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Tulum: The new alternative city of Cancun

Cancun is a world-class tourist city and possibly the most famous city in Mexico. With its beautiful beach, never-sleeping night clubs and a rich culture (notably with Chichen Itza within driving distance), Cancun is a hot destination for tourists around the world.

However, Tulum has been getting more attention in recent years. This is because the city also has a world-class beach (if not even better than Cancun) and also with fewer tourists. In addition, Tulum also has the ancient Mayan ruins nearby, most notably the city Coba.

Where is it?

Tulum is located just 150 km south of Cancun, and about 60 km south of Playa de Carmen. If you are traveling internationally, you most likely will land at the international airport in Cancun. From there, you can easily rent a car to drive there, or take an ADO bus.

What is there to do?

There are many things you can do in Tulum and definitely worth your while. First, there is Coba, the archaeological site that was an important city in the Yucatan Penninsula. Second, there are many cenotes around Tulum and Playa del Carmen area (refer to my post about cenotes). Third, there is the large archaeological zone of Tulum that is located along the coastal line of Yucatan.


Coba is an ancient Mayan city in Tulum. There are several structures in the area, but the most famous attraction is the large pyramid called the "Nohoch Mul Pyramid", and it is 42 metres tall and has 120 steps.

Since there are no safety handrails, it can get quite dangerous climbing up and down the pyramid.

Since Chichen Itza is also an important city to the Mayan empire, the Mayans built white roads that connect the two cities (Chichen Itza and Coba). The road is approximate 100 kilometres long and it glows at night.

The area has several poisonous trees. The poisonous tree is called "Chechen" and it produces a black sap that will give you itchiness. However, due to the amazing nature, there is always a yin and yang. For every bad "Chechen" poisonous tree, there is always a good tree, called "Chacah" that gives the antidote. The naming of these trees come from ancient legends where two warrior brothers with completely different personality, fought each other and died. The Mayans believed their spirits were reborn into trees.


Although it is known that basketball is invented by Canadian Dr. James Naismith, the Mayans are believed to have invented their own version of basketball many years ago.

Even though Mayans were on average 4 feet tall, they invented the basketball, or the "Ball Game" where two teams compete each other and tried to use a rubber ball to shoot through a stone-made ring. Since the rings were built at high positions, it is often difficult for anybody to get the ball through the ring. When a Mayan did manage to get a ball through the ring, the game usually ends.

The players symoblize planets and the sideway rings represent the sun.

The sport is a serious activity in Mayan tradition. The winner is crowned as the hero and is often sacrificed voluntarily (decapitated) to the gods. As weird as it sounds, Mayans at that time want to get sacrified because it is considered an honour to the society. Mayans believe that there are 13 levels of heaven and 9 levels of hell. Through sacrificial rituals, the Mayans can reach a few levels of heaven.


There are several cenotes around the Tulum and Playa del Carmen area. It was estimated that there are 5,000 cenotes in total in the Yucatan Penninsula.

If you have the Open Water Scuba Diving Certificate, I suggest you to visit Cenote Dos Ojos. It is considered a cavern scuba dive and the view underneath is something that you have not seen before.

There are also several other cenotes such as Gran Cenote, Choo-Ha, Multun-Ha and Tamcach-Ha.

Tamcach-Ha cenote does not require any scuba diving certificate, but the area is enclosed and there are diving boards for you to jump.


Before the Spanish came to Tulum in the 1500s, Tulum was already long abandoned and in ruins. Historians hypothesized that the abadonment was due to an uprising. Back in the days, Tulum had a couple thousand residents (quite large back then). The Tulumians used a hierarchy model to divide the nobles and commoners. One day, the commoners were fed up and revolted against the nobles. Ever since, the city was in ruins.

Tulum means the wall city and has 52 buildings. Around Tulum, you'll see many iguanas. Since Mayans eat iguanas, they are often called Mayanchickens.

Unfortunately, most of Tulum's tombs and relics are in museums around the world.


Unlike other popular beaches in Cancun, Tulum beaches are a lot more calm and quite because of the fewer number of tourists. It is definitely a fashionable escape for families and couples. The white sand at the Tulum beach is a lot softer.

However, be careful when you step on a semi-private beach that is owned by a resort.

Are there any tour packages?

There are several tour packages to visit Tulum. You can easily get them at Cancun/Playa Del Carmen city centre or at your hotel.

For comparison purpose, it costs about $130 USD/person for a 1-day private tour to Tulum.

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Who is Henry Shew?

Henry is an avid traveler and a tax consultant by profession.


Walk In My Shew is started to document the travel stories and culture experienced in different countries.


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