7 Really Useful Tips for Visiting the Tulum Ruins
Perched atop tall cliffs along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, the archaeological ruins of Tulum are one of the best-preserved coastal Maya sites in Mexico, as well as one of the most photogenic and popular among tourists.
Mention the word 'Tulum', and for many travelers visions of majestic stone temples from long ago, secluded beaches with leaning palm trees, and the thundering, turquoise Caribbean Sea spring to mind. However, as I found out on my most recent visit, the reality of visiting Tulum is quite different. Think large and sweaty tour groups slowly shuffling around and blocking the walkways, selfie-stick wielding visitors all vying for the same perfect Instagram shot, and mega-chains like Starbucks and Subway setting up shop and exploiting the site's tourism boom. Regrettably, the magic of Tulum has somewhat lessened.
But for those of us looking for an authentic experience, we may still find some of the former charm and beauty of the site in the details; in the small blooming cactus flowers that line some of the walkways, in the rocky cliffs that stretch down to the ocean, or in the absolutely stunning seaside location the site finds itself in. The magic may have faded, but it remains in the details, and those details are the very reason why the Tulum ruins are still worth a visit.
To ensure you enjoy your time at the site, here are 8 really useful things to know about visiting the Tulum ruins!
1. Get there early
The first time I visited Tulum was over 15 years ago, when the site was far less popular than it is today. It was so quiet that the archaeological ruins had yet to be roped off and tourists could climb and walk all over them as they pleased. And in regards to the numbers, the site was practically empty in comparison to the crowds that flock there now on a daily basis.
These days, your best chance at exploring the site without having to fight your way through the masses is to be there right before opening time. The Tulum ruins are accessible to visitors from 8 am - 5 pm every day, and even before 8 am you can usually expect a queue of tourists waiting for the site to open, but you'll usually have the place (relatively) to yourself for a good hour before the caravan of tour buses arrive.
2. Bring loads of water
With its prime location on the Caribbean coastline, chances are it'll be really hot and humid when you visit the Tulum ruins. May to September are the hottest months, but due to the high levels of humidity in the air the rest of the year feels just as sweltering. Among the ruins, there are also hardly any shaded areas so you'll be exposed to the sun for the majority of your visit.
Be sure to hydrate well throughout the day (these eco-friendly water bottles are great to pack along) as you'll be sweating and losing a lot of water, and bring along a sunhat to protect yourself from the strong rays.
3. Avoid the gift shops (and starbucks) at the entrance
Prior to entering the archaeological zone, you'll first have to pass by the shops and vendors set up outside the ruins. While I personally love to support locals, this area has become somewhat of a money grab, in the sense that the prices for the souvenirs (the same ones that you can find all over Mexico) have been jacked up enormously due to the influx of tourists. Steer clear of making purchases here as you'll easily be paying more than double the price if you were to purchase the same item from somewhere in the town of Tulum.
Additionally, there are some places to grab a bite to eat before the entrance, which include a Starbucks, Subway, and locals selling fresh coconuts for a whopping $4 USD. Like most of the things you'll find in the shopping/dining area, anything for purchase is either commercialized, completely out of place, or ridiculously overpriced.
4. Skip the guided tours and explore on your own
While you can sign up for a tour excursion with countless providers, or sign up for a guided tour when you arrive, you'll unquestionably be shepherded into a group of at least twenty other people, which can make it difficult to learn much of anything about the ruins. You'll get far more out of your visit if you skip the tour and strike out on your own. This will allow you to go at your own pace and cover more ground (especially if you only have limited time).
At the entrance, you can pick up a small guidebook for a few pesos that you can reference as you explore the site and learn more about its history.
5. Respect the wildlife
With the vast amounts of tourists that visit the Tulum ruins every day, it's inevitable that there will be some folks who feel compelled to touch or want to take a selfie with one of the many iguanas that roam and sunbathe on the ruins. Don't be that person! Be respectful of the animals that reside there and keep your distance. If you really need to get a close-up picture of an iguana, be sure to bring along a zoom lens for your camera (I brought along this lightweight DSLR camera with this zoom lens to take the photos seen in this post).
The same point also goes for the local flora. Don't pick the flowers or break off pieces of cactus!
6. Bring pesos
Be sure to bring along enough pesos to pay for your entrance ticket (no other currency is accepted for ticket purchases) and in case you need to stock up on water or snacks throughout the day.
If you forgot to bring pesos, you'll be hard-pressed to find an ATM at the site, and while some of the locals may be able to exchange US Dollars, just know that you're going to get ripped off, big time.
7. Don't forget to bring your bathing suit
One of the things that makes Tulum stand out from other archaeological sites in Mexico is its proximity to the ocean. Situated in a picture-perfect location on the Caribbean coastline, the ruins allow visitors a chance to cool off in the ocean during their visit.
Accessed via a staircase, there is a small beach directly underneath the ruins and it's really beautiful. Even if you don't plan on going swimming, pack a swimsuit and quick-drying towel in your backpack anyways, as you just might be persuaded once you see the little stretch of golden playa.
The best time of year to go
However, note that the Caribbean hurricane season lasts from the beginning of June to the end of November, with peak times from August to October. This doesn't mean that there will be hurricanes continuously throughout these months, just that this is the season for them, and you should keep an eye on the weather if you plan on visiting during this time.
Getting to the Tulum ruins
The closest major airport is in Cancun, approximately 130 km (80 miles) north of Tulum. If you're staying or arriving into Cancun, you can either take a private tour, taxi, colectivo, or a bus to get to the ruins. If you're staying in a hotel nearby, some places rent out bicycles for the day, making it easy for you to get yourself to the ruins on your own schedule. If you plan on biking, just be sure to bring along a bike lock!
Once you arrive at the site, you will need to walk about 500 meters from the site entrance/parking lot to the ticket booth. If the walk is too hot or too far, there is a small tram that shuttles visitors back and forth throughout the entire day. Getting a lift on the tram costs 20 pesos.
How much does it cost to explore the ruins?
Entrance to the Tulum ruins costs 65 pesos per person. If you're planning on bringing a camera (even something as small as a GoPro), note that you will need to pay an additional photography fee of 45 pesos at the ticket booth.