One of Mexico’s most enigmatic and stunning archeological zones sits perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean, in the state of Quintana Roo. Its white beaches along the turquoise sea are among the best in the country and the world. Because of its beauty and archeological importance, in 1987, the UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site.
Extending over more than 664 hectares, it is a Natural Protected Area in the Riviera Maya.
It was first called Zamá, Maya for “dawn”. By the time the name was changed to Tulum (wall), the eastward-looking site and one of the largest Maya cities in the 13th and 14th centuries was already in ruins.
While some inscriptions date back to the year 564, most of its structures were built between 1200 and 1450. It was still populated in the early years of the colony, and the fact that objects found here come from a number of regions speaks to its relevance in terms of trade in ancient Mexico.
The Castle is one of its stellar buildings. Situated on the sea, its architecture refers to the Sun and Venus, while at the bottom is a cave representing the underworld.
The Castle acted as a lighthouse. The two large window-like openings on the façade were lit with natural light or torches to indicate precisely when sailing vessels needed to veer off.
Another major structure is the Temple of the Descending God. Its name came from a stucco figure on the façade that is in a position of descent. Inside are paintings portraying the ideas of birth and renovation.
A main road in front of this temple ends at the Temple of Frescos, thus known because of its murals of supernatural beings living in the underworld.
Other buildings worth seeing in Tulum include the House of Columns, the Halach Uinik House, the House of the Cenote and the Temple of the Wind God.
Tulum is in a mangrove type of ecosystem. Besides the archeological zone, you can take a walk amidst such flora as copperwood, chewing gum, caustic latex and palm trees, and with a little patience see some native fauna, like northern shoveler ducks, cave swallows, spider monkeys, anteaters, armadillos, squirrels and moles.
To the south of Tulum is Sian Ka’an, a nature reserve containing a barrier reef, mangroves, rainforest and a lagoon with manatees and crocodiles. It is also dotted by cenotes (sinkholes), outstanding among them, the Cenote Escondido, a mile and a quarter south of town; the Cenote Clavera, and Dos Ojos, all great scuba diving options.