Tulum Ruins - Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo, Mexico
Tulum - The Walled City
Tulum's greatest attraction is its location. It stands on a bluff facing the rising sun looking out on views of the Caribbean that are nothing less than spectacular. In Maya, Tulum means "Wall", and the city was christened thus because it is a walled city; one of the very few the ancients ever built. Research suggests it was formerly called Zama or "to dawn" in its day, which is appropriate given the location. It seems "Tulum" is the name given the site following a visit by the explorers Stephens and Catherwood in 1841, just before the beginning of the Caste War in 1847, long after the city was abandon and fell to ruins. They ordered trees cleared and Catherwood made illustrations of temples, later to be published in their famous book "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan". Juan José Gálvez is actually credited with Tulum's rediscovery in 1840.
History of the Site
The earliest date lifted from the site is A.D. 564 (the inscription on a stele) This places Tulum within the Classic period, though we know that its heyday was much later (1200 - 1521 A.D.) during the Late Post-classic period. Tulum was a major link in the Maya's extensive trade network. Both maritime and land routes converged here. Artifacts found in or near the site testify to contacts that ranged from Central Mexico to Central America and every place in between: copper rattles and rings from the Mexican highlands; flint and ceramics from all over the Yucatán jade and obsidian from Guatemala and more. The first Europeans to see Tulum were probably Juan de Grijalva and his men as they sailed reconnaissance along the Eastern coast of Yucatán in 1518. The Spaniards later returned to conquer the Peninsula unwittingly bringing Old World diseases which decimated the native population. And so Tulum, like so many cities before it, was abandoned to the elements.
When visitors arrive at Tulum's ancient pre-hispanic site they are able to see the buildings that in its time were the city's main center (ceremonial and political), monumentally encircled by the Mayan world's best known wall. Around this wall, in an area that at the present time can't be visited, there were a vast number of wooden and palm houses. Nowadays virtually no evidence of these houses exists.
The square at the center of the city was probably once used for rituals or ceremonies and is flanked by the so called Castillo (The Castle) to the West. The Castillo, sometimes referred to as the lighthouse, is the tallest building at Tulum and the most famous. It stands on the above mentioned bluff, commanding a view of the ocean and coast for miles in both directions. The structure underwent several stages of building and the lintels of its upper rooms are carved with the plumed serpent motif. The rooms themselves are vaulted in classic Mayan style.
Temple of the Descending God
This is another interesting structure. On the façade is a figure sculpted head down, and the walls inside show traces of the original pigments applied by the Maya. The descending figure is thought to represent a deity and Tulum appears to have been the center of his cult.
The Temple of the Initial Series
The Temple of the Initial Series façade bears several stucco figures and the earliest date found at Tulum came from a stele in the inner sanctum. Also important are the Temple of the Frescos which is filled with murals, now mostly erased by time and the elements. The temple shows traces of several building styles. The House of the Columns is more complex than most structures at the site and worth examining. It's a palace-like structure with four rooms whose principal entrance faces South. Six columns support the roof of the main room and there's also a roofed sanctuary. With the exception of its Eastern flank, which is open to the sea, Tulum is completely encircled by a low wall. Watchtowers rise from the 2 corners of its Western flank and within each tower is an altar. A tiny cove nestles at the foot of the cliffs, with its apron of snow white sand. This caleta was where the trading canoes would slip ashore.
The Kukulcán Group
Located just to the North of El Castillo, the Kukulcán Group, is formed by several minor structures. Being the most outstanding the Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the God of the Wind) is named after its round base. Traditionally related to Kukulcán is the God of the Wind Ehécatl from Central Mexico.
It is appropriate to emphasize the importance of the beach area, where it is certain that the Mayan ships, dedicated to trade around the peninsula, would have docked. At the present time it is the most visited area of the archaeological site.
Being Quintana Roo's most known and advertised site, Tulum is a must visit. The access fee is $35~40 pesos (video cameras extra $30 pesos) and the visit timetable is 8am to 5 pm, everyday. It is important to mention that it is necessary to park the your car at the shopping center's parking lot (an extra $30 peso fee) when arriving through the main ruins entrance. This is not controled by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). The 1 km journey between the parking lot and the site's entrance can be made by walking or in a small train (it's not related with the INAH either), which access fee is +/-$10 pesos. The ancient Maya ruin of Tulum is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (130 km). There is easy access via Federal Highway 307 from Cancun to Tulum. It's unofficially the southern end to the Riviera Maya. In Cancun there are several travel agencies that organize guided visits and the local bus lines offer regular service between Cancun and the site. The site has a parking lot, refreshments and restrooms located at the shopping center. Tickets are sold at the entrance to the ruins. Rustic economically priced lodging is available in the village of Tulum and along the coast South of Tulum, en route to Sian Ka'an. These range in price and quality, and many are built exclusively with regional materials. There is a registered guides association offering services at the ruins site.