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Travel blog: my journey into Tulum's - Mayan ruins

Updated: Oct 17, 2020

The big day has come and gone. I am back in the States and Tulum no longer feels - so far away and neither does Maya.

The Mayans still exist. Descendants of the Maya still live in Central America in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and many parts of Mexico. The majority live in Guatemala, which is home to Tikal National Park, the site of the ancient city of Tikal.


Prior to my visit to the ancient ruins of Tulum I thought my biggest questions regarding to the Myan's were, "What happened to the them -- and why did they disappear?

Today -- I feel intuitively that the answers do not lie in traveling thousands of miles from home -- though this works -- but going within for the answers. Ultimately we are all one, innerstanding this tidbit goes along way in the grand scheme of things.

Who were they? What is the true history of the Mayan civilization? What really happened to them? Join me on this epic adventure as I explore the Yucatan Peninsula.... and dive deep into Maya land - Tulum.

If you decide to search the true history of the Myan civilization -- especially that of the west -- you may walk away believing -- that these indigenous people were warring and destructive humans that fought amongst themselves. I am NOT in agreement with this perspective.

You may also discover that early scholars also believed them to have vast knowledge regarding trade, written language, astronomy, mathematics, and an impressively accurate calendar. Historians were impressed by the intellectual achievements of their culture.

The Maya were a civilization and culture that is a study in contrasts. They had respect for nature and considered animals sacred, yet both animals and humans were regularly sacrificed to appease their gods. They were great historians and builders, yet never used the wheel as a form of transportation. They were superstitious and feared thunder and lightning but predicted astronomical phenomena with stunning precision. This contradiction of the Maya represents some of their mystery that I have been intrigued with.

The word Tulum means “wall, trench or fence” in the Mayan language. According to our guide who is native to Tulum - when the spanish came and saw the structure they asked the Maya -- what was the structure. There was a language barrier and -- pointing to the wall -- the Maya said, 'Tulum'. Which is why the 'wall' is known as Tulum. Moreover, the ancient name of the city was Zama, meaning “dawn” or “sunrise,” which is appropriate given its location.  Built on a bluff facing the rising sun, this ruin site is the only Maya settlement located on the beaches of the Caribbean. 

See picture below - breathtaking view over looking the ancient ruins in Tulum, Mexico.

It was also one of the very few cities in the Maya world that was ever walled or fortified.  These walls are located on three sides of the settlement with the ocean protecting the eastern borders.  They are 3 to 5 meters (16ft) in height, 8 m (26ft) thick and 400 m (1,300ft) long with the western wall parallel to the sea. 

Tulum was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya. According to historic reports it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico.

To put it all in perspective, the Mayan city of Tulum stands 130 km south and 700 years away of Cancun. But the contrast between the two can be measured in more than just distance, time and space. Cancun is a string of large resort hotels which did not exist prior to 1974 and which specialize in the expected. Tulum, on the other hand, was built during what is known as the Mayan post-classic period.

Observing it all first hand

Upon seeing the great wall at the Zona Arqueologica de Tulum -- my mind lit up with such awe and wonder. I could not help but feel that somehow I had been teleported back to the time whereas the Maya thrived -- and it felt complete -- much like the Egyptians -- they came to teach... and then they were gone. The ruins in Tulum for me, would become a giant puzzle waiting to be pieced together - and I would happily accept the challenge.

Let's talk Cenotes

Cenote Choo-Ha

The Yucatan Pennisula is known to have the world's largest number of underwater sinkholes, also known as Cenotes.

Cenotes are holes in the ground that reveal the underground rivers of the region. This river system is a natural wonder that has been carved over millions of years. Cenotes will captivate you with their crystalline waters, unique cave formations and mysterious darkness. They draw explorers, travelers and adventurers alike from all over the world.

A cenote (from the Maya "ts'ono'ot" or water hole) is an opening in the ground that connects the underground rivers to the surface. The word "cenote" comes from the Mayan word "ts'onot" and means "hole with water."

The Mayan civilization relied on cenotes as their primary source of water. According to tradition, caves and cenotes are also the home of Chac, the Maya god of rain, as well as the entrance to Xibalba, the Underworld. In times of drought or stress, or when Maya leaders appealed to Chac by making offerings to him in cenotes.

By the time the Spanish arrived in the Yucatan and recorded the practice in the sixteenth century, the Maya had been performing human sacrifice for at least a thousand years. Bishop Diego de Landa, who recorded acts of sacrifice at Chichen Itza in the sixteenth century, wrote:

Into the well it was their custom to cast living men as a sacrifice to the Gods in time of drought; and it was their belief that they did not die, although they never saw them anymore. They also threw in many other things of precious stone and articles which they highly prized.

This is not to say, however, that all cenotes contain ritual offerings. Archaeologists believe the Maya kept their "ritual" cenotes separate from their "domestic" cenotes. Spiritual considerations aside, the practicalities of disease prevention alone would prevent communities from contaminating their drinking water with human remains. The challenge for archaeologists is to determine which cenotes were used by the Maya for domestic purposes -- these usually just contain pots, construction materials, and some animal remains -- and which ones were used to make appeals to Chac. "Human remains in a cenote are usually a good sign that it was used for ritual purposes, says de Anda. "Of course, there are always accidents," he adds, "but when you have a number of remains, the possibility that they're all accidents is obviously not likely."

These deep caverns were also a key part of the Mayan cosmology.

The entire Yucatan peninsula is made of limestone that was formed millions of years ago by the sedimentation and compaction of shells and other ocean detritus. Like he shells that formed it, limestone is mainly composed of calcium. Consequently, when rain falls in the Peninsula, the water rapidly drains through the rock, slowly dissolving it. As a consequence, we have two phenomenons; first, the peninsula has much fewer superficial rivers than it should considering the quantity of water that precipitates in the area; and second, there are many caves and underground rivers. These rivers grow larger over time. Eventually, the roof of a cave may become too thin to support its own weight and collapse, creating an opening to the surface known as a cenote.

Some people describe cenotes as being like natural Gothic churches. They evoke awe and wonder, and their tucked away locations make one wonder what else lie beneath mother earth. The underground world of cenotes calls for exploration -- where one uncovers magical windows into the underworld....of sorts.

Calcium carbonate countermould

A short car ride from the Cobá ruins, the Cenote Choo-Ha is an impressive underground cenote. Accessed via a small opening in the ground, a narrow wooden staircase leads into a huge round cavern. The high rock ceilings boast thousands of stalactites and stalagmites.

Michael and Carli Frueh after diving into a Cenote in Tulum

There are two other cenotes in the immediate area. Tankach-Ha is loved by dare-devil cliff divers, and Multun-Ha is best for scuba divers, regrettably we did not have time to visit the later two.

Piecing together what Tulum was so many years ago is fascinating. I am thrilled to be able to chronicle my journey and share some tokens of truth relating to these ancient ancestors.

Tulum is a must-see if you’re in Mexico, especially since it’s one of the few walled cities built by the Maya.

Stay connected to my blog for updates on my spiritual journey to Tulum!


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