The ruins at Tulum are a fairly compact group of ancient ruins on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Because of the beautiful setting and its location on the Maya Riviera, these ruins are the third most visited in Mexico. So, be ready to share your experience with numerous people including tour buses from the nearby cities of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. To avoid the crowds, some recommend staying overnight and visiting the ruins in the morning for the sunrise before the buses arrive, or later in the afternoon. Bring your swimsuit.
The city of Tulum is located on federal highway 307 about 50 miles south of Cancun, and abundant public transportation is available to the town from nearby cities and the Cancun airport. A bus ride takes a few hours from Cancun and is cheap, but a cab ride is more convenient and much more expensive, US$40 – US$50.
The ruins are located about a mile north and a mile east of town of Tulum. The entrance to the park is quite touristy with various shops, entertainers and attractions including a man who will allow you to photograph his iguana for US$5. There is a kiosk where you purchase your ticket, under US$10. From there it is a one mile level walk from the entrance area to the actual ruins, but a shuttle is available for an additional fee. Or you can hire a tour guide.
The ruins at Tulum have typical Mayan architecture characterized by a step running around the base of the building which sits on a low substructure. This type of architecture resembles a small scale version of the buildings at nearby Chichen Itza. Tulum was protected on one side by steep sea cliffs and on the landward side by a wall that averaged about 16 feet tall and up to 26 feet thick in places. This impressive wall makes Tulum one the most well-known fortified sites of the Maya.
Among some of the buildings at the site is the Temple of the Frescoes and the Castillo, which is 25 feet tall. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes marking a break in the barrier reef that is opposite the site, one of the reasons Tulum later became an important trading locality.
The Tulum region includes four distinct areas – the village, the ruins, the Playa hotel zone, and Sian Kaán biosphere reserve. It is not easy to walk from one area to the next, but taxis are plentiful and fairly cheap. The village is mostly along both sides of highway 307 and contains about a busy mile of shops, restaurants, bars, vendors, cheap hotels, and all manner of business for the local population and tourists alike. The Playa or beach hotel zone is along the ocean east of town and is the home of many hotels (more expensive), and some restaurants, bars, etc., and establishments for the tourists including cheaper cabana type lodging. If you continue south of the Playa hotel zone you will end up in Sian Kaán biosphere reserve, a huge natural area reserved from further development. This area has its own set of ruins.