The magnificent Tulum Ruins are one of the most superb and breathtaking Mayan sites you can visit in Mexico. Unlike many of Central America‘s other ancient Mayan ruins, Tulum is special in that its archaeological zone occupies a strategic position right on the coast. Looking out over the Caribbean waters, the grand El Castillo, AKA Tulum Pyramid, is remarkably intact and the crown jewel of this ancient walled city. Let’s take a look at how to visit and explore this ancient Mayan fort.
For more Mayan ruins, check out our Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico post!
Table of Contents
Tulum Mayan Ruins Travel Guide
In this travel guide about the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico, we’ll give you a brief overview of the history of the archaeological zone, where the ruins are and how to get there. Next, we’ll look at some useful things to know before you go, such as opening times and how to buy tickets, before discussing the main highlights of Tulum Ruins, including the impressive Tulum Pyramid. Lastly, we’ll answer some FAQs, look at where to stay in Tulum and throw in some suggestions for other excellent Mayan archaeological sites close by.
So, what are the Tulum Ruins?
History of The Tulum Ruins
Tulum was originally known as Zama by the ancient Maya. This roughly translates to ‘place or city of the dawning sun‘, due to its east-facing position above the sea. The later name ‘Tulum’ actually means walled, due to the massive stone walls which surround the ruins on three of its sides, with the fourth side enjoying natural protection from a 12 metre drop into the sea below. This helped Tulum to become quite the defensive fort, as well as becoming an important and protected trading post for other Mayan cities nearby, such as Coba.
Tulum was actually one of the last Maya cities to be built in Mexico. It was most prominent from the 13th–15th centuries. Tulum even survived the first 70 years of Spanish occupation, before finally being abandoned.
Where Are Tulum Ruins?
The Mayan ruins lie to the east of Tulum town, along the Chetumal-Cancun road. The Tulum Ruins are easily accessed as a half-day trip from Tulum, making the archaeological zone a real must-see stop when in Quintana Roo, Mexico.
Feel free to click on the interactive map below to see exactly where Tulum Ruins in Mexico are located.
How to Get to Tulum Ruins
Tulum Ruins are super easy to reach from Tulum town. Let’s take a look at some of your options.
For a greener mode of transport, you can cycle from central Tulum to Tulum Ruins. Bikes are commonly rented from hotels or shops in town. Cycling certainly affords you the freedom to explore at your own pace. You can leave your bike at the bike racks at the entrance to the Tulum Archaeological Zone, so don’t forget to ask for a bike lock too. You can’t take a bike into the Tulum Ruins site.
From central Tulum, the bike ride is around 10–15 minutes. If you’re staying in the hotel zone on the beach, expect a slightly longer ride.
Do as the locals do and take a Colectivo to Tulum Ruins. That’s exactly what Dan and I did. We picked up a Colectivo along the main street close to our hotel, Ruta Del Sol. The Colectivo to Tulum Archaeological Site cost $25MXN ($1.45USD) per person and is an easy journey. Simply let the driver know where you’re going. The Colectivo stops outside Tulum Ruins, and then from there you simply walk to the site.
To return, wait at the same spot the Colectivo dropped you off, just on the other side of the road.
Taking the bus is a great option if you’re staying further afield. From areas like Playa del Carmen or even Cancun, you can visit Tulum Ruins for a day trip. ADO is a reliable bus service that operates in Mexico. We used them for the majority of our bus rides throughout our month-long stay in Mexico.
For a quick, private and straightforward mode of transport to Tulum Ruins, Mexico, you can take a taxi. Always ask for the price before you set off. You can ask your hotel to book you a taxi or simply flag one down from central Tulum along the main road.
By Rental Car
One of the easiest ways to get around Mexico and visit the Tulum Ruins is to hire a car.
If you want to hire something, we recommend hiring a car using Rentalcars.com. You’ll find a variety of cars on Rental Cars, which are very easy to book online. Personally, Dan and I have used Rental Cars plenty of times and never had any problems.
Where to Park For Tulum Ruins?
If driving, once you arrive at Tulum Archaeological Zone for the ruins, you’ll find a large parking area at the entrance.
Take a Tulum Ruins Tour
If you don’t want the hassle of getting yourself to Tulum Ruins, although it’s very straightforward, then you can book a tour. Of course, a tour brings with it a lot of its own benefits, especially if you’re visiting Tulum Ruins from outside of central Tulum. GetYourGuide offers some excellent tour options, including skipping the queue and visiting Playa del Carmen.
Useful Things to Know Before You Go
So, now you know how to get to Tulum Ruins in Mexico, let’s take a look at some useful things to know about the visit.
How To Buy Tulum Ruins Tickets
Tickets to the Mayan Ruins of Tulum in Mexico can be bought at the entrance, online, or as part of a tour. Personally, we paid at the main entrance on arrival. As did most other people we saw there. At the time we visited in 2022, the Tulum Ruins entrance fee was $85MXN ($5USD) per person. But, I have seen that this price may have now increased to $155MXN ($9USD). Please feel free to update fellow travellers on the price in the comments section at the bottom of this page.
Also, please note; Mexican residents get free access to Tulum Ruins on a Sunday, so it can be very busy. If you want to avoid the crowds, try to visit on another day of the week.
Tulum Ruins Opening Times
The Tulum ruins are open from 8am to 5pm, seven days a week. As Tulum Ruins are such a popular tourist attraction, we recommend arriving and queuing up around 15 minutes before opening. That’s exactly what we did and we ended up second in the queue and enjoying a brief time within the Tulum Archaeological Zone before the crowds and tour groups arrived.
How Long For Tulum Ruins
We didn’t spend longer than a couple of hours at Tulum Ruins, Mexico. This is no Chichen Itza. In fact, the Mayan ruins at Tulum are a fraction of the size and make for a truly wonderful way to spend just a morning on the Riviera Maya.
When To Visit The Tulum Ruins
To avoid the crowds, be sure to arrive for the opening time, and of course, avoid Sundays if possible. Tour groups will usually start to show up by mid-morning, and then you really do get to see just how busy the Tulum Archaeological Zone can get. Peak season in Tulum generally runs from December to April. Of course, the weather is generally better and more settled during these months too.
We visited in late January, and arriving early at Tulum Ruins was enough to enjoy a quieter walk around the archaeological zone.
Highlights of Tulum Archaeological Zone
So, now you’ve arrived at Tulum Ruins in Mexico, what to look out for? Well, everything really. You can enjoy a wonderful stroll around the grounds of this ancient walled city, whether that be guided or unguided, the choice is yours. Some of the main building remains include El Castillo (Tulum Pyramid), Temple of The Frescoes, House of The Columns and House of The Halach Uinic (El Palacio).
El Castillo, also known as the Tulum Pyramid, is the largest and grandest of all the ruins in the Tulum Archaeological Zone. Meaning ‘the castle‘, El Castillo pyramid enjoys central views over both Tulum as well as extensive views out to sea. It’s thought that the Tulum Temple of El Castillo was used as a sort of lighthouse. A beacon shone directly out to sea, directing canoes and other boats towards Tulum Beach which lies directly below.
Temple of The Frescoes
The Temple of The Frescoes is another of Tulum’s most impressive ruins. The two-storey stone building was used as an observatory. It tracked the movement of the sun and planets, which was very important to the Mayan civilisation. Looking closely at the facade, you can enjoy delicate carvings which decorate this well-preserved building. You might even spot depictions of the Descending or Diving God, thought to be Ah Muzen Cab, the Mayans Bee God.
You’ll see this grand building lies directly in front of El Castillo (Tulum Pyramid).
House of The Columns
The House of The Columns would have housed some of the most important and revered people at Tulum. The large building has four rooms and features large columns that would have held the roof up, hence the name.
House of The Halach Uinic (El Palacio)
The Halach Uinic was the name given to the chief of each Mayan city. They were the highest-ranking official and ruled over religious, civil and military matters. Within the Tulum Archaeological Zone, you can see ruins of the Halach Uinic’s home, El Palacio (the palace). There is a thatched roof over the entrance, although this has been restored and is of course not the original. Still, it does a great job of conjuring up images of how Tulum Ruins would have looked hundreds of years ago.
Tulum Ruins Beach
Another main drawer of such an incredible place is the white sand beach directly below the Tulum Pyramid. Here, you can take a dip and imagine life as the Mayans would have lived, entering Tulum Beach via canoes with goods to sell. Tulum Beach doesn’t open until 10am. So, if you’ve arrived early to beat the crowds, you’ll have to wait a little while. The beach is small but very picturesque within the jungle-like surroundings below Tulum Pyramid.
The official name for Tulum Beach is Playa Ruinas. It’s a very popular beach to visit and soon gets busy. But, it’s a great way to round off your visit to the Tulum Archaeological Zone.
Are Tulum Ruins Worth Visiting?
Absolutely! If you’ve travelled a fair bit of Quintana Roo and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, then ancient Mayan Ruins will be no stranger to you. But, the Mayan Ruins of Tulum, Mexico, is the only site you’ll likely see that sits on the coast. Its prime and commanding position, overlooking the beautiful turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, really bring this incredible fort and the Tulum Pyramid to life.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most frequently asked questions in regard to visiting the Mayan Ruins at Tulum.
How Old Are Tulum Ruins and When Were They Built?
Tulum Ruins are thought to be over 800 years old and were built between 1200–1450AD.
Is Tulum Ruins Beach Open?
Yes, but not until 10am.
When Were Tulum Ruins Discovered?
The Spanish discovered Tulum Ruins in 1518. However, the first detailed descriptions of Tulum weren’t written down until 1843, in a book by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood titled Incidents of Travel in Yucatan.
How Much Do Tulum Ruins Cost?
At the time of our visit, the Mayan ruins at Tulum cost $85MXN ($5USD) per person. But, you should always double-check prices on the official website.
What Is Special About Tulum Ruins?
Tulum Ruins are special in that they are one of the only Mayan ruins found on the coastline. In addition, it’s also rare to find Mayan cities that are completely walled on all sides. So, there’s plenty to get excited about when it comes to Tulum Ruins in Mexico.
Do You Need a Tour of Tulum Ruins?
No, a tour isn’t necessary. You can freely wander the archaeological zone at Tulum and read the information plaques about each building as you pass by. If, though, you prefer a little more in-depth information and enjoy taking a tour, then it’s possible to pay for a guide at the entrance or alternatively book one online.
Where to Stay in Tulum, Mexico
As one of the most popular places to stay in Mexico, Tulum isn’t short on accommodation options. Below, are some of the best budget, mid-range and luxury options in town, and close by to the Tulum Archaeological Zone and ruins.
- Budget – Mayan Monkey Tulum: one of the most highly-rated hostels in Tulum is the Mayan Monkey Tulum. This fantastic hostel is located midway between the centre of town and the beach, featuring a restaurant, an outdoor swimming pool, a bar and a garden.
- Mid-range – Ruta Del Sol: The Ruta Del Sol is fairly budget friendly for those wanting a private room with a private bathroom. Dan and I stayed here and the central location was very convenient for sightseeing in Tulum as well as further afield, with the ADO bus terminal just a short five minute walk away.
- Luxury – Hotel Ma’xanab Tulum: if you’re looking for luxury in Tulum, then look no further than Hotel Ma’xanab Tulum. Situated on South Tulum Beach, this incredible hotel features an excellent restaurant and bar, and outstanding rooms with ocean or garden views.
Other Mayan Archaeological Sites Nearby
From Tulum to Chichen Itza, Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula aren’t short of incredible Mayan ruins to explore. Below, are a brief selection of other popular sites to visit. Be sure to check out our Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico post for a longer list.
- Coba Ruins: inland from Tulum Ruins is the fantastic Coba Ruins. In fact, Tulum served as the port city for the important Mayan city of Coba. Similar to El Castillo at Tulum, there’s a large stone pyramid at Coba, just even bigger! Additionally, close to Coba Ruins are some fantastic cenotes.
- Chichen Itza: the creme de la creme of Mexican Mayan Ruins. No trip to the Yucatan is complete without a visit to this incredible site.
- Ek Balam: if you’re looking for a less crowded site to visit, then these Mayan ruins, just outside of Valladolid, are a great choice. Ek Balam turned out to be one of our favourite ruins.
Travel Essentials For Tulum Ruins
These are our travel essentials for a visit to the Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico.
- Swimming gear: if you fancy visiting Tulum Beach (Playa Ruinas) below Tulum Pyramid, don’t forget your swimmers.
- Quick-dry towel: we travel lightly, so a small, quick-dry towel is much more convenient for a trip to Tulum Ruins than sneaking the hostel/hotel’s bath towel out.
- Biodegradable sunscreen: be sun safe and environmentally friendly all at the same time.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day tripping, which has plenty of space to store your gear.
- Camera: you’ll definitely want to document your visit to Tulum Ruins. You may be asked to pay extra at the entrance if you’re taking anything other than a camera. This includes a tripod, GoPro, drone, or any other recording device.
You should also pack water and snacks, although you’ll also find plenty of restaurants and cafes close to the entrance.
Travel insurance is a real necessity, especially when travelling through Central America and getting a little off the beaten track.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Tips For Visiting Tulum
- Be early: remember to arrive early to beat the crowds and enjoy Tulum Pyramid to yourself.
- Where else in Quintana Roo: for more incredible areas in Quintana Roo, be sure to check out Bacalar, Akumal and the Coba Cenotes.
- Organised tours from further afield: as the most popular attraction in Quintana Roo, it’s certainly possible to get to Tulum Ruins from other parts of Mexico. GetYourGuide offers some pretty great tour options for hassle-free sightseeing, as well as other activities in and around Tulum.
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