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How To Visit The Mayan Ruins Of Tulum In Mexico

Tulum Ruins Travel Guide
The Ancient Mayan City of Tulum
Tulum, Mexico

You can’t visit Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula without seeing the Mayan Ruins of Tulum. Here are some useful tips to beat the crowds at this famous archaeological site.

Ah, Tulum. This ancient walled city perched on the edge of a cliff in Quintana Roo overlooking the Caribbean ocean in Mexico is quite a sight in person.

Because I lived in Mexico on and off for 2 years, I’ve visited the Tulum ruins at least 5 times now.

Tulum’s original Maya name, Zamá translates as “place of the dawning sun.” This is because it has a perfect view of the rising sun!

The city was a major trading and religious center between the 11th and 16th centuries and is one of the coolest Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico — similar to other popular ruins like Chichen Itza and Coba.

Tulum is located about 128km south of Cancun, or 62km south of Playa del Carmen along the popular Mayan Riviera tourist route.

In this post you’ll learn a bit about the history of these amazing ruins, along with useful tips for visiting them.

Tulum Ruins Guide For 2021

Tulum Ruins Structure 45
Mayan Ruins at the Beach
Tulum Pyramid Castle
Tulum’s Main Pyramid

History Of The Tulum Ruins

Tulum was built to be a seaport fortress, with steep ocean cliffs providing protection from the East, and a large limestone wall enclosing the rest of the city on three sides.

The population of Tulum was once 1,600 people, and acted as an important trading center for the Mayan world.

Goods like turquoise, jade, cotton, food, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans were traded here.

Tulum Ruins Mexico Entrance
Entrance Into the Ruins
Mexico's Mayan Ruins of Tulum
House Of The Halach Uinic

Mayan Archaeological Sites

The old stone structures that make up this archaeological site are surrounded by leaning palm trees, delicate cactus flowers, steep rocky cliffs, and a population of large sun-tanning iguanas.

So while the ruins of Tulum can be flooded with tourists during the middle of the day, it’s sometimes possible to find a quiet corner and enjoy Mexico’s natural beauty & fascinating history.

At one time you could climb the pyramids, but that’s no longer the case.

Tulum is quite different from other Mayan sites in that the ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) cliffs overlooking the ocean. It’s very picturesque.

Tulum Tours

Guided Tour Of Tulum & Coba

Explore 2 archaeological sites in one day, as well as a Mayan village and swimming in a cenote.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Amazing Archeological Site in the Yucatan

Important Structures In Tulum

El Castillo

El Castillo (the Castle) is Tulum’s main pyramid, and was used as an ancient lighthouse. Two small windows at the top allowed sailors to navigate the bay at dusk.

If merchant boat captains could see daylight through both windows as they sailed in, they wouldn’t crash into the reef hiding just below the water.

Temple Of The Frescoes

The Temple of the Frescoes, located in front of El Castillo, is the best preserved building at the site. Peer inside to see an actual mural with colored paint still intact!

House Of The Columns

The House of the Columns is a large, complex building with 4 rooms and a series of large columns for holding up the roof.

House Of The Halach Uinic

Each Mayan city was ruled by a halach uinic who served as high-priest. The House of the Halach Uinic in Tulum is also well preserved.

Iguana at Tulum Ruins in Mexico
Sunbathing Iguanas are a Common Sight
Tulum Ruins Beach
Tulum’s Secret Beach

Swimming At Tulum’s Secret Beach

Right below the main pyramid structure is a secluded beach that you can actually swim at while you’re visiting the site. So make sure to bring your swimsuit with you!

Swimming under the old ruined fortress, perched on the cliff above you, is a pretty cool experience. The beach can get crowded fast though — again I recommend being there as early as possible (or right before it closes).

The beach opens around 10am, as long as the surf isn’t too strong. When walking down the wooden staircase, keep an eye out for the many iguanas who call these cliffs home.

Mayan Ruins with Tourists
Crowds of Tourists Invade around 10am

When To Visit The Ruins Of Tulum

Visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico during the day can be a bit hectic. Especially at Tulum. It’s a very popular attraction in the Yucatan.

During the day, there are hundreds of other tourists milling about.

If you arrive early enough, around 8am, you’ll get a much more “magical” experience. At least for the first hour or two of exploring. Another good time to visit is the hour before they close (normally 5pm).

Set aside at least one hour to visit the ruins, maybe 2 hours if you want to go swimming. It’s not that big compared to other Maya archaeological sites in Mexico.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
El Castillo Pyramid
Orange Flower at Tulum Ruins
Colorful Tropical Flowers

Getting To Tulum

There are technically three “Tulum’s”, so descriptions can get confusing sometimes. There is Tulum Beach, Tulum Town, and the Tulum Ruins. The ruins are about 3km from the city center of Tulum.

Rental Car

The best site to book your car is Discover Cars. They search both local and international car rental companies to help you find the best possible price. This is the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.

CANCUN – Tulum is 131 km (1 hr 45 min) from Cancun by car.
PLAYA DEL CARMEN – Tulum is 64 km (45 min) from Playa del Carmen.

It’s easy to follow the 307 Highway straight to the ruins from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Parking at the site costs about $100 MXN ($5 USD).

By Bus

There are regular ADO buses from Playa del Carmen to Tulum that cost about 80 pesos ($4 USD) one way. Some stop directly at the ruins, others stop at the bus station in Tulum town.

Colectivo

The cheapest way to visit Tulum is to take a colectivo (group taxi) from the colectivo stand located on Calle 2 Norte between Avenida 15 and 20 in Playa del Carmen. It takes about 45 minutes to reach the ruins and costs approximately 60 pesos ($3 USD per person).

By Taxi

Taking a taxi directly from Playa del Carmen to Tulum is going to cost about 600 pesos ($30 USD) one way. If you have a small group of 3-4 people to share, it’s not that bad.

Tulum Ruins Guided Tours

Tulum Ruins Frescos Structure
Temple Of The Frescoes

Where To Stay In Tulum

Tulum is split up into different areas — the city center (Tulum Town), and the Tulum Beach area. The entrance to Tulum Archaeological Site is closer to the city center.

All the beautiful & popular resorts in Tulum are a 5-10 minute drive away down at the beach area.

If you’re wondering where to stay in Mexico near the Tulum Ruins, here are my recommendations:


BEST HOTELS IN TULUM


Temple of The Wind at Tulum
Exploring Tulum’s Many Mayan Structures

Tulum Ruins Travel Tips & Advice

  • Arrive at the ruins 15 minutes before they open at 8 am to beat the horde of tourist buses that show up around 10 am. Late afternoon can be good too.
  • Tulum’s ruins are open Monday through Sunday from 8am to 5pm. Entrance is free on Sundays for Mexican citizens and residents (so it’s PACKED).
  • Ignore the ticket/information booths near the parking lot. Simply walk down the road about half a mile until you reach the real entrance, and buy your tickets there.
  • Remember to bring your bathing suit if you want to swim or sunbathe on the beach at the base of the cliffs. The beach opens around 10am.
  • It costs an extra $4 if you want to shoot video at the site, but if you tell them you’re only taking photos you should be fine.
  • The ruins don’t have a ton of shade areas, so a hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen are recommended. It gets HOT!
  • Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated! I’m a big fan of this eco-friendly filtered water bottle.
Travel Planning Resources For Mexico
Tulum Entry Fee: $70 MXN ($3.50 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm
Packing Guide
Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip.
Book Your Flight
Ready to fly? Here’s how I find the cheapest airline flights.
Rent A Car
Discover Cars is a great site for comparing car prices to find a deal.
Cheap Accommodation
Learn how I save money booking hotels & vacation apartments.
Protect Your Trip
Don’t forget travel insurance! Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read why you should always carry travel insurance.

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READ MORE MEXICO TRAVEL TIPS

I hope you enjoyed my guide on how to visit the Mayan Ruins of Tulum in Mexico! Hopefully you found it useful. Here are a few more wanderlust-inducing articles that I recommend you read next:


Have any questions about the Tulum ruins in Mexico? What about other suggestions? Drop me a message in the comments below!

Kimberly Walker

Sunday 28th of March 2021

Can you go to the beach without visiting the ruins? I've seen the ruins before...or is there another beach you can see the ruins from?

Matthew Karsten

Friday 9th of April 2021

There is a public beach nearby called Playa Santa Fe, and while you can "see" some of the ruins from there, they are off in the distance. However you can rent a kayak from that beach and paddle over in front of the ruins for a better view.

Sara

Thursday 25th of March 2021

I'm seeing some different information about when it opens now with covid... Is it 8am or 9am opening now? I'd like to beat the heat and people, but don't want to accidentally show up an hour before it opens

Adam Petersen

Sunday 14th of March 2021

Fantastic information, thank you! Question: Are there tours available onsite that are NOT part of a larger package? We will drive our own rental car to the site. Thank you for any related tips!

Matthew Karsten

Wednesday 19th of May 2021

Hi Adam! Yes you can hire a local guide onsite in Tulum to take you around and explain the meaning/history of the different ruins.

Marie

Wednesday 26th of February 2020

Hi! Quick question about Coba. Is it easy to rend a bike on the spot? I mean do they have enough since there are so many tours ... would you recommend to go on a tour or is it doable on our own ? Are the directions to the cenote clearly indicated ?

Pat

Thursday 6th of February 2020

How far is the walk from the base of the Tulum temple to the beach?

Matthew Karsten

Sunday 9th of February 2020

Only like 60 seconds. Very close. You just walk down some wooden stairs.

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