Undoubtedly one of the most fascinating destinations in the Riviera Maya, Tulum embodies the perfect blend of beaches, small town character, and a culture-rich archaeological site. Located 81 miles (130 kilometers) south of Cancun, Tulum is only about a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Cancun. The nearby town of Tulum is located only 2.5 miles (4 kilometers) south of the ancient Mayan ruins.
Both the town and the archaeological site are called Tulum, which is the Mayan word for “wall.” The archaeological site is the only ancient Mayan walled city in the Yucatan, and is believed to have been built to protect them against outside invasion and to separate the Mayan ruling class, who lived inside the fortress, from the working class, who lived outside its walls.
Tulum is a charming town at the south-most end of the Riviera Maya, Mexico, and can be visited in just a few hours or for the whole day. Make sure to see Tulum at night, when the moon lights up the town.
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are fascinating to explore. The only Mayan city located next to the Caribbean Sea and the only Mayan walled city in existence, Tulum was home to laborers, astrologers, farmers, and nobility. There were three walls to protect the city from outsiders and to separate the royal class from the working class. The archaeological site also contains the remains of several house-like structures, burial sites for the kings, a tall pyramid, and two structures on each corner of the wall to guide the planting of crops.
Swimming and sunbathing is allowed at the beautiful, white-sand beach down a long staircase below the ruins. There are several places on the cliff above the sea to enjoy beautiful views and take pictures. After visiting the ruins, there are many booths and shops containing traditional Mexican handicrafts and souvenirs, plus several smaller food and drink vendors. To fully enjoy the Mayan ruins of Tulum, plan to spend three hours at the site.
Spread across the Yucatan Peninsula are cenotes (cave-like sinkholes with natural wells fed by underground rivers). Cenotes have been essential to the development of local jungles and to sustain Mayan civilization. Since few rivers existed on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Mayans constructed their cities near cenotes which were their source of water year round. The Mayans also believed the cenotes were portals to the afterlife, so they would perform ceremonial rituals near them.
Thousands of cenotes have been discovered and thousands more are thought to exist in the Yucatan Peninsula. These natural wells have crystal clear, blue pools of natural water and are surrounded by cave-like walls. The natural beauty of the cenotes and their clear cool water with colorful fish make them a popular place for snorkeling, scuba diving, and swimming.
The name says it all. The Gran Cenote, or large cenote, is the most famous cenote in the Riviera Maya and one of the most popular for snorkeling and scuba diving.
Located on the road to Coba just outside of Tulum, access to this roadside destination is easy. The Gran Cenote is located at kilometer 3.5 on the highway leading to the Mayan ruins of Coba.
Restaurants & Nightclubs
The small town of Tulum is more of a quiet, free-spirited area, so the upscale, trendy bars of Playa del Carmen aren’t the norm.
Instead, there are some very nice casual cafes and clubs, such as Zebra, a great place for salsa dancing Thursday through Sunday nights.
Tulum is also home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the Mexico Caribbean and the Riviera Maya. People come to Tulum from all over the world just to visit the beaches. Tulum received a World Travel Award for “Mexico and Central America’s leading beach 2009.”