Planning a trip to Mexico and wondering which Mayan Ruins to visit? In this article, we give you information on the best ruins to visit, information on how to get there, and more.
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, particularly in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Our team here at Adventure in You spent over a year traveling AND living in Mexico so we have a ton of insider tips on how to best see these ancient Mayan ruins.
So take a day off from the beach and venture inland to discover Mexico’s archaeological wonders.
Mexico and the Mayans: A Quick History
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.
This is why the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico is positively brimming with a variety of 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 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 spread all over in Mexico. While a majority of these are in the Yucatan Peninsula, there are also other Mayan ruins near places like CDMX and Oaxaca.
While Chichen Itza is often the known as the most famous Mayan Ruin (it is part of the 7 wonders of the world), there are countless other Mayan ruins in Mexico that you should visit while planning a trip to this stunning country.
Keep on reading to find out our historical round-up!
1. Chichen Itza
A must-see Mayan ruin in Mexico is Chichen Itza. Located not too far from Cancun, Chichen Itza is easily the most well-known Mexican Mayan ruins in the world.
Chichen Itza is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, adding more to the appeal of why its a must-visit if traveling around the Yucatan Peninsula.
The main feature of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulcan (also known as El Castillo), the 30-meter pyramid with steps that dominates the grounds. The views from El Castillo show off a view of the three rivers in the valley.
Aside from that, there’s so much to explore in this Mayan archaeological site that spans about six square miles- you can honestly spend hours exploring the Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins.
There are hundreds of ruins to explore within the Chichen Itza complex, with notable ones being the Great Ball Court and the Temple of Jaguars. Hearing the stories of what went on in this ancient Mayan city is truly fascinating.
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.
While you’re in Chichen Itza, the play of light and shadow on El Castillo will be a sight for your eyes. When you’re there, try and spot the eerie but cool image of a giant snake going down the pyramid! It is one of the best features in Chichen Itza Mayan Ruin site.
How to Get to Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins is about two hours from Cancun and other towns in the Riviera Maya. You can either rent a car or you can take the ADO bus from Cancun which takes three hours then get on a local taxi. For an easy day out, go for a guided tour. Here are a few of the ones we recommend:
Private Tour to Chichen Itza and Valladolid from Cancun– Experience this stunning Mayan ruin through a local Airbnb Experience. The guide shares the historical significance of this Chichen Itz. a, giving you a full walk through of the place. Afterwards, you will have a chance to swim in San Lorenzo Oxman Cenote before making your way to Valladolid. This tour is highly rated and is a great option for those who want to avoid large tour groups!
Chichen Itza, Cenote Ik-Kil and Valladolid Tour from Cancun– This highly rated group tour takes you to the best of the Yucatan as you get to visit one of the most famous cenotes near Chichen Itza plus see the neighboring town of Valladolid.
Other tours to Chichen Itza from different parts of the Yucatan Peninsula:
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2. Tulum Archaeological Zone
Set against the Mexican coastline, the Tulum archaeological zone is one of the most picturesque ruins. 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. After walking around, you can enjoy a refreshing swim in the Caribbean Sea.
Due to the popularity of Tulum, this Mayan ruins is one of the most visited in the Mayan Riviera and it’s for a good reason. With that in mind, it’s best to visit early in the morning or just before it closes.
How to Get to the Tulum Ruins
The ruins in Tulum are a 10-minute drive or 30-minute walk from Tulum Town. If you’re coming from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, we recommend renting a car. Although you can go on your own, we recommend getting a local guide to truly understand the significance of the Mayan culture. Here are some of our top recommendations.
Tulum Ruins, Beachside lunch + Snorkeling with Turtles– This local Experience takes you to explore the ancient ruins in plus gives you time to snorkel with turtles
Tulum ruins without the crowds– This highly-rated early morning tour will give you a complete overview of the Tulum ruins and what the Mayans used it for.
Tulum ruins, cenote, and beachside lunch from Playa del Carmen– This guided tour from Playa del Carmen takes you to the best attractions including ruins and some of the best Tulum cenotes.
Taking a break from the Mayan Ruins in the Riviera Maya, here’s one for those who are planning a trip to Mexico City.
The majestic Teotihuacan is a must-see on any visit to Mexico. Located 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 Mayan city that spanned just eight square miles.
The origins of this ancient Mayan city are shrouded in mystery although historians believe that over time, it was home to the Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec peoples. It is one of the most popular Mayan sites and is visited by a lot of day trippers from Mexico city.
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 to Teotihuacan
If you’re taking public transport, there are buses from the city straight to Teotihuacan. They take about an hour and depart from the Autobuses del Norte station.
We personally don’t recommend driving in the city as the traffic is a bit chaotic. Our favorite way to visit this ancient Mayan site if by a guided tour.
Most tours take you to eat some local Mexican food along the way so it’s a win-win!
Hot Air Balloon ride over the Teotihuacan Ruins– Known as one of the most popular activities while in Mexico, you can explore the Teotihuacan ruins in a once-in-a-lifetime ride on a hot air balloon. MUST-DO!
4. Coba Ruins
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 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 to Coba Ruins
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 renting a car, the roads are very straight forward.
Alternatively, you can also join a guided tour taking you to Coba as well as the Tulum ruins.
Tip: Want to see more in one day? Go for a full-day tour that includes both the Tulum and Coba ruins in the itinerary! This tour, which includes a pick-up from your hotel in Riviera Maya, will take you to the Tulum ruins, Coba, and a cenote, plus a visit to a Mayan community.
5. Ek Balam
If you’re keen on visiting Mayan ruins 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 to Ek Balam Ruins
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. Alternatively, you can also go on a guided tour.
Ek Balam and Rio Lagartos: This highly rated experience takes you to on a whole day tour visiting the ruins of Ek Balam and Rio Lagartos.
6. Uxmal Ruins
This Mayan Site is a hotspot for a reason: it’s a significant Mayan archeological ruin 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 Uxmal is the Mayan 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. It is one of my favorite ruins for its ancient structures.
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 to Uxmal
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.
Uxmal and Chocolate Tour– This local tour from Merida takes you to the magical ruins of Uxmal then to a chocolate museum to learn about the importance of Cacao, before attending a Mayan ceremony performed by a Shaman.
You can also drop by any of the cenotes in Merida for a full Yucatan experience.
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.
While it isn’t one of the largest Mayan cities, it holds a lot of historical significance. 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 to Palenque
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.
8. Monte Alban
Here’s another Mayan ruin located in Mexico that’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site: Monte Alban.
Located not too far from Oaxaca City, this massive ancient Mayan 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!
A visit here really allows you a glimpse into the ancient Maya civilization. It is a site which has very impressive ruins and is considered a must-visit if in Oaxaca.
How to Get to Monte Alban
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.
9. El Rey
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 to El Rey
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 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 to Calakmul
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 to Chacchoben
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 to Tula
Tula is about a one-hour drive from the capital of Mexico. 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.
Don’t Miss Out on Reading about our best Mexico Travel Tips
13. Templo Mayor
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 to Templo Mayor
Templo Mayor is located in the Centro Histórico in CDMX. 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.
Where to Stay in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula
There are many awesome hotels and resorts in Mexico so you are literally spoilt for choice! Here are a list of some of our top picks in the region
- Best Hotels in Playa del Carmen
- Best Airbnbs in Tulum
- Best Airbnbs in Playa del Carmen
- Best Airbnbs in Merida