The Tulum Ruins and Paradise Beach are the third-most visited archaeological site in Mexico. This ancient walled city was built by the Mayans from 1200 AD to 1450 AD and provides an amazing view of the sea below.
The Ruins are also south of Cancun, so they’re closer to Playa Del Carmen and Maya Riviera than most of the other Mayan sites. Tulum is also famous for its temple that aligns directly with the sun during the solstice.
If you’re planning a trip to Cancun or Tulum, these Ruins are definitely worth a visit. This guide will provide you with a brief overview of our tour to the Tulum Ruins and Xel Ha. We’ve also included some insider’s tips to help you prepare for your adventure to this Pre-Columbian site.
Quick Article Guide:
1. Why Visit the Ancient Mayan Ruins at Tulum?
2. Traveling to the Tulum Ruins from your Hotel in Cancun
3. Can You Climb the Structures and Ruins at Tulum?
4. El Castillo and the Temple of the Frescoes at Tulum
5. Views of Paradise Beach from the Tulum Ruins
6. Visiting the Xel Ha Waterpark Near Tulum
7. When is the Best Time of Year to Visit Tulum?
8. What Should I Wear to the Tulum Ruins and Paradise Beach?
9. What to Pack for your Trip to the Tulum Ruins
You’ve finally made it to Cancun and you are loving every minute of it! The hotel is providing you with all of the food you can stomach, and you’ve made friends with the bartender at the pool. Tomorrow morning, do you really want to get up early to drive to a set of ancient Mayan Ruins?
If your anything like us, after being lazy for a few days, it’s nice to explore. Taking a tour of Tulum will also provide you with a unique insight into Mayan history and culture. The ruins of Tulum have a rich history and the city was once a primary trading location for the Mayan people.
Artifacts from all over the Americas have been found here. Some of these items include jade from Guatemala, ceramics from the Yucatan, and copper from the north. Tulum worked closely with Coba, a nearby Mayan city that is famous for its extensive network of paved white roads.
The drive from Cancun to Tulum is about an hour and forty-five minutes each way. If you rent a car, this is a pretty easy location to get to. You can also hire a taxi to take you from the hotel zone. We decided to book a tour online so we could also see the nearby park of Xel Ha.
Our tour guide also provided us with the history of the site including each of the structures and their purpose. If you decide to travel on your own, you can also hire a guide at the Ruins. The cost to enter the site is 75 pesos (About $4 USD) as of 2019.
It you’re staying outside of Tulum, the small resort town is worth the drive. Unlike Cancun, Tulum is relatively undeveloped, but it’s also safe to visit. The small town sits on the edge of the jungle and the ocean, and every restaurant and hotel has to generate their own electricity.
Unlike other Mayan sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Ruins at Tulum do not have any large structures to climb. During its heyday, the primary purpose of the settlement was trade, so it doesn’t have any large pyramids like Chichen Itza, Coba, Mayapan, Teotihuacan, or Uxmal.
Tulum is also known as the “Walled City” because the settlement was once fortified with 16 foot stone walls. These massive walls are more than 23 feet wide in some locations. The Ruins also include a Guard-tower named El Castillo, and a Temple that aligns with the sun during the Solstice and Equinox.
Most of the smaller buildings at the Ruins are in the process of being restored. You may see some ladders at the site, but they are for the workers, not the public. Tulum is fairly large, and you’ll need to walk up a few hills to get to each building. Overall, we walked about a half of a mile during our visit.
The main structure at Tulum is known as El Castillo. This building served as a Guard-tower for the ancient community. El Castillo overlooks the shores and the Caribbean Sea below. Compared to the communities during the time period, Tulum was relatively small. In fact, it only housed about 1,000 residents during its peak.
The Temple of the Frescos is the second-largest structure at the Ruins and it has been nicely restored. This building is also famous for its alignment to the sun during the Summer Solstice and Winter Equinox. Each year it aligns directly with the window in the center Temple for a very Kodak-worthy photo.
The site of Tulum served as a trading port for the Mayan city of Coba which was once home to 50,000 people. The city of Coba is also famous for its pyramids and white paved roads that once connected the ancient Mayan city-states. There’s more to see at Tulum than just the Ruins though. The beach below the site is named Paradise for a reason.
The Ruins overlook Paradise Beach which is about 40 feet below the cliff. There are some stairs you can take down to the water if you want to take a closer look. The short walk down to the beach will take you about 15 minutes round-trip if you want to dip your feet in the water or put your toes in the sand.
Tulum’s beautiful location was not selected by the Mayans because of it’s view. Coral reefs below the sea protected the city of Tulum from ships because they were unable to make it ashore. These reefs and the giant stone walls around the city made it almost impenetrable during its time.
During our visit we saw people lots of people laying on the beach and swimming in the ocean. The tour was taking us to Xel Ha Park afterwards so we didn’t jump in the water. Overall our group spent about an hour at the site, but we used most of our time looking at the Ruins and taking photos.
If you’ve ever been to Cancun, your probably seen fliers and advertising for Xel Ha, Xcaret, and Xplor. Thousands of tourists visit these sites everyday. Admission to one of these parks is usually included with a tour of the Tulum Ruins and Paradise Beach. Our tour to included admission to Xel Ha waterpark.
This park is extremely busy, especially during peak season. Hundreds of tour buses lined the parking lots when we were there and we went during the off-season. Despite the number of people that were at the park, it never felt crowded. We never had to wait for any of the attractions either.
Xel Ha has a really cool bicycle zipline that allows you to see the natural environment from a bird’s point of view. The rest of the park focuses mostly on water sports. Some of the attractions include a lazy river, small waterslides, and ziplines that launch you into the water below.
The weather in Tulum is almost identical to Cancun, so you’ll want to avoid the area from mid April to June. During these months the weather is extremely humid. From June to November is Hurricane season, so you can expect rain during these months. Most of the storms pass within hours though.
If you don’t mind a few showers, you can save about 40% if you travel this time of the year. You can also avoid the crowds at the resorts. Just be mindful of the weather and buy travel insurance. El Niño years have shorter hurricane seasons so Cancun is probably safe after mid-October.
The best time of year to visit Tulum or Cancun weather-wise is November to March. During this part of the year, the temperatures are in the high 70s to low 80s and rain is minimal. March brings the Spring Break crowds, so we recommend the months of December through February.
The weather in Tulum is rarely cold, so you are probably safe wearing shorts or athletic clothes to the ruins for most of the year. We always recommend bringing a light waterproof jacket, especially during the Hurricane season, but hopefully you won’t need it during your visit.
I prefer dry-fit shirts and zip-off pants like the ones that Columbia makes. Jenn prefers Yoga pants and tank-tops. Regardless of the time of year you decide visit, invest in a good pair of shoes. If you’ve read other articles on on blog, you know we recommend trail shoes for most of our trips.
The weather in Cancun and Tulum is usually moderate and warm. Even during the hurricane season, sunshine is common and temperatures usually average in the low 80 degrees during the day. Rain can also appear unexpectedly, so bring a light jacket. A small bag or backpack is always helpful.
Here are some items we recommend for your visit to the Tulum Ruins and Paradise Beach:
–Biodegradable Sunscreen (The Cenotes and Xel Ha will check your sunscreen)
– Mosquito Repellent (We didn’t see mosquitos at Tulum, but it’s better to be safe)
– Sunglasses and a Hat (You’ll need some added protection from the Sun)
– Comfortable trail shoes (Expect to walk about 1/2 mile at Tulum)
– Bottled Water (Always bring extra water for your tours)
– Pesos (For admission to the Ruins, snacks, souvenirs, and water)
– Passports (We never leave them at the hotel, but Tulum didn’t ask to see them)
– Camera or Cell Phone (These pictures are from an iPhone 7+)
– Bathing Suit or Bikini (If you want to swim at Tulum or Xel Ha)
– Beach Towel (There are no towels for rent or sale at Paradise Beach)
– Flip-Flops (For the stairs to down to the beach and Xel Ha)
Items to Leave at Your Hotel or Home:
– Selfie-Sticks (Please be careful when taking pictures and cautious of those around you)
– Pets (You cannot bring pets to Tulum or any of the Ruins )
– Music (Stereos are allowed on the beach, but not at the ruins)
– Drones (Drones are not allowed at this historic site)
Do you need advice for your upcoming trip to the Tulum Ruins and Paradise Beach or would you like to share your experience at the site with our readers? Please leave a comment below!