You’ve probably heard of the Mayan ruins of Tulum. Perhaps you’ve seen travel photos of Tulum’s iconic Temple of the Wind (shown above)?
Beautifully laid out, Tulum may be the most accessible of the ancient Mayan cities you can explore in Mexico’s Riviera Maya.
Mayan ruins of Tulum
The Mayan founders of Tulum sure knew how to pick their real estate!
Poised atop a 40-foot rugged limestone cliff, Tulum overlooks the turquoise Caribbean – it’s the only Mayan city ever built by the sea.
The views are staggering. And steep stairs lead a long way down to one of the prettiest beaches you’ll ever see, with the whitest sand, where, yes, you can swim.
Visiting the Tulum ruins today
The present archaeological site is a far cry from the crumbling Tulum ruins we traipsed about years ago.
It’s been extensively restored since.
Now gravel paths, lined by coral rocks, wind through manicured lawns. The monuments and buildings, many restored, are roped off. No more climbing up or trying to peek inside – preservation comes first!
Here and there, a few trees also provide some shade, where you and fellow pink-skinned visitors may huddle around your guide (recommended, to fully appreciate this fascinating cultural marvel). But apart from these shady patches, the site is open to the blazing sun.
No wonder the iguanas love it!
There’s a parking lot with shopping stalls too at the entrance.
You can even take a little open-air train from the parking lot to the ruins! (Or, like us, you can just walk the relatively short distance).
All of this means that the Mayan ruins of Tulum are much easier to navigate today. And with English signboards, you can even understand what you’re seeing without having to refer to your dog-earred Lonely Planet :-).
We admit, though, that we missed the haunting wildness of the lonely ruins we experienced years ago (a little, anyway). Then, we felt like true explorers who had just stumbled upon mysterious ancient structures in a jungle clearing.
But of course, with better accessibility comes a much better understanding of the ancient Mayan culture…
Pyramid el Castillo:
The Castillo (or castle) is the building that really gets you gawking. It’s Tulum’s largest structure (25 feet high) and the one closest to the sea.
Temple of the Frescoes:
The Templo de los Frescos (Temple of the Frescoes or Paintings) is also noteworthy.
We couldn’t enter the inner temple to see the colored decorative murals inside (visitors are no longer allowed in).
But on the outside walls, we could make out stucco reliefs of the “Descending God” (the main god honored at Tulum), shown as an upside-down figure.
And looking closely, we also saw distinct red-colored handprints, original Mayan drawings, on the upper level.
Okay, so much for the overall picture.
Now, how about a few nuggets (some pretty offbeat!) about the ruins at Tulum and the people who lived there?
Here’s what we learned from our Mayan guide on our Tulum ruins tour:
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Photos 4 to 6, and 8 to 10, © Janice and George Mucalov, SandInMySuitcase