Tulum – México – Turquoise colored Sea and Temple Ruins

Tulum is a small but fast growing village 2 hours south of Cancun at the Riviera Maya on the Yucatán Peninsula in México. The main village with it’s 15000 inhabitants is about 2 km distant from the beach, where hotel beside hotel were build along the sea for nearly 7 km. Only few hundred meters away from the coast line in the turquoise colored sea is the Mesoamerican barrier reef located.
This Caribbean coral reef is the second largest reef in the world. It saves the beaches by breaking the high waves in a distance. Many people come here to explore the under water world. But Tulum is not only a tourist center for sun fanatics and divers. North of the village you can find the very interesting ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Tulum.

Tulum - Quintana Roo - Riviera Maya: Temple of the Wind God
Tulum – Quintana Roo – Riviera Maya: Temple of the Wind God

Tulum was founded quite late around 1200 and belongs to the late post-classic period in Mayan history. Jade, Obsidian and other findings show that Tulum was an important trade post at the Caribbean cost.

The area that was covered by this trading system was the whole Central America. It was still inhabited when the Spanish arrived. The Spanish chaplain Juan Diaz, who accompanied the Grijalva Expedition to México in 1518, compared Tulum with his Spanish home town Sevilla: “….a town or village so large, that Sevilla could not be better or larger; and in it could be seen a very large tower…”

El Castillo - Front - Tulum - Yucatán
El Castillo – Front – Tulum – Yucatán

The site, located on a sea cliff, is surrounded on three sides by a stone wall, that gave the ruins it’s name. Tulum in Mayan language means wall. The height of the wall is between 3 and 5 meters on the land-side. The original name of the site might have been “Zama”, what means “City of the Dawn“.

El Castillo - Tulum - Yucatán
El Castillo – Tulum – Yucatán

The most important and famous buildings in Tulum are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. The Temple of the descending god might have been the tower described by Juan Diaz.

El Castillo - Tulum
El Castillo – Tulum

South of the modern village of Tulum begins the natural reservation of Sian Ka’an. Sian Ka’an is world heritage of the UNESCO. Official tourist offices offer the possibility to visit this spectacular natural habitat. With some luck you can watch Jaguar, Puma, Tapir and Caribbean Manati  here.

Spider Lily (Hymenocallis) near Tulum
Spider Lily (Hymenocallis) near Tulum

Several big Cenotes can be visited in the region near Tulum. They are perfect places to swim in fresh water or to explore the underwater world by diving. In addition, Tulum is a good starting point to visit Coba, a very big city of the ancient Mayas. Even a trip to Valladolid in Yucatán to visit the Mayan site Ek Balam could be considered because the street from Tulum to Valladolid is very new and in a perfect condition. Driving time is 2 hours.

To late ! Tourists in front of the Castillo in Tulum - full size
To late ! Tourists in front of the Castillo in Tulum – full size

I recommend to visit Tulum on a week day and very early in the morning because big amounts of tourists carried in buses from Cancun and Playa del Carmen will arrive during the day. During the weekend you will face local visitors in addition. For people who are interested in taking some nice, tourist-free photos, only the early morning is a good time.
Please keep in mind, that the east coast of Yucatán is the entry point of hurricanes. The probability, that a hurricane hits Tulum is increasing during the hurricane season in autumn. Best time to travel there is the winter and spring time.

Christian Schoen

Christian Schoen is a globetrotter, travel writer and author of the very successful travel guide "The Maya Sites - Hidden Treasures of the Rain Forest". He loves to visit temples, pyramids and any kind of ancient ruins. The SLR in his hand, he can be met on adventurous hiking tours in tropical jungle landscapes - sometimes - or just somewhere in his neighbourhood, the Black Forest Mountains in Germany.

8 Responses

  1. Jim Liston says:

    Hi, thanks for sharing this article on the BytefulTravel Blog Carnival. I look forward to hearing from you.

    • crischo says:

      Hi Jim, I have to thank you for the efforts you take to do the new blog carnival and to choose my article for this ! :-)

  2. Jenny says:

    I lost a game of rock, paper, scissors which determined our cycle route south along the pacific coast of México. Our next trip will definitely involve the Yucatán :)

  3. kuldeep says:

    Hi and thanks for sharing information about such a beautiful creativity of the nature.

  4. We visited the archeological site of Tulum right after some heavy raining during the day (we rented some bikes to get there) – luckily the sky cleared up and there weren’t many visitors around. I’d also recomment having a walk in the city of Tulum itself, you can spot lots of great graffiti and murals in the streets.

  5. Jerry Ratliff says:

    Back in the early 1980s I talked a friend into going to Cancun, Isla mujeres, and once we spent a couple of days on the island, and by the way that was amazing. I met two Canadians that on the southend called (sp) the Garphoon or , well i cant remember. These two guys had bribed the lighthouse guy with Conch to let them spear lobsters. I just happen to run into them just before they started. They needed a third hand on the rock to collect the lobsters so both of them could fish. I had a small one man hammock that worked perfectly for putting the lobsters in as they threw then on the rocks.The largest one lobster they speared was huge.Holding his feelers by its mouth waist high the tail was toughing the ground, I kid you not.They gave me twelve for my help. On the way back to town I ran into a local family that really wanted that big lobster. I knew it was better to eat the younger ones and was happy to let them have it. They were so happy they could not believe how big it was..So, I get back to town on the north side of thr island around sunset and im badly sunburnt wearying only white cotton mexican draw string pantalonas, no underwear, red as the lobsters, and walking thru town with 11 fresh lobsters. Ya nobody noticed a thing. So i find my friend and we give a restaurant owner a few lobsters to cook up ours. Needless to say they are to date the best I have ever had. The next day I talk my friend into going to tulum. So we catch a bus that drops us off at midnight, in the middle of, we dont know where we are. There is no street lights, no buildings, nothing. It took a while for our eyes to adjust then we can see the out line of a road and trees on each side , so we head off down the road in the pitch black not knowing how far we need to go or really where we are going? After about 45 mins we notice the sound of the ocean, then we see outlines of what looks like a modern day observatory. We lay out our sleepying bags on the beach by the observatory and crash. Early the next morning we are rudely awakened by a federally and told we are not supposed to be here move on. So we head toward these grass huts down the road and talk to a fisherman that has a little hut that he sells fresh fish cooked daily. He a good guy and we arrange to have dinner that night with him at his place. So now we get to the good part. There is this lagoon that has fresh water mixed with salt water. When your swimming thru each layer of water it is truly special. Some fish live in the salt , some fish live in the fresh water, and a rare few can handle both. On the far side of the lagoon there is a ceremonial cave thats hard to find. There is a small v shape above the water, you swimm in under the rocks and it opens up to amazing cave. There is an alter I was told they did both weddings and sacrifices in the cave . The whole place was really incredible, i love it .Go and enjoy Tulum

    • Jerry! Again a great story! It’s a delight to read about your experiences. The 80’s were a time before the masses of tourists arrived. I studied at this time. I wished I would have been able to travel more.

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