Visit the ancient Mayans at Tulum Ruins

Tulum-Ruins-towerside-of-Tulum-El-Castillo-Pyramid-containing-the-royal-living-quarters-military-fortress-by-Eric-Hunter-1400x1400, Visit the ancient Mayans at Tulum Ruins, Culture Currents
This is the towerside of Tulum’s El Castillo Pyramid, which contained the royal living quarters and military fortress. It’s an interesting contrast with the pyramids of Egypt, which served as tombs. – Photo: Eric Hunter

by Eric Hunter

Whenever I travel to different places, I like to explore the region, examine the culture and learn their history. This summer, it was time to have fun in the sun. My wife and I wanted to visit someplace around the Caribbean, so we decided to visit the Yucatán Peninsula in eastern Mexico. 

The first thing that comes to many people’s minds when you mention the Yucatán is the busy city of Cancun. A popular place for spring breakers, Cancun is known for its beautiful beaches and partying. The quiet towns south of the zona hotelera de Cancún are often overlooked, but those quiet towns in southern Yucatán have the greatest attractions: ancient Mayan history. I was able to visit the ancient Mayan city of Tulum.

Our journey began in the early morning hours. We traveled by bus along the main highway as locals sped past us in tiny cars. From the highway, all we could see were billboards, gas stations and hotel entrances – until we suddenly turned off the highway into Tulum National Park. The parking lot led us to a small town center where vendors sold food and souvenirs, while performers danced with snakes and swung from tall poles for tips. 

At the other end of the center, we reached a walking path to the walls of Tulum. Birds sang from the tall trees of the surrounding jungle. Our knowledgeable tour guide taught us about the different buildings and their purpose while we hiked through rocky ruins. All paths led to the Castillo, a pyramid on the cliffs overlooking the sparkling Caribbean sea.

Our tour guide was a native descendant of the Mayan peoples who occupied the land from around 1200 AD until the 15th century. She showed us a copy of a document written in ancient hieroglyphics, known as the Dresden Codex

Tulum-Ruins-Iguana-on-post-securing-sacred-land-by-Eric-Hunter-1400x1400, Visit the ancient Mayans at Tulum Ruins, Culture Currents
An iguana stands guard in the common living quarters area of Tulum Ruins. Iguanas are sacred in Mayan culture. They represent the deity Itzamná, who gave humankind writing and the calendar and was also patron deity of medicine. – Photo: Eric Hunter

Our guide went on to explain this sort of paper was generally known by the word huun in Mayan languages. It’s also called kopó, although today it is commonly referred to as amate paper. Huun is made out of ficus or wild fig tree bark that has been flattened and covered with a lime paste. 

These papers were used to send messages, codes and political propaganda. They documented images of their mystical beliefs based on the three realms of existence: heavens, earth and underworld. The Dresden Codex refers to an older book with information relating to astronomical and astrological tables, religious references, seasons of the earth, illness and medicine.

Tulum is considered one of the last cities built and occupied by the Maya. The name Tulum means wall. This city was known as the walled city by the Spanish, but its ancient Mayan name was Zama, which means sunrise or dawn. 

The city is built like a fortress. The area is protected by walls and trenches on land and the second largest coral reef in the sea. The coral reef makes it extremely difficult for ships to sail and land on the coast.

The ancient Mayans were deep into astronomy. They studied the sun, moon and stars so they knew the best time to plant and harvest crops. They also used astronomy to calculate women’s birth cycles. Their knowledge of astronomical paths and events inspired the architecture and layout of the buildings in the city, like the Castillo pyramid which towers over Tulum.

Tulum-Ruins-a-national-park-on-the-Caribbean-in-Mexico-by-Eric-Hunter-1400x1400, Visit the ancient Mayans at Tulum Ruins, Culture Currents
One of the last cities inhabited by the Mayan people, Tulum was an important trading hub in the 13th to 15th centuries, generating enormous wealth exporting jade, turquoise and obsidian. Now, it’s a fascinating city-museum, with well-preserved temples beside the splendor of the crashing Caribbean, the only Mayan city built on the coast. – Photo: Eric Hunter

The El Castillo Pyramid was a Mayan watchtower and living quarters for the royal circle. The city had exclusive sections for social classes of people. The soldiers, the athletes, scribes and scholars all had their own sections of the city. It seems as if it was more of a rank-and-file/division of labor kind of civilization as opposed to a class/caste system type of society.

I asked the tour guide lady if there is any documented evidence that the ancient Mayans ever had encountered the ancient Egyptians. She told me that the connection between the ancient Mayans and Egyptians is the alignment of their pyramids to several star constellations. She explained to us how the Mayans are known for their unique and complex calendar. Their calendar is really complicated, and its operation is difficult to understand.

Tulum-Ruins-visited-by-journalist-Eric-Hunter-1400x1400, Visit the ancient Mayans at Tulum Ruins, Culture Currents
Journalist Eric da Ref Hunter soaks up the history, culture and beauty of Tulum Ruins.

Overall it was an amazing experience. It’s always great to learn about different cultures around the world. I grew up in Oakland, California, where there is a large population of Mexican people. California was actually Mexican territory in the early 1800s. As a descendant of African people, I can relate to the various groups of people who are victims of colonization and exploitation. However, our collective history predates colonial conquest.

African and Native American cultures share a common understanding of the sacred divinity of nature – from the earth, the sea, the sun, moon and stars. Eurocentric historians and scholars like to paint the societies of our ancient civilizations in our golden ages as “primitive,” “savage” and “backward”; but ancient empires like the Mayan empire were deeply in touch with nature, and their agricultural and architectural technology is still revered in modern times. I encourage all readers to visit this place. Learn, love and live life.

Journalist Eric Hunter (E Da Ref), an Oakland native, is Minister of Public Relations for the Black Riders Liberation Party and Co-Editor of African Intercommunal News Service. He writes for Black New World Media and the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau headed by JR Valrey. Hunter can be reached at 

Note Eric Hunter’s recommendation: “Please book your trip today with Slaughter Family Travel and get hooked up with the best rates. Go to”