If you have been following my site for some time, you should know I’m a fan of archaeological sites. Those places are beyond me. I’ve always considered myself to be a history buff. I love collecting details from past civilizations, particularly those from Mexico.

The southeast of Mexico is full of such places. I’d love to share them with you. That’s why I came up with a list of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico. This is just my opinion; some people may differ. Without much further ado, let’s get started!

But First, Let’s Clarify Something

Before jumping right in, I would like to clarify a misconception that makes me cringe. The words “Mayan” and “Maya” are not synonymous nor can they be used interchangeably. The term Mayan refers specifically to the language, whereas Maya refers to the people, culture, or places. So, you could say that the Maya speak Mayan. Yes, there’s no need to distinguish between the singular and plural forms.

Okay, that was an eye-opener. Even I made that mistake in the past. Just keep it in mind for future reference.

Who Were the Maya?

Two colorful Maya masks.

I’m not going to bore you with a load of details, but it’s important to have some context. Well, first of all, I would like to point out that the Maya do not use such term among themselves; it’s of more recent usage. They refer to themselves by language bonds or ethnicity instead. Something similar happens with the Aztecs.

There is some controversy as to when to Maya civilization started, but many experts agree it was around the year 2500 B.C. They gradually started to populate the southeastern portion of the country, including the modern states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Chiapas, and Tabasco. They also inhabited portions of Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras in Central America.

The Maya were very smart people and excelled in mathematics, engineering, and astronomy, among other sciences. They were thought to be pacific people, but recent evidence suggests quite the opposite. You may have seen them featured on Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto, which sparked some controversy.

Okay, the Best Maya Sites Are…

Did you know there are over 4,000 Maya sites in Latin America, many of them in Mexico? And there are yet more sites to be discovered. That’s impressive, isn’t it?

I have a bucket list of Maya places I want to visit in the future. I will share it with you in another post. The truth is, there are so many sites that you would need to spend a lot of time in Mexico to explore them all! Some of them are isolated and it can be hard to access them, so that adds to the difficulty.

Honestly, it’s hard to give a ranking list, but these are the best Maya ruins in my opinion. Oh, and just for the record, I’ve visited all of them, so I’m talking from experience. Check them out!

Chichen Itza: Enchanter of the Water

Close up of Kukulcan pyramid.

The Chichen Itza site is probably the most well-known in the whole country. It draws millions of international tourists from all over the world every year. Its icon, the Kukulcan pyramid, is known by many, at least on photos.

Chichen Itza is located in the eastern portion of Yucatan. It was once a huge city and one of the most important in Mesoamerica. It features different architectural styles such as the Puuc and Chenes styles.

Some of the busiest seasons are the dates around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes. In the late afternoon, the sun casts shades on the pyramid steps at an angle that creates the illusion of a serpent crawling down. This is no coincidence since Kukulcan, the most important Maya deity, had the shape of a serpent.

You cannot climb to the top of the pyramids, but It’s a must when visiting the Yucatan Peninsula. You won’t want to miss out.

Tulum: The Maya Wall

Maya ruins in Tulum overlooking turquoise waters.

Maybe not as impressive as Chichen Itza, Tulum was another major Maya settlement. It was a walled city and one of the last Maya settlements.

Tulum is located along the Riviera Maya coast, making it a perfect day trip from Cancun and nearby areas. In fact, you can do Tulum and Chichen Itza on a single day if you wanted to.

The Tulum site is not very big, but it’s still worth a visit. There is a rock tunnel you need to cross to enter the site. Another peculiarity is it’s full of iguanas. They’re everywhere!

Perhaps what makes Tulum unique is the fact that it’s the only archaeological site right next to the beach. No other site in Mexico has that.

Palenque: Big Water

Aerial view of two Maya buildings in Palenque, Chiapas.

Located in the southern state of Chiapas, Palenque was a medium-sized site. It was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1987. Only less than 10% of its territory has been explored by archaeologists.

The Temple of Inscriptions is perhaps the most significant building on-site. It records 180 years of the city’s history and was built by King Pakal’s son. King Pakal’s tomb rests inside, too. It was possible to access by special request, but authorities decided to stop visits.

Even though it’s not one of the largest Maya sites discovered, it boasts beautiful architecture. You will love the sense of peace and tranquility that permeates the air.

Calakmul: City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids

Young man sitting on top of a pyramid and looking over the tropical rain forest in Calakmul.

In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated Maya sites today. It’s probably due to its isolated location right in the heart of the tropical forests of Campeche. Access to the site is a little bit complicated, so you won’t see many tourists like you would in other Maya sites.

You can easily spend hours exploring the site. The good thing is, you can still climb to the top of the pyramids! It’s not possible to do that in Chichen Itza, for example. You will be rewarded with a magnificent view of your surroundings.

The site is strongly connected with nature. You can even run into jaguars! Take advantage of this opportunity and disconnect from social media and the Internet. Admire the scenery and take as many photos as you can.

This is by far my favorite Maya site until now. I went there in August of last year, and I am planning to return soon. You have to go at least once in your life.

I will write an in-depth article on Calakmul shortly.

==>Click here to tour any of the Maya sites above!<==

To Wrap Up

There you have it. As mentioned earlier, there are many sites to explore in Mexico. It’s amazing how you can evoke the past by revisiting these magnificent places. I can never get enough of them and I’m sure you won’t, either.

Have you visited any of them yet? If you happen to be in any of the southeastern states, try to visit at least one of the sites. You won’t regret it.

If you have already been, what are your favorite sites? Which ones would you add or remove from the list? I’d love to know. Feel free to comment below. See you soon!

 

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12 Replies to “Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico – My Personal Picks”

  1. Chichen Itza is definitely on my bucket list! I live in Mexico, but on the eastern side of the country, on the Baja peninsula. One day though, I will visit Chichen Itza. It must be such an amazing place!

    I have been to Tulum, and the only reason I didn’t end up going to Chichen Itza as well (it’s not that far from there really) was because I only stayed there for a few days. Tulum was beautiful! Right by the ocean, so amazing! Even though it is a small site, I found it worth visiting, and as you mention in your article, it is the only archealogical site next to the beach. That makes it quite unique. 

    Palenque is also on my bucket list. I know some people who have been there and they all recommended it highly. Mexico is an amazing country with so much to explore. I am looking forward to more of your articles!

    1. Hi, Christine,

      That’s so cool! The Baja peninsula is a beautiful place. I imagine you have already seen the whales?

      Yes, even though Tulum is a small site, it’s quite fascinating. I love the mix of the Maya ruins, the tropical forest, the iguanas, and the sea. It’s one of the most popular sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, so it gets crowded especially during the weekend. It’s always worth a visit, though.

      You will love Palenque. It’s such an incredible place. You can also visit the waterfalls of Agua Azul and Misol-Ha nearby.

      Thank you for your kind words. They’re much appreciated.

  2. Good job you’re doing , Enrique. Reading about these sites fill me with a lot of excitement. Its truly interesting to find and share the remains of civilizations that existed long before ours. I’m quite sure you get a really good kick from visiting these sites. The Chichen Itza is on my list of places I’d like to see one day and I certainly hope soon.

    Great post

    1. Hi, Rhain,

      Thank you for your kind words. I totally agree with you. I’m a history buff and it just amazes me what other civilizations did in the past.

      You will love Chichen Itza. If you’re on the Yucatan Peninsula, there are more many sites you can visit. So, you need to plan accordingly.

      Thanks for commenting.

  3. Hi! I have Mexican blood. But I have never been able to go to Mexico. Now that we have the chance, my family and I are all excited about this trip. So each one of us has gone online searching for ideas of what to do on our days there, which places to visit and meals to eat. We weekly share our findings. It has been a great family time preparing for Mexico.

    I’ll impress them this Saturday telling them about the Mayas, Palenque and Calakmul. Thank you very much for your post! 

    1. Hi, Abel,

      That’s so cool! Where did your Mexican family come from? I’m from Monterrey in northern Mexico.

      I hope you visit Mexico soon. There is so much to see and do. Whether you’re into adventure, culture, nightlife, or whatever floats your boat, you will always find something to do.

      Let me know if I can be of further assistance. Thank you for commenting.

  4. Thank you for your post. it is a timely article for me. My wife and I are planning Mexico trip the coming summer. We are thinking about exploring Mayan ruins, but never take time to do the research.

    Here comes your article, with detailed Mayan ruins. Chichen Itza site is certainly our choice, but we may also visit some other Mayan ruin sites. Our trip schedule is not finalized yet. With your detailed instruction, we will definitely include as many sites as possible. Maybe we plan to have exclusively Mayan ruin trip.

    Your detailed information saves us a lot of time and energy. I appreciate your efforts.

    1. Hi, Anthony,

      You’re very welcome! I’m always glad to help.

      If you’re in the Cancun area or any other part of the Yucatan Peninsula, you will have lots of options to choose from. As you can see on the map, the Yucatan Peninsula is full of Maya sites.

      The ones I listed are my favorites so far, but there are way many more. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

      Feel free to come back for more info and tips on Mexico.

  5. Wow!  That is an amazing article, and an awesome travel info site.  I will be putting this in my favorites.  I had no idea there were over 4000 Maya locations to visit.  You made it seem like it would be no big deal to run into a Jaquar!  As they continue exploring, I wonder what else archaeologists will find out about the Maya?  From all that you have encountered and learned, what questions would you like answers to?  Thank you for sharing.

    1. Thank you! I’m doing my best to provide you all with useful tips and information for your next trip.

      Yes, there are so many Maya sites in Mexico, some of them haven’t been explored yet. Even the ones that are open to the public like Palenque, only show 10% of the total.

      Answering your question, I’d like to know how they built their pyramids, especially the Kukulcan one. It amazes me they were able to accomplish so much without the technology we have today. What do you think?

  6. loved this post and it reminded me of our trips to the Mayan Ruins on our Mexican Adventure.

    We visited Coba when we were last in Mexico, it is pretty near Tulum and we really liked it due to the large pyramid that you were able to climb. I believe it is one of the tallest in Mexico, there was quite a view from the top and it is rare now they let you climb them!

    There was a lot of other stuff to see as well, such as a church alters and even a ball game court. It was seriously fascinating. Such a powerful place as you know so much dark stuff went on along with daily life.

    We hired a Car From Akumal and drove over, also stopped at Tulum which was wonderful, and a few Cenotes! A great day out.

    Steve

    1. Hey, Steve,

      Yes, Coba is another important site in the Yucatan Peninsula. As you said, it is rare that they let you climb the pyramids. There are a few, but it’s not possible to climb them for the most part.

      I’m fascinated by archaeology. There is so much to learn from the pyramids, the rituals, religion, daily life, etc.

      It’s a good idea to rent a car when visiting these sites. It’s more convenient than hiring a tour, although you have to consider the pros and cons.

      Thanks for commenting.

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