Yucatan Peninsula


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.

mayan history at coba 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.

historic mayan ruin remains at chichen itza mexico

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.

mayan culture at coba ruins

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
view of El Castillo Pyramid, chichen itza photos

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.

Mayan temple at Chichen Itza

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
Coba is home to one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula

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.

The best Mayan ruins in Mexico are the Coba ruins. Tucked into the Mexican jungle, Coba is a great Mayan ruin in the Yucatan Peninsula

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
Mexico's Mayan ruins, Tulum ruins are one of the best in the area. Mayan ruins in Mexico

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.

The oceanfront mayan ruins in Tulum are some of the best in the world. Tulum ruins have a lot of Mayan culture

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)

Location: 77684 San Miguel de Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico

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
Cozumel mayan ruins called San Gervasio are some of the best mayan ruins in Mexico

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!

Cozumel ruins San Gervasio archeological site is one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.

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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Discover the best Mayan ruins in Mexico,
The 4 best Mayan ruins in Mexico are Tulum ruins, Chichen Itza, Coba ruins and San Gervasio in Cozumel Mexico. Close to the Riviera Maya
Explore Mayan culture and Mayan history visiting the many Mayan ruins in Mexico. From Chichen Itza, Coba ruins, Tulum ruins and San Gervasio on Cozumel

Playa del Carmen is one of our favourite places in Mexico for one main reason: it’s super fun! The coastal Caribbean location allows for the perfect blend of relaxed beach vacation and adventure paradise. With a lively city full of culture and a perfect location right in the heart of the Riviera Maya, you’re guaranteed a great vacation.

We had such a good time in Playa and could have happily spent weeks in this city. To help you plan your Mexican holiday, we’ve created this complete Playa del Carmen travel guide full of all the best travel tips. We’ve answered all your questions about the city to help you plan your trip to the Mayan Riviera.

playa del carmen sign

Table of Contents

Where is Playa del Carmen?

A lot of words are used to describe Playa del Carmen’s location. You may hear “Yucatan Peninsula”, “Riviera Maya”, and even “Quintana Roo”’ and wonder what all these mean. We were confused at first, so let us help you clear it all up.

  • Playa del Carmen is located in the Yucatan Peninsula – the peninsula that sticks out into the Caribbean Sea. Part of Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala are all in this peninsula.
  • Quintana Roo is the state Playa del Carmen is in.
  • Riviera Maya refers to the coastal area south of Cancun that includes Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and more.

Playa del Carmen (“Playa”) is a stunning little city on the coast of the Caribbean Sea. It sits in the heart of the popular tourist area south of Cancun and north of Tulum. Playa del Carmen’s location is one of the best reasons to visit. The central location makes it the perfect “home base” to enjoy day excursions and different activities in the area.

How far is Playa del Carmen from Cancun?

Cancun to Playa del Carmen is 69 km (43 miles) and takes about an hour and fifteen minutes to drive depending on traffic.

How far is Playa del Carmen from Tulum?

Playa del Carmen to Tulum is 65 km (41 miles) and takes about an hour to drive.

How To Get To Playa del Carmen?

As there is no major Playa del Carmen airport, you’ll want to plan to fly into Cancun International Airport (CUN). This is the major international airport that serves this entire area and sits 55 km (34 miles) north of Playa del Carmen. You can choose to explore all Cancun has to offer, or head straight to your hotel in Playa del Carmen.

If you are staying in a Playa del Carmen all inclusive hotel, chances are they will include round trip airport transfer. If you need to get yourself to Playa del Carmen, the good news is you have a lot of safe and reliable travel options.

beach please neon sign


For backpackers and budget travelers looking for the cheapest transportation option, taking the bus from Cancun Airport to Playa del Carmen is easy and affordable. The bus (ADO bus) ride takes 1 hour and 50 minutes and costs 230 MXN ($18.30 CAD/$13.50 USD) one way. I highly recommend booking your tickets ahead of time, especially if you arrive in peak tourist season (December-February).

Private shuttles

One of the most comfortable travel methods is to book private transportation from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen. You will take an air conditioned van from the airport to your hotel. These shuttles are fairly affordable and incredibly comfortable and convenient. You have a lot of options for shuttles from Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen and is a stress free way to get your holiday started.

Rent a car

We have an unruly love for road trips and despite the cheap and accessible transportation options in this region, we opted for the freedom that having our own wheels would give us.

There are many options for rental car companies from the airport. You can organize your rental car before you go, or you can show up at the airport and pick up from one of the many rental car companies in the airport. We rented from AVIS but really all the car rental companies are about the same in terms of price and coverage.

How to get around Playa del Carmen

It’s quite easy to navigate the streets in Playa del Carmen. Everything is close to the water – within a few blocks.

Walking in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen does not have Uber but you’ll be happy to know Playa is a very walkable city. If you’re staying within a few blocks of Quinta Ave you’ll be able to walk to most attractions – this area is called Centro.

Streets (“calles” in Spanish) and head away from the beach – perpendicular – and increase by 2.

Avenues (“avenidas” in Spanish) and follow the beach – parallel – and go up by 5.

If you want to go further distances, there are lots of places around town where you can rent bicycles to widen your exploring. We like this eco friendly way to travel around.

Taxis in Playa del Carmen

Taxis are everywhere as well – just be careful with prices. They don’t have a set meter as they do in other parts of North America. Each driver makes their own prices and the closer you are to 5th Avenue the higher the prices will be. Plan on walking a few blocks north and settle on the price before you get into the cab (also, don’t take the first price they say).

These are an alright way to travel short distances. We would not recommend hailing one from Playa del Carmen to Cancun airport for example.

Buses and Colectivos

If you are going outside of the city, taking the ADO bus or a Colectivo are both reliable and affordable transportation methods.

  • Buses will run on a set schedule and take you to many different attractions near Playa del Carmen like Xcaret, Akumal, and Cenotes. Playa del Carmen’s main bus station is at the intersection of Juarez St. and 5th Avenue.
  • Colectivos are shared vans that run on their own schedule and leave whenever they’re full but are great ways to get from point A to B in the city. They also are frequently driving up and down Highway 307 which connects Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.

Best time to visit Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen weather is exceptionally beautiful between December and April. The temperature hovers between 21°C to 27° ish (70°F to 80°F) all year long. While the rest of North America is suffering through a cold winter, Playa makes for the perfect escape where you’ll find sun, sand, and everything needed to get beautiful tans. This is also the busiest time for tourism in the area.

Our trip to this part of Mexico was in March and the weather was perfect! We had one fun stormy rainy day in the 3 weeks we were there which was a welcomed change.

Between June and November, Playa del Carmen receives the most rainfall making it not the best time to plan your trip. The highest risk of hurricanes in the region is between August and October so we would highly advise avoiding these months.

If you’re wanting to save money, visiting in the shoulder season (April, May, and November) is a great way to enjoy pretty good weather, escape the crowds, and benefit from cheaper prices.

If you’re looking for the best time to travel to Playa del Carmen based on festival season here are some big events:

    • January: BPM Festival is a 10 day long EDM party.
    • February/March is Carnival. Expect Playa del Carmen to be busy with parades, costumes, music and dancing on the streets.
    • October 31 – November 2: Day of the Dead honours the deceased with parades and costumes.

Where to stay in Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen has many amazing areas to stay. If you want to be within walking distance of the hottest Playa del Carmen nightlife, Downtown Playa del Carmen is where you’ll want to be. Especially anywhere in the Fifth Avenue area.

You’ll be able to find everything from hostels to apartments – from budget to luxury.

Keep in mind that the further away from 5th Ave you look the better the deals will be – usually. Sometimes you can snag a deal though.

All inclusive Playa del Carmen hotels are one of the most luxurious styles of accommodations to stay in. Many of these hotels have a 5 star rating and offer private beaches, multiple swimming pools, and, of course, bottomless food and drinks. A lot of these all inclusive Playa del Carmen resorts are located in Playacar – a gated community south of Playa del Carmen that houses a golf course, 16th century ruins, stunning beaches, high end resorts, and lots of friendly iguanas.

One of our favourite luxury Playa del Carmen retreats is the Princess Family Club Riviera. Samara has stayed in resorts from the Princess family and can speak to just how high end and beautiful they are! This family friendly all inclusive has all the luxuries the parents will want like delicious food, a beachfront location, and entertain the kids with a fun waterpark and play places.

Another kid friendly all inclusive resort in Playa del Carmen is the Paradisus Playa del Carmen all inclusive. It’s one of the top rated resorts in Playa del Carmen and we can see why! For starters, the resort is absolutely gorgeous! We love that it is close to downtown Playa del Carmen so you can still enjoy the city. It has everything you could want in an all inclusive hotel: great rooms, a fun waterpark, beach access, and is kid friendly.

If you’d rather an adults only all inclusive, the Hotel Xcaret Arte is one of the best in the area. If budget isn’t a concern, you can stay at another hotel in the Xcaret family: the insane La Casa de la Playa by Xcaret which looks just amazing! Both of these beachfront resorts are sure to blow you away with stunning architecture, a ton of amenities, and delicious food.

The Whyndham Altra Playa del Carmen is another popular Playa del Carmen all inclusive that’s easier on the wallet. It’s located in the Playacar Zone which makes it close to a lot amenities. There is also an adults only version.

If you’re not sold on all inclusive vacations, there are many Playa del Carmen hotels to choose from based on your budget preferences. We stayed at La Pasion Boutique Hotel and loved it! The are 3 pools on site and the location is perfect being only a few blocks from the best parts of 5th Ave. The rooftop pool was such a vibe, especially at sunset. We think this is one of the best hotels in Playa del Carmen, especially with its affordable price tag.

If you want to keep the beachfront location, Mvngata Beach Hotel is one of the best Playa del Carmen hotels. It’s the perfect way to get the all inclusive vibes for those that don’t need all the bells and whistles.

Is Playa del Carmen Safe?

Yes. Playa del Carmen is safe despite what you may hear about Playa del Carmen news. The last decade has seen a boom in tourism to the city making this one of the top vacation destinations in Mexico. Walking around, even at nighttime, is generally considered safe. Playa del Carmen is a great (and safe) place to visit for backpackers, families, and solo travelers alike. You’ll see many police cars – and trucks – which may make you feel a little intimidated but should be a sign of safety.

As with any big city you visit, we always want to state the importance of exercising some street sense. Avoid standing out from the crowd by wearing flashy jewelry and carrying piles of cash on you. Be alert when walking outside, especially at night (and say no to strangers offering you drugs – it happened to us a lot).

Is it safe to swim in Playa del Carmen?

Yes, it’s safe to swim in Playa del Carmen. This Mexican city has some of the best beaches within walking distance of downtown. Beaches in this area have many beach clubs with cabanas and beach chairs directly on the sand. When we were there we saw someone being rescued by a lifeguard on an ATV – we didn’t see what happened though.

Playa del Carmen, along with other nearby coastal cities, does get affected by the seaweed curse. Expect to see a lot of seaweed in the water, especially if visiting public beaches. While resorts and beach clubs do their best to clear and stay on top of the seaweed to keep their beaches looking more desirable, public beaches don’t have the same maintenance efforts. The seaweed is present year round but at its worst between April and August. While unsightly, it doesn’t make the water any less safe.

What are the best beaches in Playa del Carmen?

Playa del Carmen is home to some truly amazing beaches. You can find many running parallel to Quinta Ave. This makes the city the perfect beach vacation destination – you can shop and swim, eat and swim, you get the point ;).

Possibly the most famous beach in Playa del Carmen is Parque Fundadores (Playa Incluyente Playa del Carmen). It has a great location so it’s easy to get to when you’re looking to take a break from walking 5th Ave. Some other top notch beaches are Playa Mamitas, Playacar Beach, and Playa El Faro.

Playa del Carmen restaurants

You will have no shortage of options when it comes to restaurants in Playa del Carmen. No matter what type of cuisine you’re craving, you’ll be able to find it in Playa. Most hotels in the city have a restaurant attached to them that typically caters to a more western pallet. If you’re staying in an all inclusive resort, you will typically have your choice between a buffet and a few different styled restaurants in your hotel.

If you’re looking for restaurants outside of your hotel, you’ll be spoiled for choice on Playa del Carmen’s Quinta Avenida. Here you will find every style of restaurants, bars, hookah bars, and nightclubs as well as a lot of options for street food.

We had THE BEST tacos at one of the food trucks on the strip! We also ate at an amazing Greek restaurant (Ilios) that had delicious food and an entertaining Greek acrobatic performance. Carboncitos has great Mexican food on the strip too.

If you’re looking for dinner in a unique and amazing setting, head straight to Alux Restaurant Bar and Lounge. While the restaurant doesn’t look like much from the outside, you will be dining in an a thousand year old cave for such a unique and memorable experience.

If you’re wanting to meet new people and bond over some delicious eats, taking a taco tour is a great idea. You’ll taste the local cuisine as a guide takes you to some of the best taco spots in the city. We love that you’ll get in on the action making tortillas and margaritas.

Best things to do in Playa del Carmen

One of our favourite things we love about Playa del Carmen is its superior location. Being so central in the Riviera Maya means you have so many options for great things to do in Playa del Carmen. You can choose a different activity or excursion every single day and never get bored. Spoiled for choice, this city is a whole lot of fun to hang out in. We love this city so much that we created this Playa del Carmen travel guide to tell as many people as we could to visit.

We could go on forever about your options for what to do in Playa del Carmen. Like Cancun water sports, Playa offers a lot of fun water activities like scuba diving with sharks, snorkeling with sea turtles, swimming in sacred underground rivers (cenotes), or simply sipping a cold one at one of the beautiful Playa del Carmen beaches. Looking for some heart pumping adventure? Head to an adventure park (like the Xplor Park or Xel Ha Park), or go ATVing through the jungle. You can also jump into culture and history by exploring the many nearby Mayan ruins like the famous Chichen Itza.

Is Playa del Carmen Worth Visiting?

Definitely – Playa del Carmen is absolutely worth visiting! In fact, it was one of our favourite places in the Yucatan Peninsula. There’s so much to see and do in Playa that you can spend an entire week here and still be entertained every single night. The central location the city holds sold us and made it the ideal spot to take day trips and excursions.

Thanks for stopping by!

Playa del Carmen is one of the best places in the Riviera Maya! We loved our vacation here and wanted to find out everything we could about this magical place. With great shopping, restaurants, day excursions, and beaches all within a few blocks from each other, it makes for the perfect holiday city. We hope we answered some of your questions in this Playa del Carmen travel guide. If you have any more leave them in the comment section below and we’ll do our best to answer them!

Hasta la vista, amigos!

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Top travel tips for Playa del Carmen Mexico
Guide to playa del carmen beaches, restaurants, and where to stay
Your guide to Playa del Carmen. All your travel tips.

One of the activities that stuck out the most on our recent trip to Mexico was visiting Chichén Itzá (chee-chen eet-sah). We love diving into the culture and history of the countries we visit and Mayan culture was one we were super excited to learn about. There are so many great Mayan ruins in Mexico you can visit, by far the most popular being Chichen Itza. Whether you are visiting Cancun or the Riviera Maya, we highly recommend you plan a day trip to Chichen Itza on your vacation.

To help you make the most of your day trip to Mayan ruins, we’ve put together a complete list of our best Chichen Itza travel tips. This is everything you need to know about visiting Chichen Itza Mexico.

chichen itza photos

Table of Contents

Quick Facts About Chichen Itza

Before we get into what to expect when visiting Chichen Itza, let’s jump into some quick facts about this historical phenomenon.

What is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is one of the most recognizable and photographed Mayan pyramids. It’s a world recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chichén Itzá is the remains of a city that is made up of many important structures ranging from the most famous El Castilo pyramid (known as the Mexico Pyramid) to the lesser known Cenote Sagrado.

Chichen Itza was conquered during the Spanish invasion in the mid 16th century. It was then rediscovered in the 19th century only after the area was cleared of the surrounding jungle to unveil the now famous ruins. It wasn’t until 1988 that Chichén Itzá was recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This is a huge archaeological site sitting at around 10 square km (4 square miles).

Who built Chichen Itza?

There is a prominent Chichén Itzá cultural significance that is widely respected in Mexico. Chichen Itza history dates back to the fifth century and was built by the Maya, an ancient people that was native to the Yucatan region. It is believed that this site was chosen thanks to the cenote as it provided clean freshwater to the area.

Where is Chichen Itza?

Chichen Itza is located inland in the Yucatan Peninsula. The drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza is around 197 km (122 miles) or about a 2.5 hour drive inland (west). The closest city to the ruins is the small town of Valladolid around 44 km (27 miles) to Chichen Itza’s east. If you’re staying in Merida, it will be a 120 km (75 miles), 1 hour 45 minute drive east from downtown Merida.

How to get to Chichen Itza?

With Chichen Itza’s inland location not being on the typical tourist path, you will need to figure out a way of getting to the ruins. Most people will come from either Cancun, Merida, or the Riviera Maya region. There are a few different ways to get to Chichen Itza based on what experience you are looking for.

Chichen Itza Day Tours

Booking a day trip to Chichen Itza is one of the best ways to see the ruins. This will take all of the planning out of your day and remove the hassle of driving the long distance. Due to the driving distance and the size of the ruins, you can expect Chichen Itza day tours to take the whole day (10-12 hours).

chichen itza photos

Day tours are one of the most common ways to see Chichen Itza and depart from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Merida. Most tours will include an air conditioned vehicle, entry to the ruins, a knowledgeable guide, a trip to cenotes, and lunch.

Chichen Itza excursions from Cancun and the Riviera Maya

When visiting Chichen Itza, many people are coming from Cancun. This full day combo tour includes round trip transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. You will spend the day exploring Chichen Itza, swimming in a cenote, and visiting the town of Valladolid. A buffet style lunch and tequila tasting are included in this all inclusive tour leaving you to just sit back and enjoy your day.

If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, this private cultural Mayan ruins excursion is one of the best tours available. You will visit the ruins at both Chichen Itza and Coba – our favourite ruins in Mexico. You will have the opportunity to cool off with a dip in Chukum cenote and round off the experience with an included lunch in the quaint colonial town of Valladolid.

If you think that sounds like too busy of a day, this private Chichen Itza tour is very similar but skips visiting the Coba ruins. Instead, you will spend longer at Chichen Itza while still enjoying lunch in Valladolid and cooling off with a visit to a cenote. This tour includes roundtrip transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.

Chichen Itza excursions from Merida

If you are coming from Merida to Chichen Itza and traveling with a group, this private full day tour is a great option. Private tours are great as you will have the flexibility to go at your own pace. The tour price fluctuates based on how many people are in your group and includes round trip pickup, cold drinks and lunch at a local restaurant, a knowledgeable guide to take you around the Mayan ruins, and a stop at the popular Cenote Ik Kil to cool off at the end of the day.

ADO Bus or Colectivo

One of the most cost effective ways to get to Chichen Itza is by taking the ADO bus. These buses are safe to take in the Yucatan Peninsula and are a great way to get yourself to the ruins. You can choose to catch a bus that will take you directly to Chichen Itza or one that will take you to nearby Valladolid. There are multiple buses that leave daily from Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.

If you’re staying in Valladolid or Merida, you can take a colectivo to Chichen Itza. From Valladolid the Colectivo station is on Calle 46 and in Merida the station is on Calle 60. It is important to note that these are not on a reliable schedule as they simply leave whenever they are full. This is considered a safe and affordable mode of transportation throughout Mexico.

When visiting Chichen Itza you will want to get there as early as possible. If you choose this method of travel, we highly recommend staying overnight in Valladolid and catching the first bus or colectivo to Chichen Itza to make sure you get there bright and early.

Car Rental

renting a car at Cancun international airport

If a tour isn’t right for you, you may consider renting a car and driving yourself to Chichen Itza. We rented a car on our road trip around the Mayan Riviera and ended up driving ourselves to Chichen Itza. While the drive is long and there are some toll roads along the way, it is quite direct and easy to get to. If you are not staying overnight in Valladolid, you will want to make sure you leave early to get to Chichen Itza before the crowds show up.

To park right at the main entrance of Chichen Itza, there is a paid monitored lot. For only 30 pesos ($2 CAD) you can have peace of mind that your car is safe as you spend your day walking through Chichen Itza. But get there early as the parking lot can fill up quickly. There are other parking lots but are maintained by locals and cost way more – with a longer walk to the entrance.

Best time to go to Chichen Itza

Mayan temple at Chichen Itza

Let us be the first to warn you: the interior of Mexico is hot. You’ll quickly realize how much the ocean cools down the coastal cities you visit when you feel the heat at Chichen Itza. We visited Chichen Itza in April and even the locals were uncomfortable in the heat. We witnessed a tourist collapse from the heat and paramedics had to come to provide care. We recommend dressing lightly and timing your visit appropriately.

Best Time of day

To beat the heat (and the crowds) we recommend visiting Chichen Itza as early in the morning as possible. Getting there at 8 am when the gates open is the best way to see this historical site.

Like any other tourist attraction, we recommend avoiding visiting on the weekend when Chichen Itza sees the most visitors. Sundays are the busiest day in Chichen Itza. Like many other ruins in Mexico, Mexican residents get free access to Chichen Itza on Sundays.

Best Time of year

If you’re at the planning stage of your Mexican vacation to see Chichen Itza, the best time of year would be November to March. Even though the crowds will be larger than the summer it’s worth avoiding the heat.

chichen itza photos

The Spring Equinox (March 20-21) is also when the Serpent of Light appears. This is when the setting sun makes a serpent appear when the Mayan pyramid is looked at at the right angle.

The shoulder season is April, May, September, and October. These months are when the crowds are going to be less. But keep in mind September and October are hurricane season in Mexico and can bring strong winds and rain.

Where to stay when visiting Chichen Itza?

If you are not booking a day tour to Chichen Itza and are instead taking either a private vehicle or a bus, you’re going to want to book a hotel near Chichen Itza. This Mayan site is a few hour’s drive from the typical tourist hotspots of Cancun and Playa del Carmen making it a lot to get yourself to just for the day.

Valladolid is the most common city to stay in near Chichen Itza. This old colonial town is rich in history itself and is a great off the beaten path place to stay in Mexico for a night or two. Being off the tourist path, the city is very affordable, and hotels, food, and souvenirs are cheap. There are even a few cenotes nearby you can visit.

view from our hotel in Valladolid
View from our room at San Clemente Hotel in Valladolid
  • If you’re looking for the best place to stay in Valladolid, Hotel San Clemente is a great option for those looking for midline accommodations. This is where we stayed and we really enjoyed it. There is a nice pool, a tasty restaurant, and the location is super central.
  • If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, Hotel Zentik Project & Saline Cave is worth the extra dough. You will feel the luxury in every corner of this hotel from the stunning rooms to the amazing salt cave.
  • Traveling on a budget is easy in Valladolid and Villa lirios is a great option to choose for the night to rest up before you visit Chichen Itza. The basic rooms are clean and comfortable and the price is right for frugal travelers!

Should I book a tour to see Chichen Itza?

Yes!! We normally like the freedom to explore ourselves but given the significance of this site, we truly believe that booking a guided tour is well worth the cost.

Booking a Chichen Itza tour is one of the best ways to see the ruins, especially if you’re wanting to stay in one of the coastal cities like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. You’ll have an early start to your day and having someone else take the hassle of driving out to the ruin is worth the price itself.

Combine that with the guide that will explain the historical significance of the site as you walk through and you will end up getting far more out of your experience than if you were to take yourself.

Visiting Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza sees millions of visitors every year. We found it incredibly interesting and loved our time here. You may be wondering how much time you need in Chichen Itza. Most people visit Chichen Itza and walk the grounds for 3-4 hours.

You’ll be happy to know there is a Chichen Itza restaurant (more like a concession) where you can fuel up on snacks and water. You cannot bring food and drinks into the site so be sure to finish up before you enter. We suggest grabbing a Chichen Itza map – the grounds are pretty big and it’s nice to know where you’re going. Once you get through the ticket booth there is a short walk to the site where you’ll go past many vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs.

inside the ticket booth at Chichen Itza
Just kidding! Inflation sucks for everyone - the price is now 614 MXN ($65 USD) for adults

Chichen Itza Cost and Hours

The Chichén Itzá’s entrance fee is $614 MXN for adults (13+). Check up to date pricing here.

This Mexican archaeological site is open Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm with the last entry at 4 pm. We strongly recommend getting there early as it gets very very hot on the grounds – we even saw people needing ambulances as they had extreme heat stroke.

ambulance helping person with heat stroke at chichen itza

What to see inside Chichen Itza?

You may not know that there is more than just the famous Mayan Pyramid to see at Chichen Itza. In fact, Chichen Itza has Old Chichen which includes 6 sites and Chichen Itza has another 20 that are connected by 75 roadways, all with their own importance.

Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado)

This sacred cenote brought life to the civilization being used as a well and acting as the main fresh water source for the Chichen Itza people. There is a large opening where you can see this cenote which was thought to be the reason the civilization chose this location to build.

This has been an extensively studied cenote. Over 200 bodies have been discovered at this site – thought to be human sacrifices. Gold, jewels, and ceramics have also been found under the surface of the water.

It’s one of the larger cenotes we saw in Mexico – the Chichen Itza cenote is 200 feet in diameter and 89 feet of sheer cliff to the water.

Chichen itza photos

El Castillo Pyramid (Kukulkan Pyramid)

The main attraction at Chichen Itza is El Castillo Pyramid (aka Kukulkan Pyramid). Between the 4 sides of the Chichen Itza pyramid, there are 364 steps (91 steps x 4 sides), one for each day of the year, with the top platform acting as the 365th step.

One cool thing we learned is that when visiting if you clap near the pyramid there’s a unique echo that comes back to you. It’s said to be the sound a sacred Mayan bird makes.

One of the coolest things we learned about this site is that a serpent appears when the sun’s shadow makes what looks like a snake coming down the steps of the Chichen Itza pyramid. This happens during the Spring and Fall equinox.

The Great Ball Court (Juego de Pelota)

One of the more interesting places at Chichen Itza is The Great Ball Court. It’s where the Mayan people played a game called pok-ta-pok. It’s a similar game to modern day basketball except the hoop is turned on its side and the players can’t use their hands and feet – instead, they use their hips, upper body, and thighs.

The importance of winning a match could dictate the outcome of everything from politics to sacrifices.

The court is an architectural marvel. You can whisper at one end of the arena and people at the other end could clearly hear what was said.

The Temple of the Warriors

One of the most impressive structures at Chichen Itza is The Temple of the Warriors. Even though the stonework has seen better days you can still tell the magnitude and engineering that went into creating it.

There is a statue called Cac Mool, that is said to be used for offerings. The Mexican temple also has many stone carvings of deities and warriors.

Other important sites at Chichen Itza include:

  • Tzompantli (skull platform)
  • The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
  • The Platform of Venus
  • The Temple of the Tables
  • The Steam bath
  • Sacbe Number One (White Road)
  • Group of a Thousand Columns
  • Akab Dzib (Dark Writing)

  • El Mercado
  • The Osario
  • Temple of Xtoloc (Maya word for Iguana)
  • The platform of the Tombs
  • House of the Metates
  • House of the Mestizas
  • Casa Colorada (Red House)
  • La Casa del Venado (House of the Deer)

What to pack to Chichen Itza?

Whether you are visiting Chichen Itza with a day tour or driving yourself, you can count on this being a full day excursion. You will want to pack a day bag and dress appropriately to ensure you have the best day possible. First things first, Chichen Itza is BIG so make sure you wear good walking shoes (not flip flops like we did!). It is also very hot with minimal shade so be sure to dress cool.

Regardless of how you choose to travel here, we recommend bringing a day bag with a bathing suit and towel, a change of clothes, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a water bottle. There are souvenir stalls throughout the ruins with fun trinkets at a surprisingly affordable price so be sure to bring some cash (pesos for the best conversion) along!

Thanks for stopping by!

One of the things we love most about Mexico is how diverse traveling here is. You can spend one day enjoying the best beach excursions in Cancun and the next soaking up all the culture and history in the country. Chichen Itza is one of the largest and most famous Mayan ruins in the country and receives millions of visitors a year. It was one of the core memories from our trip to Mexico and we highly recommend stopping in for a visit! We hope that this guide to visiting Chichen Itza answered all your burning questions about this historical site.

Happy exploring!

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chichen itza photos
chichen itza photos
chichen itza photos