Tulum Ruins: The Gem of the Mayan Riviera

TULUM, QUINTANA ROO - As we near the end of the Mayan Calendar in December this year, I thought it would be a good time to take you back with your Gringo and his family to the two Mayan ruins we had the pleasure to visit during our trip through the Yucatan Peninsula last year, starting with Tulum (we'll take a look at Uxmal, the grand Mayan site in the Ruta Puuc next month).

Templo del Dios Viento, Tulum, Mexico Templo del Dios Viento, with a great view of the Caribbean.

Tulum isn’t one of the larger Mayan sites, by far. But it has the distinction of being the best-preserved set of ruins to grace the magnificent aqua blue Caribbean Sea. You’ve no doubt seen pictures of Tulum, it’s small crumbling white stone structures set atop a hill with one hell of a view. It’s postcard-perfect vistas make it a popular emblem of Mexican tourism and print ad poster boy.

Our home base for our day trip to the ruins was south of Cancun in Playa del Carmen, where we stayed in one of the amazing, languid and rustic-chic bungalows of Mahekal Resort, set right on the beach on Playa Norte (away from the crowds and popular center of town). More on this “Mahekal/Magical” resort in our post on Playa del Carmen will appear in a future post, so stay tuned!

We arrived in Tulum in our trusty little Renault rental car at around 11 in the morning — just as the early June sun was starting to steam up the peninsula. Having just arrived two days prior from San Diego, Ursula, Wolfie and I were not quite acclimated to the much higher humidity levels of the Yucatan, but determined to see the ruins and stave off the heat with plenty of the water we carried in our packs.

There’s a fairly organized mall area upon entering, where you can buy trinkets, souvenirs, tee shirts, and other Tourist accoutrements. There are some fairly unique artworks and handicrafts to be found here…if you look hard enough. We did enjoy cervezas and tacos at one of the ramshackle restaurants (and I had a big piece of fresh fish) and our proprietor was friendly, engaging and very interested in America and Southern California. We also couldn’t resist cheesing it up for our camera with the cast of Apocolypto and a vegetarian iguana before we entered the site ($5/per. Which my sister tells me is a steal. The photos are below, judge for yourself!).

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A fairly small Mayan site, Tulum’s heyday was around the year 1200 CE and the settlement was still thriving in the early 16th century when the Spaniards arrived. The ruins are entered via a small doorway in a stonestacked fortified wall…one of the sites’ outer barriers against invaders from the west, south or north (the east is covered…the Caribbean). Though most believe that the walls were more topographical or ceremonial in purpose as the Maya didn’t have any enemies to repel until the Caste Wars in 1890 and beyond.

We climbed the bluffs to the small temples…the Templos Minaturas…which afforded a beautiful view of the ocean and the rest of the site below us. Right next to the templos is the Templo del Dios Viento (Temple of the Wind God) the site’s most famous photo opportunity as it is situated in such a way as to be an opportunistic shot of both the structure and the turquoise waters beneath. We continued south toward El Castillo, the sites’ largest structure. Most of the buildings here are roped off (unlike Uxmal) and climbing on the rocks is prohibited.

Eventually, we made our way around the site in 3 hours, stopping for the opportunity for shade in the rare grouping of some trees (Be warned, the site is very open to the sun. Take plenty of water, wear hats and use sunscreen. I couldn’t believe how many folks I saw on this trip that were burned to a crisp due to lack of sunscreen.). We did take the tall, wooden stairway down to Tulum’s “perfect little beach”. Although somewhat crowded, the water felt GREAT after our hot and dusty excursion in and around the ruins. I took a perfect shot of a curious iguana on a rock right by the water.

Although we’d walked the half-mile long dirt trail from the park entrance to the ruins, we opted to pay a few pesos to take the tram back to the entrance, our car, and the end of a very hot, magical and educational introduction to the Maya of the Yucatan.

Your Gringo in Mexico,



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