Tulum: The Anti-Cancun of Mexico's Riviera Maya
Located two hours south of Cancun, Tulum has recently became a popular alternative to the hustle and bustle of Mexico's tourist metropolis.
How is Tulum different from Cancun and what activities can one expect to find in the area? This blog will explore differences between these two beach destinations and give an insight into a few of the many activities in the area.
Tulum is both the name of the town and the famous Maya ruins that attract over two million visitors every year, which is more than Chichen Itza! I visited Tulum for a week in early 2018 before heading north to Playa del Carmen.
Instead of mega resorts and rambunctious nightlife, Tulum vacationers will find botique hotels and vibrant restaurants situated along a coastline known as the Riviera Maya. As with many Caribbean beaches, Tulum boasts turquoise blue water that shifts between various hues depending on the position of the sun.
The biggest difference between Tulum and Cancun is that Tulum is quieter, calmer, smaller and more private. Various celebrities are known to vacation in Tulum for this exact reason including Leonardo DiCaprio, Paris Hilton and Reese Witherspoon. Can you imagine bumping into one of these celebrities during your vacation?
The Tulum Ruins, once a major trading port for the indigenous Maya population of the Yucatan Peninsula, are easily accessible by car or bike. These ruins were populated during the Maya Civilization's Post-Classic Period, which denotes a period of activity from 900-1500 A.D. in Maya history.
In fact, the ruins were actually still occupied when the Spanish began their conquest of the America's in the 16th century. A Spanish expedition in 1518 sailed past Tulum and described it as "a village so large that Seville (the largest city in Spain at the time) would not have appeared larger or better." Tulum was abandoned by the end of the 16th century after diseases brought by the Spaniards decimated the population.
Today the only residents are iguanas that like to bask in the sun atop Tulum's stone structures.
Sian Ka'an is a biosphere reserve right outside of Tulum that is home to thousands of diverse species of birds and marine life. In 1987, Sian Ka'an was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site due to its biodiversity.
Visitors can take boat rides around the reserve for a chance at photographing dolphins, manatees, turtles, alligators, birds and even snakes in the water.
Wait, did you say snakes? In the water?
Yes, snakes can swim short distances, as illustrated below.
Punta Allen is a small fishing village of less than 1,000 residents located within Sian Ka'an. The village has no paved roads and only receives electricity from 11am - 2pm and 7pm - midnight, making it one of the least developed spots on Mexico's Caribbean coast.
Tours to Sian Ka'an generally stop by Punta Allen for lunch but there are plenty of lodging options for those who prefer to stay overnight. The village is eerily quiet due to its size and lack of development yet it is undeniably authentic at the same time.
While not as famous as Chichen Itza, the Coba Ruins are quite interesting in their own regard. Originally a great city with close ties to it's famous neighbor, Coba is now a less explored Maya site dispersed among the Yucatan Peninsula's temperate forest in Southern Mexico.
Since there is a somewhat great distance between each set of ruins, Coba visitors rent a bike or request a "driver" to bike them around the site on cushioned seats. There's something about biking around an ancient Maya city that's surprisingly interesting and peaceful at the same time.
Coba is known for having an exceptionally well preserved ball court, which was used by the ancient Maya for religious ceremonies involving a rubber ball. There's also a 137 foot tall structure that visitors can climb called the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. From the top you can see dense forest stretching for miles in every direction.
Chichen Itza is one of the Seven Modern Wonders of the world and perhaps also one of the most famous destinations in the world.
These Maya Ruins are so popular that I will be writing a separate blog specifically for Chichen Itza. Stay tuned!
Tulum and the surrounding Riviera Maya should be on everyone's radar when planning a vacation. While most destinations offer either relaxation or excitement, Tulum has both. Enjoy breakfast on a beautiful Caribbean beach before venturing into the forest to explore ancient Maya ruins.
Cancun? Never heard of it.
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