Tulum, Mexico | The Reality of a World Famous Tourist Attraction

by Stephanie Walsh on November 19, 2012 · 23 comments

in Mexico, North America, Travel Thoughts, Travels

Tulum, Mexico

Search for “Tulum, Mexico” in Google Images and I challenge you to find a photo of the ancient Mayan ruins crowded with people. The reality is that, when you visit the site, or any other world famous tourist attraction, it is almost impossible to look anywhere (unless out on the ocean horizon!) WITHOUT seeing hoards of people…everywhere!

Ancient Tulum ruins, Mexico

The ancient city in Tulum, Mexico


Judging from photos circulating in mass media, you can be forgiven for assuming that all of these beautiful travel destinations in the world that are sold to us are unvisited dreamlands, just waiting for us to discover them all for ourselves. The reality when you get there is that you’re just another number passing through the turnstiles. I know that in the majority of famous places I have visited, there have been millions of visitors there before me. And that’s fine with me. I am no hipster, desperate to discover the newest trends and places, just so I can say; “Well, I was there waaay before anyone even heard of it”. No.

Crowds in Tulum Mexico

Crowds in Tulum Mexico...and this was low-season!

So unless we intend to get up before dawn and somehow manage to break into a world famous attraction, like a certain other travel blogger did, we’re not going to be alone, even if we’re the first people at the gate when it opens.

Tulum, Mexico

Crowds in Tulum, Mexico. I almost got knocked over by a middle aged woman just after I took this picture. She pushed past me to take a picture of an information sign on her phone...without looking at her phone or the sign. Yeah, I'm sure she'll read that!

Expectations Vs. Reality

I often wonder if people get disappointed, when they finally visit a place they have read and researched so much about. When it comes to photos, especially, why do we feel the need to portray these places as deserted and ‘pure’? Of course, I know that a photo of a crowded tourist attraction isn’t going to sell as well as the image with no crowds, but isn’t that very dishonest to the reality of traveling to these destinations? Do we end up being slightly disappointed every time we visit somewhere like this, even though we should have known deep down what to expect.

Tulum Mexico

We queued for ages to take this photo and someone still managed to slip into the background. Oh well.

Despite my experience of traveling to a few different famous attractions, I am guilty of often feeling a little let down by the difference between my expectations of a place and the reality of what I am actually seeing when I get there. I am also guilty of being one of those people who waits for several minutes for people to get out of my way, just to ensure I take the ‘perfect photo’…the one where there are no other people in the frame. While I use Tulum in Mexico as an example, the same can be said for many places I have visited, such as the Taj Mahal in India, the White House in Washington DC and other famous Mexican sites such Chichen Itza. Believe me, I’m still very impressed by these places and I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to visit them, but I can’t help feeling a little let down by the reality; they are too over-crowded and usually you are greatly restricted in where you can walk.

Crowds in Tulum

Well...you can get free tours by blending in!

Tulum Mexico

Tulum, Mexico

Who Is To Blame For Misrepresenting Reality?

Unfortunately, we’re all guilty of this one. Everyday, we present ourselves and our lives to the world the way we want them to be, not just when it comes to our travel photos. I’m guilty of only choosing photos for this blog, which represent how I want a place to come across.

But, more important than asking who is to blame, is to ask ourselves why we do this; are we trying to create a false memory of a place? Are we trying to forget how disappointing, crowded or bland a place was and instead, convince ourselves that it was as great as we imagined and expected it to be? We try to create the picture perfect photo to show to friends at home, subsequently misrepresenting the reality of what it was like to be there.

Tulum Mexico

There's a guy cleaning the beach below...I strategically placed him behind a plant for this photo.

Tulum Mexico

There he is...doesn't quite have the same effect.

So, feeling rebellious and honest, I have shown these few photos that I think represent what it’s really like to visit the ancient Mayan ruins in Tulum, Mexico. The same can be said for various other world famous attractions.

Is Tulum still worth it? Absolutely! No crowds can take away from the stunning beauty of this place, even with all those people. So maybe I just need to accept that there will be lots of people everywhere I go and I can’t have these places all to myself. Looking at it this way, we can hopefully avoid disappointment and we may even get more than we were expecting.


Have you ever felt disappointed when you visited a famous attraction?