Tulum Guide, Maya Riviera, Mexico
Tulum’s El Castillo, part of an ancient Maya city-state and narrow but beautiful Mayan Beach, seen from the Caribbean Sea. Photo by Jim.
Visiting Tulum beaches and Maya site, Maya Riviera, Mexico
Tulum’s Main Maya Sights
The three most important structures in Tulum are El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending God.
El Castillo. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
• El Castillo is Tulum’s grandest and tallest building at25 ft tall (7. 5 m). Rebuilt and upgraded several times the lintels in the upper rooms have serpent motifs carved into them while a shrine in one area may have been a point of reference for incoming canoes as it’s aligned with a break in the barrier reef offshore that leads to the only beach access to Tulum’s fortress.
Temple of the Frescoes. Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
• The Temple of the Frescoes was an observatory of sorts and contains statues of the Maya ‘diving god’ on the facade in addition to the one on the front of the Temple of the Diving God.
Templo del Dios Descendente, Temple of the Diving God. Photo by Wolfgang Sauber.
• The Temple of the Diving God is so-called because below that thatch there is a quite dilapidated relief of a person/god upside-down, apparently diving underwater using what looks like the breaststroke.
Looking along the entire 500m length of the Tulum’s ancient Maya site past El Castillo to the Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple). Photo by Dennis Jarvis.
The distant Templo Dios del Viento guards Tulum’s sea entrance where a small, characterful beach was the Maya’s primary dock/landing point for transport canoes/boats. This beach is now closed to tourism and reserved for sea turtle nests.
Best time to visit Tulum
The best season is December – March when high temperatures will hit around 86F (30C), lows around 65F (18C) and rainfall is limited.
The worst time to go there are the months of June, September and October which have average highs of 90F (32C) along with heavy rainfall, high humidity, mosquitoes in maddening numbers, seas are rough, beaches become seaweed dumps and clouds are common.
Other Attractions in the area
Gran Cenote, one of three connected cenotes at Sac Actun, near Tulum. Photo by Ken Thomas.
• 2. 5 miles (4kms) from the Maya ruins is Tulum town (pueblo) and a hotel district.
• Various cenotes (natural cave pools of freshwater) with exotic names (Temple of Doom and Carwash for starters) can be found scattered around the Tulum area. These are worth a half day trip for a wander around and a swim in an atmospheric natural pool, tho’ sometimes they’re a bit murky for snorkeling. Great for cooling off tho’.
There are a few of cenotes that offer clear waters and more than a cool dip. Highly recommended is LabnaHa Eco park that is embedded in the jungle, has three stalactite-dangling cenotes filled with crystal clear water and operates various activities other than swimming such as ziplines, kayaking and snorkel tours, but only permits small guided groups in order to control environmental damage. Numbers are limited so book ahead. Labnaha is 6 miles (10kms) north of Tulum.
Other recommended cenotes with clear waters, greenery, maybe with fish and stalactites are Sac Actun and Dos Ojos (scuba too). Photo below.
• 47 miles (75 kms) south of Tulum is the unspoilt and watery wilderness (Biosphere Reserve) of Sian Ka’an.
Playa Paraiso’s powder-white sand and full services just south of the Tulum ruins. Photo by Jim.
The beaches outside the Mayan Ruins stretching south is outstanding, narrow at first under the ruins then widening out to Playa Paraiso as you head south. It’s pay to enter but well worth it and considered by some to be Mexico’s best beach strip. This is in the Tulum Nastional Park so there are no mega-resorts here but you can still rent the essentials: chair, parasol, towels. There is an excellent bar, restaurant and the usual toilets/showers/changing rooms.
Getting to Tulum
Air. Cancun is the best airport option. It’s 77 miles/130kms north straight up Route 307 (1hr 35 mins).
Car. A good option for ducking a diving into beaches, towns, cenotes and so on en route to Tulum.
Buses are good a cheap and plenty will be available.
Approximate drive time to Tulum from:
Cancun 1hr 35 mins
Playa del Carmen 50 mins (64 kms)
Cozumel as Playa del Carmen plus 30 mins ferry time
Chichen Itza 2 hours (152 kms)
Coba 1hr (44 kms)