15 March 2015
We are advised to go to the Tulum archaeological site early before the heat and crowds build up. Hugo arranges a minibus to take us all and a guide when we get there. The site is only a short trip away and we are there soon after it opens at 8.00am. There is a tractor-drawn ‘train’ to take people the 800m from the carpark to the entrance but we passed it on the road on our way in so we walk instead and are almost the first ones there. We meet our guide Alonso who is very enthusiastic but tries to impart far too much information, particularly when he has us standing in the sun with sweat pouring off us. We end up being far less enthusiastic about our guide.
Tulum is different from all the other sites that we have seen because it is a walled city right on the Caribbean coast. The barrier reef and 12m cliffs form a natural barrier on the east and there are stone walls on the other 3 sides. There is a break in the reef and a beach area with evidence that this was a trading port as well as a defensive site. It is now a protected nesting site for sea turtles.
Pyramid El Castillo (The Castle) is an imposing structure on the 12m cliffs – there are lots of different view points.
The Temple of the Diving (or Descending) God is named for the unusual figure above the doorway that appears to be diving head-first to earth. It is a popular motif adorning several doorways at Tulum but appears at very few other Mayan sites. There are many theories about the meaning of these unusual carvings.
The Temple of the Frescoes is one of the better preserved buildings. Inside the temple are murals depicting the Mayan world of the dead, the world of the living, and the creator and rain gods. One of the few surviving images Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility and medicine (and Hugo’s daughter), is found here. There are unique corner masks on the outside and you can still see traces of red paint on the stucco. It is believed that at one time all the buildings here were painted red.
The Palace – it is thought that priests and royalty lived within the walls with the peasants outside, and that there were approx. 1000-1600 inhabitants. In common with other sites, the buildings are lined up according to the sun and stars so that key areas are lit up by the sun on the solstices etc. Tulum was one of the last cities built by the Maya and was at its peak in the 13th – 15th centuries. It survived about 70 years after the Spanish arrived but they appear to have eventually succumbed to diseases brought by the Spanish.
We catch the tractor/train back to the parking area that of course has a ‘visitors’ centre’ to try to coax you into parting with more of your money. Unfortunately they had a very young jaguar cub for petting and photos at a price but it was far too young to be away from its mother. There were also a couple of young spider monkeys tied to a pole. But they did have an interesting performance by local Mayan people where 5 men climbed up a tall pole to pipe and drum music, and then 4 of them drop off the sides of the platform and hang upside down by a rope spinning round 52 times with the rope uncoiling until they touch the ground.
Gill and I have an iced coffee back at the hotel (it seemed to be the first time the guy had made them) and then we go with Lily by taxi (for a grand sum of 70 pesos) to the Papaya Playa Project. This is an ecological resort nestled in the jungle along 900m of beach with a range of different accommodation price points. We are going for its Beach Club & Restaurant. There is a lovely breeze blowing and we enjoy a leisurely drink and a lunch of tempura squid and mango salad. Then we find ourselves some shady spots down on the beach to read our books: Gill and Lily share a large swing ‘bed’ and I find a mattress with a support frame so that I can sit under a little thatched roof right on the water’s edge.
It is not really a swimming beach as there are thick masses of seaweed and large waves coming in. A few people swim but most are just enjoying relaxing in the shade; eating and drinking as they please; with gentle music playing. We while away several hours and finish with another drink before heading back.
Freshly showered we meet with Hugo and the others to discuss plans for tomorrow. Four have decided to do a tour to Chichen Itza and will meet us tomorrow evening in Playa del Carmen. The rest of us have chosen to do a day tour with Ernesto instead of just taking the RDO bus straight to Playa del Carmen. We will visit a cenote that is not as touristy as Dos Ojos and visit a nature reserve. Nothing is organised for dinner tonight. Lily, Gill and I visit an ATM and then go to a vegetarian restaurant and have guacamole and a fresh coconut drink (we don’t need much after our lunch earlier).
For this and other similar trips see:
Peregrine Adventures Travel Destinations (Comfort and independent tours)
Geckos Adventures Deals for South & Central America (for 18 to 30s)
Note: After people telling me they had booked an Intrepid Tour on my recommendation, I now have affiliate links with the Intrepid Travel group of companies and may receive a commission if you book a tour online within a couple of months after clicking through to these sites. So if you are enjoying my tips and stories and finding them useful in choosing your own travel, please click on these links and help me to bring you more ☺.