Monday, April 22, 2013

Location, Location, Location! The Ancient Mayans Got their Real Estate Right in Tulum, Mexico.

Picture of the Main Temple of the Descending God at the Tulum Ruins in Mexico
Temple of the Descending God in Tulum
I promised to finish our Tulum, Mexico trip in my last post since I hadn't gotten to the amazing ruins, so here you go.

The ruins at Tulum are perched on cliffs that overlook the beautiful Caribbean.  I have never experienced a more dramatic and beautiful location for ruins anywhere else in the world.  I know I haven't seen all the ruins in the world yet, but I am pretty sure Tulum is going to be hard to beat in terms of location.  

Pathway Through the Ancient Mayan Ruins at Tulum, Mexico

Years ago Callie and our friends the Frogleys took a tour here with a local guide named Mosiah.  He was really great--he helped us feed Iguanas, showed us parts of the complex that were still being excavated, and explained all of the rich symbolism found carved throughout the complex--so we were very excited when we found him again on this trip.  He was equally great with our kids as he was with us years ago.  It is definitely worthwhile to find a guide that knows these ruins well.  I am usually one who doesn't like to be "guided", but in this particular case there is no way I could have gotten as much out of this treasure on my own.  You will definitely miss a ton trying to figure things out on your own at these ruins, so splurge and get a good guide to unlock the magic of this place for you.

The Back of the Ancient Temple of the Descending God Overlooking the Caribbean
The back of the Temple of the Descending God overlooking the Caribbean
In the picture above, you can see that the back of the Temple of the Descending God is right on the edge of the cliff overlooking the turquoise Caribbean.  Our guide explained that it wasn't simply because of the view that this temple was placed here--it points directly to where the "great white god" (perhaps the Spanish??) came from the sky, through the only passage in the reef (directly out from this temple) and to the land where he visited the people.  I'm not doing the story justice, but there is a lot of symbolism surrounding everything about these ruins, and a purpose for every building placement, carving, and even alignment with the sun, moon, and stars.

View of the Ancient Mayan Temple of the God of Winds Just Above the Waters of the Caribbean Sea
Temple of the God of Winds
The temple of the God of Winds also has a striking perch as it sits on a solitary outcropping with powdery sand beach (which is protected as a sea turtle nesting site) leading up to it.

Beautiful Palm Tree Right on the Public Beach Below the Ruins of Tulum
Gorgeous public beach directly below the ruins
Believe it or not, there is a public beach right below the main temple.  It is incredibly beautiful, and quite popular.  You won't find many places where you can play on the beach right below ancient ruins, but this is one of them.

View of the Ancient Mayan Ruin Called La Iglesia (the Church) with its Rounded Corners at Coba, Mexico
La Iglesia with its rounded corners at Coba
The most famous ruins in the Yucatan are those at Chichen Itza, and they are truly amazing, and very much a must-see.  We have visited them in previous trips and absolutely loved them.  They are also a long drive from Tulum (2 1/2 hours), very crowded, and more developed than other ruin sites, so we decided to visit Coba on this trip.  Coba is a sprawling (mostly still unexcavated) site only about an hour drive from Tulum. 

Ancient Mayan Ball Court at the Ruins of Coba Mexico
The ancient ceremonial ball court
The picture above is of the ceremonial ball court.  There are ball courts at many of the ruin sites throughout Central America, so they were obviously an important part of the culture in the ancient world.  We have heard various explanations about what the ball court was used for, and though not all of them agree with each other it is pretty likely that it was a symbolic game relating to the battle between good and evil, the heavens (high on the wall) and the underworld (below ground).  Either way, it is a very interesting structure.

The ruins at Coba are spread out and there is a lot of walking involved at discovering all of its hidden gems.  The walk--along the Sacbe (white road)--is one of the great parts of the visit. These roads have been in place as long as the ruins and they connect the major cultural and spiritual centers of the ancient Mayan world.  In fact, at least one of these roads continues through the jungle all the way to Chichen Itza almost 70 miles away. 

Approaching the Nohoch Mul Temple on the Sacbe, White Road, in Coba, Mexico
Approaching the temple of Nohoch Mul on the Sacbe--White Road
The pyramid temple of Nohoch Mul is the largest structure in Coba.  At 197 feet, it is actually the tallest accessible structure in the Yucatan (even taller than the great pyramid at Chichen Itza we were told--and that one has been closed to hiking now too).  It was raining quite hard the day we were here, and that was actually a really good thing--it was cooler, there were fewer mosquitoes, and fewer people, and it replaced my mandatory monthly bath ;-) 

The Steep Climb up the Pyramid Temple of Nohoch Mul in Coba, Mexico
Steeper than it looks from a distance
The climb to the top is much steeper than it looks from a distance.  The view from the top is incredible though.  There are no mountains in the Yucatan so most of the mounds you see in the jungle are actually ruins that just haven't been excavated yet.  We were told that the last hurricane uncovered at least 5,000 new sites!

Trying to keep my family from jumping off the top of the Pyramid Temple of Nohoch Mul in Coba Mexico
Good thing there was a No Diving sign on the top of the pyramid ;-)
 Behind us in the picture above you can see how far the view goes from the top.

My Sons Performing a Fake Human Sacrifice on the top of the Pyramid Temple of Nohoch Mul in Coba Mexico
I can't turn my back on my boys for fear of being sacrificed!
 So, I'll end this post with a picture of my boys being boys on the top of the Nohoch Mul temple.  As this picture suggests, there is something interesting for every member of the family at the ruins we visit.  We swung from vines, looked for paint on the ancient stone tablets, caught frogs and lizards, jumped in puddles, and found something fun around every bend in the White Road.  

As is the case with every one of my posts, I really only just scratched the surface on all the things we did on this trip.  If you would like any information on this great destination, resources we used, or suggestions on what to do when you go, please just let me know.  Now... get out there.  What are you waiting for!


  1. I knew your family has done some amazing things, but it is amazing to see the experiences that have shaped them into the great people they are. I hope we can share half as many amazing places with our kids as you have!

  2. Michelle, you are being way to modest! We frequently see where you and your family are going and what you are doing and it motivates us to try and get in on the fun, so thanks!

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