The Mayan Ruins of Tulum

While I was in Mexico last week, I had the chance to visit Tulum. Tulum is an ancient Mayan city located right on the beach. In fact, a popular thing to do here after working up a sweat from walking around is to go swimming in the ocean. There’s nothing like swimming in the shadow of some ruins, right?

Tulum was a thriving capital and trading city until the Spanish came and destroyed it in 1518. After that, the city was abandoned and left to the jungle. Now, it’s one of the most popular and largest Mayan ruins in Mexico. It’s incredibly beautiful, especially given its location near the ocean. This is one of those places where my words could never do it justice, so I’ll let my pictures talk for me:


The Observatory


The Observatory and a beautiful backdrop.


The Cenote House


El Castillo


The beach where everyone goes swimming


Imagine this as your view. The Mayans had great beachfront property!


A protected area for turtle nesting.

For more information on travel to Mexico and the Mayan Riviera, plan your trip using my guide.

Editor’s Note: My trip to Mexico was sponsored by Riviera Maya tourism.

28 Comments
  1. I was there earlier this year, and to be honest I didn’t find it all that fascinating. I’m guessing though that has something to do with the fact that I spent a couple days at Tikal in Guatamala, as well as a few other Mayan Ruin sites in Belize. My suggestion though is that if you do go, make sure to get a guided tour, as it will make what you’re seeing come alive.

  2. Simon

    Unless you’re a complete ruin buff, a variation in backdrop very quickly becomes important if you are to maintain interest in visiting different sites. I went to Tulum in 1992, early on during my first proper trip in Latin America, and it remains a vivid memory. These pics explain why but you really do have to be there to appreciate! Definitely worth a visit if in the vicinity.

  3. Great pics, Matt! If you ever get a chance, I HIGHLY recommend exploring the ruins at Coba, in the Riviera Maya. The backdrop isn’t as beautiful, but the ruins are far more extensive than Tikal and are still in the process of being excavated. Because the area is still surrounded by the native vegetation, exploring it feels a little like an Indiana Jones expedition (without all the guns, poison darts and massive boulders trying to crush you before you getaway with a priceless artifact).

    • NomadicMatt

      I got to Coba too! I climbed the big ruin there and almost freaked out. I hate heights and it took me about 2 hours to go up and down the temple as I crawled up and went butt first down.

    • crys

      yesssss I loved Tulum, but was amazed at Coba!! Right in the jungle, shaded, interact with more locals, taxi (cart service) around the ruins if you get tired and more intact ruins only downfall is that it didn’t have the amazing beach of Tulum

  4. Mode Dresden

    Oh, how much I enjoyed Tulum. Arriving there from Isla Mujeres, I had an awesome time there. Slept in one of the hammocks, got killed by mosquitos, yet still loved it.

  5. The Mayan ruins in Tulum were some of our favorites of all of Central America – not as spectacular as Palenque or Tikal in Guatemala, but the setting by these bright turquoise Caribbean waters is just stunning. Like you say – the Mayans did well finding the perfect ‘beach front property’ 😉

  6. I visited to Tulum while on a cruise about 5 years ago. It’s a beautiful place view a great view of the ocean. We had a great tour guide who was of Mayan descent so he took a lot of pride in the history and he did a great job of sharing that with us.

  7. The beach at Tulum is amazing however I think Chichen Itza and Palaenque offer far more comprehensive examples of Mayan history. They’re lacking a crystal clear beach with fresh cocktails though..

  8. Mariana

    This cenote is not famous due to it being on a route few tourists drive, as there are two routes from Cancun to Chichen Itza. You can take the freeway which charges a toll of around 20 dollars, or you can take a route that it is free; it has just one lane, but it is excellent (most people will tell you that is not, because they want to sell you some excursion, but if you want to, feel free do it).On this route you will see many small poor towns, but you will see the reality (unfortunately). This route will take you 20 minutes more than if you take the freeway, but I recommend it.

    We took this route and we saw a small sign that read “Cenote 600 meters”, so we stopped and went in. The access (to enter) was difficult, as there were many rocks on the way. When we arrived at this cenote, we could notice that it was managed by the owner, which surprised us. All its installations were precarious, the access, there weren’t bathroom, but even so this cenote was the best one that we saw.

    This cenote is not known touristically, due to it being on the route that few people take. So for this reason I’m taking this time to tell my incredible experience about it. The owners don’t have an education. They know about the cenote, they don’t have the possibility to access the internet and search for information, and they are very poor. In fact, they don’t survive with this cenote; they need to work in others things to survive (like agriculture and beekeeping). So, they have been working on it for about four years, and little by little they are making its installations in perfect conditions. The owner told us that many foreign people or entrepreneurs many times went to talk with him to buy this land, and he doesn’t know how to do marketing with his cenote, but he know that he can’t sell it (this is the ancestors’ land).

    In this cenote, you can swim, enjoy the stalactites (there are a million), and learning a little bit about their culture and traditions. The fee is not expensive; for example in cenote “dos ojos” the fee is expensive, some people tried to sell us for 50 dollars, but in this cenote, you pay 5 dollars and if you want you can give to him a tip, but it is optional.
    Don’t forget to bring your camera!!!. Not only are you saving yourself the money for the freeway, but also the fee that many cenotes have.

    How can I put a picture about this cenote?

  9. The scenery at Tulum is beautiful and it is a great archaeological site. However Chichen Itza is spectacular and definitely a wonder of the world.

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