Talc-white beaches, reefs teeming with life, ruined temples in misty rainforests – the Riviera Maya offers a family or romantic beach holiday with a dash of Indian Jones adventure.
Travel bucket list idea:
Mayan ruins of Tulum
Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
This small Maya settlement dating from between AD 564 and 1450, probably served as a port for the larger inland city of Coba.
The buildings, which cluster around a 30m-high stepped pyramid, are modest, but the site has become emblematic of the Riviera Maya because of its magnificent location – perched dramatically on a craggy cliff top overlooking a pristine, white-coral beach and a limpid, aquamarine sea.
It’s heavily visited and spoilt when there are crowds – its appeal is the beautiful setting rather than the undistinguished ruins themselves.
It’s hard to miss anything at tiny Tulum, but the highlight is the view of the aquamarine ocean from the main cliff-top temple, aka the Temple of the Descending God
While you’re there
The Riviera Maya barrier reef comes within a few hundred metres of shore just south of the Mayan ruins at Tulum, offering easy snorkelling over coral gardens in calm water. Take snorkel gear with you.
Getting there & doing it
Hotels and tour operators throughout the Riviera offer tours to Tulum, though the ruins are a straightforward, well-signposted drive and can easily be done independently.
The ticket office provides folders and a map of the site. The ruins are so small that a guide is not really necessary (though it’s easy to organise one near the gates). One hour is usually enough, two to really soak up the atmosphere.
There are cheap snack and drink stalls in the car park next to the ruins and decent restaurants in Tulum village half a mile to the south.
When to do it
The site is open all year round, seven days a week. Arrive for opening time (usually 9am), when there are few visitors and contemplation of the stunning setting is interrupted by the call of fairy terns rather than the clamour of crowds. Then spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beautiful beach at the base of the ruins.
Tulum is beautiful all year round but can be very crowded. The rainy season from May through October sees the fewest visitors to Mayan Riviera. The dry season – November through April – gets busy.
If you can, avoid peak season in December to January, when it gets oppressively crowded, especially around Christmas and New Year.
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