Top 5 Must-See Mayan Ruins in Mexico

posted in: Blog, Mexico, Travel Guides 17

A couple of years ago (before I met Justin!), I visited the ancient Mayan ruins of Tulum in Mexico. Ever since, I’ve been dreaming of returning and visiting many other Mayan ruins throughout Mexico and Central America. Did you know that there are over 4400 Mayan sites, and many are not fully excavated or even discovered yet? This is an incredibly brief overview as there are so many worthy Mexican Mayan ruins to visit. Here are my Top 5 Must-See Mayan Ruins in Mexico (in no particular order):

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Pyramid El Castillo at Tulum

Tulum is an extremely popular and well-preserved Mayan site. It is unique because it is located right on the coast and there is a white sandy beach right beside it! Tulum is located in the Yucatán Peninsula along the Caribbean Sea in the state of Quintana Roo. There are many structures to explore, including the central large pyramid, El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God. Tulum is also a great destination for tourists since it is close to Cancun and Cozumel. As this site is quite popular and can get rather busy, I would try to head there as early in the morning as possible. Even with lots of people, I didn’t find Tulum to be very crowded as the site is quite spread out. Also, remember to bring your bathing suit if you’d like to go for a swim at the beach!

Tulum overlooking the ocean/beach area

Chichen Itza

El Castillo at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico with over 1.2 million tourists stopping by each year. It is located in the Tinum municipality, in the state of Yucatán. Chichen Itza is also quite close to Cancun and Cozumel, so it is a great ancient site to visit on a day-trip from those regions. Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities, and there are numerous architectural styles to discover. It is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, and in 2007, Chichen Itza’s El Castillo was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote.

Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) at Chichen Itza


Temple of the Cross at Palenque

Palenque is a medium-sized ancient Mayan site, much smaller than Tulum or Chichen Itza. However, Palenque contains some of the best architecture, sculptures, and carvings that the Mayas created. Although much of Palenque is undiscovered as it was absorbed by the jungle after its collapse, there are plenty of buildings to explore. These include the Temple of the Cross and the Temple of the Inscriptions, where Pacal the Great’s tomb was excavated (the most famous ruler of Palenque). Palenque is located in the Mexican state of Chiapas and is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Carvings at the Temple of the Inscriptions, Palenque


Pyramid of the Magician, Uxmal

Uxmal is located in the Yucatan state of Mexico and it is considered to be one of the most archaeological significant sites of Mayan culture. The buildings are known for their immense size and elaborate decorations. Uxmal is thought to be in better condition than most other Mayan sites, and we can more easily perceive how the site may have looked in ancient times. Uxmal is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Ixmoja pyramid, Coba

Coba is located about 44km northwest of Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. It is quite accessible for visitors from Cancun and the Riviera Maya. Coba is one of the few ancient Maya sites where you can still climb to the top of the pyramid! There are several temples to explore here, and Coba’s Ixmoja Pyramid is the tallest on the Yucatán peninsula.

La Iglesia Pyramid, Coba

These are my Top 5 Must-See Mayan Ruins in Mexico for you to discover! I would highly recommend taking a group tour when you visit these sites. You will learn so much about the ancient Mayan civilization from well-educated guides, as well as details about each unique structure that you might otherwise miss!

Looking for more things to see and do in Mexico? Here are the best things to do in Riviera Maya, amazing reasons to visit Playa del Carmen, and how to spend a day in Playa del Carmen.

Essential Riviera Maya Travel Guide
Getting There: To get to Riviera Maya, you should fly to the Cancun Airport. Search for cheap flights to Cancun. The national airline of Mexico is AeroMexico. To get to your resort or hotel from the airport, book your Cancun airport transfer in advance for a seamless journey.

Getting Around: When staying in Riviera Maya, you’ll often have transportation included in any tours that you book. However, if you’d like to explore on your own, I suggest renting a car in Riviera Maya Mexico. The most popular place to pick up your car is from the Cancun Airport. Compare car rental prices to find the best price online.

Fast Facts: Mexican Peso is the currency. Power voltage is 127 V 60 Hz using Power Sockets A and B. You do not need an adapter if you’re from Canada or the USA.

SIM Cards & Mobile: You can rent a portable Wi-Fi device with unlimited data that works in 130+ countries worldwide. We’ve used our portable device all over the world and love how we’re always connected!

Travel Safety: Don’t forget to get travel insurance before your trip. Whether you have an accident, have a flight delay, experience a theft, or need to return home sooner than anticipated, it’s always best to cover your bases. Get a travel insurance quote now for the best rates.
Browse all of our Mexico photos and read more of our Mexico travel blog posts.
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Have you visited any of these Mayan Ruins before?

17 Responses

  1. Heather S

    I have visited all of these! Palenque was my favourite I think, but Uxmal was amazing too. I saw Uxmal and Kabah on the same day on a guided tour.
    Ek Balam is another great site, but it’s a little tough to get to without a car. There’s no public transport or collectivos, so you have to take a taxi. But it’s “relatively” new, so there aren’t tons of tourists (like Chichen Itza).

  2. Staci

    Chichen Itza looks so incredibly well preserved. Would love to to go to Tulum as well, my friends just got back and they have been raving about it.

  3. Glen

    O M G

    We are planning a two week self guided tour in Jan or Feb

    Thanks for all the great info?


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  6. Dale_anglo

    Templo de los Guerreros is incredible to look at so I can really understand why it’s so popular, just a shame when you’re trying to enjoy it and it’s full of back-to-back people.

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      Yeah, probably best to try to go in the morning to avoid the crowds. There are lots of other Mayan sites too that are less crowded – sometimes they can be equally as spectacular, just a bit off the beaten-path not near a large tourist city. If you’re ever in Belize, check out Xunantunich – I didn’t find it crowded there at all, and you could climb right to the top of the temple there for an incredible view of Guatemala and Belize countrysie.

  7. slightly astray

    Wow! I had no idea that there are so many Mayan sites. I would love to go to all of these. It’s so amazing to think that you’re looking at something so old!

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      I know, it is incredible to think that they are still standing! I try to picture how these cities might have originally looked. Very incredible!

  8. Katie@From Shores to Skylines

    We leave fro Mexico next month – I’m so excited to get to many of these sites! I don’t think we will have much time for Palenque on this trip… We are renting a car, but it’s a little further out of the way – it’s so hard to skip anything though! :)

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      That’s awesome, hope you have a blast and you get out to a few of these sites!

  9. Karyn @ Not Done Travelling

    Definitely on the list! I can’t wait to get to Mexico some day!

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      I’d love to go back sometime myself on a trip with Justin this time!

  10. BeyondBlighty

    I’ve bookmarked this post as I’m going to Mexico at the start of August! I had the first three on my to do list already, but the other two look pretty special as well. I like that they all seem to have a different thing going for them.

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      Oh awesome!!! I’m glad you’re able to go there and hope you can get out to a few of them!

  11. Becky Padmore

    What an amazing experience, I still can’t believe I haven’t visited yet! :-)

    • Lauren | Justin Plus Lauren

      After writing this, it made me want to visit all of the other ones as well. There’s also a really awesome Mayan site in Belize called Xunantunich – it’s on the border of Belize and Guatemala – I’ve been there and it is incredible. Highly recommended!