Visiting the Tulum Mayan Ruins

Many months into the cold, rainy winter that is this year, I find myself deeply reminiscent of the sun, the sand, the heat.

And also guacamole.

This must mean that it’s time for another post about Mexico.

Tulum is home to the only Mayan ruin with beach access, and a beautiful beach at that.

Among many others, the beauty of this country is in its ability to shape shift for every kind of tourist. You want to relax and drink margaritas all day? Find a beach resort. You want adventure? Visit any of the hundred zip lining, cave swimming, 4 wheeling thrill parks that dot the country.

You want some history? Visit the Mayan Ruins.

A few years ago, Shaun and I were docking in Cozumel (through Disney Cruise Line) every second Monday. As a result, we got to know many of the island’s greatest hits. After a few weeks however, we decided to venture further away, hopping all the way to Tulum for a history session. (From Cozumel, we took a 45-minute ferry ride to Playa Del Carmen, before taking another 45-minute taxi ride to Tulum).

Tulum is home to the only Mayan ruin with beach access, and a beautiful beach at that. Dating back to 564 AD, the city itself never housed more than 1600 people and was built as a fortress; three sides gated by a large limestone wall, the other, by the sea.

A map of the ruin grounds. Photo:

Originally named Zamá or “City of Dawn”, the city was a popular trading centre, largely because of its water and land access. This ensured a buzzing capital of activity as long as 1518, when the Spanish arrived, bringing with them a disease that wiped the majority of the population. The many deaths of the Mayan people caused great harm to their societal structure and eventually forced whoever was left to abandon their seaside fortress.

Today the ruins are a sight to be seen; not only because of its glorious 12-meter-tall cliff dropping Caribbean Sea views, but also because the city’s architectural style can still be found. I walked in awe around the sometimes crumbling, sometimes surprisingly sturdy buildings, imagining the Mayans creating such things without the tools we have today.


Note: The ruins are roped off to protect and preserve them from human touch. You can still see them well, but expect to walk around them, not through them.

Though the ruins are a great afternoon outing accessible from big hubs like Cozumel, Playa Del Carmen or Cancun, I would recommend visiting early in the morning, or after 3pm (it shouldn’t take more than 2 hours to visit the site). The afternoons are crowded with day tripper tourists and the ruins offer little shelter to the blazing hot sun. Admission is free to Mexican residents on Sundays, so I would also avoid visiting then to elude the crowds. Opening hours are Monday through Sunday, 8am to 5pm.

Another note: As you walk around, try to spot (not touch, leave them be!) at least one of the many iguanas that roam freely around the ruins. With their large size and slow pace, they are hard to miss!


My biggest piece of advice, however, would be to book a guided tour. We chose to visit on our own, but because the signage isn’t very good, I never really knew what I was looking at. A guide will help put all this amazing history in context, and only costs about USD$30. The entrance fee to the ruins themselves is only USD$3-$4.

So go! Enjoy the history, enjoy the views, enjoy the giant iguanas. And if that isn’t enough, bring your bathing suit and enjoy swimming in the sea below a towering, cascading, momentous piece of history. 

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