Travel guide to visiting Tulum National Park in Mexico

Mayan ruins and dreamy beaches


77780 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico

GPS: 20.213024295933, -87.434585678367

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Visit Tulum National Park Mexico 2022: Located east of the modern city of the same name on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, Tulum National Park is home to some of the best preserved Mayan ruins in Mexico. Perhaps less impressive than the remains of Chichen Itza or Teotihuacan from an architectural point of view, the archaeological site of Tulum is nonetheless one of the most emblematic Mesoamerican cities in North America.

In addition to its idyllic location on the Caribbean Sea, the Mayan civilization prized this area as a place of great strategic importance. In pre-Columbian times, the Maya occupied a large territory stretching from southern Mexico to Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Tulum is one of the few Mayan cities to have been built on the coast, although there are archaeological remains of ancient Mayan ports at Xel-Ha and Xcaret, located a little further north in the Riviera Maya. According to some wall inscriptions, Tulum was built in the second half of the 6th century on much older foundations. Probably linked to the sites of Mayapan and Cobá (both located in the Yucatán peninsula), the city is an important centre of worship for the “descendant god”, a Mesoamerican deity with the appearance of a birdman. Tulum was used not only as a trading centre but also for ceremonial and astronomical purposes. Cliff temples and an observatory were built to track the movements of the sun. A large number of caves and geological formations called cenotes are used by the inhabitants of the city as a fresh water reserve, place of worship and site of human sacrificial offerings.

Called Zamá (“the city of the dawn”) by the Maya, the city was not fortified until its peak in the early 13th century. It was from this time onwards that it was renamed Tulum (“wall”), because of the defensive wall that protected the archaeological site. The city collapsed three centuries later with the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in 1518. It was then abandoned and invaded by the jungle. This coastal area of the Yucatán quickly became a major base for piracy. Corsairs, buccaneers and freebooters were a constant threat to Spanish ships and colonies from the 16th to the 18th centuries. With outer walls up to 6 metres thick and 4 metres high, Tulum is prized for its spectacular coastline, coral reefs, white sand beaches, lush forests and sacred wells. Its national park, founded in 1981, is one of the most visited natural and archaeological sites in Mexico.

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  • El Castillo (The Castle) building overlooking the Caribbean Sea
  • The Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Wind, the Temple of the Descending God (named after Tulum’s main deity), the House of the Halach Uinic (House of the Great Lord), the House of the Columns, the House of Chultun…
  • The ruins of the city’s outer and inner walls; the watchtowers nestled on natural cliffs along the coastline
  • The network of underground rivers and flooded caves (cenotes): Gran Cenote (with spectacular stalagmites and stalactites), Casa Del Cenote (superb swimming and diving site), Dos Ojos (one of the most beautiful cenotes in the country), Nohoch Nah Chich (vast system of water-filled caves), Sac Actun (network of caves and underground rivers), Labnaha (of great interior beauty), Aktun Chen (magnificent cave on the road to Akumal)…
  • The white sandy beaches with turquoise waters (playa Paraíso, playa Pescadores and playa Maya); the nearby beach of Akumal with giant tortoises (north of Tulum); the coral reef of the Riviera Maya (with 65 species of stony coral, 350 varieties of molluscs and more than 500 different species of fish)
  • Swimming (in the sea and in the cenotes), scuba diving, snorkelling, windsurfing, walking and biking; the adventure park Parque Ecológico Labnaha y Mundo Mágico Maya (zip lines, kayaking, underground explorations…)
  • The luxuriant vegetation (mangroves, palms, coconut trees…) and wild animals (sea turtles, pelicans, anteaters, iguanas…); the recent reforestation of some sand dunes altered by erosion (trees, mangroves and endemic plants)
  • The ritual dance performance of the flying men (Danza de los Voladores); the treatments and ceremonies organised in a temazcal (sweat lodge with sauna-like effects); the brilliance of a sunrise with the Caribbean Sea as a backdrop; Ziggy’s Beach bar overlooking the beach
  • The Mayan culture and tradition of the inhabitants of Felipe Carillo Puerto (in the south); the discovery of the historic and archaeological heritage of Valladolid, an ancient Mayan city located 2 hours drive from Tulum in the direction of Mérida (in the north-west); the activities of the zoological park Xcaret Eco Park, of the aquatic park Xel-Há and of the ecological park Kantun Chi in the north; the archaeological remains of Chenchomac in the west
  • Bones, traces of ancient fires and remains of charcoal have been found in the underwater caves of Tulum at a depth of several metres. These discoveries reveal that these places have been inhabited since the end of the Ice Age by hunter-gatherer peoples (over 14,000 years ago).
  • According to estimates, the Yucatán region and northern Guatemala have a total of 6,000 cenotes (caves flooded by water). These “sacred wells” in the Mayan language are formed naturally by the infiltration of water into the limestone soil after a long natural process. Some of them are still used today as a fresh water reserve by the inhabitants (as the Maya did previously). Many specialists believe that these wells represent the last territories not yet studied by modern man, along with the depths of the oceans and the tops of the Himalayan mountains. The dark waters of the cenotes’ unique ecosystem flow through underground caverns. They form a vast and complex network of underwater caves and rivers stretching for about 1,600 km (including the largest underwater cave in the world, comprising the Sac Actun and Dos Ojos cave system).
  • In Mayan times, the cenotes were considered sacred passages to the underworld. They were used to communicate with the gods and the world of the dead. Both feared and revered, the cenotes were considered to be the subterranean world inhabited by the gods, where the spirits of the deities and ancestors also reigned. Many of them are littered with skulls, offerings and human bones. Mortal sacrifices of human beings were regularly performed in the cenotes to appease and satisfy the gods by providing them with blood (especially to honour Chaac, the god of rain, in the hope that the rains would return after the dry season). The person sacrificed was generally honoured to be sacrificed as it made it easier for him or her to be admitted to the afterlife.
  • Outside the cenotes, the Maya used an obsidian blade (a very sharp volcanic stone) to make a cut in their arm. They then collected several drops of blood on a piece of paper and burned it on a sacrificial altar to send it to the gods in a cloud of smoke. According to Mayan belief, deceased kings were reborn in the celestial world to become solar gods.
  • The El Castillo building, dominating the seashore, was used by the Maya as a lighthouse to guide trading vessels and fishing boats.
  • Tulum National Park is a two-hour drive from Cancún (regular bus services). Due to the large number of tour groups departing from this resort, choose to visit Tulum early in the morning (8 am) or late in the afternoon (before 5 pm).
  • Tulum can be divided into three distinct areas: the archaeological zone, the downtown area of Tulum Pueblo and the Tulum Playa coastline where most of the hotels are concentrated.
  • Ten kilometres to the south, in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, are other Mayan ruins of interest (such as the archaeological site of Muyil, also called Chunyaxché). This nature reserve is the largest swamp in Central America. In addition to its many natural treasures (marshes, jungle, mangrove, islets, reefs, fauna and flora…), it contains canals dug by hand by the Maya which served as a means of transport for maritime trade.
  • The Mayan Museum of Cancún (Museo Maya de Cancún y Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito) exhibits numerous archaeological pieces from the Yucatán including Mayan objects from Tulum.

Where to eat

  • Restaurante Estrada
    (typical and tasty)
  • La Coqueta
    (the burritos are excellent)
  • Co.ConAmor Restaurant
    (organic products)

Where to go

  • Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
    (large coastal reserve)
  • Cozumel Island
    (scuba diving site)
  • City of Cobá
    (extensive archaeological ruins)

Where to stay

  • Mango Tulum Hotel
    (clean and peaceful)
  • Las Palmas Maya
    (tropical environment)
  • Hotel Jashita
    (between beach and jungle)