Many of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico are found in the Yucatan Mexico tucked into the jungle and along the coast. We love learning about the history and culture of the places we travel. If you are traveling to Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or elsewhere in the Riviera Maya, we highly recommend taking the time to visit some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.
While you likely think of lazy beach days and island hopping when you think of the Yucatan Peninsula, spending a day exploring the rich Mayan culture in this area is incredibly rewarding. While some of the ruins are located in top tourist destinations like Tulum and Cozumel, others (like Chichen Itza) require more of a drive to get to.
You’ve probably heard about the ancient Mayan civilization and Mayan ruins but how much do you know about them? It’s one thing to see them in photos but a completely different experience to see them in person. We really enjoyed exploring the different ruins on our recent Mexico vacation and highly recommend you be an ancient Mayan pyramids tourist too.
After visiting many different ruins, we’re diving into the top 4 best Mayan ruins in Mexico so you can decide for yourself which ones are worth the visit. Each of these Mexican ruins has a unique appeal and offers a good amount of history and a lot of interesting photo worthy sites!
Table of Contents
What are Mayan ruins?
Mayan ruins are the impressive remains left over from an ancient civilization built by the Maya. These large settlements were made out of stone and therefore are still relatively intact. The Mayan civilization lived in the Yucatan Peninsula region prior to the Spanish conquer in the 16th century.
When you’re walking through the Mayan ruins you’re literally walking where Mayans did, centuries ago (about 3000 years ago). Some ancient Mayan ruins were actually Mayan temples used for many different types of ceremonies including human sacrifice. Mayan civilizations consist of different buildings, pyramids, streets (“sacbe” in Mayan), and cenotes that acted as freshwater sources for the community.
Where are the Mayan ruins?
The majority of the Mayan ruins are found in the Mexican Yucatan Peninsula. This area was well connected to the ocean and was home to many ports (like that of the Tulum Ruins) which made the area wealthy and populated. But in total, there are around 4400 Mayan ruins scattered throughout Central America.
For our list of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, we kept it to ones that are more accessible in the popular Riviera Maya tourist destination. All of these Mayan ruins are located within a few hours of Cancun, Mexico.
What are the most famous Mayan ruins?
The most famous ancient Mayan sites are Chichen Itza, Tulum Ruins, and Coba. By far the most famous Mayan ruin is Chichen Itza’s El Castillo pyramid. It’s one of the New 7 Wonders of the World and the most photographed Mayan ruins in Mexico.
Can you climb the Mayan ruins?
Most ancient Mayan ruins sites do not allow tourists to climb the pyramids. This is because the Mayan ruins in Mexico see such a high volume of tourists that it would wear down these historically significant structures. While you can’t climb the pyramids, you can sometimes walk through some of the other buildings. We loved doing this as it gives you more of an understanding of how the Mayans lived.
There has unfortunately been an increase in vandalism and disrespect of sacred grounds leading to further conservation efforts. While you used to be able to climb the Coba pyramid, from our 2022 trip we can confirm that this is no longer allowed.
What is the best time to visit the Mayan ruins?
If you are going to visit Mayan ruins, we highly recommend getting an early start to your day. Exploring Mayan ruins is one of the best cultural experiences and therefore a very popular thing to do in Mexico. Getting to these ruins when they first open will help you to beat the heat and have the fewest crowds.
You will want to avoid visiting Mayan ruins on Sundays, whenever possible! Entrance is free to Mexican citizens on Sundays making it the busiest day to visit.
Mayan ruins in Mexico are open all year round. The best time to visit the Mayan ruins is between November to February. As North America and Europe are in their cool winter months, Mexico’s location close to the equator makes it a perfect place to visit. During these months, the days are cooler and less humid making it more enjoyable to visit.
The Yucatan has a rainy season from June to October with September being the wettest month. This is also the time with the highest chance of hurricanes.
How to visit the Mayan ruins
The best way to visit these historical sites is with a Mayan ruins tour. A tour guide will be a wealth of knowledge and provide many Mayan ruins facts that you would never know otherwise. For those interested in Mayan history, booking a tour is ideal as these sites have very minimal readings throughout explaining the significance of the structures you are viewing.
Are there entrance fees to visit the Mayan ruins?
Yes, there are entrance fees to visit the ruins. The money raised from entrance fees goes towards conservation efforts to keep the ruins preserved and maintained.
The best Mayan ruins in Mexico
The best Mayan ruins aren’t always the most obvious or easiest to find (even with a GPS). Let us break down our list of what we think are the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.
1. Chichen Itza
Location: 97751 Yucatan, Mexico
Hours: Open 8 am to 5 pm daily, last entry at 4 pm
Entrance Fee: The Chichen Itza entry fee is $614 MXN ($48.75 CAD/$36 USD)
What makes Chichen Itza ruins special:
- It’s one of the best preserved ancient Mayan ruins. You can still see the intricate stone carvings of warriors, skulls, and snakes (among others)
- Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site and listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World
- The Chichen Itza Pyramid is one of the most photographed sites in Mexico
Chichen Itza Mexico (pronounced chee-chen eet-sah) is the most famous Mayan ruin in Mexico. Located 197 km (122 miles) west of Cancun, it takes around 2 and a half hours to drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza along Cancun-Kantunil/Mexico Highway 180D.
Its name comes from Chichen – mouth of the well, Itza “water witches”. The entire site of the ruins at Chichen Itza is awe inspiring. This was one of the bigger Mayan cities – estimated to house between 35,000 – 60,000 people.
An international marvel, Chichen Itza welcomes over 2.1 million tourists a year. While this Mayan ruin receives a lot of recognition and we think it is well deserved. Despite being quite touristy with souvenir shops throughout, you can’t help but marvel at the intricacies of this impressive historical site.
Chichen Itza is home to one of the best Maya pyramids (certainly the most famous one). El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcan’) is one of the most recognizable sites in Mayan culture. Other sites of interest are the Great Ball Court and the Temple of the Warriors. As with other Mayan civilizations, the city is built around a cenote (the Sacred Cenote) that acted as the communities fresh water source.
As this Mayan site is located a few hours away from Cancun, Chichen Itza tours are a great way to explore this UNESCO World Heritage Site. Tours are offered from many different Yucatan cities and include transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Most Chichen Itza tours take the full day and will include a stop where you can enjoy a quick dip in a cenote.
2. Cobá (Zona Arqueológica de Cobá)
Location: 77793 Quintana Roo, Mexico
Hours: Open 8 am to 5 pm daily, last entry at 4 pm
Entrance Fee: Coba ruins entrance fee is 90 MXN ($7.15 CAD/$5.30 USD)
What makes Coba ruins special:
- The ruins are tucked into the jungle, not clear cut like other Mayan ruins in the area, making it feel more authentic
- You can rent bicycles to tour the different buildings
- More interactive, you can climb on, near, and through different areas
The Coba Mayan ruins are our favourite ruins we visited. In our opinion, Coba is one of the top Mayan ruins Mexico has to offer. Coba (thought to mean “chopped water”) is about a 45 minute drive inland from Tulum. Being a bit further from the typical tourist zones you can expect fewer crowds at this Mayan site. Scattered over an area of 80 km2 (31 m2), much of the site is yet to be excavated.
When we were driving to the ruins, we almost completely missed them. Despite our GPS, we were confused about where the ruins could be as all we saw was some lagoons and a jungle. Much to our surprise, that is all you can see from the outside. Unlike most of the other Yucatan Mayan ruins, the Coba ruins are tucked into the jungle. Not only did this provide some very welcomed shade throughout, but it made the whole site seem much more authentic.
When you first arrive at Coba, you will find a large parking lot where you can pay 50 MXN ($4 CAD/$3 USD) for parking. At the entrance, you will see a small building where you can buy your tickets, grab some snacks and a few souvenirs. This is definitely the least touristy ruin and therefore the shopping is limited. While there are a few people throughout the ruins selling cold drinks, I recommend grabbing a big bottle of water before you start.
Once you’re inside Coba, there will be a few ruins to explore and then you will see a bunch of bikes. You have 3 options of how to explore Coba: walk, rent a bicycle, or hire a bicycle taxi to drive you. We opted to rent a bicycle and we were very happy with our decision! Coba Ruins bike rental costs 60 MXN ($4.75 CAD/$3.50 USD) and allowed us to happily explore at our own pace without tiring. Even with bicycles, Coba took us about 3 hours to explore.
Coba is one of the oldest Mayan ruins in Mexico with signs of human structures dating back to 50 BC. At its peak, it was said to be home to about 50,000 Mayan people. The city was known for its large network of roads (sacbes) of which there were more than 50 in the community. As you explore the grounds, you will see 16 of them. These roads connected the different areas of the Mayan city such as the residential zones, the nearby lagoons, and, of course, Nohoch Mul, the main pyramid area.
The main attraction at Coba is the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. It’s the tallest Mayan pyramid in all of the Yucatan. There are also painted frescoes all around. These are big rock sculptures that are over 6 feet tall. They depict the daily life of the Maya civilization – it’s really interesting having these to look back in time.
You may have read other travel blogs stating that you can climb the Mayan pyramids at Coba. An increase in tourism has led preservation efforts to enforce no more climbing up these pyramids. While we were disappointed that you can no longer climb to the top, we respect the Mayan culture and the desire to preserve these national treasures.
Due to the ruins being away from the typical tourist areas, if you don’t have a car rental, taking a Coba ruins tour is the best way to see the pyramids of Yucatan. Touring this ruin is often combined with other ruins in the area.
If you are wanting to see both the Tulum ruins and Coba ruins as well as some cenotes, a tour including transportation from Playa del Carmen will cost $81 CAD ($59 USD). If you’d rather tour through Chichen Itza, you can take a Chichen Itza and Coba ruins combo for $206 CAD ($149 USD). This tour includes a trip to a cenote, 2 meals, and transportation.
3. Tulum ruins (Zona Arqueológica de Tulum)
Location: 77765 Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Hours: Tulum ruins hours are 8 am and 5 pm daily.
Entrance Fee: The entrance fee for Tulum ruins is 90MXN ($7 CAD/$5.30 USD).
What makes Tulum ruins special:
- Beautiful coastal setting perched on the edge of a cliff providing amazing Caribbean Sea views
- Many beaches located on site
- Located in Tulum making it easily accessible for tourists in the Riviera Maya
We really enjoyed our time at the Tulum ruins! They ended up taking around 4 hours to walk through including finding parking and standing in the long line at the entrance (make sure you visit early). In our opinion, the Tulum ruins have the nicest setting out of any of the Mayan ruins sites. The ruins make for the perfect blend of jungle, ocean, and enchanting Mexican history.
The Tulum pyramids are surprisingly well preserved for being perched on a flat part of the ground near the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. We would have thought that the salt spray from the ocean would do way more to tarnish and break down this impressive site. Instead we were pleasantly surprised at how well preserved these beautiful structures were.
The Tulum ruins were heavily used for trade with its ideal location being on the Caribbean coast. The seaside location makes for some unreal photographs. It also helps provide some much needed wind as otherwise there is very minimal shade offered. You will have views of the Tulum ruins beach which has stunning white sand and is a hotspot for sea turtles to lay their eggs. For this reason, you’re no longer allowed to explore the beach on foot.
Tulum ruins parking is a bit of a nightmare, especially later in the day. We strongly suggest getting to these ruins first thing in the morning so that you can grab a parking spot. You’ll be parking along the road heading towards the Tulum ruins. There will be someone who’ll collect the 150 MXN ($12 CAD/$8.80 USD) parking fee from you as you get out of your car.
If you’re up for an adventure, we highly recommend parking in Tulum Town instead and renting a bicycle to take you down to the ruins. Not only is this a lot of fun, but it will save you money!
You are guaranteed to see a Tulum ruins iguana or ten – they are everywhere! After you park they will be scattered throughout the edges of the road heading to the Tulum ruins entrance as well as throughout the grounds.
If you are looking to explore the Tulum ruins but are staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you may consider taking a day tour to the ruins. Transportation will be included as well as a professional tour guide. If you want to partner the ruins with a visit to a few refreshing cenotes, this Tulum day tour is a great option.
4. San Gervasio (Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio)
Hours: Open from 8 am to 4 pm daily
Entrance Fee: The San Gervasio entrance fee is 216 MXN ($17 CAD/$13 USD)
What makes San Gervasio ruins special:
- Far less busy than other ruins in the area
- Ideal location located on Cozumel and easily accessible without a long drive
- Interactive and allows you to get up close and personal with the ancient buildings
You may be in Cozumel and wondering “What is San Gervasio?” Well, San Gervasio Mayan ruins are a cherished Mayan civilization that sits on one of our favourite places in Mexico: Cozumel. One of the best things to do in Cozumel is explore this slice of Mayan culture.
The San Gervasio Mayan ruins are found on the island of Cozumel, just off the coast of Playa del Carmen. It is made up of 19 structures in the area ranging from temples, complexes, and buildings all connected by sacbe (white roads) in a 4 km2 (1.5 miles2) area.
These ruins are fun to visit as they are far less busy than other ruins in the area. We loved that these ruins were more interactive and you could even walk right up to some of the buildings and look through the “windows”.
The San Gervasio ruins caught us off guard. We rented a scooter to tour around Cozumel and stumbled upon these ruins along the way. We didn’t know there were Mayan ruins on Cozumel and had no expectations on what to expect. While much smaller than other Mayan ruins in the area, with how easy they are to get to and how close they are to the typical tourist route, we knew they had a spot on our list of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.
The San Gervasio ruins were the center of worship for the Mayan Goddess Ixchel: Goddess of childbirth and fertility. Historically Mayan women would come from all over Mexico at least once in their lifetime to give offerings and prayers to the Goddess. We’re not saying this works or anything but Samara did get pregnant 5 months later so don’t say we didn’t warn you!
Some of the main sites at the Zona Arqueologica San Gervasio include:
- Ixchel Temple: the place in which offerings and prayers for fertility would happen.
- Ka’na Nah: is said to be used for religious purposes and showcases stucco decorations.
- Manitas: features red handprints that are made with a mixture of vegetable dye and lime which are said to be offerings from the pilgrims.
- Cenotes are seen all over the area including the main road leading up to the site.
A San Gervasio ruins tour is one of the best ways to see the sights. There are many Mayan ruins spread over a large area with very minimal explanation throughout of what the different buildings are. Having a guide explain the structures would bring a whole new level of appreciation to the area. We like this Cozumel Private Island Tour because it combines a tour of Cozumel with the top sights like the San Gervasio ruins, Punta Sur Park, Mayan Bee Sanctuary, and the chocolate Kao Kao Factory.
The best Mayan ruins Cozumel has on the island, San Gervasio takes about 2-3 hours to explore.
Thanks for stopping by!
Mexico is such a great country to dive into the culture and history. Exploring history is a whole lot more fun when you’re able to visit physical buildings and interact with buildings from centuries earlier. It is easy to be impressed with Mayan culture as you walk through these large ruin sites. There are a lot of ruins in the area which is why we’ve listed the best Mayan ruins in Mexico based on their location in the tourist zone and their impressive structures.
Have fun exploring, amigos!
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