There truly is no shortage of things to do in Tulum: nestled deep in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, with its ancient temples overlooking the stunningly turquoise Caribbean Sea. The Mayan city of Tulum is, rightfully so, one of Mexico’s top attractions, and not just for the sheer, jaw-dropping 700 years of history behind it but also for the lush nature that surrounds it and the dramatic 39-foot-high cliffs along its length. Yep, the photography game at Tulum is very, very strong.
Basically, it’s just one of those places you HAVE to see in a lifetime, because believe it or not, Mexico has a lot more to offer than just luxury resorts (although they don’t hurt, I’ll say that) and guacamole.
Note: I visited Tulum as part of Transat’s extensive programme of excursions, which are available for booking with each all-inclusive package.
Things to do in Tulum – in Photos
The creaky stairs leading down to Tulum’s beach. The water was particularly rough that day so beach access was restricted.
Local residents, which, being stoic by nature, make for excellent photographic opportunities
For historical accuracy’s sake, I should point out that the walled Mayan port city of Tulum was home to about 1500 residents before the arrival of the Spanish settlers. The community survived until the end of the 15th century, about 70 years after the start of the occupation, but its tragic demise wasn’t caused by territorial battles or hostile conquests: it was simply because European settlers brought over several diseases from the old continent that rapidly turned out to be fatal for a majority of Mayans. Those who survived simply left as the community was slowly, but surely, disrupted.
In the pre-Colombian era (before the appearance of significant European influences on the American continents), Tulum was a prosperous city and an attractive business hub, as both coastal and land routes converged to it; in fact, hundreds of artefacts found in or near the ruins show productive trade with Central Mexico and Central America, notably for copper, turquoise and jade commerce. Such a strategic location unsurprisingly demanded a great deal of protection, and, understandably, Tulum was one of the very few walled cities within the Mayan empire. Five-metres-high, seven-metres-thick limestone walls enclosed three sides of the community while the 11-metres-tall coastline granted unobstructed views of sea-faring visitors.
Tulum Beach, which occasionally can be accessible to swimmers and sunbathers (extra points if you can spot the lizard!)
The sea-facing wall of the Castillo ruins, Tulum. It’s the highest and largest structure in Tulum and certainly served as a beacon to sailors.
Temple of the Frescoes
Ruins of El Palacio, which served as a residence for Tulum’s most prominent citizens.
Templo de la Estela
Rolling hills surrounding Templo de la Estela and Casa del Cenote
Lizards going about their daily lizard business in Tulum
Although not as old as some of its counterparts elsewhere in the country — most Mayan ruins date back to the 3-9th centuries — Tulum is unique is the sense that its location is quite spectacular, towering against the stunning backdrop of the aqua-coloured Caribbean Sea.
It remains, to this day, one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites.
In the distance, the Temple of the Descending God