No trip to Mexico is complete without visiting at least one of the many Mayan Ruins that litter the country. But, you’ll likely find that one just isn’t enough! Indeed, such is the fascinating history of the ancient Maya and the wealth of Mayan temples, pyramids and grand structures to admire, you’ll certainly be wanting more. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. Below, we’ll detail 13 of the best Mexican Mayan Ruins to visit which will be sure to quench your Maya ruins thirst.
But first, a little Mayan history.
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History of the Maya Civilisation
The term ‘Maya’ refers to the civilisation that inhabited Mesoamerica (now modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua). The largest inhabited area of Maya covered much of southern Mexico, Belize and northern Guatemala. Here, vast cities were constructed as the civilisation grew.
The ancient Maya were skilled in arts and architecture. The evidence is all around as you stroll the ancient plazas and alleyways of Mexico’s Mayan Ruins. Mathematics and astrology were important, with the Maya developing some of the most accurate pre-telescope astronomy in the world. Sites like Chichen Itza have incredible ancient observatories to explore, offering more evidence of the Mayan world.
From pyramids and palaces to temples and ball courts, the ancient Maya built grand and beautiful cities that showed off their political power, religious beliefs and numerous accomplishments. Wandering the grounds of these once-bustling ancient cities is truly incredible, and an absolute must when visiting Mexico.
Today, indigenous Maya still live in regions of Central America. Collectively, there are around six million Maya people, speaking around 28 different Mayan languages. Mayan Mexico is mostly concentrated to the south. The state of Chiapas is a great place to visit to see more of the indigenous culture.
Where Are the Mayan Ruins?
The majority of Mayan Ruins are found throughout Mexico. They centre around the states of Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Chiapas and Oaxaca. Although, the Mayan civilisation occupied some of modern Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. We’ll touch on some of those exceptional Mayan Ruins below.
Mayan Ruins Mexico Map
Feel free to click on the interactive Google Map below to see where all 13 Mayan Ruins are and to see just how extensive the Mayan world was.
13 Best Mayan Ruins In Mexico
With there being around 200 Mayan Ruins in Mexico alone, it’s a tad overwhelming to know which are the best to visit. So, below we’ll give a brief overview of 13 of the best Mayan Ruins to visit in Mexico. And, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
1. Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins
I guess it makes sense to kick this list off with arguably the most famous of all the Mayan Ruins in Mexico, and Central America as a whole for that matter. The massive archaeological site of Chichen Itza has to be seen to be believed. It’s no surprise it’s one of the new Seven Wonders of the World. It’s also one of the largest Mayan cities ever built. Indeed, you’ll easily spend the best part of a day exploring this huge ruins complex and learning about the histories of the ancient Mayans.
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most visited attractions. But, with that comes a hefty price tag and hoards of tourists. So, expect these Mayan ruins in Mexico to get busy, and fast. Still, it’s absolutely worth it. The Kukulkan Pyramid is the main drawcard of this phenomenal ancient city. You’ll instantly recognise it. So, head there early to enjoy it in relative peace.
It’s a good idea to check the official Chichen Itza website for the most up-to-date prices and general information.
2. Ek Balam Mayan Ruins
Ek Balam Mayan Ruins is an astonishing collection of crumbling palaces, pyramids and ball courts. Also, visitors are permitted to climb the remarkably intact steps of the ancient Mayan city. From the building tops, you can marvel at views across the Yucatan as far as the eye can see. Ek Balam Mayan Ruins are located a little north of Valladolid in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, with the entire city complex small and easily walked around in a couple of hours.
Within the ancient defensive walls surrounding the city of Ek Balam, you’ll wander through a grand stone archway, scale palace steps and stroll past ancient ball courts. Certainly, the piece de resistance is taking the unnervingly shallow (and steep) steps to climb to the top of the Acropolis. From the top of this incredible pyramid are views over the rest of the complex, visibly swallowed up by the dense jungle, and looking ridiculously impressive.
Ek Balam Mayan Ruins also boasts an incredible collection of stucco carvings in the rock faces. They are preserved (or restored) under thatched roofs that protect them from the elements. Indeed, one of the most impressive examples is found at the Acropolis outside the tomb of King Ukit Kan Lek Tok.
In addition, you can also visit Cenote Xcanche at the other end of the complex, and turn this Ek Balam Mayan Ruins adventure into a full-day affair.
3. Uxmal Ruins
If you visit Merida on your Mexico trip, then you must take a trip to the Uxmal Mayan Ruins. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Uxmal is considered one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites. It’s provided extensive insight into Maya culture, architecture and general life.
The grand pyramids and palaces of Uxmal have mostly smooth walls, typical of the Puuc style of Maya architecture. The ruins here are also remarkably intact for Mayan sites in Mexico, and it’s easy to admire and marvel at the friezes and carvings so clearly on display.
The impressive Pyramid of the Magician commands your attention as soon as you step foot in the complex. Indeed, Uxmal Mayan Ruins are one of the most spectacular sites in the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico.
4. Tulum Mayan Ruins
The magnificent Tulum Ruins is one of the most superb and breathtaking Mayan sites you can visit in Mexico. Unlike many of Central America‘s other ancient Mayan ruins, Tulum is special in that its archaeological zone occupies a strategic position right on the coast. Looking out over the Caribbean waters along the Riviera Maya, the grand El Castillo, AKA Tulum Pyramid, is remarkably intact and the crown jewel of this ancient walled city.
Tulum was originally known as Zama by the ancient Maya. This roughly translates to ‘place or city of the dawning sun‘, due to its east-facing position above the sea. The later name Tulum actually means ‘walled’, due to the massive stone walls which surround the ruins on three of its sides, with the fourth side enjoying natural protection from a 12 metre drop into the sea below. This helped Tulum to become quite the defensive fort, as well as becoming an important and protected trading post for other Mayan cities nearby, such as Coba.
Tulum is actually one of the last Maya cities to be built in Mexico. Indeed, visiting Tulum Mayan Ruins is super easy on any visit to Tulum town and is a must if visiting this part of Mexico.
5. Coba Mayan Ruins, Mexico
Heading north of Tulum brings you to the outstanding Coba Mayan Ruins. At Coba, you’ll find a large and extensive archaeological site, hidden within beautiful jungle surroundings. The name Coba translates as ‘waters stirred by the wind’. It’s another complex considered one of the most important cities of the Maya civilisation.
Coba is often referred to as the ‘City of White Roads’. This is because it features the largest network of sacbe (white roads made of a raised bed of stone) in any of Mexico’s Mayan Ruins. Indeed, the scabe’s often linked Mayan cities together.
The ancient Mayan city of Coba is thought to date back to around 50 B.C. This makes it much older than its close neighbour, Tulum. In fact, Coba grew to become one of the largest and most important Maya cities in Mexico, before the rise of Chichen Itza. It’s well worth a visit. Oh, and don’t forget the visit the Coba Cenotes whilst you’re there too.
Read more: How To Visit The Coba Mayan Ruins In Mexico
6. Palenque Mayan Ruins, Mexico
The Palenque Mayan Ruins is one of the most stunning set of ruins in Mexico. Set in the jungle within the state of Chiapas, the ornate buildings feature grand pyramids and vast palaces. In fact, Palenque Mayan Ruins are one of our favourite archaeological sites in Mexico.
Palenque Ruins is only partially excavated – just like many of the other huge Mayan complexes. Given how much you can see on a visit to Palenque, it’s quite mind-blowing to imagine what’s still left to be uncovered and reclaimed from the jungle.
Palenque was a grand Mayan stronghold between 226 B.C. and 799 A.D. Its most famous ruler was K’inich Janaab’ Pakal (AKA Pakal the Great or simply Pakal). Pakal was responsible for the buildings we see today, after rebuilding following attacks from the city of Calakmul. The main pyramid at Palenque – Temple of Inscriptions, is where Pakal’s sarcophagus was found.
Because Palenque Ruins contain such a wealth of hieroglyphic inscriptions, it’s possible to piece together a timeline of rulers and of general life in Palenque. These Mayan Ruins in Mexico are very straightforward to visit from modern Palenque Town, which lies just a few kilometres away.
7. Yaxchilan and Bonampak Ruins
If want to see more ancient Mayan Ruins whilst you’re staying in Palenque, Mexico, then consider heading to a little more off-the-beaten-track Yaxchilan and Bonampak Ruins. Located around three hours south of Palenque, visiting these Mayan Ruins involves a boat trip down the Usumacinta River, which separates Mexico from Guatemala. Given their remoteness, it’s easiest to visit both sets of Mayan Ruins via a tour.
8. Monte Alban Ruins
High in the mountains above the city of Oaxaca is Monte Alban. This large city complex was actually home to the Zapotecs and not the Mayans. It’s one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, founded around 500 B.C. Monte Alban’s central plaza is vast, measuring 300 metres by 150 metres in size. Surrounding this expanse are the crumbling remains of temples, palaces and ball courts.
You can climb many of the ruins at Monte Alban. This really helps to imagine the ancient city as it once would have been. It’s also very easy to reach from downtown Oaxaca. Although, visit early to avoid the crowds.
Outside of Mexico City are the seriously impressive ruins of Teotihuacan. I think only a visit to Chichen Itza can rival the sheer size and scale of everything you get to explore at this archaeological site. Teotihuacan is widely considered the first advanced civilisation of North America. Its population reached a whopping 125,000 people. The ancient city was founded before the Aztecs, but, it was the Aztecs who named it.
The main attractions of the Aztec Ruins in Mexico include the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon. The size of both of these structures will take your breath away. Stroll down the Avenue of the Dead and marvel at its many pyramid bases and well-preserved murals. You’ll easily spend half a day, if not more, exploring all of this incredible site.
10. Calakmul Mayan Ruins
The Mayan Ruins of Calakmul are an excellent off-the-beaten-track archaeological site located in the state of Campeche, very close to the Guatemala border. Calakmul is huge and at its height, housed a population of around 50,000 people. The city also endured intense rivalry with nearby Tikal in Guatemala. Indeed, both Calakmul and Tikal are known as the seats of ancient Maya superpowers.
The Mayan Ruins of Calakmul have suffered from severe erosion. This is because the majority of buildings have been constructed in limestone. But, there are still plenty of fascinating structures to enjoy, including the second-tallest pyramid in Mexico, simply known as Structure 2.
The entire Mayan Ruins are located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which is a protected jungle. For some real intrepid exploration, head to Calakmul Mayan Ruins.
If you’re looking for a Mayan Ruins site that is free to visit, then you’ll have to head to Izamal. Known as the ‘Yellow City’ because all of its inner-city buildings are painted in the sunshine hue, there’s a small archaeological site that’s easy to visit.
A short climb up some steps brings you to a small complex of crumbling pyramids. At its centre is the Pyramid of Kinich Kak Moo. The Mayan Ruins are less well preserved than at other Mexico sites. But, they’re just as fascinating to wander around. Indeed, there would be more to see of Izamal Mayan Ruins, except that the Spanish built much of their colonial city on top of the existing Mayan city. The ruins that can be visited today mostly survived because the Spanish decided it would be too much work to flatten them. Instead, they built little Christian temples on top.
To the south of the Izamal centre, you can walk to Chaltun Ha Archaeological Zone. But, the ruins here are quite small and we found them to be a little remote and overgrown. So, if you don’t make it here, it’s no bother.
Izamal is still an important place for the Maya, with Yucatac Mayan still spoken among indigenous peoples as much as Spanish. It’s also one of Mexico’s Pueblo Magicos or magic towns.
12. Edzna Mayan Ruins
On the outskirts of Campeche is Edzna Mayan Ruins. The archaeological site here has been beautifully excavated to show off the main temple and surrounding buildings perfectly. The name ‘Edzna’ comes from ‘House of the Itzaes‘, leading some to establish a link between this city and Chichen Itza, though it’s not certain what exactly that is.
Despite its grandeur and obvious beauty, Edzna Mayan Ruins are often overlooked and so less frequently visited by travellers. If you’re after an easy to get to but less busy set of ruins in Mexico, then Edzna is a good shout. Be sure to check out the Temple of the Masks and the Grand Acropolis.
Located close to Bacalar in Mexico are the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins. Its name means ‘the place of red corn’ and was first settled around 2,000 years ago. There are still vast parts of the site to be excavated, but on a visit today, you can still enjoy grand pyramids and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Some of these buildings contain tiny fragments of red pigment showing that this large Mayan city was once painted red.
Other Mayan Ruins in Central America
As the ancient Maya civilisation wasn’t confined to modern-day country border lines, evidence of their occupation can be found throughout northern Central America. Some of our favourite Mayan Ruins are actually found outside of Mexico, and in bordering Guatemala, Belize and Honduras. Let’s take a look.
Tikal, in Guatemala, is one of the most outstanding Mayan Ruins you can visit. Truly, no trip through Central America is complete without stopping here. Tikal Mayan Ruins was once the seat of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the ancient civilisation. Additionally, there’s even evidence of interaction with Teotihuacan, another great superpower of ancient Maya.
At Tikal Mayan Ruins, you can enjoy strolling the extensive grounds, climbing the pyramids and looking out for wildlife. Most visitors will travel to Tikal from the beautiful island town of Flores in northern Guatemala. From here, you’ll find plenty of transportation options heading to the archaeological site.
Caracol Mayan Ruins
The Caracol Mayan Ruins is the largest Maya site in Belize. Hidden deep in the Belizean forest, you’ll discover this marvellously excavated ancient Maya city. Sure, the Caracol Mayan Ruins don’t get as much attention as nearby Tikal. But, rest assured, Caracol is just as worthy of your visit!
The site was first discovered in 1937 by a local named Rosa Mai who was simply searching for mahogany hardwood trees to cut down. He was the first to stumble upon the mystifying Caracol City. But, it wasn’t until the early 1950s, that there were more extensive efforts to excavate the area. At Caracol, you can enjoy the sound of Howler Monkeys as you sit atop of the impressive pyramids, enjoying the fantastic treetop vistas of Belize.
Given the ruins are difficult to reach independently, it’s likely that you’ll need to do a tour to visit. Most visitors to Caracol Mayan Ruins come from the town of San Ignacio, where you’ll find plenty of tour options.
Xunantunich Mayan Ruins
Xunantunich is one of the finest Mayan Ruins in Belize. Located near the Guatemala-Belizean border, this archaeological reserve has been brilliantly excavated, so you’ll get to see this ancient Maya city in all its glory. All in all, careful excavation has revealed around six plazas and 32 other structures across Xunantunich Mayan Ruins. Although, similar to many other ancient Mayan cities found in Central America, only a small fraction of the site has been uncovered.
Of course, the most impressive structure at the site is El Castillo, which is one of the largest human-made structures in Belize. Additionally, it’s possible to climb a portion of this awesome pyramid.
Copan Mayan Ruins
Not far from the Guatemala border, in northern Honduras, is the incredible Copan Mayan Ruins. The city was occupied for almost 2,000 years and was one of the furthest south cities of Mesoamerica.
Some of the excavated structures at Copan Mayan Ruins are remarkably intact, with plenty to see on a day trip to this fantastic archaeological site. Pack your comfy shoes for this excursion, you’ll be glad of them.
Below, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions with regard to visiting Mayan Ruins in Mexico.
What Is the Most Famous Mayan Ruins?
Arguably the most famous Mayan Ruins are Chichen Itza in Mexico, Tikal in Guatemala and Copan in Honduras.
What Mayan Ruins Can You Climb?
The Mayan Ruins you can climb in Mexico include Monte Alban, Teotihuacan, Ek Balam and Izamal.
Is it Safe to Visit the Mayan Ruins in Mexico?
Travel Essentials For Mayan Ruins, Mexico
These are our travel essentials for exploring Mayan Ruins in Mexico.
- Insect repellant: some Mayan Ruins are in the jungle after all.
- Osprey Skarab 30L Day Backpack: a great backpack for day tripping, that has plenty of space to store your gear.
- Nikon DSLR Camera: you’ll definitely want to document your visits. Also, a GoPro is a great addition for filming at archaeological sites.
- The North Face Venture Jacket: a waterproof jacket is handy to keep you dry if you visit in the rainy season.
- Merrell Moab Mid Gore-Tex Hiking Boots: you’ll benefit from a sturdy pair of hiking boots to walk around the Mayan Ruins in Mexico.
Travel insurance is a real necessity, especially when travelling through Central America and getting a little off the beaten track.
SafetyWing is an excellent budget-friendly travel insurance provider. Personally, Dan and I have used SafetyWing’s Nomad Insurance many times to insure our trips. The Nomad Insurance is fantastic value for money with a smaller additional cost to add a partner. Unlike most other insurance companies, there’s an option to pay on a monthly basis, similar to having a prepaid phone plan. Better yet, there’s no lock-in contract. In addition, you can cancel at any time, which will take effect the month after.
For shorter trips, it’s also possible to use Nomad Insurance for trips lasting just days or just 2–3 weeks. Indeed, SafetyWing is cheaper than almost all other travel insurance policies and covers just as much and sometimes more.
SafetyWing is a modern travel insurance company that is certainly leading the way in terms of how travel insurance should work in the future.
Chiapas, Mexico Travel Tips
- Carry cash: it’s a good idea to carry plenty of pesos when exploring Mexico. Although, most of the archaeological sites do accept cards.
- Camera gear: be mindful that at some Mayan Ruins, you’ll be charged additional fees for camera equipment you have with you such as GoPro’s and tripods. Drones are generally not allowed. But check with each site.
- Additional Mayan Ruins, Mexico: if this list doesn’t fill your Mayan Ruins quota, then consider visiting El Rey and El Meco in Cancun and Templo Mayor in Mexico City. Additionally, in Belize, there are the Altun Ha Mayan Ruins.
- Beat the crowds: as a general rule, arrive at opening time and visit on a weekday to avoid huge crowds.
- Places to stay: you’ll need somewhere to stay to visit all these Mayan Ruins in Mexico. We generally get the ball rolling with a search on Booking.com for some of the best deals around.
More Mexico Travel
Feel free to check out our guides below for more Mexico inspiration!
Which are your favourite Mayan Ruins in Mexico? Let us know in the comments below.