This post has been updated as of March 2020.
There are few things one can do in Tulum these days without crowds, namely visiting the chic beach town’s famed Mayan Ruins. Perched dramatically on a cliff with sweeping views of the ocean below (plus access to its own private beach), it’s no surprise this historic site draws tourists in droves. And we mean droves. From opening to closing, you can expect a relentless wave of fellow visitors coming by taxi, bicycle and busload from all parts of the Riviera Maya. Unfortunately, what should be a mystical Mayan experience is considerably less so given the resulting case of overtourism.
But did you know there’s a way you can visit these incredible ruins and have them nearly – if not completely – to yourself? We can say with certainty it’s possible, because we’ve done it ourselves! This requires a little more effort on your part but is TOTALLY worth it.
Here is your step by step guide on how to visit the Tulum Ruins without the crowds (and without a tour!):
1) Head over to the ruins the day before you want to visit, and stand in line at the ticket counter. (TIP: Go at opening time, 8am, to have the shortest wait time. Otherwise plan on standing in line anywhere from 15 – 30+ mins.)
2) Request the special after hours tickets for TOMORROW, not regular tickets for today. While this post is specific to visiting at sunrise, you can also visit for sunset and you’ll need to specify which you want.
So which to choose? Regular opening time is 8am – 4:30pm. If you go for sunrise, you can access the ruins as early as 6am. If you go for sunset, you can stay as late as 7pm. We went for sunrise and couldn’t believe we literally had the entire site to ourselves for the first hour. Around 7am a whopping two more in-the-know travelers wandered in, but that was it! Not a further soul arrived until normal opening time at 8am.
We haven’t been for sunset although be aware the sun sets on the other side, so you won’t see the sun actually set (although you will be privy to a very pretty sky all the same). We imagine there are likely more people going in the evening vs. early morning, so if you want a truly peaceful, magical and unforgettable Mayan experience, we recommend setting your alarm and heading over for sunrise.
3) Pay the fee. It is indeed a higher price at $260.00 MXN for special hours vs. $80.00 MXN for regular hours, but 100% worth it! Take note you will receive physical, printed tickets. Do not lose these tickets! These are your only way into the ruins tomorrow morning.
As far as we know, the only way to get these tickets is by purchasing them in person, the day before you want to go. There is no way to purchase these online – if you’re DIYing it, anyway.
The alternative is to book through a tour group. While we have not done this ourselves, it does appear (after a quick Google search) there are operators offering a “Tulum Sunrise Tour.” If going this route they will of course handle purchasing the tickets for you.
4) Set your alarm and head to the ruins! Remember you can arrive as early as 6am if visiting for sunrise.
Whether you’re driving yourself or taking a taxi, you will need to arrive at the main entrance off Highway 307. You cannot drive up and enter from the beach road this early in the morning. Trust us on this – we tried it ourselves only to be turned away and told to take the entrance off the highway. (And this was with Alberto, a native Spanish speaker, doing the talking!)
After you turn off said highway, keep driving until you reach a gated entrance next to a big parking lot. If you’re arriving at 6am, keep in mind it will either be pitch black out or close to it (depending on what time of year you go), and there aren’t a lot of lights on this road. The entrance will also most likely be completely desolate with no one around. You’ll probably be wondering “am I at the right place?” Well, if you’ve reached a chained-off gate blocking you from driving any further, you’re definitely at the right place.
Depending on how early you arrive, there may or may not already be guys operating the gate. If you arrive and you don’t see anyone, knock on the adjacent kiosk. In our case, we had to knock a few times until a couple of sleepy-looking guys finally emerged. After a bit of back-and-forth and showing our sunrise tickets, they opened the gate and we were on our way! (Knowing some Spanish will help here.)
As we had rented a car, we kept driving and ended up parking in the “employees only” lot located right across from the ticket counter. Normally you cannot park here however at this point, it was still completely pitch dark and there was not a soul around – so we took our chances.
Using our phone flashlights to help navigate, we walked up to the ticket counter/entry area. No one around. After knocking and saying “hola” a few times, still no one. We started walking into the park when a man finally emerged who let us enter after we showed him our tickets.
5) You’ve made it! You’re now in Tulum’s Mayan Port City Ruins, and likely with the entire site all to yourself. Since it will probably still be dark at this point (and as there are no lights in the park), we highly recommend bringing a flashlight. We didn’t and had to make do using our phones only, which did the trick but a proper flashlight definitely would have made things easier.
Once you enter, you’ll want to navigate yourself over to the water so you can catch sunrise. Of course, this is easier said than done when it’s pitch dark out and you can’t really see where you’re walking. A good target point is Pyramid El Castillo (The Castle), which you can put into Google Maps if you have service. If all else fails, just listen for the breaking waves and head in that direction. Once you’ve made it to El Castillo, you can get your bearings at which time you’ll also be able to spot a few nearby viewing platforms on the cliff.
Now that you’ve got your spot, you can relax and get ready for showtime! With any luck you’ll have a clear day so you can fully appreciate the sight of the Yucatán sun rising over the ocean. As you’re soaking in the view, take a moment to really appreciate the stillness and beauty of where you are. After all, you’re one of the few people experiencing this magical moment just as the Mayans did centuries ago.
After sunrise, take advantage of the still near-empty (or completely empty) park and wander through the rest of the historic ruins.
Before you go? Right at 8am, when the floodgates open to regular ticket holders, head down the cliffside staircase to enjoy the site’s private beach. The only way this idyllic strip of sand can be accessed is through the ruins (or a boat, we suppose).
If you head there right at 8am you’re bound to have this little piece of paradise nearly all to yourself – the perfect way to round out your epic morning at Tulum’s Mayan Ruins.
*All photos in this post are courtesy of your favorite pair of @travelinglamas, except where noted.