Tulum Riviera Maya… a temple for all good things


Every once in a while, I admit I make foolish decisions. For a few years, because of the shipwreck of their reputation with avid crime, whenever I’ve been invited to Mexico, I’ve found an excuse not to go. Not thinking too clearly, I should have realized that there is a stellar reputation which does exist in many areas of this warm, friendly county and that their integrity is still intact especially in the Riviera Maya. The voice of reason finally got the best of me and I recently relented to discover how fortunate I was and how silly I had been.

Sure there’s the powdery white long sandy beaches hugging the perfectly sapphire Caribbean Sea and the brilliant sun rises and sun sets, also the new spiffy hotels where service has become an important statement and there’s not worry about food or the renowned “Aztec two step” any longer. But if and when you get your butt off the poolside chaise longue, there are several sites not to miss. It’s not that you have to give up your time at the beach when you visit Tulum since here the white limestone beaches are filled with swimmers, sun bathers and snorkelers. So after visiting the major edifices, it’s not necessary to leave but stay and perhaps have a small picnic on the sand that never gets hot due to its volcanic origin.

Tulum, is the ancient Mayan walled city (in Quintana Roo), and point of defense from invaders both from land and sea. It was also a major port. That all came to an end in 1518 when the Spaniards arrived. They were so impressed by the beauty and view of the aqua sea and the location, they stayed. What seems to be missing on the various limestone buildings is intricate carving which one usually associates with that time. But by then, the artisans weren’t working at this art. But all is made up with by the stunning locations overlooking the Caribbean with a visible coral reef and sculptural cliffs. After the Spaniards left, nobody knew much about this area.

Now Tulum is the third most visited of all Mexican ruins, the most representative and the only major Mayan ruin. Then in 1842 an English archeologist discovered the ancient city which officially opened 1974. However in Cancun there were no highways and driving was almost impossible. Now any day of the week, many tourists come to Tulum which is a most important tourist attraction in Riviera Maya.

Enter Gabriel,a most knowledgeable guide and he quickly cited Tulum in the years before and towards its apex of splendor in 1200AD, as the thriving merchant port.

An open sided cart takes us to an area where we would see the magnificence of Tulum. On this short ride, on one side is a jungle while the other is ordinary landscape. A small lizard stops on the road, stares at us and Gabriel gets off the cart and gently moves this larger than most lizard to a safer area. Here you’ll also find 40 different types of snakes, which Gabriel emphasizes, that are as frightened of the public as they of the snakes. “Just don’t shake a tree since one may fall,” I promptly explained that I had no reason to even consider the idea.

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Tulum means walled city and most of the wall is still in amazingly good condition. At the height there were 700 living within the wall and this site was the ceremonial centre to pray to the gods. There are several foundations of buildings that once were built. Gabriel tells us these large palace-like edifices were homes. However, overwhelming the scenery is the highest building on the area; this is the temples where nobody lived even in the full swing of Tulum. Most importantly at that time, it that it was also a harbor. Mayans were traders and the easiest means of transport was via the sea. However, with great reasoning, there is no wall near the water. There was no need. Besides the cliffs and the coral reefs, these were protection enough for any ship which dared to try to trespass. Tulum is also the highest point in this area. When the waves did come, the cliffs were a natural protection. However the heyday of Tulum was 1200-1521 AD. Unfortunately, when the Spaniards captures Mexico, they also brought diseases which in time decimated the population and eventually the area was abandoned

During the hurricane a few years ago with 15 feet high waves nothing was destroyed here although happened here. Although there wasn’t any electricity and the inhabitants stayed in their homes for 3 days until the hurricane passed.

As we moved among the throng of tourists speaking various languages, Gabriel pointed out the centerpiece of Tulum… the temple which h is now officially closed. The one major window shows the intelligence and foresight of the ancient Mayans. It frames the sunset and sunrises. To prove his point, since we were too late for the sunrise and too early for sunset, he produces a much handled postcard showing this imaginative and accurately architectural achievement. On the highest step which with my telescopic camera lens I could see quite clearly, was the sacrificial area. Human sacrifices were common. There is one stone in the centre where they did their deed.

Stay an hour or three or four. Tulum is a spectacle site that shouldn’t be missed in favour of a tan.

However, Cenotes, oasis in the jungle, is an experience that can’t be found at even the best hotel. As I climbed down the ladder of a dark hole, I wondered why my guide and new friend had turn against me. What was I doing here? But suddenly, like a mirage when I reached the last rung, there was this vast underground river with caverns and caves and the crystalline water that looked more like a mirror. Itzel and her partner come here to scuba dive and discover new tunnels and caves. The stalicates and stalactites were marvelous to see and awesome to think about that just above is the astonishing sites with the earliest date AD 564.