Chichen Itza is one of the Seven Wonders of the World and one of Mexico’s biggest tourist attracations. It’s also a 2 1/2-hour bus ride from Cancun and in the center of a hot, dry Yucatan Penisula. Closer to Cancun is Tulum, less-traveled Mayan ruins that stand on a cliff overlooking a cool, pristine swath of white, sandy beach. Tulum has a startling, unexpected beauty to it with architecture similar to Chichen Itza. Pass the actors dressed as Mayan warriors loitering around the Haagen Daaz ice cream stand and keep going–soon you’ll step back in time.
Tulum is said to have been first mentioned during a Spanish expedition in 1518. Decades later, the Mayans would succumb to European diseases and their city on the cliff would begin to crumble. Still standing are three major structures: El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God, which you’re allowed to view from a short distance. You can’t climb or touch the ruins even though there are iguanas everywhere doing just that. You can swim at the beach below the cliff, and people were. There’s no escaping the sun there; a number of people jumped in with their clothes on.
Tulum was a lovely surprise–worth the money and the 90-minute, relatively smooth, air-conditioned bus ride. After so many centuries, these ruins still stand despite brutal heat and noisy tourists. A hat is a must, for the sun beats down on this pre-Colonial city. It’s no wonder the Mayans were always looking up, worshipping the skies. Still, as we walked past those stone buildings and heard the surf pounding below, I wondered what it was like to live in ancient times, to be so strongly ruled by the cycles of the Earth, a rising sun, a quieting moon, the moods of the Caribbean below. Modern life is very much removed from anything cyclical, as we email vacation photos taken on our cell phones to friends and family who are unable to sleep in their own countries and continents because they, too, are wired and have forgotten how to be still. Even with hundreds of tourists drifting about speaking dozens of languages, Tulum is a special place to take in rhythmic stillness–as so many others did years and years ago.