Set atop the Caribbean Sea, the Tulum Ruins were originally built as an oceanside fortress and are one of the most popular archaeological sites in Mexico. When my parents were visiting from back home, my mom and I decided to visit the Tulum Ruins for the day. It was a very hot and very busy Sunday at the ruins, but we still had a lot of fun exploring the site and learning more about the Mayan culture. Although the Tulum Ruins are not as grand as those found in Chichen Itza or Coba, I think they are definitely still worth a visit if not for the views alone.
The Tulum Ruins are located just outside the city center of Tulum, or about an hour south of Playa del Carmen, Mexico. Due to the site’s close proximity to the city center, visiting the ruins is the perfect activity for any Tulum itinerary. The archeological site is located right on the Caribbean sea elevated at a height of 12 m (~ 39 feet), offering spectacular seaside views.
History of the Tulum Ruins
I won’t go into a long history lesson about the ruins but here are a few tidbits I found to be interesting:
Getting to the Tulum Ruins
The easiest way to get to the Mayan ruins in Tulum is by driving or renting a car. It is a little less than an hour drive south of Playa del Carmen, driving directly south on the main highway 307. You will see signs off the highway with the “Ruinas” symbol. Turn left at the main entrance and you’ll arrive to the main entrance. Parking at the ruins is easily available but a little expensive (around $160 pesos ~ $8 USD) so make sure you have some cash on hand.
By Public Transportation
If you don’t have a car, the easiest way to get to the Tulum Ruins is to take a colectivo (shared van) from downtown Playa del Carmen. The vans leave from the main depot on 2nd Street and 20th Avenue. Just make sure you get on one that is heading towards Tulum. It is about an hour drive from Playa del Carmen and costs $45 pesos (~$2 USD) per person. Tell the driver you’re going to the ruins (ruinas in Spanish) and take note the stop is before the main stop in downtown Tulum.
Once you get off the colectivo, cross the highway and head straight towards the main entrance. It’s about a 10 minute walk to the main entrance but there is also a shuttle train that drives visitors from the parking lot to the main entrance, which can be taken for an additional fee (I think it’s around $20 pesos).
Entrance Fee for the Tulum Ruins
We visited the Tulum Ruins in January 2019 and the cost was $75 pesos (~$4 USD) per person for visitors. You can also visit the ruins through a guided tour for around $30 USD, which generally provides transportation and a group tour guide. In my opinion, I think it’s just as easy to do it on your own.
Around the entrance you will also find a multitude of souvenir shops and food stands. Most of these places seemed to me to be a bit overpriced so I would recommend venturing into Tulum for better quality restaurants and shopping options.
Exploring the Tulum Ruins
The ruins are open daily from 8:00am – 5:00pm, and once you pass through the stone tunnel at the entrance, you are free to explore the ruins at your leisure. Understandably the ruins are are all roped off so you have to view them from a distance. Bummer but with hundreds of people visiting daily, I get that they have to preserve them.
There are small informational plaques in front of each structure (written in English and Spanish) that provide tidbits on the history and how each building was used. It was very interesting to learn about how the walled city of Tulum ran as a sophisticated operation which included sacrificial temples, a castle, watch towers, and trading posts.
The ruins are widespead but the best views can be found from the top of the site overlooking the Caribbean Sea. This is where everyone is fighting for photo ops and also where you can access the wooden stairs leading down to the public beach.
The public beach is admittedly very impressive as it’s enclosed by the massive cliffs surrounding the ruins. It was however very crowded and sprawling with tourists when we were there. Overall, we spent about an hour walking through the ruins before we were super sweaty and decided to head over to the Hotel Zone in Tulum for some lunch and relaxation.
Next Stop: Tulum Beach Club
After you’re done walking around the ruins, you’ll likely be dripping in sweat and more than ready for a cold beverage. I would highly suggest heading over to a beach club in Tulum – it’s the perfect way to spend the rest of the day. We decided to check out Ziggy’s Beach Club, which is about a 20 minute drive from the ruins. There are a line of taxis waiting right outside the ruins that you can take to get there. Beware they will cost you a little more than your average taxi but for the added convenience we ended up paying around $18 USD for the trip.
Once you pull up to Ziggy’s, you will immediately feel Tulum’s beachy eclectic vibe. With a palm tree lined entrance and cutely strung overhead lights, you’ll first pass by the hanging swings at the main bar before seeing the turquoise waters of the Caribbean in the distance. Photo op! From there, you can grab a table at the restaurant or head directly down to the beach to reserve a beach bed. Pricing varies by season but at the time that we went (January = high season) there was a $50 USD consumption for use of the beach beds.
We opted to eat at the restaurant and quickly ordered dos margaritas! Famished from walking around the ruins, we were ready to chow down. We decided to split the Baja Fish Tacos and the Ceviche Caribe. Both were delicious! In my opinion, the food menu at Ziggy’s is really very good – much better quality and more creative menu items than many of the beach clubs I have been to in Playa del Carmen. The margaritas were tasty too!
After eating, we decided to head down to the beach to get some sun. I have to say the beach at Ziggy’s is really gorgeous – it is widespread with powder white sand and there was hardly any seaweed that day. It definitely wasn’t as crowded as the beaches in Playa del Carmen and was so relaxing basking in the sun and listening to the crashing of the waves and bohemian music playing nearby. I love the beaches in Tulum because they are usually much more chill and relaxing.
Teeming with rich history and flaunting pristine oceanfront views, the Tulum Ruins are definitely a fun option for a day trip from Playa del Carmen. For me, I’m definitely intrigued by learning about the ancient history of the place that I now call home. But even if you’re not a history buff, there is still much to be enjoyed from the stunning views, secluded beach access, and the many options for exploring or just relaxing in Tulum.
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