At the southern end of Riviera Maya, Tulum has all the ingredients for the perfect Mexican holiday, with magnificent picture-postcard beaches, fascinating Maya ruins, great seafood, proximity to the UNESCO-listed Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve and a warm and friendly small-town vibe.
While once a visit to Tulum was all about the incredible Maya ruins, the idyllic beaches and laidback atmosphere have worked their magic and today, the tranquil town of Tulum is becoming a sought-after holiday destination in its own right. The warm Caribbean waters and golden sands are a winning combination, alongside Maya ruins and ecological parks rich in flora and fauna. Just under a two-hour drive south of Cancún, there is a good range of accommodation, including eco-resorts and boutique hotels, along with a growing selection of fine restaurants and shops.
Spectacularly perched atop a cliff, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, Tulum’s Maya ruins were built as a fort, to defend the community from both sea and land invasions. They are both the only walled city built by the Maya and the only site on the edge of the Caribbean. The focal feature is the handsome Castillo, the main pyramid which is sometimes referred to as the watchtower, as it enjoys commanding views over the ocean. Another highlight is the Temple of the Descending God, whose façade includes a figure sculpted with its head bending down or descending. This motif appears on other buildings in the complex and it is believed that Tulum was the centre of this god’s cult. Remarkably, the interior walls of the temple still show traces of the original paint and pigment applied by the Maya. The views from the site are incredible, but owing to the popularity of the ruins, we’d recommend visiting either early in the morning or late in the day to dodge the crowds.
To experience a different style of Maya ruins we would also recommend a trip to Coba, around 44-kilometres north west of Tulum. The partly-excavated site is much quieter and unlike at other Maya sites, it is still possible to climb the giant pyramid here. The site covers a vast area and we’d suggest either taking a guided tour or hiring bicycles at the entrance on which to explore the ruins.
The area around Tulum also has some of the best cenotes, or sinkholes in the country. With rugged cliff walls and crystal-clear waters, they are the ideal spot for a refreshingly cool dip. In fact, the whole area is rich in natural wonders and we would also recommend a trip to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which is just a 15-minute drive away from the town. This is a vast area of freshwater canals, tropical rainforest, mangrove wetlands, lagoons, prairies and a 113-kilometre barrier reef and home to many conservation projects, bird species and mammals, including jaguar and puma. Full of natural wonders, this is a great place to take a boat trip, snorkel the coral reef or hike into the jungle.
For fantastic beaches and interesting Maya ruins in an area of outstanding natural beauty, we think Tulum is the ideal location for a Mexican holiday that will appeal to both couples and families looking for more than just a beach resort.