Ultimate Guide to the Ruins in Tulum Mexico

Tulum Ruins | The Ultimate Guide (+7 Tips)

Visiting the Tulum Ruins is a must on any trip to Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. The ruins are paradise steeped in history, and offer probably the most dramatic setting of any of Mexico’s Mayan ruins.

The Tulum Mayan Ruins archeological site is where palm trees sway in the breeze, iguanas lounge in the sun, and the ocean crashes below. Not to mention, it’s an awesome site to learn all about ancient Mayan history.

I recently spent over a month touring the Mayan Riviera including many days in Tulum. Tulum’s ruin site and town completely blew me away. To help you plan your trip, this guide will not only help you figure out the best time to go, but it will also teach you a bit about the history, show you the different ways you can visit the ruins, offer up other sites in the area (such as tours from Tulum to Chichen Itza), and so much more.

👉 Pro tip: be sure to bookmark our mega Tulum travel guide for insider tips on Tulum. And plan your stay in Tulum with our guide to the best Tulum hotels.

Disclosure: Travel Lemming is an independent reader-supported blog. You can support my work by purchasing through the affiliate links on this page, which may earn a commission for this site. Thank you!

History of the Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins set against the ocean

In the Yucatec language, the word Tulum means wall as, once upon a time, Tulum was a walled settlement. Archaeologists have dated the Tulum Ruins as far back as 54AD, although it’s believed the site was most powerful from 1200-1521AD.

It’s estimated that between 1,000 and 1,600 people lived in Tulum in its heyday, and they were guarded by 16 ft walls running around three sides of the site, with the fourth protected by a 39 feet drop off into the Caribbean. The Tulum settlement was a main trading hub for the ancient Maya, with routes going through sites as close as Chichen Itza and Coba, to as far as Central Mexico and Central America.

The settlement flourished until the Spaniards rolled into town and brought a slew of diseases with them. Due to this, most of the population was killed off and the site was abandoned not even 80 years later.

Today the largest standing structure at the archaeological site is the Castillo, which is the dramatic “lighthouse” you see in the famous photos (like the one above) of the Castillo perched on a cliff over the Caribbean Sea. While the Castillo is definitely the most prominent feature of the site, there are other ancient Mayan structures to explore within the former walled city, including The Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of the Frescoes.

How to Visit the Tulum Mayan Ruins in 2021 

The ancient ruins in Tulum

Visiting the ruins can be done a number of ways.

  • Resort Tour – If you’re staying at a resort on the Mayan Riviera and want to visit the ruins with the least amount of hassle, then your resort should be able to set up a tour for you. While this definitely takes the effort of planning out of the experience, you’ll pay more for the convenience and have little wiggle room in your day.
  • Independent Tour – If you want the freedom of visiting the ruins your own way (and maybe hitting up a beach or going snorkeling after), then I recommend traveling to Tulum either on a tour you’ve selected yourself or independent of a tour provider. Click here to book our top-rated tour from Tulum, or scroll down for the full list of Tulum ruins tours.
  • ADO Bus – If you travel to Tulum without a tour, then keep in mind ADO buses from Playa del Carmen and Cancun to Tulum go straight to the Mayan ruins of Tulum multiple times a day and will drop you off right at the parking lot.
  • Colectivo – Alternatively, if you want to do as the locals, consider taking a Colectivo bus. Colectivo’s are basically shared shuttle busses that, while a little less comfortable than a bus, will save you a dime and maybe even give you a story. These can be caught any time of day and are certainly a more adventurous option than taking the bus. There are Colectivo’s that run from the center of Playa del Carmen direct to the ruins of Tulum, making this one of our top day trips from Playa del Carmen.

When to Visit the Ruins of Tulum

The Tulum Mayan Ruins
The ruins of Tulum up close

In general the most comfortable weather for visiting the Tulum Mayan ruins is during the winter. No matter what time of year you visit the Tulum archaeological site, however, it’s best to prepare for a long day out in the sun. Also note that tourist high season tends to be in the winter months during scheduled breaks from school or work so, if you’re looking to avoid the masses, then avoid visiting during this time of year.

Also, remember that no matter what time of year you visit Tulum it’s going to be crazy hot and humid. But, hey, you’ll be on some gorgeous beaches! Watch this quick drone video to see what I’m talking about:

If you’re anything like me, you do not handle heat well, but let me tell you, these ruins are worth braving a little humidity.

Also, keep in mind that hurricane season runs from June through November. Chances are slim that you’ll actually encounter a hurricane, but it’s still worth noting.

Just keep an eye on the weather!

7 Tips for Visiting Tulum’s Ruins 

Mayan ruins in Tulum Mexico

Tip 1 – Be Ready to Beat the Heat

As I mentioned above, the heat at Tulum will be intense, and so you’re going to want to come prepared.

There isn’t a lot of shade at the ruins, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find anywhere to find water once you’re through the gates.

I recommend bringing at least a couple of cold refillable water bottles with you, and even a cold pack if you can find one. Keep in mind that there’s no place to buy water once you’re through the entrance.

Tip 2 – Wear Your Bathing Suit

Tulum's beach
With beaches like this, how can you resist the urge to swim?

One of the best things about the Tulum archaeological site is that it’s right by the Caribbean sea. And Tulum beach is one of the best in the world.

Being able to take a swim was such a lifesaver on my recent trip to Tulum – I left feeling refreshed, recharged, and a few degrees cooler. Just keep in mind that there’s no place to change into a bathing suit while at the ruins, so wear a suit under your clothes. Also, the small beach at the ruins does get busy, so keep an eye on your things while you take a dip.

Alternatively, there are plenty of larger beaches just outside of the ruins. If you don’t want to cool off while visiting the ruins you can always go this route.

👉 Pro tip: Check out our detailed guide on What to Pack for Mexico Checklist to make sure you’re prepared for your trip! There’s definitely a few items on there that most people totally forget.

Tip 3 – Walk or Take the Shuttle

From the parking lot — which is where you’ll be dropped off from your bus or Colectivo – it’s a 15-minute walk to the archaeological site entrance. If you feel you can handle the heat walking there, then power to you, but if not, there is a shuttle you can take for a small fee.

Tip 4 – Stock Up on Supplies

Before you leave for your Tulum Ruins tour, stock up on supplies. Bring lots of water and even snacks for just in case. When you get to the ruins parking lot, there will be a shopping plaza nearby where you can do this, but it’ll be very expensive.

The Tulum ruins on a hill

Tip 5 – Arrive at the Site Early

To avoid the worst of the tropical heat and the crowds, I highly recommend coming here early in the morning. The Tulum ruins open at 8 am and close at 5 pm, so getting here around 8 will be prime time.

Plus, the earlier you get here, the fewer people will be in your photos.

This is definitely a tip for visiting the Tulum ruins that will improve your experience!

Tip 6 – Bring Plenty of Pesos

For some reason, I kept seeing people try to pay their entrance fee with USD (hint: the exchange rate is not going to be favorable even in places that accept dollars). While this is something you can definitely do in other select areas of the Yucatan, only pesos are accepted at the ruins, and there isn’t much for ATM’s around. I recommend bringing enough peso’s to last the day, or stocking up in Tulum town before you visit the ruins.

Tip 7 – Get a Combo Ticket

Ruins in Tulum Mexico

If you’re visiting the Tulum ruins independently, you can find combo tickets from vendors in the parking lot before you get to the main ticket gate. Here, you’ll be able to find plenty of tickets that not only will get you into the Tulum Ruins, but that will also get you on a boat ride to see the ruins from the ocean.

My particular ticket also had me snorkeling with sea turtles and stingrays. Getting this combo ticket means that you can explore the ruins at your own pace and then head to the beach for the water portion when you’re ready. This tour will cost you around 600 pesos and allow you to snorkel for about 45 minutes, get a great view of the ruins, and meet some fellow travelers!

The Best Tulum Ruins Tours in 2021

The beach under the ruins at Tulum

While it’s perfectly possible to visit the Tulum ruins by yourself, if you prefer to have someone else coordinate all the details for you, you’ll find plenty of excellent tours of the ruins in Tulum.

The landscape of tour providers running tours to the Tulum ruin is constantly evolving, but below you’ll find a curated list of the top rated Tulum ruins tours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum town itself:

Best Tulum Ruin Tours from Cancun

  • 👉 3-in-1 Discovery Combo Tour – This tour will take you through the Tulum Ruins, into a cenote, and to a nearby coral reef. Hotel pickup and dropoff are included in the price.
  • 👉 Tulum Ruins Half Day Afternoon Tour – This highly rated tour of the ruins will pick you up from your hotel and a certified guide will take you through the ruins in less than an hour. Perfect if you can only visit during the crowded afternoon hours and want someone to take care of the details for you.

Best Tours from Playa del Carmen to the Ruins in Tulum

  • 👉 Tulum, Coba, and Cenote Tours – Why choose between the Tulum and Coba ruins when you can see both in one day? Plus, you’ll get to cool off with a dip in a cenote (a natural jungle spring pool that will make you feel like Indiana Jones).
  • 👉 Tours by Locals – With vetted locals as their guides, this tour company comes highly-recommended for both group and private Tulum Tours. Plus, you’ll be supporting local businesses by booking your tour of the ruins with Tours by Locals!

Tours from the City of Tulum to the Ruins

  • 👉 Tulum Ruins & Casa Tortuga Tour – If you opt to transport yourself to Tulum but still want a tour, then check out this one. For a reasonable price, the guide will take you on a full tour of the ruins and then to a local cenote. The tour is 5 hours long and includes lunch and snorkeling equipment.
  • 👉 Tulum Full Day Tour – Get escorted around Tulum – not just a tour of the ruins, but to the beach and nearby cenotes on this private tour. Perfect for a family of four.

Alternative Mayan Ruins Near Tulum

The Tulum ruins sport easily the most photographic location of any of Mexico’s Mayan ruins. But the archaeological site in Tulum is pretty small compared to several of the larger sites nearby. If you want alternatives to the Tulum ruins, these three Mayan ruins all make great day trips from Tulum.

#1 – The Coba Ruins

Coba Mayan ruins in Mexico

Next to Tulum ruins, Coba was probably my favorite ruin in the Yucatan. Not only is the main pyramid here stunning, it’s one that you can actually climb! Keep in mind that the Coba pyramid is pretty steep and there are definitely no guard rails. However, there is a rope to hang on to.

Located partway between Tulum and Valladolid, the Coba ruins are unique from others in the area as there were multiple settlements. These settlements were all joined by roads running between them and the main pyramid, Nohoch Mul, with lush jungle enclosing them all.

What’s also neat about Coba is that the site is still, for the most part, unexcavated. It’s estimated that over 6,000 structures can be found at Coba, but only a few of these are open to the public.

Coba or Tulum Ruins – Which is better?

If you only have time for one, the Coba Mayan ruins are definitely the larger, more significant, and more impressive archaeological site compared to the Tulum Mayan ruins. On the other hand, the Tulum ruins have that iconic setting against the azure Caribbean water. So if you’re just in it for the Instagram sot, then the Mayan ruins in Tulum may be the better option. See my full article comparing Coba, Tulum, and Chichen Itza for more info!

#2 – Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

One of the New Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza was the ceremonial hub of the ancient Mayas and is now one of the most visited sites in Mexico. The archaeological site dates back to 550AD and features a main pyramid (El Castillo aka Temple of Kukulcan), as well as a bunch of surrounding temples and cenotes.

Much like with the Tulum Ruins, I recommend timing your visit smartly. Get there as early as you can in the morning as large tour groups generally start to arrive as early as 10 or 11AM. If you prefer to go via a tour, check out our guide to the best Chichen Itza tours.

👉 Pro tip: it’ll take you about 2-3 hours to check out Chichen Itza, so I recommend getting your main pyramid photos in as early as you can.

Chichen Itza or Tulum Ruins – Which is better?

Chichen Itza is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, so if you have to choose between visiting it or the Mayan ruins of Tulum, most people would probably pick Chichen Itza. So book a hotel in Valladolid, a nearby town that offers a lot to do in its own right, for the night before and beat the masses!

#3 – Ek Balam 

The Ek Balam Ruins

Also located near the super charming town of Valladolid are the Ek Balam Ruins. If you’re looking for a site that won’t be as nearly as crowded as the Tulum Ruins or Chichen Itza, then make sure to put Ek Balam on your itinerary. The settlement of Ek Balam had its heyday around 700-1000AD and consists of the main pyramid, El Torre, as well as other temples and palaces. Plus, like Coba, you can climb to the top of the main pyramid at Ek Balam.

Oh, and be sure to check out our guide to Valladolid, Mexico to learn why you should probably plan to spend some time in the Yucatan’s most underrated destination.

Travel Lemming’s founder, Nate Hake, traveled to Valladolid recently to make this short little video telling you why it’s Mexico’s hidden gem:

Ek Balam or Tulum Ruins – Which is Better?

Ek Balam is by far the least visited of the popular Yucatan Mayan ruins, so you are the type of traveler who prefers to be able to soak in a site without pushing away the crowds, then Ek Balam is definitely the better site to visit compared to the Tulum Mayna ruins. On the other hand, it’s a bit of a challenge to get to Ek Balam so for that reason it may be easier to just visit the ruins in Tulum.

Where to Stay in Tulum

The author in Tulum on the beach

When deciding where to stay in Tulum, you’ll first have to figure out whether you want to stay alongside a beach or in town. Either way, there are some great, but staying in town tends to be cheaper, and you’ll accommodation options.

We have a whole article running down our list of the best beach hotels in Tulum, but two of our favorite picks right on the beach (near the Mayan ruins) are:

  • El Paraiso – This hotel is right on the public Paradise Beach. This hotel prioritizes combining all the comforts of a hotel with eco-friendly attributes. Plus, this hotel is one of the easier ones on the wallet.
  • The Beach Tulum – A luxurious option, this adults-only south beach hotel is just 5 miles from the ruins and 10 minutes from Tulum Town. While definitely not the cheapest, this hotel is worth it for the on-site spa and great restaurants.

FAQs about Travel to the Tulum Ruins

Palm trees in Tulum Mexico

What’s the Tulum Ruins Entrance Fee?

The Tulum Ruins entrance fee is 75 pesos per person, or free for Mexican residents on Sunday. Keep in mind that the entrance fee has gone up with demand in recent years, so bring a few extra pesos just in case. 

If you’re not visiting the ruins as part of a tour, then you don’t have to book in advance. You can buy on site.

When are the Tulum Ruins Open?

The Tulum Ruins are open every day of the week from 8 AM – 5 PM.

What Should I Wear to the Tulum Ruins?

Comfortable, loose-fitting clothing. When choosing clothes to wear to the Tulum ruins, keep in mind that you will be sweating and to choose clothes that will allow your skin to breathe.

Also, because you’ll be walking on ancient stone paths, I recommend wearing a pair of comfortable sandals. If possible, leave the flimsy flip-flops at home.

Where are the Tulum Ruins Located?

The Tulum Ruins are located on the outskirts of the city of Tulum , roughly 40 miles from Playa del Carmen and 80 miles from Cancun.

👉 Pro Tip: Mexico is a safer destination than you probably think, but it’s still a wise idea to get travel insurance in Mexico.

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That’s it for this Ultimate Guide to the Tulum Ruins! Visiting the ruins will be one of the most memorable parts of your trip to Tulum!

If you have any questions, let me know in the comments below!

If you’re going to be in the Yucatan a while longer, then I also recommend reading these practical guides to some of the best in the area:

And for the best tips on visiting Mexico as a whole, you’ll want to check out my 19 Best Mexico Travel Tips.

Oh, and if you’re on Pinterest, be sure to pin this post for later here:

Heading to #Mexico’s #MayanRiviera anytime soon? Then don’t miss out on visiting the #TulumRuins. From discovering ancient temples to learning all about the Mayan civilization, this will surely be one of your most memorable trips. This #TravelGuide will walk you through a short history lesson, give you practical tips such as what outfit to wear to battle the sweltering heat, and provide you information on the best beach hotels in #Tulum.
Pin it on Pinterest!

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