Planning to see some Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula on your Mexico trip?
This area of the country is amazing — with everything from delicious Yucatecan food and beautiful Colonial cities, to world-famous beaches and stunning nature, including Bacalar Lagoon AKA “the Maldives of Mexico.”
It also has about 100 ancient Mayan ruins you can visit. While most people won’t make it to all 100 on their Mexico vacation, there are some that sit high atop many a travel bucket list.
Let’s look at five of Mexico’s best Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula, and everything you need to know about visiting these ancient pyramids.
Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
A Guest Post by Shelley of Travel Mexico Solo
As one of the Seven Wonders of the World, does Chichen Itza even need an introduction?! Besides this prestigious designation, Chichen Itza is also one of Mexico’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
What to see at Chichen Itza
This Mayan archeological site is located in the dead center of the Yucatan Peninsula. It is close to Valladolid, one of the 120 or so pueblos mágicos (magic towns) in Mexico, however, nearly everyone who visits the Yucatan will also visit Chichen Itza.
Once inside, you’ll see El Castillo (The Castle, or Temple of Kukulcan), the one depicted in most Chichen Itza photos. From there, head to see the Temple of the Warriors, Group of a Thousand Columns, Wall of the Skulls, Grand Ball Court and Sacred Cenote.
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Chichen Itza Site Tours
With so much to see, you might assume that Chichen Itza is quite large. At 740-acres, you’d be right to think that.
Given this site’s size and historical significance, you might want to consider hiring a guide to explain everything.
When you arrive at the Chichen Itza entrance gate, you’ll see accredited guides selling day tours for about $1,000 pesos ($50USD). If you’re planning to hire one, remember to bring enough pesos to pay them.
How to get to Chichen Itza
Bus: While there are plenty of Chichen Itza tours and day trips from most Yucatan travel destinations, it’s pretty easy to visit by bus or rental car as well. If you’re opting to take a bus to Chichen Itza, check the ADO schedule; this is Mexico’s largest bus company and offers several daily trips to/from the site.
Drive: Chichen Itza’s central location makes it easy to drive to from anywhere in the Yucatan Peninsula. It is about 2 hours from pretty much everywhere — Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Merida.
Before hitting the road, make sure you download an offline map from Google Maps or Maps.me because your cell signal will go in and out in the rural areas of the Yucatan. Also, make sure you have $80 pesos ($4USD) to pay for parking.
Pro tips for visiting Chichen Itza: Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
Taking your own car gives you the advantage of getting there right when the site opens at 8am. This puts you ahead of all the tour buses that start arriving closer to 10am.
If you are taking the bus, see what the earliest option to get there is. Know that from Cancun, this trip takes close to three hours, so you’ll have some time to go back to sleep on the bus!
Besides seeing Chichen Itza without the crowds for a bit, arriving early also means you can explore before the sun starts beating down. As with many Mexico archeological sites, most of Chichen Itza’s trees have been removed so historians can easily study it. While that definitely serves them, it also means there’s less shade for visitors.
When visiting Chichen Itza, you’ll want to wear comfortable, breathable clothing, sneakers and a hat. Besides that, consider taking a backpack with sunscreen, sunglasses, a refillable water bottle, and plenty of pesos.
Admission is $485 pesos ($24USD) and you can pay that with a credit card. However, most other things will be cash only.
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Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula: Tulum
Tulum is one of the most popular beach towns in the Yucatan. It is located 1.5 hours south of Cancun, and known for its bohemian vibes, spiritual/wellness retreats, instagrammable cafes, and small town feel. Tulum also has three of the Yucatan’s best ruins within two hours of the city.
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Only have a short amount of time in Tulum? Head to the Archeological Zone of Tulum-Mayan Port City Ruins, located just 10 minutes from downtown Tulum. This site, often simply referred to as the Tulum Ruins, is located on the northern end of Tulum’s beach.
What to see at Tulum Ruins
Compared to other Mayan sites, Tulum Ruins is small. It is, however, quite beautiful because it’s located on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea.
Inside the site, you’ll see the Templo del Viento (Wind Temple), the most photographed of the Tulum Ruins buildings.
From there, continue walking along the designated path to see the other buildings. These include: the Templo del Dios Descendente (Temple of the Descending God), El Castillo (The Castle), Templo de Los Frescos (Temple of Frescoes) and others.
How to get to Tulum Ruins
From Downtown Tulum: If you’re staying in Tulum, just head to the beach! Pretty easy. There is a car and bike parking lot, or you can take a cab from downtown Tulum.
Coming from another part of the Yucatan?
Bus: If you’re taking the ADO bus, there’s only one station in Tulum. Once you arrive, walk outside and grab a taxi outside to get to the ruins. Pro tip: Negotiate your fare before getting in the cab.
Drive: If you’re driving, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya and Tulum are all accessible from the same road, Highway 307/Cancun-Tulum Highway. This makes driving to Tulum and the Tulum Ruins easy.
Pro tips for visiting Tulum Ruins: Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
One of the great things about the Tulum Ruins being small is there’s no need for a paid guide. Inside, there is a roped path you walk along, and English signs at every building explaining its significance.
There is no shade here, so definitely wear a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses, and bring your water bottle. You might also want to have a swimsuit on under your clothes. When you’re done at the ruins, head down to Playa Tortuga (Turtle Beach), located below the site, to cool off.
Tulum Ruins admission is $80 pesos ($4USD).
Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula: Coba
Located deep in the jungle, Coba offers a different experience entirely. This is more of a complete Mayan city, than a pyramid site. In fact, many people rent a bike to see the whole place, or hire a tricycle-taxi tour guide.
What to see at Coba
Coba has several distinct areas with buildings, pyramids and steles (large, carved stone tablets) as the standout sights in each. The largest pyramid, Ixmoja, which you can climb, is located in the Nohoch Mul Group.
Ixmoja is one of the tallest pyramids in the Yucatan Peninsula, at about 140-feet-tall with 120 steps. There’s a rope to hold on to, but this is a bit of a steep climb. However, the views at the top are totally with it.
The other notable areas are the Chumuc Mul Group, Coba Group and Macanxoc Group. There’s also a short zipline ride you can do right by the entrance which takes you over Lake Coba, one of the two lakes surrounding this site.
How to get to Coba
Bus: If you’re coming from Tulum by bus, head to the ADO bus station in downtown and buy a ticket for the Coba archeological site. Pro tip: Double check that you’re buying a ticket for the site itself, and not the town of Coba.
To those looking to take the bus from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, or Merida, you have to first catch a bus to Tulum. From Tulum, you’ll take a second bus to the Coba archeological site.
Drive: If you’re driving, Coba is only about 45 minutes from Tulum, and 2.5 hours from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Merida. There is a parking lot on site, which costs $50 pesos ($2.50USD).
Pro tips for visiting Coba: Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
Bug spray! Coba is located in the jungle and between two lakes, meaning it’s a haven for mosquitoes and bugs. While they let up during the day when the sun’s at its hottest, they never let up all the way, so insect repellent is a must all day long.
You will also want to consider how you’re going to see Coba.
Walk: You can, of course, walk the site on your own, or you can pay a guide to walk with you to explain the notable places in Coba. There are guides at the entrance gate offering different types of tours and the different price points. The amount of things you want to see at the Coba will determine the tour price.
Bike: If you want to explore the site at your leisure, you’re going to want to rent a bike or pay for the tricycle-taxi. With the bike you can really explore the entire site, which is about four-miles in total. Rentals prices vary, but assume about $75 pesos ($4USD) for a three hour rental.
Tricycle-Taxi: With the tricycle-taxi, a sort of rickshaw-bike hybrid, you just sit back while someone bikes you all around. These usually stick to the paths, whereas if you have your own bike, you can go off-path. Pro tip: Don’t forget to tip your driver.
Coba admission is $75 pesos ($4USD).
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Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula: Ek-Balam
Ek-Balam, which means “balck jaguar” in Mayan, is located about two hours from both Cancun and Tulum. It is probably the least-visited Mayan archaeological site on this list, which makes it that much more fun to visit.
What to see at Ek-Balam
You can climb the main pyramid at Ek-Balam, the Great Acropolis, for some spectacular jungle views of the surrounding area. This pyramid looks nothing like any other Mayan pyramids in the Yucatan with all it’s thatched roofed areas.
Don’t miss the elaborate carved stone statues tucked away towards the interior of the site. You can hire a guide at the entrance for about $600 pesos ($30USD) who can explain the significance of the many statutes, but definitely make sure your phone is charged when you visit because they are gorgeous and you’ll want photos.
How to get to Ek-Balam
Bus: You’d need to first catch a bus to the town of Valladolid, then take a second bus, taxi or colectivo (small shared van) to Ek-Balam. Check the ADO schedule for times, but all major Yucatan cities will have multiple daily trips to/from Valladolid.
Drive: This is an easy drive from Cancun, Tulum and Merida, taking about two hours from all places. Make sure you download an offline map from Google Maps or Maps.me in advance, as your cell signal will probably go in and out.
There is a free parking lot onsite at Ek-Balam, with attendants who watch the cars on a donation basis. Pro tip: Consider tipping the attendant $50 pesos ($3USD).
Pro tips for visiting Ek-Balam: Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
Unlike most sites, Ek-Balam has a lot of shaded areas thanks to all those thatched roofs on the Great Acropolis pyramid.
You’ll still want to wear sneakers, a hat, breathable clothes and sunscreen, like the other sites, though this one tends to be more pleasant overall because you can escape the sun for a bit.
Remember to bring plenty of water, as Yucatan Peninsula weather varies from hot to really hot. As an off-the-beaten-path site, Ek-Balam doesn’t always have food and beverage vendors onsite. Pro tip: If you forget water, stop at a convenient store before entering Ek-Balam.
Ek-Balam admission is $75 pesos ($4USD).
Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula: Uxmal
Merida, Mexico is one of the most up-and-coming Yucatan travel destinations. Considered one of the safest cities in Mexico, this colorful Colonial town is quickly popping up on more and more travel radars.
One of the city’s most popular day trips, and the best Mayan ruins near Merida, is Uxmal. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is the second most important archaeological site in the Yucatan, behind Chichen Itza.
Though not as well known as Chichen Itza, Uxmal is equally impressive; some would even say moreso. It is less crowded and less touristy, seeing only about one-tenth the amount of yearly visitors as Chichen Itza, which gives it a more authentic feel.
Besides the smaller crowds at Uxmal, you’ll also enjoy all the other perks of an off-the-beaten path destination, like not being approached by hordes of souvenir vendors, and a more peaceful visit overall.
What to see at Uxmal
Debating about visiting Chichen Itza vs Uxmal? While this is a matter of personal preference, as they are both quite impressive, there is one concrete reason you’d want to pick Uxmal.
You can climb the pyramids and buildings at Uxmal! Chichen Itza does not allow for climbing on any structures.
While visitors can’t climb Uxmal’s tallest, central structure, El Adivino (The Pyramid of the Magician), you can climb the Great Pyramid right next to it. From the top, you’ll get the most amazing views of Uxmal and the surrounding jungle.
You can also climb the other buildings, the House of the Birds, House of the Turtles, Nunnery Quadrangle, and more, to see Uxmal’s intricate carved stone designs. Uxmal is one of five sites on the Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route), which all feature buildings with the same beautiful “Puuc” carved stone esthetic.
How to get to Uxmal
Bus: From Merida, take an ADO bus from the Terminal de Autobuses de Merida (abbreviated as TAME or CAME), the main bus terminal in downtown. There are several trips to/from Uxmal each day for this 90-minute drive. Ticket prices vary, but average about $250 ($12USD) round trip.
If you’re coming from Tulum or Cancun, you’d first take a bus to Merida. From there, you’d connect to Uxmal on another bus.
Drive: From Merida, this is an easy one-hour drive. Make sure you download an offline map from Google Maps or Maps.me in advance, as your cell signal will definitely go in and out. Also, make sure you have $80 pesos ($4USD) to pay for parking.
From other areas of the Yucatan, like Cancun or Tulum, know this is a 4- to 5-hour drive! There is a beautiful hotel across the street from Uxmal you might want to consider, The Lodge at Uxmal, and a few other hotels in the area, if you’re considering this Yucatan road trip.
Pro tips for visiting Uxmal: Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
If you do have your own car, consider visiting all five sites on the 19-mile-long Ruta Puuc. These are Sayil, Labna, Kabah, Xlapak, and Uxmal, which all feature similar carved stone buildings and Puuc-style design elements.
The Uxmal site isn’t massive in size, though it has a lot of historical significance. There are guides you can hire at the entrance, or you can simply walk around and admire.
Uxmal also has some, though not much, shade. You’ll want to wear breathable clothes, a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses, and bring your water bottle.
Uxmal admission is $415 pesos ($21USD).
About the Author
Shelley is a former Miami travel magazine editor who ditched the office for the world! After traveling solo to 14 states in Mexico, she decided to live in Merida full time. Shelley now helps other women cross Solo Travel and Mexico Travel off their bucket list through her Travel Mexico Solo blog and Dream To Destination podcast. Find Shelley on Facebook, Pinterest, and Twitter.