Tulum, Mexico is the epitome of a fortress by the sea. Only it’s a fortress built with pure ingenuity and strength centuries ago by extraordinary people without access to modern technology. The Tulum ruins are among several Mayan settlements still standing today, but what makes the ancient city unique is its location by the crystal blue waters of the Caribbean Sea. The combination of breathtaking Mayan engineering and white-sanded beaches is one we can’t resist.
While Tulum isn’t the largest of Mayan ruins discovered, the settlement has a few things that make it extra special. Surrounded by a wall 26-feet thick on three sides, it’s one of the few walled Mayan cities and the only one known to be built by the ocean. Neatly scattered on top of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean are buildings strong enough to have survived centuries of use and neglect.
The residents of Tulum paid special honor to the “Descending God” and many of the buildings have carvings depicting the winged god above the door. The most distinctive building is El Castillo, which stands silhouetted against the horizon, visible from a distance on the beach. Across from El Castillo is the Temple of the Frescoes, famous for the 13th-century frescoes depicting the Mayan worlds of the dead, the living and the gods.
The Tulum ruins are located on Mexico’s Riviera Maya, a stretch of coast popular for its beautiful beaches and luxurious resorts. The ruins are close enough to the resort towns for
us to make it a day trip, but far enough to focus more on the natural tranquility of the Tulum beach and ingenuity of the Mayans.
The simplest way for us to get to Tulum is to fly into Cancún. The popular vacation spot is only about 80 miles north of the ruins. We can stay in Cancún or one of the smaller towns on the Riviera Maya and use one of the many transportation options to go to Tulum for a day.
To get to the ruins themselves, we have several options. A basic half-day tour including a tour guide, transportation from our hotel and the entrance fee costs approximately $39 for each of us. If we wanted a tour with an extra attraction such as a cenote, a natural underground swimming hole, the price would be higher. If we’re on a tighter budget we could take public transport for 40 pesos, or take a nicer bus for 56 to 62 pesos. Of course, we could also rent a car and drive ourselves along the 307 highway, but since parking is rather expensive and far from the sight it’s not the best option.
Entrance to the Ruins
Unless we choose a tour that includes the entrance fee, we’ll pay the 65 peso fee before entering the ruins. The ruins are open every day of the week between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., but since we’d like to avoid the crowds it’s best if we go early in the day. Once we’re in, the only thing left to do is take in the breathtaking sight and explore the remains of a world centuries old.
It’s speculated that the Mayan settlement was built on the coast to serve as a seaport, trading mostly turquoise and jade. Whatever the reason, it’s impossible to miss the spectacular view of the beach from the ruins, and after a hot and humid day exploring the remains of a grand civilization, running down to the beach to cool off is the perfect end to our day.