Looking for the best Mayan ruins in Mexico? You’re in the right place. We’ve rounded up our favorite destinations and what we love about each to make your trip unforgettable. Trust us — these are all worth seeing.
Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico: A Summary
The Maya are one of the most mysterious civilizations to walk the earth. They created complex societies full of structural marvel, scientific advancements, and a complex language. Then, one day, they vanished.
Historians are still trying to figure out what happened to the magnificent Mayan civilization, and one of the biggest clues is the massive network of ruins they left throughout Mexico and Central America.
The Best Ruins Include:
- Chichen Itza
Mexico is home to one of the largest collections of Mayan ruins with 10 pyramids and hundreds of other structures. If you’re curious about the Maya then Mexico is one of the best places to visit to unlock their mysteries. Read on to find the best Mayana ruins in Mexico.
7 Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Below you’ll find a list of the best sites in Mexico to explore Mayan ruins. They are in no particular order, but we made sure to include some history and how to get there so that you can make your decision on which ruins to visit.
1. Chichen Itza
The seventh wonder of the world wasn’t awarded that title for being unimpressive. The 98 ft pyramid is said to track the Mayan calendar and is categorized by its massive staircase which leads to the altar at the top.
It’s one of the most popular Mayan sites in Mexico with 2.6 million tourists visiting in 2017. Surrounding the temple are several other structures like the temple of warriors and the Sacred Cenote.
Like many Mayan temples, Chichen Itza was used by priests to perform human sacrifice. It was built between 750 to 900 AD. In the following century, a city emerged around the temple and quickly became the capital of the surrounding region.
The last known hieroglyph around Chichen Itza was carved in 998 AD. Shortly afterward, the city was abandoned by the Maya and populated by other tribes in the area.
How to Get There
The easiest way to get into Chichen Itza is to take a tour from Cancun or to rent a car and drive there. It’s about 2.5 hours from Cancun.
The massive temple at Coba marks the remains of one of the Maya’s most important cities. It holds the largest network of roads in the Mayan kingdom and is one of the tallest pyramids in Mexico at 138 feet.
Unlike Chichen Itza, it’s possible to climb the Coba pyramid. Just be careful. There are over 120 steep stone steps. Coba isn’t as popular as Chichen Itza and Tulum, so you’ll have some privacy to explore the nearby ruins.
Coba’s population peaked at around 50,000 people and could have been ruled by a few females. There are several statues of women in the city that support this theory. The people here also liked to participate in sports, as seen by the two ōllamaliztli courts, the popular Mayan ball game.
If you’re getting hot after your trip to Coba, then consider swimming in one of the cenotes nearby like Cenote Choo-ha or Cenote Multum-Ha.
How to Get There
The best way to get to Coba is by renting a car. The city nearby doesn’t have many stops for public transportation and isn’t within walking distance of the site. It’s also possible to hire a taxi from Tulum to take you to Coba. Coba is about two hours from Cancun and 40 minutes from Tulum.
Tulum was one of the Maya’s major port cities on the Caribbean coast. The walled city is on a 39-foot cliff that hangs over the ocean. It was one of the Maya’s last cities constructed and lived in, reaching its peak between the 13th and 15th centuries.
It’s the second most famous archaeological site in Mexico behind Chichen Itza and is one of the best-preserved Mayan coastal sites.
Tulum is the Mayan word for fence or wall, named for the strong fortifications built around the city. Being accessible by land and sea, this was one of the best trade destinations in the Mayan empire. The Castillo at the site’s center is its most famous structure.
While the civilization in Tulum can only be dated back to 1200 AD, there have been remains discovered in the site that suggest human habitation in the region as far back as 9000 years ago.
How to Get There
Tulum is easily accessed through Cancun. There are several public transportation options. Otherwise, you can rent a car and drive along the coast for a little less than two hours to get there.
Uxmal is a massive complex of buildings, roads, and small towns in the Yucatan Peninsula. At its peak, it was said to have more than 25,000 inhabitants. The facilities and temples are laid out in a particular way that aligns them with stars and seasons, suggesting knowledge of astronomy.
The site is farther inland than others on this list and covers 150 acres, but other ruins cover an even wider range. The most famous pyramid here is about 90.5 feet tall and was also known for human sacrifice.
Legend says that a mysterious dwarf built Uxmal’s largest pyramid (the Pyramid of the Magician) overnight. Many of Uxmal’s residents probably roomed together in the 74 rooms of the Nunnery Quadrangle to the west of the pyramid.
There’s also a ball court in Uxmal and the Governor’s Palace, one of the most beautiful ancient Mayan ruins. The great pyramid to the south of the governor’s palace is about 260 feet high.
How to Get There
Uxmal is over 4.5 hours from Cancun, so it might be wise to plan some intermediate stops. You can stop by Chichen Itza, for example, or stay in the town of Merida to the North of the site.
You’ll see the highest pyramid of the Edzna archaeological site long before you enter the site itself. The site is inside of a valley and has beautiful views of the surrounding mountain ranges. It has a wide range of Mayan architecture ranging from 300 BC to 1200 AD.
There are four towns, or complexes, within the site and several roads, canals, and reservoirs. Overall, the site is about 15 square miles, and you’ll need a whole day to see all of it.
Edzna began its story as one of the Maya’s earliest settlements between 700 and 300 BC. It was closely associated and had trade connections with other Mayan cities like Calakmul and Tikal. It became the capital of the region in the 6th century A.D.
Eventually, its power began to subside and was abandoned in the 1500 A.D. Archaeologists didn’t rediscover it until 1927.
How to Get There
Edzna is more than six hours from the nearest international airport in Cancun. To reach it, you’ll need to rent a car and potentially hire a guide.
This site covers about 20 acres on primarily flat terrain. You can spend a whole day walking around here if the weather isn’t too hot as most of the paths are under tree cover. The entire site has yet to be excavated. Of the more than 200 mounds, only a few have been fully uncovered.
The greatest attraction here is the temple of masks which contains massive stone carvings of the sun god and the masks the Mayan people used to wear to impersonate him. Many intricately decorated censers (incense burners) were found at this site, which are now housed in local museums.
The site dates between 300 BC to 1100 AD and was populated by several different famous Mayan dynasties. The most famous of which was the Great Snake Kingdom which later took over the site at Calakmul.
Kohunlich is one of the most mysterious Mayan ruins, as no hieroglyphs have been uncovered to tell the story of its rulers or inhabitants. Instead, archaeologists use architectural styles to link it to other dynasties and Mayan kingdoms like those in the Peten region of Guatemala.
How to Get There
Kohunlich is more than five hours from Cancun, but you can visit other sites along the way like Tulum and Coba.
Located within a rainforest, Yaxchilan is one of the best Mayan sites to enjoy some nature and the history of the Maya at the same time. It’s in the very south of Mexico, close to the border with Guatemala.
The site has dozens of structures with stone carvings decorating their walls. These carvings tell the story of the site’s rulers and inhabitants, making its history one of the more well-known among ancient Mayan sites.
The city is within a bend of the Usumacinta River, providing some protection against invaders. The city had 19 distinct kinds throughout its history between 400 to 900 AD. Some of the most famous kings are Mahk’ina Skull I (a founder of an important dynasty) and Bird Jaguar IV (one of the most famous kings of the classical Mayan period.
It became the regional capital around 500 AD and thrived from then until the mid 8th century.
The people here regularly fought with the rival site of Piedras Negras for control of the river and its transportation abilities.
How to Get There
This is one of the most challenging Mayan sites to reach. You’ll have to travel to Frontera Corozal in the state of Chiapas. From there, you can rent a boat to take you down the river to the site.
Things to Consider Before Visiting Ruins
Before you plan your epic expedition, please consider a few of these factors.
Remember that these sites hold an essential role in Mexican history. The native people consider them sacred and a physical representation of their heritage. You will encounter some structures that you can’t climb and others that you’re not supposed to touch.
Follow these instructions carefully so that you don’t offend anyone or damage these invaluable pieces of history.
Check the Weather
Exploring ruins is excellent, but the Mexican sun can be unforgiving. Check the weather before you travel to an open-air site with little shade cover. Bring plenty of water, and feel free to stop in the shade for a break from time to time. Sunscreen also helps!
Plan Your Trip (to visit as many sites as possible)
Since most of these sites are far from an international airport, it makes sense to string them together. We recommend picking all of the places you want to visit and drawing a map according to what you want to see and the accommodation you book.
What Are the Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico?
We hope you enjoyed our list! Have fun exploring the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.