You’re in Mexico and you have already visited a myriad of ruins so why should you take the time to visit one more when you could be sunbathing at the beach? Sure, the amount of Pre-hispanic ruins in Mexico is vast, with over 2,000 registered, but what makes the ruins of Tulum stand out way above the crowd is the site’s unusual location – right next to the Caribbean sea! The site even has its own beach where you can bathe in after walking around admiring the ruins under the hot sun.
The Mayan City of Tulum, formerly known as Zamá, was built during the thirteenth century and was constructed out of limestone. It was used as a port of turquoise, obsidian and jade, it is the only Mayan city built on a coast and was protected from invasions by a 570-meter fort. In fact, the word “Tulum” means “wall” or “fort”. Artifacts found in and around the site prove contact with other civilizations in Central Mexico and Central America.
The biggest among the structure of the city is El Castillo (The castle), located on a 12-meter cliff and overlooking the sea. Another one worth noting is El Templo de los Frescos, which is well preserved and contains a mural inside, painted in blue and gray tones, that depicts the world of the dead, the world of the living and one of the creator and the rain gods.
Up until the early 20th century, the inhabitants of nearby villages would visit the ruins to offer their respect and offerings, but the tradition was discontinued due to the amount of tourists visiting the site.
It is believed that the structure El Castillo was used as a lighthouse for mayan navigators. When the structure came into sight, they knew it was time to take the canal that divided the coral reef to avoid crashing against it. It is estimated that Tulum had a population of 1,600 inhabitants during its prime and worked as an important site of worship as well.
Due to the warm and humid weather, a variety of wild species is found inside and around the park such as ducks, spider monkeys, armadillos, squirrels, iguanas and many more.
The Tulum Ruins are the third most visited archeological site after Chichen Itza in Yucatan and Teotihuacan in Mexico City due to its close location to Cancun and its location in the Rivera Maya.
Aside from the ruins, a must-visit are the cenotes nearby such as the Temple of Doom, Tortuga, Cenote Encantado (which offers a camping ground if you’d like to get away from the luxurious hotels), Nahoch Kiin, Abejas, Grand Cenote, Vacaha, among others.
In the media, the ruins of Tulum served as one of the locations for the 2007 film, Planet Terror, where a group of people are lead there to start a new society after a world-wide zombie attack. The ruins also appear in the video game Assassins Creed IV.
Several tours offer a visit to the site, however, if you prefer to arrange your visit by your own, several colectivo buses will leave you at the entrance.
Tulum is a very bike-friendly city, so if you aren't short of time, you can rent one for $80 a day and bike your way to and fro.