In contrast to the dire and depressing nearby town of the same name, the Mayan ruins of Tulum are an utter delight. Their main attraction isn't the architecture as such (though that's pretty good) but the deeply atmospheric location, perched on top of a cliff overlooking the blue Caribbean Sea.
Of course, being a picturesque ruin near the most tourist-friendly corner of the Yucatán Peninsula has its disadvantages, and the large number of tourists can seem a little cattle-like, especially at the weekend. But the mark of a good attraction is whether you can still lose yourself in the moment while surrounded by hordes of cameras and crowds, and we found it pretty easy at the Tulum ruins. It's great.
The ruins date from the 13th to the 15th century, and although they are roped off and a fair distance from the walkways, you still get a good feeling for the layout of this important port town, which was only abandoned some 70 years after the Spanish arrived in Central America. The most impressive building, which is perched right on the cliff and dominates the site, is the Castillo, from where you can walk down a wooden staircase to a lovely little beach. When we visited on a Sunday, the beach was pretty busy; one interesting side effect is that this must be one of the only archeological sites on the planet where young girls wander through the ancient ruins wearing nothing but bikinis, posing on the cliff-tops and the beaches in that hip-thrusting way that the Latin Americans have made their own.
The views from the Castillo across to other buildings – particularly the Templo del Dios Viento, which lies on the other side of a beach that's closed to tourists due to the turtles who use it to hatch their eggs – are as pretty as postcards, so it's no surprise that the outlooks are rammed with couples pulling selfies and young men photographing their posing other halves with ancient Maya in the background. Instead of ruining the ruins, I thought it all rather fun and surprisingly apt; the temples of Tulum were dedicated to the worship of the setting sun (which is why most of the building entrances face west) and there's nothing more romantic than holding hands as the daylight gently sinks into the sunset. Sure, brazenly Brazilian bikinis were probably pretty rare in the days of ancient Maya, but in some sense, the same worship still goes on today in these pretty ruins by the sea.