A Pedacito of Las Ruinas de Tulum
Updated: May 15, 2021
Still slightly nauseous from our food poisoning or water contamination experience (we’re still not sure what made us so sick), we couldn’t leave Tulum without seeing the ruins. Thankfully, the hospital provided us with three different types of medication that kept us feeling drowsy but alive.
Las Ruinas de Tulum are located 3 km from Tulum Centro. We hailed a taxi from the center for $5 total and although we arrived on a Monday morning at 8:45 am, people were lined up waiting for the gates to open. The line moved incredibly fast, however, so we paid $4 and were on our way in no time.
We assumed it’d be busy inside, but the ruins are large and spacious—with everyone spread out, it didn’t feel crowded. We were able to take photos without a person in sight at times. Standing there alone, in my own space, amidst the ruins, without the distractions of other people—was almost eerie.
The earliest date found on the site is AD 564, and you can feel the energies of generations past—considering all of the sacrifices made there. The land beneath my feet felt ancient; I pictured the bare feet of the shorter, ancient Mayans walking on the same dirt.
The ruins are a short hike on a dirt path that winds through a grassy area and then along the side of a bluff overlooking the ocean. Along the way, you’ll see a variety of temples, tombs, and other sacred spaces with placards that describe the history. Almost everyone online suggests taking a guided tour, but with the state of our health—we decided to tour the ruins on our own time. We wandered around the paths and read the placards, which were incredibly interesting.
Apparently, Tulum was first called Zama, which translates to “Place of the Dawning Sun” because it was one of the first areas to receive sunlight each day. The ruins were built on a bluff facing the rising sun. Tulum got its name, which means wall, because it served as a fortress for protection against seafaring invaders.
It was also built to cast the lower class out; so the priests and rulers were kept separate from the common people. It was a port city and trading post; I imagine docking up to Tulum, back in the day, would resemble pulling up to King’s Landing in Game of Thrones. Like—please let us in?!
The people inside were incredibly bright for their time; in the 13th - 14th century, they already had systems of writing, math, architecture, and astrology. They were able to construct buildings in which light shined through during the spring equinox. The fact that these buildings were built without machines or modern technology, and are still standing well over a thousand years later, blows my mind.
The Mayans worshipped Gods and the majority of their buildings were built for religious purposes. Their spirituality influenced the construction of these buildings; for example, steps were short to force people to walk sideways, so they couldn’t turn their back towards the gods or face them directly. Some of the doorways were constructed so small that one must bow to enter.
Apparently, the Mayans would build temples, and then build smaller replicas of the temples. But not all smaller temples were replicas; some of them, not of a suitable size for a human body, were shelters for sacrifices. I’ve read two completely different stories when it comes to human sacrifice. I’ve read that the Tulum Mayans celebrated the God of Life and spared humans while only sacrificing animals such as jaguars and others that were easily captured.
However, NSC News posted a video of a Mayan tour guide explaining how human sacrifices were made at the top of the pyramid, called “El Castillo”. He explains that in order to take a human life, you need two things: 1) support from the weapon, and 2) support from the religion. This would be done to show citizens what happens to enemies of the city.
The enemy would be captured, painted blue to be easily identified, and laid on a stone ledge where ultimately, his heart would be taken out. Although the guide speaks in much more detail, I’ll stop there. If you’d like to hear the whole story, you can check it out here.
The ruins themselves were full of history, stories, tradition, and culture; but I found the number of large lizards roaming the grounds just as fascinating. It felt like a lizard sanctuary, and I couldn’t help but wonder whether these lizards were of the same family, passed down for generations, that shared the land with the ancient Mayans themselves. In one five-foot column, we spotted about 5 lizards—it was insane! That’s about one lizard per foot. In order to see them, you’d have to look; but once you’d spot one, you’d spot countless.
It was so hot that every person seemed to trudge, dripping in sweat, through the heat. I couldn’t wait to swim in the crystal clear waters beneath the ruins. I brought our snorkel gear because we’d heard it was one of the best snorkeling spots in the area. I couldn’t wait—I imagined my face planted downward, in the water, gazing at all of the fish, and raising my head to a view of the ancient, ruin-esque landscape. Unfortunately, due to COVID, it was closed. I was incredibly disappointed, but the trip was an overall success.
In addition to walking the ruins, you also have the option of hiring a guided boat tour. In this tour, the boat picks you up onshore and shows you the entire length of the ruins from the water.
I’m sure these guides have stories of their own. If we weren’t feeling queasy already, we would’ve taken this tour for sure. To anyone visiting the ruins, I recommend hiring a guide and even researching the history on your own; it will really make an ancient, deteriorating city come to life.
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