Tulum's greatest attraction is its location. It stands on a bluff facing the rising sun looking out on views of the Caribbean that are nothing less than spectacular. The name Tulum means wall, referring to the fact that Tulum was a walled city, protected on one side by steep cliffs facing the sea and on the other by a wall of about 12 feet in height. Tulum served as a trading port.
The first Europeans to see Tulum were probably Juan de Grijalva and his men as they sailed reconnaissance along the Eastern coast of Yucatán in 1518. The square at the center of the city was probably once used for rituals or ceremonies and is flanked by the so called Castillo (The Castle) to the West.
The ancient Maya ruin of Tulum is a 2 hour drive from Cancun (130 km). There is easy access via Federal Highway 307 from Cancun to Tulum. It's unofficially the southern end to the Riviera Maya. In Cancun there are several travel agencies that organize guided visits and the local bus lines offer regular service between Cancun and the site.
Tulum is one of the best fortified Mayan cities. A tour of the city includes the Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of Frescoes, with colorful frescoes that have survived for centuries. El Castello is a cliff-top castle that overlooks the Caribbean.
The ruins have a beautiful beach for water lovers, but the trip may not be for the faint of heart. While most describe relatively even terrain that's easy to navigate, the sun can be brutal and there's reportedly very little shade.
The Castillo, sometimes referred to as the light house, is known more for its scenic location than its size. Although its front facade has all the features of other Mayan temples, its back side seems more like a fortress.
The temple of frescos as the name implies, has frescoes with typical Mayan motifs in the interior. Some of the original colors are relatively well preserved. Outside this building there are some statues, also with traces of paint. Carvings cover this interesting little temple. One image you'll see on this building, and throughout Tulum, is the diving god.
If you're taking your excursion from the port of Calica the excursion will last about 4-5 hours with plenty of time to get back to your ship, even if you book the tour privately. However, if your cruise port is in nearby Cozumel, you should expect this Mayan ruin excursion to take 7 hours.
The Tulum ruins are open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. every day. Cars and buses must park at the shopping center approximately one-half mile from the entrance to the ruins. Refreshments and restrooms are provided at the shopping center.