When I first became serious about pursuing a life of travel, I immediately made a mental note that Mayan ruins should go at the top of my World Wishlist. Any Mayan ruins would do – I wasn’t picky. Also, I didn’t know any specific site by name.

Honestly, I didn’t know anything about Mayan culture at the time, aside from those circulating rumors that their calendar predicted the end of the world on December 21, 2012. But I had concluded that their culture was shrouded in mystery, magic, and prophecy – and I found this absolutely enchanting.

Of course, I planned to explore the Mayan Ruins in Tulum, Mexico just three days before “the end of the world.” I thought the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

When I arrived at my destination, I quickly discovered that I had many misconceptions about the place I was visiting and culture I was fascinating by. Here is what I learned:

The Mayan calendar does not predict the end of the world. December 21st, 2012 was the end of a calendar cycle, which means big changes, but it did not mean anything apocalyptic was about to happen. In fact, it was a promise of positive things to come, such as societal progress and spiritual enlightenment.

Mayan culture is not a thing of the past. Many people talk as if Mayan society has died out, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. Mayans continue to live in Mexico and Central America today, and they have preserved their customs, language, and traditions.

Mayan ruins are not always relics of spirituality or mysticism. The Tulum ruins do include a temple and ceremonial sites, but they also served as a fortress protecting the city, and as a center for trade. These are the only ruins by the seaside, and with this position, the city was well-positioned to serve many purposes. You will see a blend of both the sacred and secular, magic and the practicalities of day-to-day life.

This doesn’t mean they didn’t take their spirituality very seriously. Walls were constructed to separate priests from commoners, and the stairs were purposely made to allow people to walk sideways up and down – this kept them from ever turning their backs on their gods.

These ruins were once called “The City of the Dawning Sun.” It is believed this name was earned because the city’s temple was built to perfectly capture the sun during the summer solstice.

The City of the Dawning Sun has a touch of darkness. One eerie site you’ll see in the Tulum ruins is the ceremonial center where animal and human sacrifices were once made. This was a common part of their ancient religion, and of most other pre-modern religions.

The Mayans were ahead of their time when it came to predicting weather and natural disasters. One legend claims that conch shells were perfectly placed along the shoreline of Tulum, and when a hurricane was approaching the shells let out a sound to warn the inhabitants.

While my visit to the Tulum Mayan ruins was not what I was expecting, it was still enchanting, and it was certainly an eye-opening experience that helped me see the importance of experiencing a place or culture firsthand.

Have you ever been surprised by a place or culture during your travels?





  • Tamara Wilcox

    They walked sideways up and down their stairs? Fascinating! I had never hear that before… You learn something new every day. I, too, have been fascinated with the Mayan ruins, and I also thought their culture had died out long ago. Great post!