Tulum Ruins by the Beach
From Tulum, you are close to four Mayan ruin sites worth exploring. You can really increase the thrill of your adventure by studying Mayan history and astronomy before you visit. But even if you aren't up on your knowledge of Mayan culture, you will certainly get an education on the rich past and present of this civilization as you visit these fascinating sites.
From anywhere in Tulum you are a short drive to the Tulum Ruins, accessed from Federal Highway 307. The ruins are fronted by a fun craft market at the entrance, complete with souvenir shopping, restaurants and the Mayan Pole Flyers who perform their show regularly. The actual ruin site is approximately 1km east of the entrance and there are tractor-pulled trains to take you (for a fee), if you don’t feel like making the short walk.
It is not a large archaeological site, so you can move through it fairly quickly on your own or you can get a guided tour that will last a couple of hours.
There is a breathtaking beach at the base of the Tulum ruins; although there are no change-rooms or bathrooms once you are inside the ruins.
For more info & Tours see: Tulum Ruins Tour Info & Tips
Coba has an interesting history and there are definitely signs existing today that the Mayan who inhabited Coba were firm believers in the "Popol Vuh" way of life (based on Meso-American mythology). The stepped temples, courtyards, steles and ball courts are still there, available for you to explore and climb on.
The turn-off to the ruin site is at the north end of Tulum Pueblo. Coba Ruins are roughly a 45-minute drive westward into the jungle (the straight and flat three-lane road is in perfect condition).
Coba boasts the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan and the site still permits visitors to climb it! Walk to the pyramid and explore, then take a rickshaw taxi or rent a bicycle to get back to the entrance. It's a very spread-out site, so wear good walking shoes and comfortable clothes. Insect repellent is also a good idea for the jungle areas.
Close to the Coba ruins are three different cenotes (freshwater sinkholes), which are really refreshing after walking around the ruins for a few hours! They are located about a 10-minute drive beyond the site. To get to them, you drive around the lake to the left side, through the little town. Guides in the area will gladly show you the way, and the cenotes are all marked with signs. The main one, which is a really impressive flooded underground cavern, offers change rooms and showers at the entrance.
If your tour doesn't include entry to the cenotes, keep in mind that it's cheaper to buy your tickets from the staff at the cenote entrance booth than at the Coba ruins.
To get to Coba Ruins you can either:
- - rent a car
- - take a tour from your hotel or vacation rental
- - take a taxi
- - take a bus (ADO) from Tulum
For more info & Tours see: Coba Ruins Tour Info & Tips
If you are checking Mayan ruins off your list, then you should definitely visit Muyil, on the Sian Ka'an lagoon. Muyil is approximately 25 kms south of Tulum. The ruin site is on the left side of the road driving south; you can’t miss it.
This site is much less crowded than Tulum and Coba but it is no less significant. Here you will find Mayan temples laid out and designed astronomically. Also known as Chunyaxché, Muyil is one of the earliest and longest inhabited Mayan settlements in the region.
The site is not large and you can explore it in a couple of hours. The pyramid is the highest on the coast, at 57 feet in height. Set near the lagoon and surrounded by lush jungle and mangroves makes this site almost magical in character. There are also interesting remnants of an old Mayan road (called "sacbe").
At the sacbe intersection, there's a booth where you can pay about $4.00 USD to take the special “jungle walk” around the mangroves. Halfway through you'll encounter a high observational tower, which you may climb if you wish. From that point you walk to the marshes where there is another tower. From here you can see how the marshes spread out towards the Caribbean Sea coast. The ancient Mayans dredged and formed canals connecting with Coba and the sea, which secured Muyil's role as a center of trade.
If you visit the Sian Ka’an reserve, you can take a kayak/snorkel tour through the mangroves and allow you to snorkel through the Mayan canal.
Xel-Ha is most commonly known for its beautiful Eco Park. However, Xel-Ha was in fact a Mayan settlement that still has visible, intact ruins.
There are some minor ruins inside the modern park, but what you really want to see is on the other side of Highway 307 (just south of the park's entrance gate).
This is a small but interesting archaeological site, worth seeing especially if you're visiting the park for the day. In some areas, you'll see the ground still littered with bits of conch shells, which were crushed into powder, burnt and mixed into a mortar-like paste for construction. There is also a sacbe [Mayan road] leading to a cenote with sweat-lodges.
Xel-Ha is not far from Tulum, about a 10-minute drive north on highway 307.
Also a smaller site but one you can climb on and fully explore is Ek Balam. It is 128 km from Tulum and 56km northeast of Chichen Itza.
TIP: This is a good site to bundle with an excursion day that includes Chichen Itza or Valladolid (a quaint colonial city 25 kms south), or some of the cenotes in the area (like Ik'kil or Dzitnup).
One of the new Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is the most popular Mayan ruin site in the Yucatan. It is also the furthest away from Tulum. It's an absolutely spectacular site, with scores of fully-excavated buildings, observatories, courtyards, etc.
You can drive to the ruins either up Highway 307 to Playa del Carmen, then inland [recommended, it's a brand-new highway], or you can drive from Tulum through the jungle, via Coba. If you rent a car and drive through the jungle, you risk getting lost, especially coming back in the dark.
ADO buses run regularly between Tulum and Chichen Itza, or you can book a tour from your hotel or vacation rental. Taxis can also be hired, but be prepared for an adventurous trip, as drivers usually exceed the speed limit and can be a little reckless at times!
TIP: Chichen Itza is located in a neighboring state and is a full-day excursion from Tulum. Visit the stunning Ik'kil cenote after your tour of the ruins for an excellent and memorable day in the Yucatan!
For more info & Tours see: Chichen Itza Ruins Tour Info & Tips