Beach Vacations to Tulum

Mayan ruins at Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico
Mayan ruins at Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula (Medioimages/Photodisc/Getty)

Not long ago, Tulum was merely sand, sea, sky, blazing sun, and one of the most visually evocative Mayan ruins in all of Central America. It has changed, but elements of that raw beauty remain for visitors who time their arrival to avoid crowds and who allow the mesmerizing power of the ancient Mayan civilization to stir their imaginations and souls.

The most dramatic change is the hotels that have sprung up in what is now the small city of Tulum and the sheer number of visitors who descend on the place hourly. In its early days of tourism, there were a couple of souvenir stands. Then came rustic eco-resorts—thatched huts, no electricity, and sometimes no clothing—and adults only hotels constructed along the beach. These remain, but there are also modern hotels with 24/7 electricity and other conveniences to entice tourists of all kinds to stay and play.

But it's the onslaught of tourists arriving by bus from Cancun and cruise ships docked in Cozumel that has had the greatest impact. Some say Tulum will never be the same. That's true. But it's still well worth visiting, and its power to inspire has not diminished.

The ruins at Tulum are the most visited of all original Mayan sites, in part because they are so accessible. No long trek through the jungle is required, just a short drive down a paved road from two of Mexico's most popular destinations, Cancun and Playa del Carmen. Access aside, Tulum draws visitors because of its stunning setting. It is the only Mayan site along the water, its sun-struck stone buildings rising on a cliff, silhouetted against the blinding blue of the Yucatan sky and the shimmery Caribbean Sea. When visitors get hot, they can skip down to the beach and jump in—surely one of the unparalleled delights of archaeological exploration anywhere and a vantage point from which the ruins appear even more mythic, the way the very first explorers saw them.

The trick is to arrive early, before tour-bus passengers and cruise crowds have finished breakfast, and to leave before the heat grows unbearable.

Tulum is far more than its ruins. There are many major attractions in the area. More Mayan sites are within a short drive, including those at Coba, Muyil, and Xel-ha. Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, nine miles south, offers ruins and well-run eco-tours—especially great for birders—while Maya Riviera's popular parks Xel-ha, eight miles north of Tulum, and Xcaret, 34 miles north, are great for anyone who wants to snorkel, see dolphins, or lie around on to-die-for beaches. Just 15 minutes away is Hidden Worlds Cenotes Park, where you can snorkel, dive, and swim in the Yucatan's famous cenotes, serene and surreal underwater caves and caverns found across the region.

Published: 8 Sep 2009 | Last Updated: 30 Mar 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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