Regardless of what some of our previous posts might suggest, Mexico is not only about beaches and beer. In an attempt to get a bit of culture into our Mexican diet we headed to the town of Tulum last week to visit the world famous Mayan ruins.

Tulum is about a 45 minute drive south of Playa del Carmen. Heeding the advice of multiple travel sites we left home bright and early and arrived at the ruins by 9 a.m. to avoid the large tour groups and some of the oppressive heat that has settled here.

As with most things in Mexico, the Tulum ruins are a mix of the old world and the new. After paying the $60 peso parking fee we had to run the gauntlet of commercialization which included some locals selling their wares, but also this.

Dairy Queen
Had it been open, I might actually have considered a blizzard for breakfast.

And this.

In case you want to pick up a foot long before experiencing some historical culture.
In case you want to pick up a foot long before your history lesson.

Foregoing paying for the tram ride, we opted for the short one kilometer walk to the entrance where we paid the $57 peso park fee. There was a sign up that said by law they only accept pesos (I think because it’s a federally owned/managed park, but my knowledge of Mexican law and Spanish means this is pure speculation) so if you’re planning a visit be prepared. I saw a few frustrated people in search of an ATM or money exchange place.

I had visited the ruins once almost 20 years ago, but I was glad to go back. It’s still as impressive as I remember and now that I’m wiser and, unfortunately, older I can appreciate the historical context a bit more.¬†We chose not to hire one of the many tour guides available but there were enough escorting others around that I was able to randomly eavesdrop on a a few conversations without being too obvious. Plus I have my own personal history buff who was able to fill in a few of the holes. I mean all those years he spent in college had to eventually be put to use someday, right?

The Mayans were known for a lot of things, their tall stature was not one of them.
The Mayans were known for a lot of things, their tall stature was not one of them.

The Tulum ruins date back to the 13th century and while these days it’s not necessarily the biggest or most impressive Mayan ruins, what sets it apart is that it was used as a port which means it was built on the coast and was one of the few cities protected by a wall.

I bet it's nice and cool inside there. Unfortunately they didn't let us close enough to find out.
I bet it’s nice and cool inside there. Unfortunately they didn’t let us get close enough to find out.
This is the "castle" the most imposing and the most impressive building at the ruins.
This is the “Castle” the most imposing and the most impressive building at the Tulum ruins. I’m pretty sure lots of important stuff happened here.
They're still holding up better than our 100 year old house.
They’re still holding up better than any of the houses I’ve owned.
Back in the day we'd have called this blog AWOL Chichen Itza because we definitely would have moved to be on the water in Tulum versus living in the jungle.
Back in the day we’d have called this blog AWOL Coba because we definitely would have moved to be on the water in Tulum versus living in the jungle.
They built things like this by hand? I would definitely want them to be on my Jenga team.
They built things like this by hand? I would definitely want them to be on my Jenga team.

 

Offerings to the Mayan Gods involved incense, smoke and human sacrifice. I'm really glad some of those things have fallen out of favor.
Offerings to the Mayan Gods involved incense, smoke and human sacrifice. I’m really glad some of those things have fallen out of favor.

After spending about an hour a half exploring the ruins the crowds had arrived and so it was time for us to depart. I did notice that there are entrances and paths that could accommodate wheelchairs and strollers. You don’t see a lot of effort around here to address those needs so it was nice to see that they’ve made the ruins accessible for families of all kind.

Thankfully we got out just as they were going in.
Thankfully we got out just as everyone from those tour buses was going in.

We’ve heard that while Tulum is great, the truly remarkable ruins are at Chichen Itza and Coba, and rumor is you can still climb on some parts of the ruins there, so we’ve got that on our list of upcoming places to visit – although probably when it’s cooled off a bit. Speaking of cooling off, after the Tulum ruins we went in search of a place to do that. But first we had to navigate some obstacles.

Don't they say the journey is the hardest part? We had to navigate around quite a few of these sand piles that creeped into the middle of the road.
Don’t they say the journey is the hardest part? We had to drive around quite a few of these sand piles in Tulum that crept into the middle of the road.

And come to find out, Tulum has both beaches and beer. We felt right at home.

Yep, just as beautiful as all the other ones on the Mayan Riviera.
Yep, just as beautiful as all the other ones on the Mayan Riviera.

We’d like to spend a bit more time sometime exploring more of what the town of Tulum has to offer. It was quite charming and the people that we met there couldn’t have been more welcoming. Additionally it seems like there is an effort underway to prevent the over development that has happened in some other parts of the Mexican coast line and to preserve and protect the ecology.

Have any of you visited Tulum, either the town or the ruins? What did you think? Or is it on your list of places to go (when you come visit us of course)?