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#5 Tulum, Mexico

tulum loco gringo
Population: Just over 19,000
Average Annual Temp: 82°F
Affordability (6 of 10)
Real Estate Prediction Meter (8 of 10)
Quality of Life (9 of 10)
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Photo by Damian James

With its mysterious and awe-inspiring Mayan Ruins, beautiful beaches, and proximity to vibrant tourist destinations along the Riviera Maya, it is little wonder that Tulum, Mexico occupies the number five slot on our list. Established on the 39 ft. high cliffs on the Yucatan Peninsula’s eastern coast, Tulum may have been one of the last Mayan cities established but has endured through the centuries to become one of the best known and most popular.

Tulum’s original name may have been Zuma (City of Dawn) because it faced the east. Another explanation for the name comes from the Mayan word for fence, or wall. As an easily defended location, Tulum had ready access to both land and sea trading routes making it an economically important location in the Mayan world.

Though smaller in scale than other Mayan sites, Tulum’s ruins are among some of the best preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula. This may be due, in large part, to the natural protections offered by the cliffs and the ocean. Although first mentioned by Juan Diaz, the chaplain of the Grijalva expedition in his 1518 itinerary of the trip, it appears that by the end of the 16th century, Tulum was totally abandoned. It would not be until the middle nineteenth century that efforts were made to map or study the site.

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Photo by Damian James

Adventures In Time And Space

Tulum today has a unique combination of historical wonder, stunning white sands, a growing tourist industry, and the rich, inviting culture of the Yucatan. Culture and archeology buffs can revel in exploring the Mayan Ruins that include the Temple of The Frescoes, The Temple of the Diving God and the majestic El Castillo. The Temple of The Frescoes has a special importance as it contains an observatory for tracking the Sun’s movements. The recent resurgence in the Mayan calendar certainly make this a must-see location.

Though it may not be the first image that comes to mind when Tulum is mentioned, the stunning beaches are great reminder that, yes, Tulum is a beach town as well. It is difficult to imagine where else in the world beach lovers could enjoy the sands while being able to look at the only Mayan pyramid with a sea view. Conde Nast Traveler has designated Tulum as having “the most beautiful beaches in the world” and with good reason; sun, sand, the jade green Caribbean and a less frenetic pace than other Yucatan destinations. What’s not to love?

Adventurers looking for something different will find exploring the various cenotes near Tulum just to their liking. Cenotes can be best described as surface connections to subterranean bodies of water. Being able to visit and experience these cave systems with their underground rivers is both exhilarating and, in some cases challenging. The names alone are enough to pique the interest of adrenaline lovers looking for something out of the ordinary: Temple of Doom, Tortuga, Maya Blue and Grand Cenote (among others) are all close to Tulum where tours can be arranged.

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Photo by Damian James

The nearby biosphere reserve of Sian Ka’an allows nature lovers to enjoy the great variety of biodiversity on both land and sea; part of the reserve is in the Caribbean and includes a section of coral reef. A special feature of Sian Ka’an is that, in addition to the nature conservation projects that it is famous for, the preserve also contains some twenty-three Mayan ruins, including Muyil. Muyil is best known as one of the earliest inhabited Mayan sites in the Yucatan with relics and artifacts that date back to 350 BCE. Being able to immerse oneself in nature and an ancient culture at the same time is a blend that is unique to Tulum.

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Tulum Today, Tulum Tomorrow

Tulum is definitely growing from the sleepy fishing village with the Mayan ruins that it once was. The influx of foreigners has, predictably, resulted in newer and more modern hotels and residences appearing in the surrounding areas. Tulum today is divided into four zones; the hotel zone, the biosphere (represented by the eco-park), the pueblo-the small town center, and the archeological sites. The beach area actually is closest to Sian Ka’an and is the location of some of the trendier hotels and restaurants.

Getting to Tulum has become easier as well. Flying into the international airport in Cancun leaves adventurers only a ninety minute drive to Tulum. There are buses, shuttles and taxis in addition to rental cars that provide various “ride or drive” options. Once in the town, taxis are the most convenient way to get from the beach to the pueblo, over to the ruins, and back to the hotel. There are also shared vans, known as collectivos, that run to the beach; departure times and locations can vary, however.

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Photo by Damian James

Property values are on the rise in the Tulum area. Being in a largely underdeveloped part of Riviera Maya, land is still readily available. Foreigners even have the opportunity to own property within the 30 mile coastal zone as a result of the efforts of the Mexican Trust. A number of new residential projects and new resorts are also providing expats and those looking for potential investment options the opportunity to get in on the ground floor of exciting possibilities for the future.

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Photo by Damian James

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With the close proximity to the US, easy access, a great combination of top quality beaches, historical and cultural sites, an increasingly expat friendly environment, and strong potential for good investment returns, ancient Tulum is poised to also be destination for tomorrow as well.

More Tulum Resources

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