10 Incredible Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula

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

Interested in visiting the Yucatan Pyramids?

Amid lush jungles and vibrant cities lies a remarkable collection of Mayan ruins in the Yucatan, each telling tales of the incredible Mayans that once flourished in Mexico.

From the awe-inspiring grandeur of Chichen Itza to the hidden gem of Uxmal, the Mayan ruins of Yucatan stand as testament to the advanced knowledge, artistry, and spiritual beliefs of the Mayan people.

And more Yucatan ruins continue to be discovered. So what are the best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan to visit?

After living in Mexico for more than five years, I have visited many Mayan ruins. The Yucatan ruins that captivate you the most will be a personal feeling.

While Uxmal reveals its architectural splendor through intricately carved facades, Tulum ruins captivate with its cliffside perch overlooking turquoise waters. And Coba entices adventurers to climb to the top of its largest pyramid for a breathtaking panorama of the surrounding jungle.

From the most popular to the lesser-known ruins, let’s discover the best Mayan ruins, Yucatan style.

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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.

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1. Tulum Mayan Ruins

📍 2 miles outside of Tulum (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8:00 am – 5:00 pm

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.

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.

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.

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. And you’ll definitely want to read this post about luxury hotels in Tulum.

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

2. Coba Mayan Ruin

📍 Between Tulum and Valladolid (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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.

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

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

3. Ek Balam Ruins

📍 30 min north of Valladolid (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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, one of Mexico’s prettiest towns, 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.

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

4. Chichen Itza

📍 45 minutes west of Valladolid (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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 and drive. 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.

Prefer to book a Chichen Itza tour? You can book this private ruin and cenote tour with transportation option from Cancun. Or book this knowledgeable guide to enhance your experience once you arrive at the site.

5. Uxmal Mayan Ruins

📍 1 hour south of Merida (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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.

Pro 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 Mayan ruins of Labna, X-Lapak, Sayil, and Kabah.

Visiting the Mayan Ruins, Yucatan

Let’s take a quick break to talk about how to get to some of these Yucatan Mayan ruins.

You can get to some of the best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan by bus or colectivo. Although to visit some of these Yucatan ruins, it will be necessary to rent a car in the Yucatan to beat the crowds and the heat.

I’ve also included highly-rated tours when available. Although, if you really want to focus on Mayan ruins, you should book this 5-day Yucatan Mayan ruins tour which visits a variety of Yucatan pyramids.

The tour includes all entrance fees and four nights of hotel bookings with roundtrip transport from Cancun.

Excellent tour covers Mayan history and culture. Extremely knowledgeable and very helpful local guides (thank you Abraham and Jose). Guides went above and beyond to help with all aspects of ancient/modern history and travel arrangements. Great restaurant selections with local cuisine. Be prepared for many hours of road travel (worth it for the variety sites visited).

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6. Mayapan

📍  45 minutes south of Merida (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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 in 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.

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

7. Chacchoben Yucatan Ruin

📍 1 hour northwest of Mahahual (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 9 am – 3 pm

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.

8. Kohunlich Mayan Ruins

📍 1 hour southwest of Bacalar (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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 Bacalar.

9. Edzná Ruins near Campeche

📍 45 min southeast of Campeche (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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.

10. Calakmul Mayan Ruins

📍 4.5 hours southeast of Campeche (Google Maps)
📆 Every day 8 am – 5 pm

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.

5 Tips To Visit The Yucatan Pyramids

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

1. 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 and tranquility of the space, your need to get there before the tour buses full of people arrive. Also, most of the vendors will just be arriving by the time 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.

2. 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.

3. 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.

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

4. Hire a Guide to Learn More About the Yucatan Pyramids

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.

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

5. 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!

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