El Castillo

The Ruins of Tulum

The Tulum Mayan Ruins is an extremely popular tourist destination located in Mexico. Tulum is just a short distance from Cancún and Playa del Carmen on the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula. The ruins are situated on a 40-foot cliff overlooking the Carribean Sea. There is a

staircase down to the beach where visitors can swim at one of the most breathtaking beaches. The ruins is one of the best-preserved Maya sites.

The ancient Mayans were king astronomers, measuring time and interpreting cycles of the stars. Many of their most important buildings were aligned to correspond with them. The Mayans were philosophers, mathematicians, artists, architects, and warriors. It was they who first understood

the concept of zero. They were the first to cultivate cocoa, corn, and papaya. They developed complex and accurate calendars and perfect pyramids of immense size, all whilst much of Western Europe was in the dark ages. The Mayans have always known that Tulum is special,

that it is magical. In fact, Tulum is the largest of just the three coastal Mayan cities where high priests were once trained.

The Tulum ruins are a popular tourist destination and attracts visitors from across the world so expect a crowd! Tulum is situated near a keynote or an underwater cave. The Mayans believed that these were the entrance to the underworld where their gods and spirits resided.

Archeologists discovered the body of a nobleman, Casa Ceynote in Tulum. Typically, rulers would be buried near the water, which allowed their spirits to transcend into the underworld.

The Tulum ruins have multiple entrances. As first time visitors, most people enter through the first wall entry, however, this scenery offers a less dramatic perspective of the site. You also have the option of entering through the Ceynote House which sits atop the cliff. Alternately, this offers you

a wholesome view the sea, reef, and site in its entirety.

First Traces

It is said that Tulum was a maritime trading town. In fact, its inhabitants dismantled a section of the barrier reef to incorporate shipping — you can still see the gap during a break in waves. Tulum reached its zenith between the 12th and 14th centuries, much after the Mayan civilization

reached its peak. With the onset of Spanish occupation, this period was defined by warfare and a fight for scarce resources. Consequently, three gigantic walls were built as a precaution. Initially, this city was known as Zama or the “City of Dawn” because of its Eastern location, but was later

changed to Tulum, meaning “Wall”. Today these walls stand firmly in their place, however, they were used earlier to segregate members of the ruling class from their subjects.

Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins©/ryan iris/Flickr


Like most societies, the Mayan civilization was divided into three distinct classes. The rulers and nobility were in charge of administration, war, and religion. Alternately, the middle class was primarily composed of artisans and traders who directly served those above them. The lower

class was diametrically opposite to their superiors and was composed of fisherman, hunters, farmers, and slaves. The ruling classes lived within the walls, while their subject was instructed to live outside it. On your visit, if you wake to the beach from the ruins, you can see their

disintegrated dwellings amongst the forest. Today, the ruins welcome a plethora of visitors who are intrigued by the rich, cultural history of the Mayan civilization.

Maya Woman
Maya Woman ©/Stefano Ravalli/Flickr

The Temple of the Frescos

The Temple of Frescos sits in the middle of the Mayan ruins. The building is said to have had religious and social significance on several levels. Initially, it was constructed as a one-story building which then had galleries erected around it. Finally, a temple was built on top. This temple

was painted blue, grey and white and you can find intricate murals, depicting ancient ceremonies and Gods, on the walls of this sacred site. The image of Ix-Chel — the Mayan God of fertility and medicine prominently features in the Tulum temple. Interestingly, the coastline of Tulum is largely

female and a number of coastal towns have the feminized Ix (eesh) prefix in their names. Recently, researchers have discovered that Tulum was a pilgrimage site for Maya women on their way to the sacred island of Cozumel. On arrival, they were comforted under the sanctuary of

Ix-Chel. A large number of Maya women paid tribute to her shrine, making it one of the greatest pilgrimages in the pre-Columbian World.

The Temple of the Frescos
The Temple of the Frescos©/Daniel Mennerich/Flickr

El Castillo — The Castle

El Castillo or the Castle is said to be one of the most important monuments of the city of Tulum. It stands at a height of 7.5m (25ft) and faces the ocean. Even though this monument is called a castle, it does not resemble one or function as one. In fact, this is a pyramid which was a shrine

or a ceremonial center. The upper rooms were used to help traders navigate and was used as a primitive lighthouse. Within its walls, there are two holes which functioned as windows. The Mayas would light a fire which then guided traders and seamen to a safe route of passage. Most

religious ceremonies, including human sacrifices, also took place on the upper levels of the establishment. These events were commemorated by dances, which were said to induce visionary trances.

In the 16th century, the invasion of Spanish conquistadors marked the end of the Mayan civilization. European diseases and epidemics plagued and destroyed the native population. However, Tulum survived another 70 years after the Spanish conquest of Mexico. Local Maya

continued to visit the temples to burn incense and pray until the late 20th century. Today, Tulum is one of the most popular tourist destinations, attracting a range of visitors every day.

El Castillo
El Castillo©/aymm5/Flickr

How to get there

There are bus tours that stop at Tulum each day. It is also a very popular cruise excursion. Cruise lines such as Norwegian, Royal Caribbean, and Carnival have tours that go to Tulum when in port at Cozumel, Mexico. Once in Tulum your tour guide will take you around the ruins and give

you a very informative and entertaining overview of the ancient Mayan City.