Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Magnificent Mayan Ruins are perched upon tall cliffs over looking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Ocean providing not only one of the best preserved archaeological ruins but one of the most popular locations in the Riviera Maya for stunning photographs.
Tulum is one of the most popular sites and often the highest rated excursion taken by tourists who visit Mexico. In our Tulum Visitor's Guide we will go over what to expect, how to get there, how to save money and a lot of tips and tricks to get the most out of your day.
The Tulum ruins are open 8am - 5pm everyday with lines of tourists waiting to enter around 7:30am. The site is small but if you go early you will have a lot of the vistas and locations virtually to yourself. At about 9am is when large tour buses start to come in and the site gets overcrowded very quickly.
There is food and water available for purchase at the gate (as well as a load of souvenirs), but make sure to bring more water than you think you will drink. Tulum is located on the coast and in the hottest months of May to September you can expect exceptionally hot and humid weather conditions. Even in the cooler months you will find the location hotter than what you would find at your resort because a lot of the landscape is flat with very little shade available and the sun is reflected off the giant white rock ruins.
Make sure you pack sunblock and even carry a small umbrella for shade if you believe it will be a hot day.
Tulum is situated in a picture-perfect location on the Caribbean coastline with a beautiful beach allowing visitors to cool off in the hot temperatures. Pack a swimsuit and a towel and expect to enjoy one of Mexico's most beautiful beaches.
Keep in mind, however, the beach may be closed due to Sea Turtles nesting. From May to October is turtle nesting season and the turtles will lay eggs along the beach front. On magical days you can see them break open and the little ones scurrying towards the ocean.
Tour the Tulum Ruins Using a Trusted Tour Operator
There are dozens upon dozens of tour operators that will pick you up at your hotel and take you on a guided tour of Tulum. There are advantages to this route as well as disadvantages to take into consideration.
Tours can run from about $45 to $90 depending on what hotel you book from and what tour operator you are booked with.
Each provides essentially the same service with an air conditioned bus, a bottle of water and a short guided tour of the highlights of Tulum. The advantage is that you are totally guided from pick up to drop off in a safe manner without worry. There is nothing wrong with going this route and in some instances, depending on your hotel, it is the preferred method of travel.
But remember that the tour operator will be picking up and dropping a number of people up at different hotels and other excursion points. They will also limit the time you have at the ruins to explore and often it isn't enough to fully enjoy everything leisurely.
But again, this is dependent on your travel style and level of comfort in exploring areas on your own.
Often the Tulum Ruins Tours are paired together with other tours because they expect you only to be at the Ruins for a few hours at most. If you are planning another excursion, ask about bundling Tulum together. Often, you can save a lot of money in this manner because the biggest expense for the tour operator is transportation, and if they are already going there, you get nearly a free ride.
We were able to tack on a Tulum Ruin Excursion for $16 to our visit to another site.
Tour the Tulum Ruins on Your Own
Depending on your travel style, you may want to explore the Tulum Ruins on your own. Keep in mind that prices for taxis, minivans and private transportation can be pricey in the tourist area and always find out the cost and negotiate beforehand. Ask your hotel concierge what the cost should be about and work from there.
The other mode of transportation that will cost you $2-5 one way is the Collectivo, or public bus system. It is basically Toyota Minivans that drive along major routes and points of interest to get locals to and from work and business. You will be travelling with locals and saving a lot of money while taking on a new adventure.
ADO buses are also available from Cancun and Playa Del Carmen and take you right to the ruins for about $5 to $10.
Make sure you bring Pesos and not just US Currency. Your taxi, bus or Collectivo might take US money, but it may not be guaranteed. Also, Tulum only accepts Mexican Pesos for entry, so make sure you bring enough to get in. The cost of admission is only 65 Pesos or $4 to enter and depending on where you are dropped off you may want to take a small "train" or bike taxi to the ruin entrance for another 18 Pesos or $1.
If you want to explore on your own grab a guide pamphlet for another 18 Pesos or $1 to help you navigate the site and its historical significance.
If you prefer having a personal guide help you explore the Tulum Ruins there are dozens upon dozens of knowledgeable locals providing just the service. Their prices range from $10 to $40 depending on how well you negotiate and how long you wish them to guide you.
A Brief History of the Tulum Ruins
Tulum means wall in Maya, however, the town’s original name, Zamá (pronounced zam-MAH) translates as “Place of the dawning sun." Tulum was inhabitant even before the Mayan Civilization thrived and it is estimated that the land was used as early as 564 AD
Archaeologist tell us Tulum was built to be a seaport fortress with cliff walls protecting one side and a large ringed wall of stone protecting the others. Tulum was a small-sized city with a population around 1200 to 1600 people, but it was an important trading center for the Mayan Culture. Goods such as turquoise, jade, cotton, food, copper bells, axes, and cacao beans were traded within the walls.
El Castillo, Tulum’s main pyramid, and was said to be used as an ancient lighthouse, but historians and archaeologists are not entirely certain this is correct.
Quick Tips for Visiting the Tulum Ruins
1. Arrive before 9am
2. Take Pesos with you
3. Do not visit on a Sunday, as the site is free of charge for Mexican Nationals and it gets very crowded, fast!
4. There is a $4 tax to shoot video at the site. Most people don't pay it.
5. Bring Bug Spray if it has rained the night before as mosquitoes and other flying insects may annoy and bite early in the morning.
6. Watch for lazy Iguanas on the steps leading down to the beach.
7. Use the Starbucks restroom before the entrance. It is clean and free and there are no washrooms once you get inside the ruin complex.