There’s More to the Riviera Maya than Tacos and Cerveza

Tulum, Mayan Riviera, Mexico

This just in — there’s much more to Mexico than tacos and pina coladas!

It’s not that we don’t enjoy a good taco or delicious cocktail (because we certainly do!), but we feel it’s also important to spend some time exploring the historical side of the country. Many visitors to the Riviera Maya don’t realize that they have easy access to one of the last cities inhabited by the ancient Mayan civilization.

The fortified city of Tulum is arguably the most popular attraction in the state of Quintana Roo, and the most important Mayan archaeological site on Mexico’s Caribbean coast. We agree — it’s pretty cool!

When compared to the neighbouring ruins like Coba, Chichen Itza and Tikal, Tulum is not as structurally impressive, but its hype comes from the stunning location of the Mayan complex. As the picture above illustrates, the ancient walled city has amazing unobstructed views of the sparkling Caribbean Sea.

It’s ironic that the Mayan Riviera has become renowned for its lavish seaside resorts and luxurious buildings. The city of Tulum must have had a similar reputation amongst the Mayan people back in its day.

Tulum Temple, Mexico

Some Quick Info about Tulum

  • The city is thought to have peaked between the 13th and 15th centuries
  • There are about 60 well-preserved buildings on the site
  • The Tulum city walls surrounding the site allowed the fortress to be defended against invasions
  • The ruins are the third most-visited archaeological site in Mexico, after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza
  • The three most famous structures are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God
  • Tulum was an important trade hub for the Mayans as they traveled up and down Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Tulum Temple Complex, Mexico

In our opinion, the Tulum hotel zone is the best place to stay when visiting the Mayan ruins. It is located directly on the beach and includes a small shopping area with a money exchange, small convenience store, dive and snorkel shop, bike rentals and several quality restaurants.

After speaking with a few people that were also staying at Azulik Villas, we were informed that we could walk or bike to the back entrance of the Tulum ruins. The famous landmark is conveniently located on the same white sandy beach, just a few kilometres away.

If you plan to avoid the tourist crowds, it’s best to stay on the Tulum coast or in the Tulum city centre (where prices are typically much cheaper).

Tulum Beach

The Tulum Complex is relatively small, at least compared to other temple ruins like the Angkor Temple Complex in Cambodia or Tikal National Park in Guatemala. You really only need about 2 hours to see the entire site (and that’s taking your time).

When we started our day at 7:00 AM it was already ridiculously hot. The kind of hot that had us sweating while sitting down for breakfast.

We were a little concerned about the heat so we decided to take the 50 peso ($5 CDN) taxi to the back entrance of the ruins – although apparently we paid too much because a taxi should only cost around 35 to 40 pesos.

Tulum, Mexico

Simple Travel Tips for Tulum

With its close proximity to Cancun and Playa del Carmen, the Tulum ruins can quickly get overcrowded. It’s best to explore the Tulum complex around the times when it opens at 8:00AM or when it closes at 5:00PM. We started our day early and by 10:00AM the tour buses had already arrived, bringing hundreds of sunburnt tourists to the site. It also gets very hot and humid by mid-day.

Taxis and buses are not able to drop you at the ticket gate/entrance. We entered the park from the back (near the beach), which is only a 5-minute walk from the drop-off point to the park entrance. If you enter from the main entrance (the front), the ticket gate is about 800 meters from the drop-off point. For those not keen to walk in the hot sun, there is a tram that leaves every five minutes which costs around $2 (but it’s really not necessary unless you have health issues).

  • There are plenty of tour guides for hire at the gate
  • There is a beach within the Tulum grounds, so don’t forget your bathing suit if you want to go for a swim
  • There are no vendors to purchase food or drinks after buying an entry ticket, so bring plenty of water
  • There is little shade at the ruins so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen
  • The site is not very accommodating to strollers. We watched a few families struggle with their strollers because of the sand, rocks and steps

Beach at Tulum Temple, Mexico

The popular beach at the foot of the Tulum bluff

Tulum, Mexico (1)

A friendly iguana catching some sun, view of temple in the backdrop

Inside Tulum, Mexico

The city grounds inside Tulum (behind the center building is the sea)

Even if you’re not a big temple or museum person, Tulum is worth the cost of admission. The views are stunning, the beach is gorgeous, and the architecture is impressive (think about it for a moment – these buildings were constructed hundreds of years ago, before the creation of modern tools).

Do yourself a favour. Take a moment away from the tasty tacos and cold beverages, and spend a couple hours exploring one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites.

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Have you visited Tulum or any other Mayan Temples?
Share your experience with our readers by leaving a comment below!



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About Traveling Canucks

Cam and Nicole Wears are newbie parents living in beautiful Vancouver, British Columbia. A passion for travel and outdoor adventure has taken them to over 70 countries on 6 continents in the past 10 years. Learn more about their story here. Follow them on Instagram and subscribe to their monthly newsletter.