Last Updated Feb 5, 2024

5 little-known facts about the Mayan city of Tulum

¿Are you planning a vacation on the Mexican Caribbean and looking for information on the most beautiful Mayan sites… those that you shouldn't miss?

This article is for you 😉

Among the must-visit spots of the Riviera Maya, the archaeological ruin of Tulum is definitely close to the top of the list.

This treasure of the ancient Mayan civilization holds secrets unknown to most of its visitors.

Interested now? Then read on!
Let’s discover together five incredible stories about the ancient city of Tulum.

Plus all the practical information you need to get ready for your visit and make your discovery of this place an unforgettable experience.

Mayan ruins: a tour you should not miss and even repeat!

All travelers who have come to the Yucatan Peninsula will tell you the same thing: Mayan ruins are among the TOP 3 of things to do in Cancun and The Riviera Maya.

The ancient Mayan sites in the Riviera Maya are full of secrets which, even today, continue to puzzle archaeologists and fascinate tourists from all over the world.

Which is THE must-visit Mayan city?

If you're spending your vacations in Cancun and you have to choose just one among the several Mayan sites in the region, the answer is always Chichén Itzá! You can't miss the ruins of this Mayan city.

Listed by UNESCO in 1988
Awarded as one of the Wonders of the Modern World in 2007
This is THE site you absolutely must visit.

Skip the line in Chichen Itza

This site is so incredible and rich in extraordinary stories that we've devoted a series of articles to the subject.

If you're looking for practical information to help you prepare for your visit to Chichén Itzá, click here..

If you're interested in the history of this archaeological site, read our article about 9 incredible stories about Chichen Itza. Perfect for enriching your visit with fascinating historical facts that will shed another light on your discovery of this jewel of the Mexican Caribbean. And I'm not telling you this just because I wrote it 😎

What are the other Mayan sites to visit around Cancun?

Chichen Itza is certainly the most visited Mayan site in the region, but did you know that there are other exceptional Mayan cities in the state of Quintana Roo?

Here are 4 examples.

The city of San Miguelito in Cancun, hidden along the beach of this famous tourist city. Read Read our article to find out more about these ruins and the nearby Maya Museum.

Zona Arquelógicas

San Gervasio ruins on the island of Cozumel, just in front of the coast of Playa del Carmen, keep a low profile compared to other ruins but they are just as fascinating. Set in lush vegetation, in the heart of an island surrounded by the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

San Gervasio ruins were built to honor the moon divinity: Ixchel.

The ancient city of Coba built in deep in the Mayan jungle. This ancient city is a life-size set worthy of an Indiana Jones film. Its great pyramid towers above the jungle, stretching as far as the eye can see 360°.

Finally, this list wouldn't be complete without the famous...drum roll... 🥁 🥁 The walled city of Tulum!

I'm going to tell you all about this ancient walled city.

In this article, you'll learn all about this magnificent port city built on the edge of a cliff, facing the Caribbean Sea.

Are you already curious?

Read on, as I reveal 5 incredible facts about the ruins of Tulum as a bonus at the end 👇 👇 👇


What are the ruins of Tulum?

Where are the ruin of the ancient city of Tulum?

How to prepare your visit to Tulum [our best TIPS].

😍 [BONUS] 5 incredible facts about the ruins of Tulum!!!!

What are the ruins of Tulum?

The ruins of Tulum are archaeological remains dating back to ancient Mayan times, i.e. before the arrival of the Spaniards Conquistadors. This fortified city was founded around 564 A.D., corresponding to the rise of this civilization: the Classic Maya era, between 250 and 950 A.D.

The Tulum ruin complex comprises several temples and structures scattered across a wooded site facing the Caribbean Sea.

The main temple is called El Castillo (the castle), overlooking the sea and seemingly watching over the horizon.

Zona Arquelógicas

What does Tulum mean?

According to some sources, the original name of Tulum is "Zamá", meaning "tomorrow", no doubt due to its geographical location on the eastern side of the peninsula, facing east, a sign of rebirth and the future.

Tulum means "barrier" or "fence". This name evokes the very essence of this walled city, which was a bulwark against visitors from the sea.

Who was likely to visit the Mayan people?

That's one of the facts I'll be telling you next, a story about pirates 😍

Where are the Tulum ruins?

The ruins of Tulum are located in Mexico, in the eastern part of the country, in a region that is well known to visitors from all over the world: the Yucatan Peninsula.

Tulum was originally a small fishing port in the state of Quintana Roo. It is bordered by the Caribbean Sea.

In recent years, Tulum has become a popular seaside resort for travelers with its bohemian atmosphere.

The ruins are located on a cliff by the sea, just a few miles from the town center and Tulum's hotel zone.

Tickets to Tulum Ruins

How to get to the Tulum ruins?

Here are a few options to visit the archaeological ruins of Tulum during your vacation in Cancun Riviera Maya.

🚗 Option n°1: rent a car at Cancun airport

One of the easiest options if you're arriving in Cancun by air: Rent a car at Cancun airport.

Convenient, comfortable and reliable - renting a car in Cancun means you can explore the Riviera Maya on your own, without having to worry about bus schedules or group tours.

You can also rent a car in Cancun City or Playa del Carmen.

Cancun Airport → Tulum: 80 miles / 1:35 hours
Cancun City → Tulum: 90 miles / 1:50 hours
Playa del Carmen → Tulum: 40 miles / 50 min

Don't want to drive? Consider hiring a a private driver service.

🚗 Option n°2: take the intercity bus

You'll find a bus station at the airport as well as in any of the Riviera Maya towns: Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum.

ADO buses are a great way to get around the Riviera Maya.

Ideal for those who are traveling on a budget.

Buses run daily and several times a day between Cancun and Tulum town. You can complete the journey to the ruins of Tulum by cab for just a few dozen pesos.

For ADO bus schedules, click here.

🚕 Option n°3: take a cab or collective transport

Finally, the last option for getting to the ruins of Tulum is to hire a cab or book a seat on a shuttle for a collective transfer.

You'll find them at Cancun airport and in every town in the Riviera Maya.

From Cancun to Tulum

How to prepare your visit to Tulum?

[Our best tips - just for you, dear readers 😉]

The archaeological site of Tulum is a must-see on the Yucatan Peninsula, so it's important to get informed beforehand for a successful visit.

5 essential practical tips:

💲 How much does it cost to enter the Tulum archaeological site?

Entrance to the site costs 90 pesos (adult/child).

⌚ What are the opening hours?

Tulum ruins are open all year round.
Monday to Sunday.
From 8am to 5pm.

Last admission is at 3:30pm.

📅 When is the best time to visit Tulum?

The best time is from December to February.

During the summer, especially in July and August, temperatures can be very high, making it difficult to visit (over 100° F or 40° C).

Visiting the ruins of Tulum is pleasant all year round, but I'd advise you to avoid the season from April to September, mostly because of the seaweed known as sargassum. Through these months you are more likely to find the beaches covered of this seaweed.

We tell you more about this in our article: "Cancun's beaches: things to know"

🕓 The best time of day to visit the ruins of Tulum?

It's best to visit in the morning.

This is the best time of the day to discover the Tulum site if you want to enjoy the magical atmosphere of the place without the crowds of visitors. It's also a good way to avoid the heat if you're vacationing in Cancun during the peak tourist season.

The other good thing about visiting the site in the morning is that you'll have the rest of the day to enjoy the beach as well as the beach clubs in the Tulum hotel zone just a few miles away. Otra ventaja de visitar el sitio por la mañana es que tendrás todo el resto del día para disfrutar de la playa y the beach clubs de la zona hotelera de Tulum, que está a pocos kilómetros de distancia.

Playas en Tulum

📍 How do I get to the Tulum ruins?

The Tulum ruins are located outside downtown Tulum. So, if you've decided to rent a car for your vacation in Cancun, you'll need to find a place to park your car close to the site.

There are several parking lots around the site. The nearest are the most expensive.

On average, they cost 150 - 200 pesos.

You can also leave your vehicle in a parking lot further away:
downtown Tulum (shopping center)
or in the Tulum hotel zone.

Nuestro consejo:

My advice: get ready to walk or rent bikes. It's more fun than traffic jams. And, of course, greener! 💚

What do you need to know to prepare for your visit to the Tulum ruins?

Prepare your backpack before your visit

The ruins of Tulum are located outside the city center, and although you'll find a few stores on site, be sure to pack the essentials to make the most of your visit:

  • Sunscreen
  • Cap or hat
  • Water bottle
  • Your camera!

👙 Don't forget your swim suit! The ruins of Tulum are located on a cliff at the foot of the sea, and a stairway leads down directly to the beach.

Season permitting, you can climb down and take a dip!

How to avoid queues? Queue-busting tip! 🤫

Who likes waiting for hours to get an entrance ticket? No one does!

If you arrive at a busy time to visit the ruins of Tulum and don't want to waste your time in an endless queue, here's my advice: book a guided tour.

By booking a guided tour, you're guaranteed to avoid queues and go straight to a group in the language of your choice.


You can book your guided tour as you wish:

  • a group tour
  • a private tour
  • a tour combined with another excursion

You will find guides that are fluent in English.

What's more, you'll benefit from quality explanations that will give your visit an even more interesting dimension.

¿Sabías que…??

Did you know? There are special offers to visit the ruins of Tulum at sunrise. A unique moment ideal for escaping the crowds.

That's it, I've given you all the practical advice you need!
You're ready to visit the ruins of Tulum.

Now all you have to do is discover the incredible stories behind this must-see archaeological site on the Yucatan Peninsula.

Tickets to Xcaret

😍 [BONUS] 5 incredible facts about the ruins of Tulum!!!!

A promise made, a promise kept! Here are 5 incredible facts about the ruins of Tulum.

N°5 Tulum, a major port: a power struggle between sea and continent

Is it "just" ruins of an ancient trading city? You'd be wrong to trust the appearance of this tranquil site perched on a cliff facing the sea. But think again! This was not a just a simple town, but an ancient defensive site.

The city of Tulum was of true importance in Mayan territory. Very early on, it served as a major port on the Caribbean coast, mostly by the city of Coba, another Mayan city in the Yucatan Peninsula and a direct rival of Chichen Itza.

Coba is famous for its magnificent site built deep in the jungle. Find out more about this ,

Tulum has a strategic location point that offers those who control it an undeniable commercial advantage. People came here from all over the Mayan empire, and beyond, to trade. Numerous obsidian artifacts, flints and copper rings have been found on the site, evidencing the importance of trade in this area.

Both a trading and fishing port, Tulum grew in importance from the 12th century onwards.

The port was located on one of the region's most important sea routes, which explains why defensive walls were built to protect the port from would-be looters.

N°4 Tulum, the city that resisted pirate attacks!

Worthy of a true adventure story! Or the latest installment in the famous Pirates of the Caribbean saga! Tulum stood up to the ferocious pirates who plagued the turquoise seas of the Caribbean Sea.

In its rise between the 12th and 16th centuries, Tulum was a fishing and trading port whose influence extended far beyond the Yucatan Peninsula. This wealthy and powerful port city in the Mexican Caribbean attracted the greed of the pirates, and eventually, there were pirate raids attempts! ☠️

It's easy to see why the city was quickly surrounded by great defensive walls to resist attacks from the sea.

These walls are still very well preserved today, as you'll see when you visit the ruins of Tulum.

But Tulum's greatest barrier is not on land, but in the sea!

N°3 Tulum hides a terrible trap for enemy ships!

The city of Tulum is protected by a great wall some 18 ft. thick and 12 ft. high.

This wall had several functions. It delimited the various political, commercial and religious activities within the city, but it also protected the port of Tulum from threats coming from outside, mainly from the sea.

But this wall was far from being Tulum's only defense. Another invisible wall also protected the port, making it almost impossible for ships to reach the beach: the coral reef of the Mesoamerican reef.

This is the 2nd largest reef in the world! This is one of the star attractions in the TOP 3 things to do in Cancun. It is usually discovered during scuba-diving or snorkeling tours. It's a natural habitat of rare richness, home to several hundred marine species in a protected area along the coast of Quintana Roo.

Tulum was therefore a city protected by the sea thanks to the coral reef located just a few hundred meters from the shore. These steep reefs were indeed formidable. Ships daring to approach Tulum's shores risked damaging their hulls or, worse still, running aground due to the water ingress caused by the corals.

It was thanks to these reefs that Tulum long protected itself from pirates, but also from Spanish ships, which explains why the city prospered and remained inhabited until quite late in its history;

Luxury Transfer from Cancun Airport

N.º 2 "El Castillo" (The Castle), the key to landing on the city's shores

The main structure of the Tulum ruins is El Castillo, which means the castle. It is the most spectacular building. It reaches a height of 40 ft.

Its main façade faces west, while the rear rises almost vertically above the cliff.

The rear of the temple features an imposing buttress that extends from a point very close to the cliff.

Two small openings can be seen on either side of the buttress.

It is these two small openings that have given archaeologists the key to explaining: How could allied ships approach Tulum?
The answer is simple.

The Castillo wasn't just a temple. It was also a lighthouse!

Thanks to two small candles placed in the openings of the buttress facing the sea, Tulum indicated to boats the entrance to a channel that allowed passage between the coral reefs.

A secret passage of sorts 😉

Further proof of the ingenuity of the Mayans, who were able to use nature as a natural bulwark and their navigational skills to avoid its pitfalls.

N°1 The walled city of Tulum was entirely painted

An incredible anecdote, hard to believe when you see the ruins of Tulum and its white facades set against the turquoise-blue Caribbean Sea.

But it's true.

The walled city of Tulum was painted, and traces of red paint have even been found in several places, attesting to the veracity of this discovery.

In fact, a Spanish conquistador, Juan de Grijalva, recounts how he was dazzled by the beauty of the city when he saw it from the deck of his ship in 1518. He described the buildings as red, white and blue.

It was a sight that left him in such awe that he compared the city of Tulum to the Spanish city of Seville.

And there you have it, dear readers! You know all the secrets of the Tulum ruins.

So come and discover this city with your own eyes!

😍 Final Notes

Why visit the Mayan ruins of Tulum?
[3 reasons that will satisfy everyone].

For culture lovers:
A mecca of pre-Columbian history for a fascinating discovery of Mayan trade, Spanish conquest and piracy.

For lovers of beautiful landscapes:
An enchanting setting overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.

For photographers and Instagrammers.

For the curious:
A beautiful stroll alongside an unlikely fauna! A colony of iguanas has taken up residence on the ruins.

They're everywhere!

That's all it takes to make the Mayan ruins of Tulum a must-see during your vacation in Cancun Riviera Maya.

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