EST. 2009

September 29, 2017

That Mayan Moment

TULUM IS THE SITE OF THE ONLY MAYAN RUINS ON THE CARIBBEAN COAST. It was one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya peoples, perched on windy cliffs 39 feet high. Though it is estimated to have been constructed between 1200 and 1450, a monolith found on the site bears the inscribed date of AD 564, taking its history further back to ancient times.

In the central precint is a 25-foot tall pyramid called "El Castillo" or "castle". A stone's throw away is the Temple of the Frescoes, which was once an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. The postcard-perfect "Templo Dios del Viento" or "God of the Winds" temple overlooks the sea. And as if archaeology dedicated to ancient gods doesn't make Tulum feel exotic enough, its natural aspects make it equally serene and savage. Soft sands meet craggy rocks. Harsh winds blow slender palms. In the foliage, I spotted a snake or two. And the lizards, they roam aplenty.

Stepping away from the shore, the coastal town offers both local and curated commerce, in the form of popular eateries and boutiques so very high in style. Hartwood is one such hotspot; a no-reservations restaurant serving dishes cooked purely with firewood. Kitchen Table is less popular but no less remarkable. Nestled in the jungle, the restaurant is built with, and using only materials native to the region.

Boutiques in Tulum were made for Pinterest boards and coolhunting. Caravana Montaecristo is a destination in itself, with its handmade clothing line exhibited in open air amidst palm trees and stone vases. Other shops dot the main road, sandwiched by resorts ranging from chic to eco-chic; the latter includes resorts operating without electricity.

Contemporary concepts may sound removed from Tulum's Mayan past, but artefacts from the site in fact present Tulum as having been an active trading town. There were copper, gold, and ceramic objects from all over the Yucatan, and obsidian from Guatemala. Salt and textiles, among other goods were brought in by traders from beyond the sea.

In Tulum, I traded off some things too. Vacations naturally add to credit card bills, but it's a time-tested, ready-made way to swap the demands of everyday life for something more extraordinary. To feel the wind, watch the sea, and observe the sun as the Maya peoples once did, was extraordinary indeed.

Tulum Ruins, Hotel Mi Amor, and Papaya Playa Project, Tulum, Quintana Roo. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.