While Cancun is home to beautiful hotels, resorts and numerous attractions, the area surrounding the city is known for its wealth of Mayan ruins. About 2 hours south of the city rests one of the most beautiful ancient sites in Mexico, the ruins of Tulum. This beautiful site is one of the finest attractions for a Cancun vacation. Although smaller than the well-known Chichen Itza, Tulum's majestic setting sets it apart. Perched above the Caribbean Sea on a rocky cliff, the ruins are simultaneously captivating and foreboding.
Founded in the early 1200s, the city of Tulum reached its zenith in the 1400s as a port city in a decentralized Mayan kingdom. After the Spanish came upon the settlement in 1518, the conquistadors spoke of Tulum in the same breath as Seville. Although Tulum certainly was not as large as Seville, the Spaniards perceptions speak volumes about the splendor of the site. The Spanish would later occupy the city for 70 years until the settlement was abandoned.
As the city is protected by walls on three sides, the sea on the fourth, the approach to the site is an experience in itself. You'll enter the site through a break in one of these 16-foot walls. As you traverse the walkway across the top, you will notice that the wall once separated portions of the city. Beyond any defensive purpose, these walls divided the ceremonial and governmental sections of the city from the residential areas.
Directly in front of you, Tulum's Castillo (Castle) towers above the other structures. Beside the remarkable view it offers, the Castillo probably served as both the community's primary place of worship and a type of lookout or primitive lighthouse. At the entrance of the Castillo, a plaza dividing the structure breaks into a pair of distinct temples.
Veering to the left of this plaza, you will enter the Templo del Dios Descendente (Temple of the descending God). The diving or descending god depicted as an upside-down figure above the entrance to the temple appears through the ruins of Tulum. Although the figure's precise significance is unknown, it may be representative of the setting sun, rain or lighting. It is also believed that the character served as a god of bees, a theory stemming from the fact that honey was one of the Mayan kingdom's most important exports.
On the opposite side of the Castillo plaza is the Templo de Las Series Iniciales (Temple of the Initial Series). The name of the temple derives from the discovery of a stela, or stone marker, bearing a date well before the foundation of the city, previously brought to the city from another part of the Mayan kingdom.
When you've finished exploring the Castillo, two other puzzles await your visit. The Temple of the Frescoes features restored murals depicting Mayan Gods and symbols of nature's fertility such as rain, corn and fish. North of the Castillo, The Temple of the Winds served as a storm warning system. To this day, approaching storms send whistling sounds through the center of the structure.
To make your visit to Tulum as enjoyable as possible, here are some additional travel tips. The ruins are open from 8am to 5pm daily, but most tours do not arrive till about 10am. Here, if you are able, try to visit Tulum first thing in the morning before it get too hot and crowded.
When you arrive at the site, here are a few things to keep in mind to avoid any headaches. Before you get to the ruins you must pass through the visitor's center, a collection of shops and restaurants. From the visitor's center, you can choose to take a 15 minute walk down the road or board the site's shuttle for $ 2. If you have a video camera in tow, expect to pay a $ 4 fee. It also costs $ 4 to enter the site, but the fee is waived on Sunday.
Lastly, be wary of the guides roaming the grounds. Many may have official badges, but do not be surprised if you're subjected to strange lines about the Mayan kingdom's connection to aliens. If you enjoy a good story, however, it might be worth the plunge.