For a deep dive into the country’s rich history, you can’t miss visiting the Mayan ruins in Mexico. There are over 4,000 Mayan ruins scattered throughout Latin America, and most of them can actually be found in Mexico.
So take a day off from the beach and venture inland to discover Mexico’s archaeological wonders.
- 1 Mexico and the Mayans
- 2 13 Mayan Ruins in Mexico Worth Visiting
- 3 Where to Stay in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
Mexico and the Mayans
A civilization that dates back to 1600 BC, the Mayans were a dominant indigenous population in Mesoamerica. The golden age of the Mayan empire was the period of 250-900 AD, with the 6th century being the peak of its influence and power.
Unlike other indigenous populations of their era, the Mayans were fairly concentrated in one geographical area, particularly in what’s known today as the Yucatan Peninsula. That’s why this region of Mexico is positively brimming with Mayan ruins today!
The Mayan civilization was known for its arts and culture: hieroglyph writing, pottery, calendar-making, mathematics, and, of course, art and architecture.
The Mayan ruins in Mexico are a testament to their ability to build magnificent structures and cities within a tropical jungle landscape. They’re also a great source of information about Mayan history, culture, and ways of life.
Today, the Maya people still exists, with an estimated seven million descendants of the Maya living in Mexico and Guatemala.
13 Mayan Ruins in Mexico Worth Visiting
Get a glimpse of the Mayan way of life by visiting these archaeological sites and Mayan ruins in Mexico. Here are 13 of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico that you should visit.
A must-see Mayan ruin in Mexico is Chichen Itza. Located not too far from Cancun, this is easily the most well-known Mexican Mayan ruins in the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
You can’t miss its main feature which is the Temple of Kukulcan (also known as El Castillo), the 30-meter pyramid with steps that dominates the grounds.
Aside from that, there’s so much to explore in this Mayan archaeological site that spans about six square miles. There are hundreds of ruins to explore, with notable ones being the Great Ball Court and the Temple of Jaguars.
If you happen to be visiting during the autumn and spring equinoxes, you’re in for an extra treat as Chichen Itza adopts a carnival-like atmosphere to celebrate the occasion. Plus, the play of light and shadow on El Castillo will be a sight for your eyes. Try and spot the eerie but cool image of a giant snake going down the pyramid!
How to Get There: Chichen Itza is about two hours from Cancun and other towns in the Riviera Maya. If you’re not driving, you can take the ADO bus from Cancun which takes three hours. For an easy day out, go for a guided tour. This early morning tour means that you get there before the crowds!
Set against the Mexican coastline, the Tulum ruins are so picturesque. They’re definitely worth a visit if you’re staying in Riviera Maya, especially if you’re staying in Tulum itself as it’s only a 10-minute drive from town.
The rocky cliffside is the stage for the Maya ruins here and you’re guaranteed gorgeous views all around. As the most impressive structure in the site, the Castillo is easily the highlight but don’t miss other buildings like the well-preserved Temple of Frescoes.
Another cool feature of the Tulum ruins is that you can swim at the secluded beach below it.
The Tulum ruins are pretty popular so it’s best to visit early in the morning or just before it closes.
How to Get There: The ruins in Tulum are a 10-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Tulum Town.
For something a bit more off-the-tourist-path, check out the Mayan ruins in Coba. Located just 25 miles west of Tulum, Coba is a large Mayan archaeological site. How large? Over 50,000 Mayans used to live here, in an area that covers about 50 miles of jungle.
Coba is one of the few Mayan ruins in Mexico where you can actually climb the pyramids so make sure you have your walking shoes on for the 120 steps up Nohoch Mul. It’ll be worth it when you take in the view of the rest of the Coba site and the lush greenery around!
There’s lots of ground to cover in Coba so it’s best to rent to bike and explore what you can.
How to Get There: From Tulum, it’s a 45-minute drive or a one-hour ADO bus ride. There are also ADO buses from Cancun and Playa del Carmen to Coba.
If you’re keen on visiting Mayan ruins in Mexico that are more intact than ruined, then head to Ek Balam (which means “black jaguar” in the Mayan language). This archaeological site has over 40 buildings that are still standing, giving you a pretty good idea of what this ancient city used to look like.
Like Coba, Ek Balam is another Mayan ruin where you can climb its main pyramid – so don’t miss it! The view is pretty spectacular. Other things to do include a dip in the X’Canche cenote and to look for some of the artwork and calligraphy that are still visible inside the buildings.
As Ek Balam is just one-hour away from Chichen Itza, you can see both ruins on the same day. Check out this guided tour which also includes a visit to the Hubiku cenote and a buffet lunch.
How to Get There: Ek Balam is a 2.5-hour drive from Cancun. From the city of Valladolid, you can take a colectivo taxi to Ek Balam; it’s a 25-minute ride and costs about 50 pesos.
This tourist hotspot is a hotspot for a reason: it’s a significant Mayan archeological site and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Situated near the city of Merida, the Uxmal ruins are a great representation of Puuc architecture. Unlike the stepped pyramids in other sites, the structures in Uxmal are all smooth and almost hut-like.
Uxmal was built on the Mayans’ knowledge of astronomy and the city is considered a high point of Mayan art. The dominating building in this Mayan ruin is the Pyramid of the Magician which has five levels and towers over the site.
The best thing about visiting Uxmal is that the ruins are largely intact and still hold many intricate details. If you’re spending a full day here, you may want to wait until the sun sets to enjoy the light and sound show that they run nightly.
How to Get There: Uxmal is a little over an hours’ drive from Merida and about four hours from Cancun. There’s also a bus from downtown Merida that takes two hours. Alternatively, go on a guided tour from Merida that also has a stop in Kabah, another Mayan archeological site.
This Mayan ruin in Mexico looks like something out of an Indiana Jones movie! Set in the lush jungles of Chiapas, these ruins are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an excellent representation of classic Maya architecture.
The highlight here is undoubtedly the Temple of the Inscriptions which is a famous monument in the Mayan world. The three hieroglyphic tablets here record about 180 years of the city’s history – amazing! The temple also houses the tomb of K’inich Janaab’ Pakal, who ruled over the city in the 7th century.
This Maya ruin holds an air of mystery and mystique that is just irresistible!
How to Get There: It’s pretty challenging to get to Palenque. It’s about a five-hour drive from San Cristobal de las Casas in Chiapas. If you’re taking public transportation, there are direct ADO buses from Campeche and Merida.
We suggest taking a tour as transportation will be taken care of and you’ll get more in-depth commentary from your guide. This tour from San Cristobal also includes a visit to the beautiful waterfalls, Agua Azul.
Here’s another Mayan ruin in Mexico that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Monte Alban.
Located not too far from Oaxaca City, this massive ancient city dates back to pre-Columbian times; it was built in 500 B.C. and was inhabited for 13 centuries!
The Monte Alban ruins thus display various cultural influences from the Olmecs, Mixtecs, and Zapotecs. With the city being so well-preserved, there are lots to see here including an astronomy observatory, temples, excavated tombs, temples, and a court for a ball game!
How to Get There: Monte Alban is only about 20 minutes by car from Oaxaca City. There are also various bus services in Oaxaca City to this Mayan ruin and the journey takes about 30 minutes. For history buffs who want to learn about the site’s history, a guided tour (which includes transportation from Oaxaca) may be the choice for you.
If you’re based in Cancun, there’s absolutely no reason why you shouldn’t make it out to El Rey as it’s situated right in the city’s Hotel Zone. While it’s not as impressive as some of the other Maya ruins on this list, El Rey is a great spot that will whet your appetite for more.
No imposing pyramids here, but you can explore the temple, ceremonial platforms, and bases of old buildings that make up this Mayan ruin. El Rey was part of the Mayan trade route and was also used as a burial site for royalty.
A short walk away is the Mayan Museum which will offer you much more context to understand the site and Mayan civilization as a whole.
A visit to El Rey will reveal how interconnected the different Mayan communities were and it’s a great starting point to learn more about Mayan history.
How to Get There: El Rey is located at KM 18 in Cancun’s Hotel Zone. From Tulum and Playa del Carmen, take an ADO bus to Cancun, and then a public city bus or taxi to get to the site.
For an adventure deep in the jungles of Mexico, plan a visit to the Mayan ruins at Calakmul. Located in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, this ancient Mayan city is actually only 20 miles from the Guatemalan border.
Due to its remote location, it’s far less visited than the other Mayan ruins in Mexico that we’ve mentioned.
That said, a visit to Calakmul is well worth the effort. Over 6,700 buildings have been discovered here, attesting to how large this city was. What’s more, some of the details in these buildings have been well-preserved!
Calakmul is also home to the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula; it’s also the second-tallest Mayan pyramid that’s been discovered. Even better: you can actually climb up this pyramid!
How to Get There: There are no public transportation options; you’ll need a car to visit Calakmul. The best option is to spend the night in or near Xpujil and then drive two hours to Calakmul the next day.
Just a 50-minute drive from Costa Maya lies Chacchoben, Mayan ruins that date back to 1,000 BC. Unlike other Mayan ruins in Mexico, only a small portion of this site is open to visitors; most of it remains entangled in jungle vines and greenery, awaiting discovery and restoration.
Still, there’s much to uncover here, especially with regards to Maya rituals and ceremonies. Chacchoben is considered to be a great center of Mayan ceremonies, with the Gran Basamento as the most significant spot in the site.
How to Get There: Costa Maya is the nearest city, and Chacchoben is about 50 minutes by car. If you’re coming from Cancun, it’s a 4.5-hour drive.
Aside from the pyramids and temples that are a part of these Mayan ruins, Tula offers another intriguing prospect: giant columns shaped as warriors.
These massive columns belong to the Toltecs, a short-lived civilization that existed between the fall of Teotihuacan and the rise of the Aztecs. Tula was the capital of the empire, and today you can explore what remains of it.
This archaeological site consists of two main clusters. You’ll be able to see the ruins of a palace complex, three pyramid temples, and two ball courts. These above-mentioned giant columns can be found on the largest pyramid temple. You should also take the time to check out the intricate details on the pyramids!
How to Get There: Tula is about a one-hour drive from Mexico City. There are also buses that go there and they can take anywhere from 1.5 to 2 hours. Upon arriving, you’ll have to take a taxi from the Tula bus station to the site.
The majestic Teotihuacan is a must-see on any visit to Mexico. Just 30 miles from Mexico City, this archaeological site is the most visited in Mexico, drawing visitors from far and wide.
At its peak, it’s believed that over 100,000 people lived in this ancient city that spanned just eight square miles. The origins of the city are shrouded in mystery although historians believe that over time, it was home to the Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec peoples.
The defining features of Teotihuacan are the massive Pyramids of the Sun and Moon which will hold your attention the moment you arrive. But there are loads more to discover in this intriguing place!
To truly understand the significance of this site, we recommend going on a tour with a local guide who’ll share all the stories, anecdotes, and tales about this stunning ancient city.
How to Get There: There are buses from Mexico City to Teotihuacan. They take about an hour and depart from the Autobuses del Norte station. If you’re driving, it takes about 45 minutes from Mexico City.
Located in Mexico City, Templo Mayor is an intriguing archaeological site that’s still being discovered today. This “Greater Temple” is part of Tenochtitlán, the capital of the Aztecs that was founded in 1325 AD. Templo Mayor is thought to be the social and religious center of Aztec life.
Today, you can visit and explore the temple’s seven distinct phases, ranging from a platform built in the 1400s to a Mayan reclining figure in the north side to the double pyramid that dates back to the Spanish Conquest.
The site includes a museum where you can go deeper into its history. And with excavations still on-going, this Mayan ruin has many secrets yet to be revealed.
How to Get There: Templo Mayor is located in the Centro Histórico in Mexico City. The nearest metro station is “Zocalo”.
With so much ancient history to discover in Mexico, we hope this list of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico has helped you plan some awesome excursions to some of the most fascinating historical sites in the world.
Headed to Mexico? Check out our Mexico travel tips!
Where to Stay in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
While there are many awesome hotels and resorts in Mexico, we personally love staying in Airbnbs. Whether it’s Tulum, Cancun, or Merida, there are lots of stylish and amazing Airbnb stays throughout the Yucatan.
Here are our guides to the best Airbnbs in the Yucatan Peninsula:
- Best Airbnbs in Cancun
- Best Airbnbs in Tulum
- Best Airbnbs in Playa del Carmen
- Best Airbnbs in Merida
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