A wise Mayan tour guide once said, “There’s a big difference between being a tourist and a traveler. A tourist will visit a resort, stay there for the duration of their vacation, and will return home to say they’ve ‘seen’ the country they visited. But a traveler knows that truly seeing another country means exploring it, and when in Mexico it means visiting the Mayan ruins“.
There are several locations strewn throughout Mexico (as well as Belize and Honduras) that contain Mayan ruins. But the 3 most prominent locales in the Yucatan Peninsula include Coba, the jungle setting where visitors are still able to climb a pyramid-like structure once used for human sacrifice; Chichen Itza; the most popular location due to graphic stone carvings and the El Castillo pyramid, which is one of the ‘new’ Wonders of the World; and Tulum, located 2 hours south of Cancun and set against a stunningly beautiful backdrop of tropical foliage and the Caribbean Sea. For the purpose of this review, we’ll discuss Tulum, which is a MUST SEE.
For a basic guided tour, you can expect to pay approximately $40US per person, which includes pickup and drop off at your resort. However, there are several tour packages available that bundle the ruins along with a jungle tour, or a Ceynote swim, or snorkeling local reefs. There are tours that combine Tulum with a visit to Coba, as well as ones that merge the Tulum Ruins with a trip to Xel-Ha Aquarium or an Eco park. Whatever you desire, it can be arranged online or via the concierge at your resort.
For travelers looking to save a few dollars, self-guided walking tours are the answer. For this, access to the Ruins is 65 pesos, with an extra 30 pesos charged to visitors bringing video cameras. Tulum is open daily from 8 am to 5 pm, with a handy 4:30 pm whistle blast that marks the last entry of the day, and reminds visitors already inside that it’s almost time to exit the grounds.
It is crucial to note the designated parking area is a full kilometer from the entrance to the ruins so visitors are facing a sizeable walk before their tour begins. The alternative is to hop on a tractor-pulled wagon which will deposit you somewhat closer to the entrance for a small fee of 20 pesos each way. Parking is 120 pesos.
It is also imperative that you prepare for the heat and humidity. The majority of the ruins are in a wide open space with few trees and little shade so be sure to use sunscreen, consider a hat or sun umbrella, and ensure that you take a bottle of water along in order to stay hydrated. Water is available for purchase near the ticket area and it is the last opportunity to arm yourself so don’t miss it.
No matter which tour you choose to take, or how far the walk in the beating sun, it’s worth it because the moment you enter the national park, the vision will leave your jaw dropped.
The Tulum Ruins – Tulum meaning ‘wall’ – tell the story of the once thriving Mayan village that existed between the 13th and 15th centuries. Protected by 12-15 meter cliffs on the east side, the remainder of the compound is fortified by a rock wall, through which a small and shallow opening allows passage to visitors. Pyramid El Castillo (below left) is among the most preserved of the ruins, as is the House of the Ceynote, and Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple) which guards Tulum’s sea entrance (as shown in the lead photo).
Tourists are unable to access and climb the structures of Tulum; Coba is the only area that, for now, continues to allow physical access. However, just being in the presence of such steeped history is enough to thrill visitors, especially if opting for a professionally guided tour that will impart knowledge and information about the site, the structures, and the Mayan way of life.
Afterwards, there is the option to visit the craft market (located near the parking area) for a variety of souvenirs and a bite to eat. Or, visitors can access the beach via a staircase, to swim in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean or relax on the sugary sand. Either alternative is a nice way to cool down.
At the end of the day, it won’t be the intense heat that you’ll remember – it will be the grandeur of the structures, the glory of the ruins, and the sheer beauty of the coastal views. You’ll come to realize that these pictures and video, though beautiful, did not and could not possibly capture the feeling of exploring such sacred ground. And you’ll remember the words of the Mayan tour guide and realize that without the visit to Tulum, you would not have seen the magnificence of Mexico. Welcome to the world of being a traveler.