We enjoyed spending a day learning about the Mayan history and the current indigenous peoples perspectives, during our snowbird stay in Play del Carmen, Mexico. The Tulum ruins tour is an amazing Mayan city ruins attraction, so we decided to build a day trip around that destination. It turned out that the best (and cheapest) way to do that was with a local tour excursion, which included the following highlights for the day:
- Tulum ruins Mayan city entry with an English tour guide.
- Beach stop at a beautiful white sand beach, located where various of the bohemian style resorts are situated as well as local fishermen.
- Visit to a Mayan heritage village in Coba, to taste tacos and tortillas made over an open fire, made the old Mayan way using pumpkin seeds, and tour the artifacts museum, trinket store and meet the elder / medicine man to get his blessing.
- Delicious buffet lunch nearby in simple Mayan restaurant.
- Entry to the Coba Mayan jungle ruins to to see the largest Mayan pyramid in the Yucatan (42 Metres). 2 km walk, bicycle ride, or tuk tuk (uber) ride into the jungle with English tour guide.
- Cooled off in a nearby Cenote (underground pool) – very refreshing!
- See our positive review of tour company at the end.
Tulum City Ruins
The trip to the Tulum ruins visitor centre and archeological park entrance was about an hour ride from Playa del Carmen, in a nice air conditioned excursion van, where we met our English speaking tour guide.
The Mayan ruins are the partially standing stone wall remains of various buildings inside a walled city, which flourished in the 13th -14th century, before Columbus arrived in America and abandoned in the 16th century. The location is situated in a unique coastal location, which provided them access to shipping from the nearby island of Cozumel using simple log boats, and ultimately as transportation hub to the other major nearby city of Coba. The mineral rock Obsidian which is used for sharp spear tips and arrow heads was an important trade item. The 12 Metre cliffs provided natural protection in addition to the three other stone walls around the city. The city was originally called Zama meaning “City of Dawn”. Tulum – Wikipedia
The Visitor centre tourist shop is full of trinkets and various “side show events “buskers” wanting a tip for taking their photo. There were a few Mayan dressed people as well as a monkey, snake and iguanas.
Mayan reenactors, seeking tips for photos, with big yellow snake in background.
Map of the ruins show over 50 structures. The Cenote house was an source of fresh water. Coastal observation on a high hill is Structure 45. We entered near structure 34 and walked past Great Platform to the Castillo (Castle) and exited at the gate near temple 54.
Frida Kahlo is a bit of a “selfie” artist, who painted many self portraits during her life from 1907-1954 in her folk art style which is revered by many Mexicans in current day art forms.
Friendly, but well armed police are walking about serve as a deterrent to any “opportunistic” criminal types that may decide to show up. Tourism is VERY IMPORTANT to Mexico, so they are very protective of their reputation.
The signage is in both Spanish and English. Each building has a feature around the top, that resembles a ribbon or crown.
There were only FOUR small entrances through the wall into the city, tall tourists need to be very careful. They Mayans were generally short stature.
One temple was to honor the Mayan “Descending God”. The god shows up in many variations. Also called the upside down god. It can represent humans descending from heaven, divers diving, and even the god of bees and honey (the red flap at the top being transformed into a stinger. (credit to wikipedia)
Paradise Beach – Various bohemian architecture resorts
This popular white sand beach is just outside of the ruins park which you can see on the cliffs in the distance. It is popular with tourists who enjoy the more rustic “bohemian” style of architecture used by many of the resorts here, and the local fishers who have their boats moored here.
You can also see the Sargassum seaweed, which the resorts hire people to remove from their section of the beach, since it has a bad smell in addition to detracting from the appearance. The seaweed can even be transformed into adobe like bricks to build homes from.
The very fine sand is like flour!
Fresh off the boat fish in some restaurants here.
Live Mayan Village in Coba
The town of Coba once was a center of Mayan civilization for the area. It retains a strong Mayan heritage, which has a small museum where reenactors make tortillas on an open fire in a simple hut, and give samples of tacos made using pumpkin seeds (yummy), scrambled eggs with spinach, plus the usual fixings. We were also introduced to an elder of the village who was the medicine man. With our permission he gave each of us a blessing to ward off any evil in our travels to the four cardinal compass points, using a some nice smelling incense smoke made from tree resin. He also passed around a large shiny black obsidian rock, which was the basis for a lot of their early trade there. Obsidian was heavily used to to make spear and arrow tips, with its razor sharp glass like edges. Obsidian – Wikipedia
We then nearby we enjoyed a nice buffet lunch in a simple palapa roofed restaurant, which was included in our tour price. (Beverages were extra charge at reasonable prices).
Video of a Mayan elder – medicine man using incense from tree resin in a blessing for each of the tour members.
Jungle walk to Mayan pyramid and ruins
The Coba Mayan ruins are scattered along a nice 2 km Jungle trail into a protected area with a small entrance fee. It ends at the highest pyramid in the Yucatan region at 42 meters, which is higher than the one at the ever popular Chichen Itza site. Another highlight is a section of the old original “white road” which was like a super highway stretching over 100 km to Chichen Itza. This part of our tour turned out to be an unexpected highlight of our day!
Although many in our group decided to walk the 2 km path, we opted to take the bicycle powered “Mayan tuk tuk” for a small fee. It was a hot and humid day in the jungle. Alternatively bicycles can be rented too.
Remnants of the 100 km long super highway White Road ( Sacbe ) Wikipedia can be seen as the raised part of this photo where the people are standing. The row of rocks on the right side headed into the Jungle is one edge of the road. Limestone was used to make it white.
Refreshing swim in a Cenote
Cenotes are large underground lakes of water, which are open at the top like a well. There are hundreds of Cenote’s in the Yucatan area. Some of them have underground tunnels branching out, as part of the water table. The water is generally known to be very pristine, and very welcome to swim in after our afternoon hike in the jungle. To help protect the water quality, visitors must shower off any sunscreen before entering the cool underground chamber. In ancient Mayan / Inca times these were considered a gateway to the underworld, where human sacrifices sometimes were made.
There is a wooden spiral staircase entry way, which has three levels of diving platforms for those who are able to do that. The rope separates the diving area from the swimming area, and there is a small shelf on the far end of the rope, to take a swimming break. Life jackets are available for those who are not good swimmers, since there is no gradual entry – you are either in deep water or out! The view looking up to the dome ceiling, while floating on your back is quite delightful, although I did wonder how often the stalactites might fall into the water…
View from diving platform, showing rope separating swimmers from divers. Big stalactite seems pretty solid.
Tour company review
The tour company that we selected for our day trip was Top Tours Agency, which was a random selection on 5th avenue, which happens to have a store front close to our location. I prefer to have a physical contact like we did, including his personal Whats App phone number in case things go wrong.
The sales representative spoke enough English to ensure we found the package that we wanted (Carlos Fernandez). We gave him a deposit the next day, after comparing their offerings favorably with others online. He also met us the morning of the tour to ensure we got on the tour bus mini-van ok and collect the final payment. The driver only spoke Spanish, but he turned us over to the English speaking tour guide, who stayed with us for the day.
Our guide actually speaks six languages! (Mickey) Our group was planned to be a combination of English and French people, which results in the guide repeating everything in both languages. The guide ended up taking on an additional Spanish speaking group part way through our tour because one of his colleagues was sick that day. This resulted in him repeating things three times, but he seemed able to manage things and keep our tour on schedule ok.
We definitely recommend this guide and this tour company. It made for a long action packed day 7:30 am until 7 pm, but very satisfied.