AAA Editor Notes
Tulum Ruins are about 60 km (37 mi.) s. of Playa del Carmen and about a mile n. of the town of Tulum. The well-marked turn-off is on the e. side of Mex. 307; a large parking lot is less than 100 yds. e. of the highway. While not nearly as impressive or varied architecturally as Chichén Itzá or Uxmal, Tulum is notable for its dramatic setting overlooking the turquoise Caribbean.
One of the later Mayan outposts, this small but powerful city-state rose to prominence sometime during the 12th century. It was fortified on three sides by a wall—rather uncommon among Mayan cities—due to the coastal location, which was both strategic and vulnerable. A center for maritime commerce, Tulum was never conquered by the Spaniards, although it was abandoned some 75 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521.
Some 60 structures are spread over a level, grassy area. The most imposing is The Castle (El Castillo), a pyramidal structure capped by a small temple that stands at the edge of a cliff above the sea. Also worth seeing is the Temple of the Frescoes (Templo de los Frescos) near the site entrance. It features interior murals that display typical Mayan motifs and exterior statues bearing still-discernible traces of paint. Just north of El Castillo is the Temple of the Descending God; the winged stucco figure over the doorway suggests a plummeting diver.
The structures cannot be climbed, and most have roped-off areas that visitors must stand behind, obscuring the view of some interior details. Weather permitting, bring a swimsuit—the lovely beach below can be reached by walking down a long staircase. Licensed, English-speaking guides are available, although the information you receive may or may not be historically accurate.
There are restrooms, a bookstore, a restaurant and a few souvenir stands in the visitor center at the far end of the parking lot; the entrance to the site is about a 10-minute walk from the parking lot.
Wear nonslip walking shoes; the sandy, rocky terrain can be unexpectedly slippery. You'll also be on your feet, as there aren't really any places to sit. The porous limestone has created a few blowholes through which geysers of sea water can unexpectedly erupt and drench bystanders. The ruins are a popular day trip from Cancún and can be crowded depending on the time of year.
Food is available. Time: Allow 2 hours minimum.