Explore Tulum

The only Mayan Ruins overlooking the sea

Tulum is most famous for its position, on the edge of the Caribbean Sea. The Tulum Ruins offers stellar views of the crystal clear waters. This settlement sits on a small cliff, with visitor access to the beach below making this an interesting and fun half-day. Named Tulu’um by Yucatecans, translated to the ‘Walled City’, visitors will easily see the wall built around this ceremonial city, an architectural addition found in few Mayan sites.

Archaeologists refer to the Tulum Ruins as Zama, the original Mayan name which means ‘The City of Dawn’ due to its positioning towards the morning sunrise.

Tulum was a productive port for the Maya, built and occupied during 1200 A.D. to mid 1500 A.D., with most received trade transported to Coba or exported to Guatemala. Tulum never saw more than 1,000 to 1,600 residents, most being religious and political leaders. The site was abandoned in the late 1500s with documentation showing that residents were hit by disease, spread by Spanish conquerers.

The most significant buildings are the Temple of the Descending God, the Castillo, and the Temple of the Frescoes. These structures are on a much smaller scale found at other Mayan ruins. The Temple of the Wind and the Temple of the Sun are two small cliff-side structures that played a significant role in the spiritual practices and astrological findings of the Maya.

The cliffs to the east coupled with the surrounding walls to the west, provide a distinct architectural design to the Maya’s list of cities. The salt air has been a catalyst to deterioration of the stone structures. There are paintings in the Temple of the Frescoes and the carvings of the Descending God can be seen on the Temple that bears its name.

Interesting facts about Tulum

  • Most trade was conducted with Coba, but there is evidence that products were transported through Río Motagua and the Río Usumacincta/Pasión system as far as Guatemala.
  • A stele was found within the walls of Tulum dating to 540 A.D. but thought to have been moved to the city for safe keeping.
  • The cliffs facing the sea are 39 feet tall. The west facing wall ranges in height from 10 ft to 16 ft, is 26 ft thick and runs 1300 ft long. This defense wall would have taken years to build, indicating that safety and security was key at this location.
  • The Temple of the Descending God still has the remains of a Mixteca-Puebla style mural on the eastern wall, a style that originated in highland Mexico. This mural can be viewed from the exterior, as visitors are not able to enter this building.
  • A small cenote is located in the far north corner of the sight, this being the only source of fresh water for the residents.
  • The 25 ft Castillo (pyramid) has an observation deck that overlooks the sea, and is thought to have been built in stages. The observation deck is perfectly aligned with a break in the barrier reef, indicating where boats and canoes can safely come into shore. This marine baring is still used today by local fisherman and dive boats.
  • Copper, salt, and textiles were found to be heavily imported products.

Explore the Tulum Ruins your way!

Tulum is a fascinating site that can be completed in as little as 2. 5 hours (door to door) or you can spend a full day there. The site is small, but the surroundings can stretch out visit to include an entire day. Travel time to this INAH (Instituto Nacional de Antropología y Historia) site is less, but fun time is way more! Many visitors combine their Tulum ruin visit with a Tulum beach visit, or another attraction along the way. Our suggested itineraries provide you with a few options, so pick the best one for you!

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