How To Visit The Mayan Ruins Of Tulum In Mexico

Tulum Ruins at Sunrise
Mayan Ruins 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 to see in person.

Because I based myself in Mexico for 2 years, I’ve seen these ruins at least 5 different times.

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.

It’s located about 128 km south of Cancun, or 62 km south of Playa del Carmen along the popular Mayan Riviera.

Tulum Ruins Structure 45
Temple Of The Wind
Tulum Pyramid Castle
El Castillo 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 Walled City
Mexico's Mayan Ruins of Tulum
House of the Halach Uinic

Pristine Mayan Archaeological Site

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.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Mayan Ruins at Sunrise

Important Structures In Tulum

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.

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!

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

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
Sun-Tanning Iguana
Tulum Ruins Beach
Wooden Stairs Lead to Tulum’s Beach

Swimming At Tulum’s Secret Beach

Below the main structure is a secluded beach that you can actually swim at while you’re visiting the site. Make sure to bring your swimsuit!

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 later 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
Lots of Tourists Show Up After 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 some other Maya archaeological sites.

Mayan Ruins of Tulum
Structures Made Of White Limestone
Orange Flower at Tulum Ruins
Colorful Flowers Growing Among the Ruins

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 Town.

Rental Car

Discover Car Hire searches all the big car rental companies and finds the best price. This is probably the easiest way to rent a car in Mexico.

It’s easy to follow the 307 Highway straight to the ruins from Cancun (1 hr 45 min) or Playa del Carmen (45 min). Parking costs about 100 pesos ($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.

Group Tours Around Tulum

If you’re the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are group tours that visit Tulum, some of which begin in Cancun.

Tulum Ruins Frescos Structure
Temple of the Frescos

Where To Stay In Tulum

Tulum is split up into two different areas — the city center, and the beach. The entrance to Tulum Archaeological Site is closest to the city center. However all the beautiful resorts are a 5-10 minute drive away on the beach.

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


Best Accommodation In Tulum


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Temple of The Wind at Tulum
Tips for Visiting the Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins Travel Tips

  • Arrive at the ruins 15 minutes before they open at 8am to beat the horde of tourist buses that show up around 10am. 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 Tulum
Tulum Entry Fee: 70 Pesos ($3.50 USD)
Opening Hours: 8am – 5pm

Packing Guide

Check out my travel gear guide to help you start packing for your trip. Pick up a travel backpack, camera gear, and other useful travel accessories.

Book Your Flight

Book cheap flights on Skyscanner, my favorite airline search engine to find deals. Also read my tips for how I find the cheapest flights.

Rent A Car

Discover Car Hire is a great site for comparing car prices to find the best deal. They search both local & international rental companies.

Book Accommodation

Booking.com is my favorite hotel search engine. Or rent local apartments on Airbnb ($35 discount!). Read my post for tips on booking cheap hotels.

Protect Your Trip

Don’t forget travel insurance! I’m a big fan of World Nomads for short-term trips. Protect yourself from possible injury & theft abroad. Read more about why you should always carry travel insurance.

Recommended Guidebook: Lonely Planet Cancun & The Yucatan
Suggested Reading: The Jungle Of Stone

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Tips for visiting the Mayan ruins of Tulum!

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

THANKS FOR READING

Hi, I’m Matthew Karsten — I’ve been traveling around the world for the last 9 years as a blogger, photographer, and digital nomad. Adventure travel & photography are my passions. Let me inspire you to travel more with crazy stories, photography, and useful tips from my journey.
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16 thoughts on “How To Visit The Mayan Ruins Of Tulum In Mexico”

  1. HI Matthew, I was wondering if there is free access to this cliff lookout or the beach near the Tulum ruins in the evening somewhere around sunset? So you could do some photos without entering the site itself?

    • The only way you could get photos of the ruins these days without entering the site itself is to rent a boat/kayak and shoot them from the water.

  2. These are amazing photos. I’m working on some short fiction set in a place like this, so your pics are great for my research.
    Great job beating the crowd to be alone there. I’m enjoying your blog and envious of your travels.

    Steve

    • Glad you enjoyed them Steve. It was nice to have a quiet moment out there with Tulum’s Mayan ruins on my own. Good luck with the book!

  3. I went to Tulum in 1996. I was overwhelmed by its beauty & ‘potted’ history.
    Unfortunately, being on a day-trip, I didn’t have as long as I would have liked to explore, or get a proper ‘feel’ of how it would have been when it was first built. I’d love to have seen it as you did.
    I did climb El Castillo in Chichen Itza, but I do understand the need to stop that now.

    • The Mayan ruins of Tulum is definitely a beautiful & scenic place. Even with lots of people, I think you should visit it if you’re in the Playa del Carmen area.

  4. You know we love your early morning habit (psstt.. Masaya Volcano!)

    And your photos taken during sunrise have been amazing! Motivate us to wake up earlier, huh… I’ll consider it for real! We are changing continent soon (will be in Europe/Africa in 2 weeks), great opportunity to manipulate our sleeping time…

  5. Wow great pics! I guess it was worth the effort because it looks stunning. Congrats on getting in there so early.

    • Thanks Andrew, Tulum’s ruins are pretty cool as long as you get in before hundreds of other people get there. I’m also heard that the afternoon can be less packed because everyone goes in the late morning.

    • Thanks! It was pretty nice to have the area to myself that early in the morning. As the saying goes, the “early bird gets the worm!”