While many visiting Tulum stop at the Tulum Archaeological Zone and nearby Cobá, the area is home to a third Mayan site that remains off the radar for most travlers. Muyil, which is located within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, is a great way to visit some well-preserved ruins while also avoiding the crowds.
Muyil is located about 25 km south of central Tulum and is relatively easy to reach via public transport. Check the end of the article for more information on getting there.
Exploring the Muyil Ruins
At the time of writing, the Muyil ruins are open daily from 8:00-17:00 and cost $70 MXN to enter.
Entering the site, you’ll soon find yourself at a cluster of ruins known as the Entrance Plaza. The plaza consists of no less than ten temples, which were some of the earliest structures built at Muyil.
Muyil, in fact, was settled as early as the Preclassic period (300 BC–250 AD) and remained continuously occupied until the arrival of the Spanish. Some of the early structures of this plaza even show influence from the Peten region of Guatemala.
The main structure here is simply known as 7H-3. Like the others, it would’ve been entirely covered in stucco and painted over, and archaeologists have determined that the temple was partially painted blue.
Nearby, meanwhile, are platforms on top of which residents built wooden houses – now long gone. At the time of writing, the Entrance Plaza area can only be seen from a distance.
Nearby, you’ll find a pathway taking you to the next section of the site, where you’ll encounter Muyil’s most prominent building.
As mentioned, Muyil was first established quite early on in Mayan history. But it wouldn’t reach its zenith until near the end of its lifespan. Most of its surviving structures were built during the Late Postclassic Era (1250-1531 AD) and ‘El Castillo’ is no exception.
Measuring 17 m high, it’s one of the tallest structures built along Quintana Roo’s coast. (It can’t compare, however, to the 42 m-high pyramid of Cobá which lies further inland.)
Interestingly, at the very top of the structure is a circular tower which may have represented the ceiba tree, of the Mayan Tree of Life.
And within the temple at the top, archaeologists have discovered remnants of numerous ritual offerings, including various pieces of jewelry and ornamental jade objects.
On the back of the pyramid, meanwhile, is a surviving portion of stucco featuring two decorative herons.
Muyil contained a couple of sacbes, or elevated stone roads. And one of them connected El Castillo with the Muyil Lagoon a few hundred meters away. You could either head there next or first check out the remaining Mayan ruins.
Muyil is quite small overall, so there’s really one major structure left in the north of the site: Temple 8, also known as the Pink Palace.
The temple is relatively small, though it sits atop a large platform. It dates to the Postclassic era (1250-1550 AD) when nearby Tulum was also at its peak.
Like many other structures in the Mayan world, it too was originally covered in stucco and painted in various colors.
The plaza surrounding it, meanwhile, was the heart of Muyil’s civic and religious life.
While I wandered around various paths in hopes of finding more structures, I didn’t encounter much besides a partially buried ruin now covered in overgrowth.
As with many ancient sites, there’s still plenty more lying deep in the jungle that’s waiting to be excavated. But for now, the only thing left to see after the structures mentioned above is the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
The Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve
Taking a path east of El Castillo, you’ll eventually reach an additional ticket gate for the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. Even though you’ve already purchased your ticket for Muyil, access to this area will cost you an additional 50 pesos.
Overall, the Biosphere Reserve is huge, covering as much as 528,000 hectares. The Muyil ruins, therefore, serve as only one access point of many.
The section near the ruins largely consists of mangrove swamps, over which a wooden walkway was built to protect the environment and keep your feet dry.
Aside from a walk in the peaceful jungle, the main attraction here is the ‘Mirador,’ a towering wooden platform you can climb up to enjoy views of the surrounding area.
In the distance, you’ll see the Muyil Lagoon. It’s actually one of a wider network of lagoons that ultimately connects with the Caribbean. As such, we can surmise that Muyil was an important center of trade in its prime.
When finished enjoying the views, you can also proceed further east to see the lagoon from up close. Many who come to this area opt for a boat tour. But all excursions are private, costing around $1000 MXN, or about $50 USD, per boat.
The captain may even be able to take you to additional Mayan ruins that were constructed along the lagoon. But if you’re traveling solo and are on a budget, you’re out of luck.
Those doing further travels in Quintana Roo, however, should take advantage of the affordable group boat tours in the even prettier lagoon of Bacalar.
Visiting Muyil from central Tulum is relatively easy. From the ADO bus station, walk west along the main road. You should eventually encounter colectivos (shared minivans) bound for the village of Felipe Carrillo Puerto.
While I’m not completely sure, they seem to depart every 30 minutes or so – not necessarily when the bus fills up. Simply tell the driver that you want to visit Muyil, and he’ll drop you off at the entrance to the ruins.
Finished with your visit, return to the main road and wait at the nearest bus stop for the next minivan back to Tulum.
If you’re not on a tight budget, you may also want to consider this tour which includes a trip to the Muyil ruins along with a boat tour of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
If you’re a ruins enthusiast and already basing yourself in the Tulum area, then yes, Muyil is worth checking out. Cobá and the Tulum ruins, of course, are the main points of interest here. But considering how small Muyil is, you could even combine it with the Tulum Archaeological Zone on the same day.
During my first visit to the Tulum area, I had been aware of Muyil, but came across a blog saying it would be very difficult to reach. This turned out to be false (see above).
Then during my return to the region, I was based on the island of Cozumel. From there, just getting to central Tulum involved taking a ferry to Playa del Carmen followed by a shared minivan to Tulum. While I didn’t expect too much, the Muyil ruins were a bit anticlimactic after coming from so far away.
In summary, it’s a site worth visiting for either those staying nearby or for people who feel like they’ve already seen it all in the Riviera Maya.
Tulum, along with nearby Playa del Carmen, is fast becoming one of Mexico’s popular (and pricey) tourist destinations. But unlike PDC, where the town and the beach are all in the same area, Tulum’s city center and beach are two separate districts.
You’ll find plenty of accommodation options in both areas, though they’re all quite expensive by Mexican standards. To get back and forth, regular colectivos run along the main Avenida Tulum for around 30 pesos per ride.
In my case, I was looking for a place that was also near Cobá. And being a budget traveler, I found a place that looked perfect for my needs: Hotel Palma Real, situated exactly between Tulum and Cobá in the village of Francisco Uh May.
I had my own private room with a private bathroom for around $385 MXN per night (including VAT) – much cheaper than similar hotels in the city. The problem was, however, that getting around was much more difficult than I anticipated. Learn more here.