The history of Tulum ruins is intricately bound up with that of the Mayan people who flourished in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico and into the Central American countries of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras from about 2000 B.C. The collapse of this great and mysterious civilization occurred beginning in the eighth and ninth centuries, leaving extensive ruins of great cities throughout the region. These Mayan ruins are some of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico and Central America, and the Tulum ruins are among the most important and most well-preserved. While the site could be older, the first date associated with it is 564 A.D., which was found on one of the steles. This walled city perched on a cliff above the Caribbean Sea reached its prime during the centuries between 1200 and 1521.
The city was first mentioned by Europeans in 1518 when Juan de Grijalva sailed his expedition along the eastern coast of the Yucatan. The chronicles of the expedition note that “we sighted a city or town so large that Seville would not have appeared bigger or better.” They went on to note “a very large tower,” which probably referred to the structure that is today called the Castle. The explorers from Spain later brought diseases that decimated the native population and helped lead to the downfall of the great Mayan civilization. The history of Tulum ruins after the Spanish arrived is one of conflict, through the last uprising called the Caste Wars from 1847 to 1901. Distracted by the war between Mexico and the United States, the Spanish nearly lost the Yucatan to a resurgent native population. There were archaeological expeditions to the site in the first three decades of the twentieth century, and today the Mexican National Institute of Anthropology administers and maintains the site. It is among the top three historic sites in the country, behind only Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza.