we were camped with hammocks. It was when the land developers were scouting the property and kicking off the local folk who happened to live along the coast. Just pristine beach, Tulum ruins and peace. I loved that site but I’ve hesitated ever returning to see what resorts have taken over. Just as they did at Cancun.

    • In my opinion, Tulum it is still cool to visit. It is not as bad as Cancun (and Cancun left a really bad impression on me, just read my post about it). Of course, they are not going to let you hand some hammocks around. Where those times went?
      Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: San Andres, ColombiaMy Profile

      • For me it would be the Mayan Riviera. The beaches are great, there’s lots of ruins that are wiihtn reach on a day trip. Plus, water parks, eco-tours, diving, snorkeling. And there are a wide range of bars and restaurants in PDC that don’t cater to the spring break crowd. The coastal area will be warm/hot but it’s generally breezy, so it’s generally comfortable. It’s doesn’t feel the same as 90% humidity in NYC in the summer time, at least not to me. You got an ocean breeze, shade from palm trees and a Margarita. When/if you go inland to the ruins, it’s almost a sure bet that it’s going to be really hot but I think that’s a small price to pay given how impressive they are.If you center yourself somewhere around Playa Del Carmen, you can always, drive, bus or take the collectivo north about 45 minutes and see Cancun your wife might like it if she’s a big shopper. There’s lots of high end shops and malls there, not the best prices but lots of shopping. There’s also lots of shopping in PDC just that Cancun has more of it. The ferry to Cozumel leaves from PDC so you could plan on a day there too if you wanted to dive/snorkel that’s only about 30 minutes and $10 for the one way trip.And for ruins, you’ll have packaged tours you can go on that will take you to the ruins in comfort with no stress. If you are more adventurous and rent a car you be able to see more and it might be cheaper if you can split the cost with other couples. You can hit any of these ruins and be back to your hotel, before nightfall (assuming you start in the morning).Tulum (about 30 minutes from PDC)Coba (about 60 minutes from PDC)Muyil (about 60 minutes from PDC)Ek Balam (about 2 1/2 hours from PDC)Chichen Itza (about 3 hours from PDC)

  2. Hi Ruth. Nice bits of information there. In contrast to other Mayan sites Tulum had smaller population. Is there any particular reason?
    Emily Woodhouse recently posted..How to Get Fast Cash NowMy Profile

    • It is the perfect location for beach lovers. That is why I say there is more to the place than the ruins. The entire Tulum experience (ruins, beach, Sian Ka’an, food) is good. Too bad if you only have the chance to see the ruins.
      Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: San Andres, ColombiaMy Profile

    • Jeremy,
      The place was interesting. I think any Mayan place is. I am just giving my perspective on this particular ruin. I know the experience would have been different with a guide. The problem is that the guide were charginf a hefty price and they weren’t allowing different parties to join as one group (this is permitted in other ruins).
      Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: San Andres, ColombiaMy Profile

  3. Great article and beautiful photos as well.
    I plan to visit the Mayan next winter. Have heard pros and cons whether it’s worth
    the time and money to visit.
    We did see some ruins in Cozumel on our last visit.
    Thanks for sharing!
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    • Robert,
      It is a good experience but it depends on how you do it. If you plan it independently, it works. If you combine it with other attractions in the area, it works. If you pay a tour company a big amount of money to only take you to Tulum (from Cancun), I don’t think it is worthwhile. Hope you can visit next winter.
      Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: San Andres, ColombiaMy Profile

  4. Tulum is a great entry level ruin for “Mayan Riviera” tourists – and might awaken an interest in the Maya they never had before, so that’s another benefit. Tours often packaged it with Coba, a more remote ruin still being excavated, or one of those touristy water parks like Xel Ha or Xcaret.

    How did you manage to get such fabulous pictures of the ruins with no people in them? When I went to Tulum in the early 90s there was an Italian cruise ship moored offshore – and all my pictures have Italians in bathing suits lounging in towels on the ruins.

    I love Mayan ruins and plan to visit them all. Palenque is probably next. Or maybe Calakmul, Becan and the ones around there.

    • A Coba and Tulum tour makes total sense. That would be more cost effective than just visiting Tulum by itself. I don’t know about Tulum/Xel Ha or Tulum/Xcaret. I visited Xcaret and one day wasn’t enough to seem everything. If you are a “want to se everything” person like me, a combo of Tulum and one of the parks won’t work.

      I visited the ruins around 3:00 p.m. At that time, the place was nearly empty. We had enough time to see the ruins and take a dip at the ocean. The trick is to go early or late.

      I also want to visit all (at least the major) Mayan ruins. I recently visited Copan and that wa sgreat.
      Ruth recently posted..Discovery of the Week: San Andres, ColombiaMy Profile

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