History of Tulum, Mexico

History of Tulum, Mexico
It is not the biggest Mayan site in the Yucatan nor the most classic in design, but Tulum is one of the most popular given its easy access from Cancun and the Riviera Maya and its spectacular location on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean.


Scholars believe Tulum--which means wall in Mayan--was constructed in the Late Classic period, from 1200 to 1500 A.D., and served a s a Mayan seaport. Compared to other Classic sites on the peninsula, it is small and the architecture more crude, but still quite a tourist attraction.


It is believed Tulum may have once been called Zama, which means "dawn." That's appropriate because the small walled "city" of Mayan temples and plazas is located on a Caribbean cliff where you can see the sun rise on the east side of the Yucatan peninsula, a two-hour drive south of Cancun.

European Discovery

The Spanish explorer Juan de Grijalva "discovered" the seaside compound in 1518 as he mapped the coast of the Yucatan.


The site was overgrown when American artist John Lloyd Stephens and explorer Frederick Catherwood traveled to Tulum in 1843. They detailed the site in their classic book describing 44 Yucatecan Mayan sites.

Modern Tulum

Excavations of the site began in 1913 and continued off and on during the 20th century. Tourism facilities also began to spring up near the location, which has become the most visited Mayan ceremonial site in the Yucatan.

Diving with the gods

One of the most famous temple carvings at the site is said to represent a "diving god," appropriate since many visitors enjoy a dip in the sea at Tulum.

Article Written By Robin Thornley

Robin Thornley has been a successful writer for more than 25 years, penning articles for national magazines, newspapers and websites. She specializes in a variety of topics, including business, politics, lifestyle trends, travel and cuisine. She also is the author of two guidebooks.

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