10 Best Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula

View of Tulum ruins, located in the Yucatan, with the turquoise Caribbean Sea in the background.

If you’re traveling in the Yucatan Peninsula, you definitely need to visit a Mayan ruin. Or two, or three.

When you study a map of the area, you’ll soon realize there are many more Yucatan ruins than the famous Chichen Itza. And while it did make my list of the best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, I’ve included some other incredible archeological sites you should check out as well.

After living near the Yucatan for over two years, I have visited many ruins. Each one with its own story directed by the lay of the land, water, and commodities available at the time.

I recommend visiting several of these Yucatan ruins as the pyramids, carvings, and stelaes (large stone slabs) differ vastly.

Let’s discover the 10 best Mayan ruins, Yucatan style.

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Visiting the Mayan Ruins, Yucatan

You can get to some of these ruin sites by bus or colectivo. Although the mostly flat roads of the Yucatan Peninsula are perfect for a road trip if you prefer to rent a car. And for some of these Yucatan ruins, a car will be necessary to beat the crowds.

Otherwise, I’ve included some highly-rated tours where appropriate. And if you really want to see as many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan as possible, book this 5-day heritage tour to visit a nice mix of archeological sites.

The tour includes all entrance fees and four nights of hotel bookings with roundtrip transport from Cancun. You can read more reviews here.

1. Tulum Mayan Ruins

From the Tulum Mayan Ruins, a view of the cliff descending into the Caribbean Sea with sand in the foreground.

One of the biggest draws to this Yucatan ruin is the stunning backdrop of the Caribbean sea. The Tulum ruin site is perched on a cliff that drops into powdery sand and beautiful turquoise water.

Historically there was another notable draw as Tulum was an important stop for trade. Maya from all over Mesoamerica traded gold, copper, feathers, and most notably obsidian.

El Castillo, for me, is the most impressive building on the archeological site, serving as a lighthouse for seafaring traders to mark exactly where the reef splits. This allowed them to safely land their canoes.

This is the third most visited archeological site in Mexico, behind Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza.

Did you know you can swim with turtles in nearby Akumal? You can easily do both when you book this tour which starts with snorkeling in Akumal and finishes with a tour of the Tulum ruins.

Location: 2 miles outside of Tulum | Google Maps 
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm  

Chances are you’ll spend some time enjoying this small beach town that has exploded in popularity recently. Whether you want to be a beach bum or explore the nearby cenotes, read this guide for ideas of what to do in Tulum.

2. Coba Mayan Ruin

Located 45 minutes from Tulum, the Coba ruins are impressive. Controlling trade routes and dominating much of the Northern Yucatan, this Mayan city was of great importance in the region.

Climb to the top of the main pyramid for a stunning view of the lush jungle below. While older and lesser-known than Chichen Itza, Coba is easily accessible by bus, taxi, or renting a car. It does tend to get busy by midday.

TIP: To navigate this site more quickly, bicycles are available to rent. Or opt to hire a transport bicycle that will ferry you down the covered pathway to the pyramid sites.

Location: Between Tulum and Valladolid | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

If you’re arriving at Coba by way of Playa, check out this list of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen.

Want to visit Coba and Tulum Mayan Ruins? Explore both when you book this private tour with knowledgeable guides who will enhance your experience.

3. Ek Balam Ruins

From the top of Ek Balam in the Yucatan Peninsula. The view includes other buildings on the ruin site and the lush jungle below.

Just 16 miles north of Valladolid, Ek Balam has the most amazing temple.

The doorway to the temple is a large carving of a Jaguar with its mouth open. Huge teeth and all. Furthermore, the intricate Maya warrior statues are extremely well preserved.

There aren’t a ton of tourists that visit this ruin, so you should be able to get some great views. On a clear day, they say you can see Coba and Chichen Itza from the top.

Location: 30 min north of Valladolid | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Traveling through the Yucatan? Check out this ultimate guide about how to see wild flamingos in Celestun.

4. Chichen Itza

At Chichen Itza Mayan Ruin in the Yucatan, a snake head protrudes from the carvings of one structure. In the background is Kukulkan Mayan pyramid under blue skies with green grass.

Chichen Itza is the second largest archaeological site in Mexico and is best visited from nearby Valladolid.

The main pyramid, El Castillo is quite impressive. I also found the history of the sacred cenote quite interesting since they found many items of sacrifice, including human remains, at the bottom.

To get there early, I recommend you rent a car. As one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, the crowds and vendors can be crazy if you arrive even an hour or two after the site opens.

TIP: Tuesday – Sunday nights there is a sound and light show at Chichen Itza. If you have a car or are staying close by, check it out.

Location: 45 minutes west of Valladolid | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

5. Uxmal Mayan Ruins

An overall view of Uxmal, one of the most underrated Yucatan ruins. In the foreground is the ballcourt and in the background, the Pyramid of the Magician which is tall with unusually rounded corners.

Uxmal is arguably the most underrated Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula. Furthermore, this site is very well preserved due to the cut stone laid into a bed of concrete.

At over 100 feet tall, the Pyramid of the Magician is unusual for its oval shape. While you can no longer climb this pyramid, you can climb the main pyramid at Uxmal for amazing views.

Other interests at this Mayan site are numerous statues carved into the shape of turtles, birds, and snakes. The geometric art on the side of the governor’s building is unlike other carvings that I have seen.

Next to this archeological site is a chocolate museum, both of which you can visit on this highly rated private tour which includes a visit to a nearby cenote.

TIP: If you visit the Uxmal Mayan Ruins, consider doing the entire Puuc route which includes the caves of Loltun, several haciendas, cenotes, and the smaller nearby ruins of Labna, X-Lapak, Sayil, and Kabah.

Location: 1 hour south of Merida | Google Maps 
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

6. Mayapan

After the collapse of Chichen Itza, Mayapan became the next thriving capital of the Yucatan Maya. Only 45 minutes south of Merida, Mayapan is a quiet archaeological site featuring many stone carvings and a circular observatory.

The site is well excavated, though the original construction was not as sound as that of Chichen Itza. As a result, a lot of roofs have caved in.

There is no ball court at Mayapan, but you are able to climb the ruins. This is an archaeological site that even if you arrive later than the gate opening you may still have the place to yourself.

There are numerous cenotes in the area to cool off in after a visit to the ruins. A little out of the way is the Nah Yah cenote. Not only is saying the name kinda fun, but if you’re scuba/cave certified you can contact a scuba outfit ahead of time and explore the depths of this cenote.

Location:  45 minutes south of Merida | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

Are you planning to visit Merida? Click to read my favorite things to do in the city.

7. Chacchoben Yucatan Ruin

Chacchoben is located near the beachside community of Mahahual. Visiting this site is one of the most popular activities for those stopping at the Costa Maya cruise terminal.

The original Mayan name of this ruin is unknown. Therefore, it was named after the nearby community which translates to “place of the red corn.”

For a unique experience, book this tour of the ruins which includes a visit to a local family home where you’ll learn about (and taste!) the food of the region.

It is estimated that this archeological site flourished around 300 A.D. with evidence that a few buildings were rehabilitated about 1,000 years later.

TIP: Keep your ears and eyes open for monkey sightings as you pass through the jungle on the way to explore these Mayan ruins.

Location:  1 hour northwest of Mahahual | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 9:00 am – 3:00 pm

8. Kohunlich Mayan Ruins

Stone carved masks at Kohunlich Mayan Ruins in the southern Yucatan Peninsula.

This is a smaller ruin in the southern Yucatan so I wasn’t going to give it much attention, but the Temple of Masks is amazing.

Plus, when I visited this ruin in July with friends, we were the only ones here. It’s amazing to visit an archeological site with the freedom to roam at your pace and explore the ruins. 

Equally as impressive were the huge cohune palms, their fronds almost hitting the ground from the large height they originate from.

You either need to rent a car to get to Kohunlich or book this tour which visits both Dzibanche and Kohunlich from Mahahual.

Location: 1 hour southwest of Bacalar | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 

9. Edzná Ruins near Campeche

A slight angle view of the impressive temple five floors at Edzna Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan. The stone pyramid structure clearly delineates each floor as it rises to the top.

This is one of the most beautiful Mayan ruins in the Yucatan. Most notably, the Temple of Five Floors is an impressive pyramid structure that delineates each of the floors as it climbs to the top.

While the evidence of the first human presence dates as far back as 600 BC, it wasn’t until 400 AD that Edzná became a powerful regional capital of the western Yucatan Peninsula.

From Campeche, it is possible to take a 45 peso colectivo from this location and then walk a short distance (about 5 minutes) to the entrance. When you’re ready to leave this Yucatan ruin, walk back to the highway to catch a return transport.

Location: 45 min southeast of Campeche | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 

10. Calakmul Mayan Ruins

There is evidence that Calakmul was the most important city of the Classic Maya. The large ceremonial plazas and residential complexes were built with unique urban planning not seen in other Mayan ruins.

By studying hieroglyphics, archeologists have determined there was a history of wars between Calakmul and Tikal for almost a century, due to the political rivalry between these cities.

This may be one of the most remote Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, but it’s totally worth visiting if you have the time.

Location: 4.5 hours southeast of Campeche | Google Maps
Hours: Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 


Tips To Visit These Yucatan Ruins

For the best experience, follow these tips as you explore the Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

Arrive When the Site Opens

This cannot be stressed enough. I’ve had some pretty early mornings to visit ruins in Mexico, but the beauty of sharing the site with only a few others is completely worth it.

If you are looking for the perfect picture, get there before the tour buses full of people arrive. Also, most of the vendors will just be arriving by the time that you’re leaving.

TIP: Try to avoid visiting the ruin sites on a weekend, especially on Sunday when it is busiest and often free for Mexican nationals.

Wear Solid Shoes to Explore the Mayan Ruins

A lot of the ruins in Mexico are in the middle of the jungle. Navigating the terrain can be tricky enough, but if you’re allowed to climb the structures it can be nerve-wracking looking down. You certainly don’t want to add poor footwear into the equation.

Bring Water, Sunscreen, and a Hat

Perhaps it goes without saying, but the Yucatan Peninsula can be sweltering hot. The less popular ruins may not have water for purchase, so it’s best to bring all you will need. (Don’t worry there are always bathrooms!)

Some ruins offer more shade than others, but most are exposed to the elements. I always bring sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat.

Hire a Guide to Learn More About the Yucatan Ruin Site

I have been to many ruins and each one has its place in the Maya lore. The guide’s insight is steeped in a combination of archaeologist academia and personal family history of the area.

The tour guides I’ve experienced have all been very proud of their Mayan ancestry, and the more questions you ask them the more information they will give you without prompting.

Tour guides in Mexico are all licensed by the federal government. They are trained to expertly explain the lives of the Maya and answer any questions about the flora and fauna you encounter.

TIP: As you enter the site, see if there are other visitors that would be willing to share the price of a guide.

Cool Off in a Cenote After

Swimming in a cenote after visiting a Mayan ruin should be mandatory. There’s no better way to cool off and reflect on the Mayan history you just experienced.

Every ruin has at least one nearby, though they tend to be some of the most touristy. But not to worry, there are thousands of cenotes in the area!

Have you explored the Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan? Tell me about it in the comments!

Save this guide to Yucatan Ruins. Pin it for later!

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From Chichen Itza to Tulum to Coba, save the 7 Best Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan for later.

8 Comments

    1. Thanks for reading Nancy! I love learning about the Mayan culture from the guides when visiting the Mayan ruins as well.

  1. I visted Mexico a couple of years ago, and loved the temples and ruins. I visited a few that you talked about – Tulum and Chichen Itza, but then totally missed out on Kohunlich and Mayapan, they werent even on my radar. Great post, I need to go back soon and do these.

    1. I always love a reason to return to a previous travel destination, especially in Mexico! There are several Yucatan ruins that get overshadowed by the more prominent sites. They are still restoring a site near Bacalar that has yet to open to the public. I read it’s one of the biggest Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan!

  2. On my list. Especially the Temple of Masks at the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins. Great capture. And the image from Chichen Itza is stellar! Pinned a few of your pics!

    1. Yes, the Temple of the Masks was a great delight at Kohunlich, as were the giant palms. I’m thrilled you’ll add these destinations to your list!

  3. Glad to see you are enjoying Maya sites when traveling through Yucatan. The peninsula is like a second home for us, and the first time I traveled there was for Maya ruins. As crazy as it sounds, with all the tourists, you can still find some off the beaten track to visit. Glad to see you included Mayapan and Kohunlich. My favorite of the ones you listed is Coba, for its jungle setting and its stelae.

  4. I have seen 3 of these Mayan Ruins and need to return to see the rest. Tours are a bit rushed, so next time I prefer to go there individually.

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