This combination of ancient history and breath taking coastal views make Tulum, just south of the mega resort areas of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Cozumel, one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most amazing holiday destinations. A huge choice of hotels including cabanas right on the beach stretch south from the ruins along the coastline, most with on-site restaurants and beach front bars. The ruins are open for tours daily, and a visitors centre and museum offer a wealth of information on the complex Mayan civilization that once thrived in the area.
As you can see on this map of the Tulum Mayan Ruins they are relatively easily to explore. This Mayan archaeological site was strategically built on a high cliff top overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan people here could quickly identify any marauding attackers coming from across the seas. Fortified on the other three sides by high walls to protect from land attacks this community was very well guarded.
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By 900 AD, the Maya civilization was declining and the major cities to the south were abandoned. Tulum is one of a few small city-states that evolved despite this, establishing its status in the 13th century AD as a seaport. It controlled all sea trade along this section of the coast from Honduras to the Yucatán.
Diego de Landa, the third bishop of the Yucatán documented that Tulum was a small city with a population of 600 people who lived in platform dwellings along a street and who supervised the trade traffic. Though it was a walled city, most of the inhabitants most likely lived outside the walls, the interior would have been exclusive residences to governors and priests and ceremonial structures.
Tulum thrived for about another 70 years after the Conquest, when it was finally abandoned. Local Maya continued to pray and worship at Tulum’s temples until the late 20th century, when sightseers visiting the site became too much.
Tulum, which means “enclosure,” is almost certainly modern. Its original name is believed to have been Zama, or “Dawn,” in accordance with sunrise and the west-east alignment of its buildings.
The site is surrounded by a 5 m (16 ft) thick wall on three sides, with five gates. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the entrance to the archaeological site where you will find The city square that includes a museum, a restaurant, artisans’ stands, a bookstore, several large bathrooms, and a ticket booth.
The main god honoured at Tulum is the “diving god,” or “Descending God,” depicted on several buildings as an upside-down figure above doorways.
The most prominent building at Tulum and the largest is El Castillo (The Castle). Located on the clifftop, closest to the sea, it possibly served as a landmark for sailors. Besides being a fortress El Castillo was also a temple and was originally covered with stucco and painted red. A wide external staircase leads up to the temple, which has three niches above the doorway. A striking sculpture of the descending god is in the central niche.
The Temple of the Frescoes, immediately in front of the Castillo, was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. It contains fascinating 13th-century frescoes, unfortunately visitors are no longer allowed to enter.
These Mayan frescoes symbolize the rain god Chaac and Ixchel, the goddess of weaving, women, the moon, and medicine. Supernatural serpents are also a recurring theme. On the cornice of this temple you can see an engraving of the head of the rain god; from a short distance from the building you can see the eyes, nose, mouth, and chin. Remains of the red-painted stucco can also still be seen.
To the left of El Castillo as you face the sea is the Temple of the Descending God, with a small staircase and a carving over the door depicting a swooping figure that can be seen throughout the site.
North of El Castillo is the Kukulcán Group, made of several minor structures. Particularly notable is the Templo del Dios del Viento (Temple of the God of the Wind), so called for its round base.
On the powder white beach below El Castillo, where the Maya once came ashore you can swim and sunbathe. A dip in the Caribbean sea is a perfect way to cool down.
Tour Tulum, one of the most famous Mayan sites, with a private archeologist — a Viator exclusive available nowhere else! Arrive in the early morning and miss the crowds, allowing you to fully experience the magnificent Tulum ruins.