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Mexico’s coastline may conjure up visions of all-inclusive resorts buzzing with activity, but the Mayan ruins of Tulum offer a beach experience of a different kind, one with a deep connection to ancient history.
Other archaeological sites can be found in the Yucatán Peninsula’s Riviera Maya, but Tulum, just 130 km south of Cancun, is the most beautiful and well-preserved despite its modest size. Built in the late 13th century during the Mayan Post-Classic period, this former fortress city will awaken your inner historian, and your imagination.
Tulum was a seaport, a centre of trade for turquoise and jade, and fortified by a remarkably thick wall of limestone. Who was it meant to protect and from whom? The city’s population against invaders, or the nobility against the peasants? The mystery is as perplexing as the decline of the Mayan civilization itself, but it is one that has yet to be solved even among archaeologists.
As you enter the ruins, the lush green landscape may distract you, but only to enhance your experience. When you reach the black and grey stone remains scattered across the rolling hills, buildings weathered by centuries and the natural elements, you marvel at how the Mayans could have erected these buildings without modern tools.
Inside the Temple of the Frescoes, painted murals pull you into another world of death, rebirth and Mayan gods, and the Temple of the Descending God introduces you to the main deity worshipped by the settlers of Tulum.
The Castillo (castle) building is the most recognizable of the Tulum structures and, with its dramatic location on the edge of a seaside cliff, the most picturesque.
After the sightseeing, you want to cool off. You came here for the beach too, after all, so from the ruins you descend the staircase, leading you to one of the most irresistible beaches in Mexico.
Your feet sink into the white powder sand. The waters, a sparkling turquoise, beckon. Take a refreshing dip, splash about, then stroll further along the stretch of sand and explore the quiet nooks against the steep cliffs.
The Mayans may have built Tulum on this beach for strategic purposes, but you love it simply for its sheer beauty.
Tips for Your Visit
- The Mayan ruins of Tulum are just a two-hour drive from Cancun. Many resorts offer organized day trips, but renting a car will give you the flexibility to visit during the off-peak hours of the early morning or late afternoon.
- For a more peaceful retreat, consider escaping the action of Cancun by spending a few nights near the Tulum ruins instead. Reserve a stay at a resort, a boutique hotel in town or a beachfront bungalow, and soak in the laid-back atmosphere.
- Tulum is not the only archaeological site in the Riviera Maya. To delve deeper into the history of Mayan civilization, consider adding the nearby ruins of Coba and Chichen Itza to your itinerary.