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Tulum Ruins | Beach, Mayan History, & Things to See

Do you dream of lounging on white sandy beaches and exploring ancient archaeological sites? Then Tulum should be one of the top places on your bucket list. 

Playa Ruinas Tulum Mexico
The Iconic view over Tulum with the Mayan ruins and Caribbean sea

This unique destination is located on the Yucatan Peninsula in southern Mexico and is one of the most beautiful holiday hotspots.

Not only will you find plenty of things to do in Tulum, but it is also close to other popular locations in this part of the country – like Cancun, Chichen Itza, and Las Coloradas.

In this post, I’ll share with you some pictures from my time here and provide you with everything you need to know to make this an unforgettable experience. 

Tulum beach mexico
Relax on the beach

Tip: If you want to find other destinations in this South American country, my article on the top places to visit in Mexico is the perfect starting point. 

Tulum Mayan Ruins History

Although you shouldn’t visit this town without heading to the beach, the Tulum archaeological site should be number one on your list. But who built this archaic architecture?

The Tulum Ruins, also known as the Tulum Mexico Pyramids, were built by the Mesoamerican Mayan civilization.

This ancient culture was one of the major influences in South America up until the Spanish conquest began in the 15th century.

Tulum Mexico ruins
Walk around the area.

While a lot of the information about Mayan society has been lost, their archaeological sites offer us glimpses into their way of life.

According to evidence, the site may have been occupied since as early as 300 BC. However, the Mayans only built the standing seaside fortress between 1200 – 1450 AD. 

Why Was Tulum Abandoned?

Although the exact reason is unknown, Tulum was completely abandoned by the end of the 16th century.

One of the main reasons for this is said to be due to Old World diseases. 

This was something that occurred throughout North America, where the local populations were unable to deal with the sicknesses brought by the Spanish and other European explorers. 

Tulum Pyramids & Ruins – Things to See

If the history of this ancient site is not enough to trigger your interests, then the actual things to see definitely will.

Although the ruins were forgotten for a long time, there has been a substantial effort in the past 100 years to maintain and restore the grounds.

Tulum beach mexico
Enjoy the pristine beach.

Do you prefer letting an experienced guide show you around? There is a great half-day tour you can take.

However, if you prefer exploring alone, these are some of the most noteworthy things to look out for.

Tulum beach mexico
Relax on a street bar

1. El Castillo

The largest and most extravagant building in the Tulum Ruins is known as El Castillo (Spanish for The Castle).

Once the center of this Mayan stronghold, El Castillo is a 7.5m (25 ft) tall pyramid that dominates the surrounding landscape.

El Castillo Tulum Mexico
El Castillo

El Castillo is a sight to behold, perched on the edge of steep cliffs dropping into the ocean below. In the past, it served a dual purpose – both as a lighthouse and a temple for ceremonies.

The side facing the water had a large fire that served as a way for incoming traders to navigate through the treacherous reefs below. 

The western side (facing the town square) was used for religious purposes. Here you will be able to view the stereotypical grand staircase found in many Mayan pyramids.

At the top, you will find the temple where the priests would perform ceremonies for the residents below. 

While exploring the pyramid, make sure to look out for detailed engravings and artwork. Most of these depict ancient mesoamerican deities, providing a glimpse into the religious systems that shaped Mayan society. 

2. Temple of the Frescoes

This two-story Mayan building might not be as dramatic as El Castillo, but it is still a must-see when visiting the ruins.

The main attractions are the elaborate stone carvings found throughout the building, as well as the painted frescoes that can still be admired on the ground floor.

Temple of the Frescoes Tukum Mexico
Temple of the Frescoes

The building held cultural and religious significance and was built in two stages.

The ground floor was erected first, and the second floor was built on top of this at a later stage – a common occurrence in Mayan culture.

Even though the building is quite small, one can still admire the impressive workmanship that took place when building, sculpting, and painting the temple.

The Temple of the Frescoes was built as an observatory, used to track the movement of the sun.

This was immensely important to the Mayan civilization as it was used not only for religious purposes but also to help keep track of the days and other important calendrical events. 

3. Temple of the Descending God

If you don’t pay attention, you might miss one of the other major buildings – the Temple of the Descending God. It consists of a single room, built on top of another building. 

Temple of the Descending God Tulum
Temple of the Descending God

You can follow the staircase up to the entrance of the temple, where you will notice the most significant piece of architecture – the sculpture of an upside-down (descending) god. 

If you visit during the spring equinox, you will see the sun shining perfectly through the front door.

It was common for the Mayans to align their buildings with specific solar events, and this is another great (albeit humble) example.

4. Tulum Archaeological Zone Walls

The walls themselves are arguably the most culturally significant parts of the site. The reason is that most Mayan settlements did not have walls, so it begs the question – what were they trying to protect?

Although the exact answer is unknown, for a settlement of relatively small size to be guarded by such impressive architecture is a feat of its own.

There are three walls, with one side of the fortress being protected by cliffs. The main wall (running parallel to the cliffs) is the most impressive. It is between 3 – 5 meters tall and up to 8 meters thick. This wall is 400m long.

The other two walls, which run the width of the settlement, are slightly smaller and run for 170m each. Throughout the walls, you will find five gateways as well as the ruins of two watchtowers – further adding to the importance of protecting Tulum.

Fun fact: The word ‘Tulum’ means ‘wall’ in the Yucatan Mayan language.

5. Tulum Ruins Mexico Beach

A trip to Tulum would not be complete without visiting the beach. One of the main beaches to explore is the “secret” beach below the ruins.

Also known as the ‘Playa Ruinas,’ this protected beach is very easy to miss – hidden by the cliffs and surrounding ruins.

Tulum Mexico
Playa Ruinas

However, you should not let that prevent you from visiting the white sand and crystal clear waters that await.

You will need to take a steep staircase down to the relatively small beach, but once there, you can spend the day lounging and soaking in the Mexican sun. 

The setting is something out of a movie scene, with incredible views of the ocean, towering cliffs, and the silhouette of El Castillo above you. Swimming in the shadow of a Mayan temple is truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tulum beach Mexico
Playa Ruinas

While here, try to take in the historical significance of the beach. It was here that traders would arrive on their hollowed-out wooden canoes, bringing goods from all over the area. 

Mexico tulum beach

If you want to enjoy the beach in all its beauty, make sure to get here early so that you can get a good spot before it becomes too busy. It’s also important to remember that there aren’t any facilities down by the beach – no shops, toilets, or umbrella rentals.

Tulum mexico
Enjoy the view

Note: Depending on when you visit, the beach may be closed due to high tides or if there is too much seaweed. If you definitely want to spend time here (which you should), call the reception ahead of time.

How to Visit Tulum Quintana Roo Mexico

Before you can enjoy your trip to Tulum, you need to know how to get there. Depending on where you are coming from, you have the following options at your disposal.

Tulum Mexico
Most people comes to Tulum for the beach

Reaching Tulum Ruins via Plane

There have been talks about opening a Tulum airport for many years. However, it still has not come to fruition. If you are arriving here from an international destination, your three options are:

  • Cozumel International Airport
  • Cancun International Airport
  • Merida International Airport

Cozumel International Airport is the closest to Tulum. However, it is located on the island of Cozumel, so it will require more planning.

The simplest option is Cancun International Airport, which is a 1h30 drive away from Tulum. 

Note: Cancun is located on the North East tip of the Yucatan Peninsula and is the closest Mexican City to the Caribbean country of Cuba

Mayan ruins tulum Mexico
Impressive Mayan Ruins

Reaching the Ruins Near Tulum via Car

Whether you have arrived at one of the international airports mentioned above or are traveling from another part of Mexico, a rental car is a great option.

Mexico is a big country so if you want to experience all the tourist attractions available, having your own means of transportation is a lifesaver.

Tulum ruins

If you are traveling from Cancun International Airport, you will just need to take one road (highway 307), but you can choose to either take a taxi or rent your own car.

If you do opt for a taxi, just make sure to let the driver know you want to stop at the ruins (Tulum Ruinas in Spanish). It is a short distance away from the town center. 

Reaching Tulum Ruins via Train

Tulum Mexico
Peacful Tulum

Another option to look out for is the Yucatan Peninsula railway project (Tren Maya). It was not completed when I was there, but hopefully, within the next year or two, you will be able to travel around the region much quicker than before. 

The expected completion date is in 2023 – which is the same year that Tulum International Airport is meant to be completed.  The train to Tulum will also reach Cancun Airport.

Tulum Mexico

Tulum Ruin Mexico – Frequently Asked Questions

Now that you know this holiday destination is worth visiting, you might be wondering about certain things. When planning a trip, it’s important to know everything there is to know. In this section, we’ll cover all the most noteworthy questions.

1. Is Tulum Mexico Safe?

Tulum is generally regarded as a safe town, especially compared to other cities in Mexico. However, just like any tourist hotspot, petty crimes and theft do occur here. 

As with anywhere in Mexico, it is also important to stay away from drugs or drug-related gatherings. The cartels are in charge of the moving of illicit substances, which increases the risk of gang-related crimes and violence.

Tulum beach mexico
Relax on amazing beaches

To ensure your safety, stick to the main areas of the town and be careful when traveling around at night by yourself.

Despite being a tourist hotspot, it’s still important to remember that there can be dangerous people around. 

2. How Much Does It Cost to Go to Mayan Ruins Tulum?

It costs $4 (80 Pesos) to enter the ruins. If you want to bring a video camera (including GoPros) or a professional camera inside with you to capture your experience, you will need to pay an additional $2.25 (45 Pesos). 

Tulum Ruins Mexico
Probably the most famous view in Tulum

There is a short 10-minute walk from the entrance to the ruins themselves.

If you want to avoid this, you can use the small “train” service for a fee of $1 (20 Pesos). It is quite convenient and inexpensive.

The “train” isn’t fancy, just a carriage pulled by a tractor – but it does make life easier, especially on hot days. 

2. When Is It Open? Tulum Hours

The ruins are open between 8 am and 5 pm every day. The cut-off time for entering the ruins is 4:30 pm so that you can have some time to explore the ruins. 

Thirty minutes is, however, not a very long time to take in this magnificent place, so I would recommend arriving earlier than that.

Plan Your Trip to the Mayan Ruins in Tulum Today

Tulum is a hotspot for tourism and a must-see for anyone visiting Mexico. With so many great things to do and nearby places to explore, you will be spoiled for choice when visiting this Caribbean coastal town.

Tulum beach
Don´t forget to relax in one of the many charming beach bars

I hope you enjoy your time here as much as I did. Please let me know in the comments section below if there was anything you enjoyed during your stay here that I did not mention. Safe travels!

Tulum Ruins | Beach, Mayan History, & Things to See
Travel Guide To Tulum Mayan Ruins and things to do in Tulum Mexico