Clearly, there are advantages and disadvantages of living in a touristy area. One of the big advantages is, that there is plenty of fun stuff to do when you have visitors.
The first sight I like to show are the ruins. In my opinion, they are spectacular. Some may find it boring to look at old stone monuments, but for me the magic lies in picturing what life was like back then. It is like taking a trip to another time.
Close to Playa del Carmen, about 45 minutes south by car, is Tulum. Not only is it a quite picturesque Caribbean village (on a sunny day, don’t go when it’s raining!), but the archaeological site is one of my favourites. By now, I have been to Tulum so many times, if it wasn’t too far a commute, I’d consider working there. I would like to walk around with an umbrella, gathering my little tourist sheep, taking pictures of families posing with iguanas…
In comparison to other Maya sites, Tulum is rather small, but what makes it unique is its setting. I am sure that is the reason why the Mayans decided to settle down there. After all, location is everything, isn’t it? Keeps the real estate prices up. Tulum is located right above the sea, so even on a very hot day (and we have those right now), there is always a very pleasant breeze that dries off your pearls (or in my case: rivers) of sweat. Always good for pictures! Although the Mayans didn’t know that back then, but still: Thank you!
Tulum is one of the younger Mayan pueblos. The Maya civilization had already begun its decline by A.D. 900. However, Tulum rose in the 13th century and became an important trade hub due to its location by the sea. I love to picture the Mayan people arriving in their boats down below and then climbing up the steep cliffs – they must have been tough little monkeys, I wouldn’t want to do that in the heat! (…hmm… maybe not even if it was cooler…) The site is surrounded by a big wall (Tulum means “wall” in Mayan language). I read that people used to live on the outside and used the inside for festivities and religious rituals – supposedly some pretty bloody ones, I am just so glad I live NOW…
When the Spanish arrived in the late 16th century, Tulum was still a flourishing town in contrast to other Maya towns. And even after the arrival of the not so friendly Spains, Tulum remained a place for Mayan rituals up to the 20th century which I find a very intriguing thought. There are some beautiful temples to see, my favourite one is the Templo del Dios de los Vientos – the temple of the God of the winds. When you stand up there, you feel like you are on top of the word, below the turquoise water and the white beach, above the blue skies – no wonder that the iguanas like to hang out there!
Another beautiful one is the Templo de los Frescos with its well maintained murals.
Tulum is an ideal excursion for families because you don’t need forever to get around. Don’t get scared when you arrive: It is terribly touristy, people try to sell you all kinds of stuff that nobody needs, but that is just the entrance area. From there, you can either take a little train towards the ruins which might be fun for children or you can just walk, it basically only takes 5 minutes. The walk around the ruins might take you up to an hour, but if you bring your bathing suit, you can walk down the stairs to the beautiful beach and go for a swim to cool off.
During high season around Christmas, Tulum gets rather crowded and loses all its magic. However, if you go on a Sunday afternoon, you might be lucky and avoid millions of visitors. The entrance closes at 5pm, so if you get there at 3 / 3:30 pm, most people are gone already. Unless, of course, you like tourist watching. I am always amazed to see that all tourists pick the same spots for pictures and do the same silly things! Like all pulling a crazy face or jumping up in the air. It’s a miracle to me – the Tulum miracle.
If you still can’t get enough of ruins, you can easily combine a trip to Tulum with a trip to Coba, another Maya site located in the jungle which is a beautiful contrast to the beach setting. The drive from Tulum to Coba only takes about an hour, but we will talk about Coba another time!