TULUM, MAYAN RIVIERA, MEXICO
Explore the Exquisite Mayan Ruins
by Valerie Conners
Filed Under: Mexico, North America, Ruins
‘Ancient mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico’
Sunbathers and swimmers indulging in a visit to Tulum Beach’s white, limestone sands and crystal blue waters need only look up in wonder at the ancient Mayan ruins — some from as early as A.D. 250 — dotting the cliffs above them to grasp the aura of ancient mystery that surrounds the beach.
Part of the gorgeous and increasingly popular Riviera Maya, Tulum sits 80 miles southeast of Cancun. The beach at the Tulum ruins and the beach just to the south, called Boca Paila, have luckily managed to escape the resort development permeating many of the other Riviera Maya beaches. The unspoiled beauty is marred only by the occasional drink stand or cabana, and is so private that clothing is optional.
The name Tulum, derived from the Mayan word for wall, and the ruins hovering over the beach, most notably the giant pyramid-shaped Castillo, have gained notoriety as 1 of the Mayan civilization’s only walled cities. In its heyday, Tulum served as a port of call for mariners and traders, and its walls defined the ancient town’s defense against invaders from sea and land.
Today, visitors from across the globe who vacation at Tulum experience 1 of Mexico’s finest beaches with an added bonus: the chance to admire the architecture of the ruins and feel the awe of this ancient and notoriously advanced civilization.
The nearest international airport is in Cancun; shuttle service transports to Tulum can be arranged.
From Cancun International Airport the drive to Tulum takes 2 hours; the most convenient means of transportation from the airport to Tulum is via air-conditioned shuttles.
December through April is considered high season in the Yucatan, and crowds and prices peak during Christmas and spring break. Tulum’s tropical climate means more than 240 days of sunshine annually and average high temperatures in the mid-80s with lows in the upper-60s. Though rain is infrequent, September and October are the wettest months because of hurricane season; March and April are the driest.
The Tulum ruins are some of the most frequently visited archaeological sites in Mexico, and a number of new hotels have sprung up in recent years to cater to the increase in tourism. Most hotels are located along a strip of beach coined the Hotel Zone. Visitors can choose among typical hotel accommodations and smaller, cabana-style hotels or campsites.
One of Tulum’s most unique and impressive lodgings is Azulik Villas, 15 private villas constructed of rich, local hardwoods and featuring carved tree-trunk bathtubs, in-room massages, aromatherapy and waterfront views.
With so many tourists from the United States and abroad, it’s little surprise that restaurant choices in Tulum Beach and Tulum Pueblo are gentrified, with an unusually large number of Italian establishments. Of course, it’s possible to find typical Mexican cuisine like seafood and tacos at restaurants or loncherias, such as the popular Ana y Jose or the vegetarian spot Maya Tulum.
Mexico’s currency is the peso and exchange offices are easy to find, but US dollars are accepted at many businesses. The closest banks are in Playa del Carmen. Visas are not required, nor are shots or vaccinations. Some tap water is safe, but to be sure, drink bottled water. For the most part Tulum is quite safe (aside from the occasional pickpocketing), but use common sense when out alone or at night. The tourist office is located next to the baseball fields on Avenida Tulum in Tulum Pueblo.
While You’re There
A trip to Tulum’s beach isn’t complete without visiting the ancient Mayan ruins that dot the cliffs above the water. Visitors can explore this ancient walled city and must visit the Castillo, or castle, the largest of the surviving structures. Other interesting structures include the Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of the Frescoes, with its walls of murals.
Visitors should also check out the cenotes, or freshwater pools, south of Tulum Pueblo. The pools are actually part of an underground network of rivers and caverns that once provided fresh water to the Mayans. It is possible explore the cenotes with a number of dive operators in town who offer snorkeling or scuba trips.
To Fake That You’ve Been There
Reminisce about the night you had 1 too many margaritas at the locals’ favorite hangout, Charlie’s Restaurant, and jumped onstage during the flamenco band’s nightly performance.