Tulum: Leaping Lizards and Hot Rocks

The weather hasn’t been great here the last few days and so when today dawned with a bit of sun we decided to head on down the highway to visit the Tulum ruins and beach. I had thought that the collective taxis stopped on the main boulevard beneath the highway next to the Chedraui grocery store and so we stood there on the side of the road. But, no, several of them blew right past us as we were frantically waving them down. Shit! I asked a woman sitting at the bus stop where to catch them and, after asking another couple of people as we walked, we eventually found the collectivo station downtown near the bus station. We got the last two seats in our van and were off down the highway for an hour long ride to the Tulum archeological site.

Although we had expected to pay more, the entrance fee was only 57 pesos each and the day, overcast but clearing, was perfect for touring the ruins. Tulum is situated right on oceanfront cliffs, obviously the prime real estate of the post classical Mayan world. It is very much a manicured area and none of the buildings are climbable – too bad because the view from El Castillo out over the sea would be wonderful.

The city of Tulum was at its height during the 13th-15th centuries, and is thus one of the later Mayan outposts. When the Spanish arrived in the early 16th century it was still inhabited. Tulum was an important trading post for the Post classic Mayans, having a beach where merchants could come ashore with their canoes. The highest building, El Castillo, was also a lighthouse to make navigation easier: when two torches aligned, these showed voyagers the way through the reef.

During the Post classic period, the Maya started to use large seagoing canoes and made trading voyages ranging from trips to the Gulf of Mexico, the coast of the Yucatán peninsula, and all the way to what is today Honduras. There is even evidence that they went as far as Costa Rica and Panama. Standing on the cliff here, gazing out to sea, I could imagine a fleet of fifty foot hardwood canoes cruising into the bay below.

In 1518, an expedition lead by the Spaniard Juan de Grijalva sailed past Tulum. The captain and crew were amazed by the sight of this walled city, with its buildings painted red, blue and white and a fire atop the main temple. Some 75 years after the conquest, Tulum was abandoned, but was still visited over the years by Mayan pilgrims. During the War of the Castes, Indian refugees took shelter here from time to time. (See more at http://www.playa.info/playa-del-carmen-info-mayan-ruins-of-tulum.html)

When we had been in Tulum last about 5 years ago, it was very crowded; today, luckily, while there were a number of people, it was not completely packed out.

One of the most delightful features of the ruin site is that it is home to many, many iguanas, all of whom are very tame. Ty discovered an apple in his backpack and proceeded to feed three of the beasts who came racing over when he took the fruit out of his bag.

Another fellow was taking a sandwich out of his pack when a huge lizard jumped onto it, climbed over the pack, and started up his body before receiving the piece of sandwich he desired!

After our visit, we grabbed a collectivo and taxi to Tulum Playa, the two kilometer long beach just north of the town. Here the sand is blindingly white and the water an incredible shade of light cerulean blue.

We had lunch at Playa Paraiso and spent a few hours on the beach before heading back on the collectivo to Playa del Carmen. Tulum Playa has a very different vibe than Playa del Carmen; it’s north of the town proper and accessed by a road that runs along a coastline of low sand dunes.

Tulum beach is more like a warm weather version of Vancouver Island’s west coast beaches (although with more in the way of services like restaurants, bars, sun beds, boat trips, etc). And the beach hotels seem to be much more modest in scale (although probably not in price) here than the vast gated communities along the coast between Playa and Tulum pueblo.

See more pics here.

13 thoughts on “Tulum: Leaping Lizards and Hot Rocks

  1. Such interesting archaeology and culture on the Yucatan. I’ve only seen Chichen Itza, but will prioritise Tulum if I go back. I also remember lizards the size of dogs crossing the road in front of me, slightly scary, but mostly very cool.

  2. Sophie, I’d never really had much to do with lizards before this trip but I’ve seen a lot of them since being in Mexico and I really like them – cool animals. Another great ruin site is Uxmal if you’re ever near Merida.

  3. Thanks very much for the very interesting historical background, Lisa. A place which combines fascinating ruins with a lovely beach is not very often to be found. As for the lizards….. I run!!!!

  4. Great pics! I just got back from a travel conference/press trip (yesterday) in Riviera Maya, where I got to visit Tulum and Cobá, various cenotes, and all sorts of other neat stuff. I guess I was there at the same time as you guys!

  5. Thanks, Michael – yeah, the lizards are great – very friendly (sometimes too friendly if they get a sniff of your food!)

  6. Such stunning images! Tulum looks like such a lovely place, especially with that gorgeous beach so close. And even though I’d probably freak out if I actually came near one of those lizards, they look… positively adorable from the pictures you took!

  7. Thanks, Hannia – you know, the lizards are actually really cool and there are lots – lots! – of them in Tulum (but maybe they’re ony out and about on sunny days).

  8. Thanks, Debbie – yeah, we will be sorry to leave the Mexican caribbean – it is sure a beautiful part of the world.

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