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What You Should Know Before Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tulum

The Mayan Ruins of Tulum are as magical as they are ancient. Find out everything you should know before visiting this attraction in Mexico.

Attention all archaeological wanderers, the Mayan Ruins of Tulum are calling your name. After all, if you’re headed off to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, then you can’t leave without stopping off at the Tulum Ruins. The cliffside Tulum Ruins in Mexico offers you the chance to travel back in time to the magnificent Mayan Kingdom. So, get ready to immerse yourself in one of Mexico’s most fascinating histories.

Queue the Telenovela dramatics; here’s what you should know before visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tulum.

The History of the Mayan Ruins of Tulum

The Mexican Ruins of Tulum is located 130 km south of Cancun along the popular Mayan Riveria tourist route and is widely considered the most beautiful of the ruins sites around Cancun. In Maya, Tulum means “wall”, and since this is the site of a pre-Columbian Mayan wall city, the name is fitting. Research also suggests it was called “Zama” in the past, translating into “place of the dawning sun”.

Although relatively small, the Tulum Ruins are exquisitely positioned on a 12-meter-high cliff along the popular Mayan Riviera tourist route overlooking turquoise Caribbean waters. This is no understatement since Tulum has one of the most beautiful beaches in the Caribbean.

The Tulum Ruins in Mexico were built to be a fortress during ancient times. In its splendor, it served as a significant hub for the Mayan world in neighboring cities like Chichen Itza, Ek Balam, and Cobá and other communities in present-day Central America. Tulum was one of the most influential cities states during the 13th and 14th centuries, thanks to its location. Goods that were commonly traded included jade, food, copper bells, cotton, axes, and cacao beans.

Source: Unsplash

What Can You Do At The Mayan Ruins of Tulum?

The ancient stone structures that make up the Tulum Ruins are surrounded by delicate cactus flowers, leaning palm trees, steep rocky cliffs, and large sun-tanning iguanas. So while the site is often brimming with tourists in the middle of the day, it is possible to find a quiet corner and soak up Mexico’s natural beauty and fascinating history.

Add in the fact that, unlike other Mayan ruins, the Tulum Ruins are perched on a cliff overlooking the ocean. It’s all very enchanting.

Whether you opt to spend just one hour at the Tulum Ruins or the entire day, there will be something for you. You can:

  • Explore the Mayan Ruins of Tulum
  • Swim or chill out on the beach
  • Visit the craft market
  • Grab a bite to eat
  • Take a stroll up Tulum Beach Road

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Structures At The Mayan Ruins Tulum

  • El Castillo. When it comes to Tulum pyramids, El Castillo or, the Castle, is the main one. It was used as an ancient lighthouse since two small windows at the top helped sailors navigate the bay at sunset. If they could see daylight through both windows while sailing in, they wouldn’t crash into the reef hiding below the water.
  • Temple Of The Frescoes. Located in front of El Castillo is one of the best-preserved buildings. Make sure you peer inside the Temple of the Frescoes to catch a glimpse of an actual Mayan mural still intact.
  • House Of The Columns. The House of the Columns is a complex structure with four rooms and several large columns that hold up the roof.
  • House Of The Halach Uinic. Each Mayan city was ruled by a high-priest or halach uinic. The House of the Halach Uinic at the Tulum Ruins is well preserved and is definitely a must-see.

When Is the Best Time to Visit the Mayan Ruins of Tulum?

It can be a bit overwhelming to visit the Tulum Ruins during the day since it’s a popular attraction in the Yucatan. Expect to be sharing the site with hundreds of other milling tourists.

But if you arrive early enough (around 8 AM), you’ll enjoy a much more magical experience. At least for an hour or two. Another good time to visit the site is the hour before they close, around 5 PM.

You should take at least one hour to visit the ruins. Maybe two hours if you want to go swimming. The Tulum Ruins aren’t that big compared to other Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico.

Source: Unsplash

Getting to Tulum

Technically there are three “Tulum’s”, and this can be confusing. There is Tulum Beach, Tulum Town, and the Tulum Ruins. The ruins are located around 3 km from the city center of Tulum. Here are the best ways to get there:

  • Rent a car. If you opt for a rental car, a reliable site is Discover Cars – they search both local and international car rental companies to find the best price.

Via Cancun: Tulum is 131 km (1 hour 45 min) from Cancun by car.
Via Playa del Carmen: Tulum is 64 km (45 min) from Playa del Carmen.

It’s easiest to follow the 307 Highway straight to the Tulum ruins from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Parking at the site will cost you around $5 USD.

  • By bus. There are regular ADO buses from Playa del Carmen to Tulum that cost around $4 USD one way. Some stop directly at the ruins, while others stop at the bus station in Tulum Town.
  • Colectivo. The cheapest way to travel to Tulum is to take a Colectivo or group taxi from the Colectivo stand. It is located on Calle 2 Norte between Avenida 15 and 20 in Playa del Carmen and takes about 45 min to reach the ruins. It costs around $3 USD per person.
  • By taxi. If you decide to take a taxi directly to Tulum, it will cost you around $30 USD one way. If you are going with a small group of 3-4 people, it won’t be that bad to share.

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Where to Stay In Tulum

If you want to stay somewhere in Mexico near the Tulum Ruins, here are some recommendations:

Travel Tips for Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Tulum

  • Try to arrive at the ruins 15 minutes before they open to beat the crowds, which show up at 10 AM. Get there at 8 AM. Otherwise, visit the ruins in the late afternoon.
  • The site is open Monday to Sunday from 8 AM – 5 PM. On Sundays, entrance is free to Mexican citizens and residents – in other words, it’s packed.
  • Ignore the ticket/information booths near the parking lot. Walk down the road until you reach the actual entrance and buy your tickets there. The entry fee is $3.50 USD.
  • Don’t forget to bring your swimsuit if you want to swim or sunbathe on the beach at the base of the cliffs. The beach opens at around 10 AM.
  • It costs an extra $4 to shoot videos at the site, but you should be fine if you tell them you’re just taking photos.
  • There aren’t many shady areas, so bring a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen. It gets hot!
  • Make sure you bring plenty of water to stay hydrated.

Now that you know everything you should know before you visit the Mayan Ruins Tulum, you can make the most out of your trip into the ancient civilization of the Tulum Ruins.


Jenny Cohen Drefler

Jenny Cohen Derfler

Air Dr CEO & Co-Founder

Jenny is the CEO and one of the Co-Founders at Air Doctor. She spent more than 20 years at Intel, most recently as general manager of its manufacturing facility in Israel and before that in various engineering and manufacturing roles in Silicon Valley. Air Doctor is her second startup having previously founded electric vehicle company ElectRoad.