Spectacularly located on a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, the archaeological site from Tulum, is a treasure of the ancient Maya world.

I was traveling on the Caribbean coast in Mexico, heading to Belize, when I decided to make a stopover in Tulum Pueblo. A few days earlier I visited the Chichen Itza pyramids and I was keen to see more of Maya civilization and to understand better how did it managed to last such a long history.

Tulum, the Mayan word for fence or wall, is a walled city that dates back around eight hundred years and it served as a sacred site and, also, as a sea port. It was one of the last cities built and inhabited by Mayas and one of the first settlements that Spanish Conquistadors encountered in Mexico. Mayas proved to be difficult to be conquest and, as they didn’t have gold, they managed to coexist with the Spanish for two hundred years, before Spain finally took control of their lands. Even so, Mayas and their rich culture and language continued to exist. In fact most people in the Yucatan today are of Mayas and Spanish descents.

Maya woman. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Maya woman. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Entering the ruins through one of the five doorways of the wall, I was greeted by a field of gently-rolling hills. Black and grey stone outcroppings, which were once buildings, dot  sunbaked landscape. There are a few structures of the ancient wall, with graceful columns and elegant carvings.This site seems different than other Maya settlements, in that it is settled alongside the sea and surrounded by high walls.

Inside the site. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Inside the site. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

The most prominent among the remaining structures is El Castillo, which is perched on the edge of a limestone cliff, overlooking the Caribbean coast. This seems to indicate it was a port and, probably, a lighthouse to guide the boats through the reef. Its orientation towards the rising sun is also significant and could indicate it was a worshiper temple.

There are also the Temple of the Frescoes, used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun and the Temple of the Descending God, with old murals depicting ancient ceremonies.

Just north of Castillo, Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple) towers dramatically the Caribbean Sea. It, probably, used to work as a warning siren for the whole Maya community, making sounds whenever a hurricane reached the area.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Imagining what Tulum ruins once looked like, is exciting. This was not only a trading post for Mayas, but also a strong defense against invaders. This site was, probably, what Hernan Cortes may have first seen when he approached the Mexican coast in 1519. He was a Spanish conquistador and explorer who defeated the Aztecs (who occupy the abandoned Mayan cities) and claimed Mexico for Spain.  

Agitated waves before the rain. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Agitated waves before the rain. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

Throughout the ruins, I spot a few iguanas bathing lazy in the sun, or chilling at the shadow of the trees, while trying to find my way down to the beach. The Mexican coast is thick with these prehistoric looking lizards.

Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

With the soft white sand under my toes and no one around to share my piece of bohemian beach, I get a feeling of solitude. The gentle waves caress the shore of the pristine beach that looks almost surreal. As I am looking out over the blue Caribbean and spotting the island of Cozumel off in the distance, I am thinking Mayas surely knew how to pick a good spot.

My piece of beach. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj
My piece of beach. Photo by Ovidiu Balaj

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