Tulum may not have the best Mayan ruins in the Mexican riviera. But there’s no doubt it has the most beautiful.
Even after several weeks of seeing the best Ancient Mayan cities in the world, I’m still impressed by the ruins at Tulum. They have something none of the others has – water views!
It’s not too long since sunrise when I arrive at the Tulum Ruins, just minutes after the gates have opened. I’ve come early for two reasons – partly to get the morning light for my photos, and partly to avoid the crowds.
I’m thwarted by an enormous cloud for my first aim (although it clears after about 30 mins and I still get some nice sunny photos).
But, for the second, I’m successful. There are relatively few people here and I’m able to explore some areas by myself and get some wonderful views without anybody standing in the way.
It’s not usually like this and within an hour it’s already starting to fill up (and, I’m told, will just continue to get worse throughout the day).
And it’s no surprise when you realise that Tulum is one of the most accessible Mayan ruins in all of Mexico.
The town of Tulum – and the grand luxury hotels around it – has become one of the most popular spots along the coast of the Mexican riviera. For visitors wanting a splash of culture amongst their margaritas and time in the pool, the Tulum Ruins offer an easy option.
Even for people staying in Playa del Carmen, an hour up the coast, the Tulum Ruins are easier to get to than the other alternative of Chichen Itza (you can just jump in a colectivo that will bring you directly here to Tulum for less than $50 (US$2.60)).
Although Chichen Itza is a much more important site historically, has much more impressive buildings, and is a better way to learn about the Mayan civilisation… I can see why people who are short of time or patience may opt just for the ruins at Tulum. They are, as I’ve already mentioned, stunning!
Tulum Mayan Ruins
The Mayan city of Tulum was at its peak much later than many of the other famous Mayan ruins in Mexico.
This is no great surprise when you know a bit about the history of the Mayan civilisation. As I discussed in my story about Mayan Discovery, many of the jungle city-states were hit by droughts and had to abandon their bases. Over time, they moved further north to this region.
But this wasn’t just an escape for environmental refugees. Tulum was an important and wealthy city for one simple reason – trade!
This part of the coast formed a natural meeting point between land trade routes and maritime trade routes. It meant that the rulers of Tulum were able to set up a meeting place for merchants – and take their cut.
This also explains the location of the Tulum Mayan Ruins. It made sense for the city to be visible from ships at sea so they would come in to trade.
As I walk around the site and look at the buildings, I get a sense – even without being told – that many of these structures have more of a commercial than a religious function.
That’s not the say that the Maya of the time did not still worship their gods, it just means that some of the grand buildings also had to promote a sense of wealth and power. And they had to offer the practical infrastructure needed for a regional marketplace.
Tulum Ruins beach
The morning cloud has well and truly moved on by the time I’ve explored the majority of the site and there’s now bright sunshine across the ruins here at Tulum.
With the day warming up, you can see why another aspect of the site is so popular – the beach at the Tulum Ruins.
I didn’t bring my swimmers but I see that some people did and they’re ready to jump in the water now. Still, I walk down to the sand and dip my feet in the refreshing water.
As far as my travels have gone, this is unique for a Mayan ruin site. Most of my experiences have involved sweating in the humidity of jungles or under the unrelenting sun atop a pyramid.
The beach is one of the things that makes the Tulum Mayan Ruins such a wonderful experience for tourists. I realise that it’s not just the location and the views that makes the site so popular, it’s the chance to have a swim as well.
Tulum Ruins tour
It’s getting crowded in the site when I leave. As I go out, I see a huge queue waiting to buy tickets. And as I walk back down the path to the main road, I see more large tour groups in their way. And it’s still only 9:30 in the morning.
My advice is certainly to come early. The Tulum Ruins open at 8:00 and it’s worth being here then. You’ll avoid the crowds, get better views, and the temperature will be more pleasant.
Of course, another option is to come as part of a tour group. The advantage with this is that they’ll take the hassle out of the transportation, you will save time not having to queue for tickets, and you’ll get a guide who will explain a lot about the site.
If you’re interested in that, there are some good options here that I would recommend.
My only other piece of advice is to try to visit some other Mayan ruins in Mexico. Tulum is beautiful and you will not be disappointed. But there are other better ways to learn more about the Mayan civilisation.