Discover all there is to see and THINGS TO do in Tulum
Tulum is in fashion. It’s no secret that in recent years, this town in southern Quintana Roo state has become one of the hottest destinations in the Caribbean, hosting celebrities and famous people from all over the world. There is no end to the reasons why: Mayan ruins, miles of crystalline waters, white sand, and a slow pace of life similar to other destinations around the world such as Goa, in India, or Canggu, in Bali. This means that this town conserves its authenticity and romantic touch. If you’re dreaming of traveling to this little slice of heaven, in this post you can find a list of tips as well as plans for what to see and do in Tulum.
History of Tulum
Tulum was an ancient walled Mayan city with a relatively recent history. Unlike other great Mayan cities of the region such as Chichen Itza or Mayapán, which were already abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish, indigenous people still lived in Tulum at the start of the 15th century.
In ancient times, it was known by the name Zamá, which means “dawn” in Mayan. This refers to its privileged eastern orientation, where the sun rises each day. Its current name, Tulum, means “wall”.
During its peak in the post-classical period (13th and 14th centuries), Tulum was an important commercial city and a mandatory stop on many sea routes that covered Mexico and South America. However, with the arrival of the Spanish on the Yucatan Peninsula and the disappearance of the local population, the city was lost. Lost, that is, until 1841, when it was rediscovered by the explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. Currently, Tulum is the only conserved Mayan city on the seashore.
Location of Tulum
Tulum is south of the Riviera Maya, in the state of Quintana Roo. More specifically, it is located halfway between Playa del Carmen and the marvelous Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. What’s more, it’s less than 30 miles from the Cobá archeological area.
Tulum Archeological Site
If you’ve seen photos of Tulum before, this is probably the image you remember the most: Mayan ruins abutting the cliffs on the shores of a turquoise sea and a white sand beach surrounded by a thick green jungle. Tulum is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful archeological sites in Mexico and the entire Caribbean.
The site comprises a series of important buildings that you should learn about in order to dive into the history of the thousand-year-old civilization. One of the most notable is the Tulum castle, better known as the “castle of the sea,” where the Mayan performed their religious ceremonies. It also served as a lighthouse for navigators who passed through these waters.
Other buildings you cannot miss are the Temple of the Frescos of Tulum and the Temple of the Wind God. The first houses interesting murals and was used as a sun observatory. In fact, Tulum had a prestigious astronomy school that important people of the time attended. The second is a sanctuary dedicated to the Mayan god of the wind. Shaped like a tower, it’s one of the most photographed monuments, as it is on the seashore.
The site is within the Tulum National Park, which includes a nature area with spectacular beaches and jungles you can walk through and enjoy the outdoors. Take advantage of your outing and after visiting the ruins, which takes around an hour and a half, go for a dip at this incredible beach.
One of reasons that Tulum is a special destination is its bohemian, cosmopolitan, and eco-friendly vibe. You can see for yourself if you stay in or visit the village of Tulum. Foreigners from all over the world live here. These people have decided to pack their suitcases and open their own businesses in this little corner of paradise. For this reason, you will find a great variety of restaurants with a culinary offer that goes far beyond Mexican food as well as environmentally friendly boutique hotels and numerous markets for handicrafts and handmade products.
In addition, if you are someone who likes slow tourism and disconnecting during your vacation to find peace and harmony, there are many yoga and meditation centers of all types in Tulum. There are also spas and temazcal (typical Mexican steam baths) services where you can relax and recharge.
Beaches of Tulum
Just as in Cancún and the Riviera Maya, you can’t travel to Tulum and not go to its excellent beaches, considered by many to be the best in the Caribbean. Among them, the Playa de los Pescadores, or Fishermen’s Beach; the Playa de Santa Fé; and the Playa de las Ruinas stand out.
If you have more time to explore areas outside of Tulum, Xcacel is a splendid virgin beach found in a nature reserve that you will fall in love with at first sight. The Xpu-Ha Beach, with is wild appearance, is also considered one of the best in the area. The list of beaches is endless and you’ll run out of days to visit them all.
Cobá Archeological Area
One of the big advantages of Tulum is its strategic position for going on excursions. One of the most recommendable is visiting the Cobá Archeological Area, just 25 miles from the village of Tulum.
During its peak in the Mayan classical period (between the years of 500 to 900), the city of Cobá had a population of 50,000 inhabitants, which made it one of the most important cities in the region at that time.
Its Nohoch Mul pyramid, measuring 138 feet high, is one of the tallest on the Yucatan Peninsula. Despite the fact that it’s in a poorer state of conservation than neighboring Kukulkán, at Chichén Itzá, you can climb the 120 stairs with the help of a rope. It’s not suitable for those with vertigo. This feat is worth the trouble because from the top you can enjoy spectacular views of the areas surrounding Cobá: a green blanket of leafy vegetation along with steep stairs and Mayan ruins.
Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve
In addition to beaches, the Riviera Maya has areas of nature that are worth a visit. If you prefer adventurous plans, instead of Mayan architecture, you can easily explore the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve from Tulum. This is the largest protected area of nature in the entire Mexican Caribbean (1.6 million acres). Here you’ll find incredible virgin beaches, coral reefs where you can dive and go snorkeling, sinkholes that you can explore, as well as mangroves and jungles with a rich flora and fauna waiting to be discovered.
One of the biggest draws of the Yucatan Peninsula is the great abundance of cenotes, or sinkholes, which are pools of clear fresh water that are hidden in caves. They were considered sacred in Mayan times.
If you travel to Tulum, you’re in luck, as the areas around this town have some of the best sinkholes in the Riviera Maya. Some of the most famous ones are the Gran Cenote, the Calavera cenote, the Cristal cenote, the Dos Ojos cenote, and the Car War cenote. As you can see, you have a wide variety to choose from. Get up early and take advantage of the early morning solitude to take a relaxing dip, go diving, and jump on in.