As I felt the pronounced limestone wall that surrounded the ancient ruins of Tulum, I thought about my origins. My grandmother was Mayan, and she spoke one of the Mayan languages and Spanish. I spoke English, so we didn’t converse that much when I was a child. We used a language system that consisted mostly of facial expressions and pointing. Yet, now that I am in my late 20s and she has been gone for about 10 years, I could feel a connection to her here at the ruins in Tulum.
Tulum sits on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula by the Caribbean Sea. The funny thing about the city was that it was built when the Mayan empire began to wane. Yet, you wouldn’t be able to see that by looking at the 784-meter wall that encompasses the city, or the Castillo and some of the better preserved structures. Tulum looks more like the starting point to a vast and wondrous civilization. Tulum is a city that makes a statement and there are many things to do in Tulum for tourists.
According to historians, Tulum was the only Mayan city built on the coast, and it was used primarily for trading turquoise and jade. There were roughly 600 Mayans who lived in Tulum, but some researchers believe that only nobility and priests lived within the walls. Peasants had to live outside of the walls. The mystery of the demographics that made up the city is just another part of the mystery of the Mayan empire. When compared to the Aztecs and the Incas, we much less about the Mayans than we should.
This rings very true to me and my relationship with my grandmother. I remember my yearly visit to her home, but I had forgotten most of it. I wanted to not only reconnect with my roots but find out more about myself by visiting the Yucatán Peninsula. I also wanted a break from the hustle and bustle of work and other responsibilities. The laid-back culture of the Maya Riviera certainly made this possible, but I still needed to do my part. I needed to put my phone down, not worry about what might be happening in the office right now, and be welcome to change.
Taking a Breath in Paradise
Occidental Grand Xcaret Resort is located within an ecological and historical preserve. I have to admit that this part of the trip wasn’t hard to adapt to. The resort is a draw for eco-tourists as well as people like me who needed a little R&R. It is an all-inclusive resort, so there were plenty of great foods and drinks. The resort had eleven different restaurants, and each offered slightly different cuisine, from fresh-caught fish for dinner to local Mexican and even a pizzeria. The resort also has its own private beach, watersport activities, eco-guided tours, and more. It was a great way to clear my head and live in the present for once.
Connecting with My Past through Food in the Tulum Pueblo
After my three-day stay at the Occidental Grand Xcaret Resort, I took a morning taxi down Highway 307, which connects Cancun to many of the coastal cities in the Yucatán Peninsula. Depending on where you stay in Cancun, the trip will take you roughly about two hours to get to Tulum. It is well worth it, though. I took a taxi, but there are a number of bus and shuttle services as well as guided tours sponsored by Cancun tourism companies.
Some people overlook the Tulum pueblo, which I can’t recommend enough to check out after you visit the playa and ruins sections of Tulum. The pueblo is where many of the workers in the area live, and it contains a wonderful farmer’s market, craft stores, and several restaurants that others told me were certainly worth checking out.
One of the first things I noticed was all of the corn dishes being served by street vendors. Corn was a major grain harvested by the Mayans, and they used corn for everything. The sights and smells conjured a memory for me about how my grandmother would devote an entire day to making corn tamales with pork, which made the whole house smell fantastic for at least a week afterward. She would let me form the tamales sometimes and show me how to wrap the tamale in the corn husk before steaming it.
Another favorite in the Yucatan Peninsula is Sopa de Lima, which is another food that be traced back to Mayan times. Sopa de Lima is kind of like chicken noodle soup but with a twist – a lime twist to be exact. There is definitely a lime presence in the broth but the best part of the soup is the chicken. It is marinated for days and slow-cooked, so it is extremely tender. This was another dish that could be found in my grandmother’s kitchen. You can also find cricket dishes in Tulum pueblo. I wasn’t adventurous enough to try those though.
On to the Tulum Ruins
There’s one thing I forgot to mention. You’re going to need water. The Tulum ruins can get very humid. Once you take the mile length restaurant-lined road off Highway 307 to the ruins, you’re going to feel the heat. It is a small place, and there are a lot of tourists in the area. The wall acts not only as a barrier from possible enemy attack but from the cooling breeze of the Caribbean as well. You may want to bring bottled water with you if you can. You should also bring money. Access to the ruins will cost you roughly 50 pesos.
The ruins are surprisingly very intact. The Temple of the Frescoes features a beautiful mural representing the Mayan gods and their relationship with people on earth. Besides the Temple of the Frescoes, the Castillo, and the Temple of Descending Gods are other popular sites that have remained well preserved.
When you go north of the Castillo you will take a path down to one of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see. This is one of the few historical destinations where your swimsuit is required. As I lay on the beach and looked back up at the bluff, I found a sense of peace that I didn’t know was possible. I not only had the chance to pamper myself and take myself away from the stresses of life at home; I had the opportunity to see where I came from – through how the Mayan culture is still preserved today in the pueblo, and through the ruins of its civilization
It was certainly an enlightening experience. I only wish I had spent more time there. There are so many adventures that are possible out there, including swimming in the cenotes near Cancun, exploring the massive cave systems, walking along the beach road, and more. You don’t have to explore your Mayan past to enjoy Tulum. It is a destination anyone looking for peace and a sense of adventure will enjoy.
For me, specifically, I will admit that I found the greatest opportunity I had to preserve my grandmother’s memory and honor her heritage was through the food. When I am lucky enough to have a child of my own, I will be sure to teach my children some of the same recipes my grandmother taught me to show them just exactly where they came from. And if they want to visit Tulum one day, I have to admit I wouldn’t mind coming back.
Where to Stay
There are lots of. places to stay in the area. There are Airbnbs in Tulum as well as resorts in Tulum and further up the coast in Playa del Carmen, Riveria Maya and Cancun.