Before Tulum was the up and coming tourist attraction filled with yoga studios, boutique jewelry shops, and a wall of luxury hotels blocking the town from the beach, it was an epicenter of trade and spiritual conquest.
The ancient Maya area of Tulum is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, juxtaposed the Caribbean Sea. Archaeological research has dated the ancient Maya ruins back to the Postclassic epoch of 1200 AD. The original name of Zama, roughly translated to the City of Dawn, received its title due to its open view of the sunrise across the expansive Caribbean. Tulum translates to the remnants of an ancient Maya wall, built to ward off invaders. Due to the wall’s immense size, the Mayas strategically chose this location for protection and control of the surrounding area. The wall was on average 16 feet in height (3-5 meters), 26 ft thick (8 meters), and 1,300 ft long (400 meters). The Maya were strategic about the wall’s placement; the other side is protected by steep sea cliffs. Two watchtowers were built for vigilant security to defend against invaders. Tulum was a hot spot for trade, interacting with people from the sea and mainland, which is why the Maya had to be watchful.
Trade was critical to the Maya and allegedly influenced choosing Tulum as a location to inhabit. Accessible by land and sea, Tulum’s geographic location made it a vital trade hub; it had multiple trade routes running through it from all directions: the Caribbean, Central America, and inland Mexico. All types of imported goods were exchanged including salt and textiles from sea travelers, copper and feathers from inland Mexico, flint, incense, and gold from the Yucatan area, and jade and obsidian from northern Guatemala. Most of these objects traveled extremely long distances for the time, increasing the value of Tulum and its ports.
However, Tulum’s value is not only worth its weight in tangible gold, its ruins are demonstrative as a significant location for the worship of gods and goddesses. Three structures lead historians to believe Tulum had spiritual significance: El Castillo, the Temple of Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. The epicenter El Castillo holds a shrine depicting a break in the barrier reef, allowing trade canoes to pass under. The Temple of Frescoes includes a gallery in each of its stories and has an observatory on top to track the movements of the sun. The temple is ornamented with figures of the diving god or Venus deity. A large mural wraps around the eastern wall, composed of Mixteca-Puebla images, originated in the highland Mexican area.
At its height, it is estimated that the Maya´s settling in Tulum was a population of 1,000-1,6000 from 1200 AD to the 16th-century when the Spaniards arrived. Towards the closing of the 16th-century, Tulum was completely abandoned.
Modern History of Tulum
Nowadays, Tulum has been transformed from a sleepy fisherman village to one of the fastest growing and hottest destinations in Mexico.The population has increased at incredible velocity and now is home to nearly 20,000 permanent residents, including the surrounding expansion close to Tulum’s downtown. Tulum offers a wide variety of attractions mainly divided between the ancient Maya archaeological site, the pueblo town, and the new hotel zone or zona hotelera. Tulum´s archaic Mayan sites are one of the best preserved coastal Maya ruins in the area, which has influenced it´s increased global attention. The downtown area is growing with unique boutiques, yoga and meditation studies, bicycle rentals, tours, internet cafes, and numerous restaurants of all types of cuisine.
Tulum’s magical Area
The ancient energy of the Maya, aligned with a plethora of natural wonders, curates an aura of wonder and magic throughout the area. This area has become internationally renown and several of the local attractions have achieved global stardom. The most popular are Sian Ka’an, a World Heritage Site biosphere, and Chichen Itza, one of the 7 wonders of the modern world. Additionally, there are numerous mesmerizing unique ecological phenomenon only found in the region: cenotes. Cenotes are underground fresh water pools formed by limestone that has collapsed and opened up pathways to underground rivers. Some spectacular ones are Grand Cenote, Maya Blue, Nohoch Kiin, Tortuga, Vacaha, Temple of Doom, Naharon, and Abejas. The Maya recognized cenotes as spiritual centers and was their main source of fresh water.
Tulum is truly a unique spot on this planet with one of a kind experience. Come to experience Tulum in its revival, now bursting with as much life, magic, and activity as when the Maya ruled it.
Tulum is a place of myth and mystery, also known as the ultimate place for an unplugged and stylish beach vacation. It is laid-back and eco-friendly. Along the stretch of Tulum’s gorgeous beach and nearby areas, you would find historic Mayan ruins, Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the visionary art community, and world-class shops and restaurants. However, the changes and impacts on the environment are real, we hope to raise awareness for sustainable tourism and share the future potential of this special place.
Where Jungle Meets the Beach
We settled in our home away from home at Casa Malca, located at the most exclusive southern end of Tulum Beach. It is an artistic wonderland with top-notch contemporary art, nature, and understated luxury. The property retains its grand legacy of Pablo Escobar’s old mansion, combines it with a contemporary approach and an alternative reality that art, design, and decoration can create. It offers maximum privacy and exquisite experience in the middle of the jungle.
Deep in the Jungle
The Mayans believe that the night air is filled with dreams, both good and bad. The bad dreams would get tangled within the dream catcher and perish with the first light of the new day.
On a new day, we arrived at the ancient Mayan city, Coba. The site contains a group of large temple pyramids and many sculpted stelae that document ceremonial life and events. We climbed 130 steps up to the top of the pyramid for the remarkable view of the area. We traced the series of elevated stone causeways, “Sacbe,” radiate from the central to various sites, including Tulum, that used to serve the city as the main port. The civilization was estimated with 50,000 inhabitants or more at its peak. So far, only 5% of the site has been rediscovered.
On the other side of the jungle, we came back to modern times for a unique art experience at SFER IK. Previously known as IK LAB, the organic architecture, winding lines and intricate patterns at the spaces in Tulum and Uh May inspired us to explore from external to spaces within, but also ourselves, through art. From Azulik to Sfer Ik, the founder/ creator, Roth has a cohesive vision to connect indigenous and contemporary communities demonstrating the nature and the Mayan culture could seamlessly coexist.
SFER IK is like an Art City that showcases some of the world’s finest artists and artisanal workshops, which link ancestral practices with avant-garde techniques and visionary design. It has a profound effect on those who visit, both from local and from afar.
A Night Out in The Jungle
The Tulum experience could not be complete without a stylish night out. We followed the neon sign and the giant disco ball to Gitano Tulum, sipping mezcal cocktails in the colonial-style jungle room and enjoyed the smokey vibe in the cactus garden. The modern Mexican cuisine done with open fire grill tasted just as good as it looked. It was beyond fabulous celebrating the jungle living along with vibrant music and a dramatic setting.
Raw Connection With Nature
With a nice buzz, we woke up from a beautiful dream in the chandelier room at Casa Malca, enjoying the glamour and exotic beauty from every corner. Then the sunrise came through from the horizon and lead us to breakfast on the beach at Philosophy restaurant. It was the perfect laid-back moment with a big gourmet breakfast and the beautiful scenery. The seasonal ingredients and the outdoor setting married so well together that you forgot the existence of time. Meanwhile, we could not ignore the seaweed problem that has become a massive issue across the Caribbean sea.
Then it was time for us to embrace the eco-living, ditched the car, and jumped on the bicycle for a day to explore the town and jungle. We came to the Dos Ojos area in North Tulum, discovered a series of Cenotes that are pristine and secluded. Coming from an ancient Mayan word, Cenote is a natural sinkhole filled by rain and water flowing from underground rivers through the limestone rocks. The Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico has more than 6000 different cenotes and is the most extensive underground river system in the world.
Followed the cenotes and lagoons, we headed south to the Sian Kaan Biosphere Reserve. Sian Ka’an is home to thousands of species and was declared as World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1987, remained as the largest protected area in the Mexican Caribbean. The best way to experience the reserve is to float in the Mayan Canals, learning the history and ecosystem at the same time. Then we joined together with Bushman Photography Team for a private tour on the speedboat.
Sian Kaan is definitely one of the most spectacular and ecologically diverse places on earth, and we hope it would stay that way for many generations to come.
Mayan Shaman & Temazcal Experience
At the end of our stay in Tulum, we met with a Mayan shaman for our first Temazcal experience. Originated from the Indigenous cultures of Mesoamerica, Temazcal is a type of sweat lodge used for purification or healing ceremony. Started around the fire, we thanked the earth and nature for everything they provide us.
The shaman uses herbs like sage to aid the cleansing process for body and soul. Followed the chanting, we entered the dome-like sweat lodge where hot volcanic rocks were placed in the center with water poured over to produce steam. The mindfulness session was a re-birth and self-reflecting experience that helps you reunite with the world with a clearer vision and inner peace. In the end, we are already part of the tribe for the spiritual journey and mission in Tulum.