Useful tips & ideas for a visit to the famous Maya site of Tulum

At #13: A visit to Tulum

A visit to Tulum is a MUST when your next destination is the Riviera Maya, Yucatán, Mexico. A unique Maya city.

Although the city was abandoned almost five centuries ago & the excavation is rather small, you can still notice how beautiful the place once was.

  • Unlike many other Maya cities, Tulum was still inhabited when the first Spaniards arrived at the coast of Yucatán (1518). Some of them compared the place to Seville, the Spanish city where for many the journey to the Americas had begun.

Besides the beauty of the temple ruins, its location is another aspect that attracts many visitors. Offering fascinating views of the Blue Green Caribbean sea & Gold Brown coastline.

Bird-eye view of Tulum, located on the Caribbean coastline.
Bird-eye view of Tulum, located on the Caribbean coastline.
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A short history of Tulum

Because of its location Tulum was mainly a strategic transfer point on the coast between the inner cities of Yucatán & Central America. In other words, it served as a port for cities like Cobá & later on Chichén Itzá. The capital cities of Yucatán.

Main products which flowed through Tulum were:

  • Foodstuffs, like salt, corn, honey & cacao, amongst others.
  • Crafted goods like pottery, textiles (cotton), and specific tools.
  • Luxury goods like jade, obsidian, feathers, shells & others.
Two temples at Tulum. The one to the right is the main temple, "El Castillo" , which faces inland.
“El Castillo” at the right, facing inland.

Tulum had its heyday in the Post-classic period, between the 13th and 15th century. It was still occupied when the Spaniards arrived at the coast & would remain inhabited for quite a while after the Spaniards conquered the Mexican peninsula.

By the end of the 16th century however, Tulum was abandoned.

  • On Yucatán resistance was stronger than elsewhere in Mexico. Not only during the Spanish conquest & colonization, but also afterwards.
  • From 1847-1901 the indigenous people of Yucatán started a war against the Mexican authorities on Yucatán – The Caste War. During these years the so-called “rebels” occupied the temples of Tulum anew for a while.

Nowadays Tulum is mainly a Popular Maya site to visit. Thousands upon thousands of tourists arrive at its gates every day. Staying in Tulum itself or nearby places on the Caribbean coast like Cancún, Playa del Carmen, Akumal, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel or Holbox. Enjoying a relaxing & adventurous beachlife.

A visit to the heavenly beaches around Tulum.
The heavenly beaches around Tulum.
Tulum’s original name

The original name of Tulum was probably Zamá, meaning City of Dawn.

  • Although the city was built high above the breathtaking beautiful Blue Green Caribdean Sea, Tulum’s main temple – El Castillo – faces inward. That is eastward, to where the sun comes up.

The current name, Tulum, refers to the wall that surrounds the city. A protecting wall which is still visible all around the ceremonial center.

Obviously the city felt the need to protect itself from outsiders, mainly neighbouring Mayan groups.

  • Nowadays, you actually enter the city through the wall.

The Rediscovery of Tulum

Because of its visibility at the coast, many early foreign visitors – like the Spanish conquerors & colonists – must have seen Tulum before any other Maya sites.

However, we had to wait until the famous travellers John Lloyd Stephens & Frederick Catherwood got there (1842) before its discovery became worldnews. While there, they lodged in the main temple – El Castillo – for a few days.

Painting of Frederick Catherwood of the main temple - "The Castle" - of Tulum.
Painting of Frederick Catherwood of the main temple of Tulum.

A Visit to Tulum

Tulum is one of the most visited Maya sites on the Yucatán peninsula, after Chichén Itzá.

As stated above, Tulum is rather small & its monuments aren’t as impressive as the ones you’ll find in Chichén Itzá, Ek Balam, Cobá or Uxmal. However its location is uniquely beautiful, on a cliff high above the Bluegreen Sea.

Besides that, if you take your time you can still spot beautiful details on several temples & even their former colours.

  • All temples in the Maya sites were formally painted in bright colours, like vermilion, blue, green & others.
During our visit to Tulum we passed this temple on which you can still observe beautiful stucco work and some last remains of its former bright colours.
On the “Templo de las Pinturas” you can still observe stucco work and some remains of its former bright colours.

For these reasons I highly recommend you to visit Tulum. If you can, it’s best to go there in the early morning, before the crowds arrive and the sun is too hot. Or else, late afternoon.

  • Tulum opens its gates every day at 8am. Closing them at 5pm, with the last admission allowed at 4pm.

Another tip is to bring enough water or other liquids, because inside the city walls you can’t get any drinks, nor snacks.

Visit Tulum – Getting there

The Maya site is just outside the booming tourist town of Tulum. Easy to reach with a taxi, a rented car or bike.

  • When you go there by car, many try to lure you to their parking lot. All are within walking distance to the site, but you have to be aware of the fact that the sooner you park, the further you have to walk.
  • Prices of parking are rather steep as well, so it may be more economical to rent a bike that day or to book a tour. Combining your visit to Tulum with other attractions nearby along the coast.
Caleta Tankah

We, for example, combined a visit to the Maya site of Tulum with a relaxing morning at the beach. Namely Caleta Tankah – don’t confuse it with “Tankah Park” – which, besides a beautiful beach and good restaurant, offers two unique bathing spots.

  • One the so-called “caleta” – a cove-like freshwater source on the edge of the sea. The other, a heavenly beautiful “cenote”, a little inland.
A visit to inland "cenote" at the Caleta Tankah hotel & resort, Tulum, Yucatán.
Inland “cenote” at the Caleta Tankah beachside in Tulum.

From the coastline & standing in the refreshing “caleta” you can enjoy a unique view of the Tulum Maya site in the background. The main temple – El Castillo – standing tall in the middle.

The Caleta at the Caleta Tankah beach resort. In the background you can spot the main temple of the Maya site of Tulum.
Me, in the so-called “caleta” at the Caleta Tankah Beach resort. In the background you can vaguely spot the main temple of the Maya site of Tulum (a little to the right of where I’m standing, in the line of my left arm).
A view of the Maya site of Tulum from the Caleta Tankah.
Here you go for a better idea.

You’ll find the entrance to the Caleta Tankah when you take the road from Tulum to Cancún (at 6 km/3.7 mi. distance).

Besides visiting the beach (300 pesos, around $17.50), you can also stay at the Hotel & Resort Caleta Tankah (which logically includes use of the beach & amenities like towels, beach stretchers & umbrellas). The hotel offers nice, spacey apartments right on the beach. You can eat in the restaurant or order on the beach.

Highly recommended. Also because at Tulum it isn’t always that easy to visit the beach anymore, as some bigger hotels & resorts own certain stretches.

To learn more, go to: Caleta Tankah, Tulum

The apartment blocks of the Hotel Caleta Tankah are located right on the beach.
Caleta Tankah offers apartments right on the beach.

Visit Tulum – On a Tour

When you want to visit Tulum from other destinations along the Riviera Maya, you can take a tour.

Besides transport & a professional guide, all these tours combine a visit to the Maya site of Tulum with other attractions nearby.

Just have a look, by clicking on their names:

From Cancún:
On your way back to Cancún you’ll visit the beautiful Cenote Mariposa for a refreshing stop.
From Playa del Carmen:
Other places along the Riviera Maya:
  • * This tour not only includes bus stops in Cancún & Playa del Carmen, but 5 other locations on the way between Cancún & Tulum.
A visit to Tulum. View of the main temple, bordering the Carribean Sea. A place visited by many tourist every day, as you can see on the photo.
View of the main temple, bordering the Caribbean Sea. A place visited by many tourists every day, as you can see.

Tours from Tulum

Tulum is a good base to explore the town & surrounding area.

Besides tours including a visit to Tulum, there are also some fun guided day-trips from Tulum city, like:

  • (*) I’m preparing a special post on the Muyil, which closes my provisional Top #15 of the most beautiful Maya cities. A small, but beautiful site bordering the Sian Ka’an Nature Reserve.
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Last, but not least there’s also the option to visit Chichén Itzá from Tulum. Also, a MUST VISIT visit while in the area.

Left side of the main temple of Chichén Itzá. The Pyramid of Kukulcán or also named "El Castillo", the Castle.
Part of the main temple of Chichén Itzá. The Pyramid of Kukulcán or also named “El Castillo”, the Castle.

To learn more about this tour (including a cenote & the beautiful colonial city of Valladolid), click on: Tour to Chichén Itzá, from Tulum.

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Visit Tulum – Where to Stay

Tulum

A perfect place to stay is the Kaab Tulum. Comfortable, with spacious rooms, a central swimming pool & spa for an earnest price. Besides that, it has one of the best restaurants in Tulum.

Swimming in the inner patio of the Kaab Tulum Hotel in Tulum, Mexico.

Cancún

Cancún is the major destination for most people who visit Yucatán. One reason being the international airport nearby.

  • That said, from December 2023 Tulum has its own international airport – the Felipe Carrillo Puerto Airport. About 40km/ 25mi. distant, a 40 minute ride. (The first international flight arrived March 28, 2024).

The last time we visited Cancún we didn’t stay in a hotel in the city center itself, but opted for one closer – that is, the closest – to the Cancún International Airport- The Hilton Garden Inn Cancún. A perfect place when you just arrived or are heading out soon, and – like us – had a flight in the middle of the night.

  • You can literally walk from the Hilton Garden Inn to the Airport (That is, Terminal 2) in 6-8 minutes. We didn’t – because there was a free shuttle – but it’s possible.
The swimming pool of the Hilton Garden Inn at the Cancún Airport.
The Hilton Garden Inn at the Cancún Airport.

Valladolid

When staying in Valladolid – 1 hour 30 minutes from Tulum – I’d like to recommend the Mesón del Marqués.

The rooms at the Mesón del Marqués are spacious. There’s a nice swimming pool & it has an excellent restaurant with many authentic Mexican dishes (Including a wide choice of breakfasts), as well as international plates.

Interior patio with swimming pool of the Mesón del Marqués, in Vallodolid, Yucatán.
Inner courtyard of the Mesón del Marqués, Valladolid.
Me and my daughter Lisa at the Pink Lagoon, Río Lagartos, Yucatán.
Me and my daughter Lisa at the Pink Lagoon.

Last Photo Impressions of our latest visit to Tulum

Main entrance we took during our visit to the Maya site of Tulum.
The main temple of Tulum - El Castillo - high above the Carribean coastline.
Temple we spotted during our visit to the Tulum Maya site, Yucatán, Mexico.
During our visit to Tulum we saw the dark clouds coming on between the temple ruins.
Temple at the Maya site of Tulum, Yucatán, Mexico.
Overview of the Tulum Maya site on the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico.
A visit to the Maya site of Tulum with great views of the neighbouring Carribean Sea.
Small ruined temple at the Maya site of Tulum, Yucatán, Mexico.

Overview of My Top #15 Maya sites

Click on their name to go to the respective post:

For a complete overview of all my personal favourites in one single post , go to: Top #15 Maya-sites

For an overview of all travel posts of my blog, go to: My Home Page.

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