Number 13 of my 16 candidates – the Mayan ruins of Tulum. They aren’t the largest, most important or generally worthy of Latin America’s many ancient ruins. But what it lacks in substance, it more than makes up for with its setting – atop a small hill, looking out upon the whitest of white sands, and most turquoise of turquoise seas. It is genuinely idyllic and one of the few places on earth that actually looks like the postcards suggest it should look like. Click here to vote in my poll.
The Maya site may have been formerly also known by the name Zama, meaning city of Dawn. Tulúm is also the Yucatec Mayan word for fence or wall (or trench), and the walls surrounding the site allowed the Tulum fort to serve as a defense against an invasion. From the numerous depictions in murals and other works around the site, Tulum appears to have been an important site for the worship of the Diving or Descending God. While an inscription dated A.D. 564 has been found at the site, most of the structures now visible were built in the Post-Classic Era, between about 1200 and 1450. The city remained occupied through the early years of the Spanish conquest of Yucatán, but was abandoned by the end of the 16th century. Local Maya continued to visit the temples, to burn incense and pray, until the late 20th century, when tourists visiting the site became too numerous for the local inhabitants. A number of the buildings have fresco murals on the interior (small remaining traces of paint suggest that the exterior of some buildings may have been similarly decorated). The murals show Mixtec influence.The city was first mentioned by Juan Diez, part of Juan de Grijalva’s expedition of 1518. The first detailed description of the ruins was published by John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood in 1843 in the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan. The site is of moderate size, with construction of modest-sized buildings.