Posted by: adventuressetravels | May 6, 2011

A Fortress by the Sea

As we bumped down the pothole spangled dirt road to Tulum, the blonde Argentine girl chatted in enthusiastic animated Spanish about everything from Argentine traditions, to her jewelry-making business.  She was from Argentina, but the warm laid-back Mexican way of life suited her so she and her Canadian husband had relocated here.  Brimming with joy, she made sure everyone around her shared her love of life and the Yucatan Peninsula.

The government kept saying they would fix the road, but each year the rainy season washed out more of the road, she told me as we passed long stretches of beach and lush vegetation reaching down to scrape the roof of the car; mangrove channels and rickety wooden bridges.  The variety of scenery was impressive.  Several times we had to steer around crested iguanas lounging in the middle of the road, soaking up the rays.  Though talking with Ale was great, the 25 mile trip to Tulum took nearly three hours.  I could barely believe it!

She stopped at a crossing just outside of Tulum and dropped me off just down the road from the site.  She was meeting a friend and had been to the Archeological site many times before.  I didn’t mind.  I couldn’t wait to see my first Mayan ruins and I always prefer to visit ruins alone.  That way I can get the most out of the experience and truly appreciate the beauty of the site.

Iguana sunning himself on the ruins

I had been hearing about the Mayan ruins in Mexico for years.  But I hadn’t known a whole lot about them before sailing to Mexico.  Of course I knew they were there and wanted to see the monumental ruins at Chichen Itza, and the amazing pyramid at Uxmal, but I had never heard about Tulum or ruins by the sea for that matter.

The more I learned about this walled city on the Caribbean, the more surprising it was that I didn’t know about it.   Not only was it one of the most important Mayan cities and an important seaport, but it is also one of the best preserved sites as well.  I was delighted that I had stumbled into this opportunity to visit.  After all, experiencing and learning first hand is always more fun.

I paid the 51 peso ($5 USD) entry fee at the large ticket counter and pushed my way through the turnstile.  Stopping to read plaques giving a general history of Tulum and the region in English and Spanish, I followed the well-marked wooded trail.  Striking blue birds surveyed me from their roosts in the trees as I made my way up the broad well-kept path towards the site.  The historic site was clearly a tourist hub.

Coming to the end of the path a stone wall barred my way.  I had to duck through a tunnel through the wall built for slightly built Mayans and found myself in a broad grassy area atop a sheer cliff face.   So this was the famed walled-city of Tulum.

Iguanas had taken over.  No one to disturb them, some had grown to several feet in length, and they were everywhere.  The large lizards sunned themselves on the ruined stone walls, overlooking the pasty tourists with regal detachment.  With nothing to fear at the national heritage site they acted as if they owned the place, if anyone did it was them.

After spending months on a boat with three other people the number of tourists was impressive.  Tour guides ushered groups of European, North American, and South American tourists around the ruins, explaining their significance.  If I wanted, I could have easily tagged along with one of the groups and hear the guide explain the site.  Sometimes I enjoyed guided tours, but here at this beautiful site I preferred to read the plaques beside each building and explore for myself.  Today I wanted to be on my own in the fresh air and stroll around the site at my leisure.

Palm trees leaned over the sprawling city ruins standing on close-cut green grass along the bluff.  I decided not to pick my way down the staircase leading down to the beach where some of the tourists had opted to spend their time rather than examine the Mayan ruins.

I was fascinated to learn that Mayans had naval trading routes all along Mexico and Central America and that Tulum was one of the most important port cities.  Examining homes, temples, and the fading frescos on the weathered rock held me entranced for hours.

The imposing stone buildings overlooking the sea must have been a sight to behold in their day.  The city was well fortified and in a fantastic location.  It had even survived a full 70 years after Spanish invaders began occupying Mexico, only to fall to the insidious spread of disease and infection.

As intriguing as the ruins were by the end of the afternoon I was more than ready to go.  I would love to come back with fewer tourists, but I do tend to enjoy ruins and historic sites more alone.  It just seems to be easier to envision the history of a place when it’s just you and the iguanas.


  1. Tulum was news to me. I’m surprised so many tourists HAD heard of it. You give the essentials and they tantalize for more detail.

  2. are there any summer rental opportunities available? I could spend some time there…!

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