Tulum, Mayan Archeological Site

Tulum, Mayan Archeological Site

ulum Caribbean Archeological Maya

ulum Caribbean Archeological Maya Photography by Bill Bell Tulum ( (Tulu’um in Modern Maya) ; in Spanish orthography, Tulum) is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city serving as a major port for Cobá. The ruins are located on 12-meter (39 ft) cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico

Yucatan Mayan “Wall, Fence or Trench”

Also formerly known as Zama “City of Dawn”


Likely Tulum had a small fishing settlement as early as 300 BC. The earliest archeological evidence of human occupation was 564 AD from an early classic stelae inscribed with the date. It is not clear whether this was a traded monument or in fact proof of occupation. Tulum was a trading port and one of the few Mayan cities or villages built on the coast.

The walled city gained prominence in the 13th century as a major trading port for the Maya. The Castle, for example, contains a room to assist navigation – a primitive lighthouse to guide trading canoes to shore. When torches were lit, canoes were guided through the coral reef to the trading beach below the city.

The Maya trading empire was vast and extended from Honduras (and quite possibly Panama and Costa Rica) up and around the Yucatan Peninsula. Trade was revolutionized in the post classic era when sea worthy canoes made of hardwoods long would bring goods from distant cities. The canoes measured up to 16 meters long and carried cargo of obsidian, honey, salt, wax, vanilla and animal skins. Tulum’s strategic location made it a key trading center for the Peninsula.

Tulum reached its height in the 13th to 15th century and was still occupied when the Spanish arrived.  It was first spotted by a Spanish expedition on May 7 1518. Captain Juan de Grijalva and crew sailed past Tulum and were astonished at the walled city with brightly painted temples of red white and blue. It was described as “a village so large that Seville would not have appeared larger or better.”

By the end of the 16th century Tulum was abandoned as European diseases and epidemics decimated the population.

In 1842 John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood visited Tulum and documented the buildings and temples in illustrations and writing. All the while Mayan pilgrims continue to visit the site.

During the war of the Castes, Mayans members of the Talking Cross cult occupied the site including the followers of a Maya priestess known as the Queen of Tulum.

Archeological investigations began in the early 20th century.


300 BC – Likely occupied as a fishing village

564 AD – Stelae dated

1200 AD – Buildings erected. Trade revolution with Ocean-worthy trade canoes. Maya trading empire expanded from Central America to Around the Yucatan.

1200 to 1500 AD – Tulum reached its zenith as a trading center.

1518 AD –  Spanish Expedition led by Captain Juan de Grijalva sailed past Tulum

1600 AD – Epidemics decimated the population. City Abandoned.

1842 AD – John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood visited Tulum

1847AD – War of the Castes;  Tulum was occupied by members of the Talking Cross cult a Maya priestess known as the Queen of Tulum.

1900 AD – Archeological investigations


Geographic Location

Tulum is located on the eastern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in the state of Quintana Roo facing the Caribbean. Perched on a rocky cliff some 12 meters above the beach and crystal blue waters, Tulum is a visual favorite of tourists, photographers and archeologists alike.



There is a large privately owned parking lot near the highway that charges a modest fee for parking. You must walk to the site = approximately 1 kilometer – or take the privately owned passenger mini-trains. They charge 20 pesos round trip but are not always available early in the morning.

The path is very buggy and we suggest you spray yourself thoroughly before you start your walk.

At the small entrance complex is the ticket booths, museum, gift shop and first aid attendant. Along the cement bench to the left are a number of certified guides that charge you a standard fee for their services. They offer tours in various languages.




Open Daily from 8 am to 5 pm. The last entrance is at 4:30. There is a gate and attendants who will charge you the standard fee & extra for video cameras.

Admission 2014 59 pesos. Free on Sundays for nationals and Mexican residents.

Allow at least 1 1/3 to 2 hours.


Tulum is a small popular archeological site and it is also a major tourist attraction. To ensure you have ample opportunity to take pictures without crowds of people, it is best to arrive very early as the site is opening.

Later in the morning, numerous tour groups arrive with hundreds of people. Many of those people hire guides who take groups through the site. Often the group listening to the guide will monopolize a great vantage point for 10 minutes at a time. It is difficult to get all the pictures and information you want from the various interpretive signs.

Another advantage to arriving early is that the sun is not as hot as it is at mid-day and from a photographic standpoint, the bright afternoon light makes photos somewhat “flat.” The morning light casts interesting, sometimes creamy light and overall gives better shots.

You will be walking for 2 to 3 hours so take comfortable shoes with rubber soles. Part of the path is on rock that can bet slippery. Take bug spray, sunscreen, glasses and water to ensure you are hydrated. There are no vendors inside the site itself.

Dress according to the season you are visiting.


GPS – N 20.12.53 W087.25.44


ADO Buses from Cancun and the airport run frequently and cost approximately 170 pesos. Busses from Playa del Carmen are slightly cheaper.

Collectivos run from Playa to Tulum. (Approximately $45 pesos)

Walk 1 mile north of the first Tulum City stop or take a taxi to the archeological site.


Tours and tour buses go frequently (daily – almost hourly) to Tulum from Cancun and Playa del Carmen. You will have no trouble finding a tour as this is a major tourist attraction. Inquire at your hotel or select a firm on the web.

Do not try to crowd in too many activities into one tour. Enjoy the different activities this area has to offer slowly as there is a lot to absorb, savor and enjoy.

Drive from Cancun:

Take Highway 307 South past Playa del Carmen and continue driving to KM 238. Watch for the Tulum Archeological Site and turn left. Almost immediately turn right into a parking lot and park your vehicle. 130 Kilometers – Approximately 1 ½ to 2 hours.

Drive from Playa del Carmen:

Take Highway 307 South and continue driving to KM 238. Watch for the Tulum Archeological Site and turn left. Almost immediately turn right into a parking lot and park your vehicle. 65 Kilometers – Approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour.