Are you dreaming about traveling to Mexico? To discover the history of the Maya, Aztecs and other ancient civilizations? Mexico is famous for its impressive temples and pyramids, each of them located in a different part of the country: In the jungle, the savanna, on a hilltop, in the rainforest and at the beach. Nowadays you can visit these archaeological places, stroll through the ancient cities, climb temples, observe glyphs and learn about the fascinating history. Discover the best ruins to visit, including tips for the famous Yucatan Maya ruins in Mexico in the next article.
- The best Maya ruins in Chiapas Mexico
- Yucatan Maya ruins in Mexico
- Other beautiful ruins in Mexico
- Mexico itinerary
- More about Mexico
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The best Maya ruins in Chiapas Mexico
With over 100 archaeological sites, the State of Chiapas, is the heart of Mayan culture. However, only part of these ancient cities have been excavated. Palenque, located in the jungle, is one of the most visited and best Maya ruins in Mexico. The temples that rise above the jungle and the mysterious mist that hangs over the ruins make a visit so worthwhile!
The construction of the city started in 100 BC. Together with Tikal, located in Guatemala, Copán, located in Honduras and Calakmul, Palenque used to be one of the most important Mayan cities. Characteristic structures that you can admire include the Temple of the Inscriptions, built as a mausoleum for King Pakal, the large temple complex, consisting of several buildings, corridors and plazas, the Temple of the Sun and the Temple of the Cross. But one of the best things to do is to walk around the jungle and visit the smaller temples.
Tips for your visit
Make sure to go as early as posible, to avoid the heat and crowds. Or schedule your visit at the end of the day, to enjoy a beautiful sunset from one of the temples. The Maya ruins of Palenque are a 30-minute drive from the city of Palenque, in Mexico. Do you want to learn more about the history of the Maya? Then I recommend going on a guided tour. This is an overview of different tours, where you can also check availability and prices.
Yaxchilán is the most remote Maya complex and one of the best ruins to visit in Mexico. It is located along the Usumacinta River, on the border of Mexico and Guatemala, and only accessible by boat. Due to its difficult accessibility, you will not find many tourists here. The site is located deep in the rainforest, surrounded by a mysterious fog, several monkeys, toucans and Ceiba trees. One of the highlights is the Palacio del Rey. Here you can observe the beautiful ornaments that Yaxchilán is so famous for.
Tips for your Yaxchilán visit
Yaxchilán is located in Chiapas and can be visited from the town Frontera Corozal. It is best to book a hotel the night before your visit, so you can wake up early the next day and take the first boat to the Yaxchilán Maya ruins in Mexico. It is also possible to book a tour from Palenque, including transportation and a guide. This is an overview with tours from Palenque.
Are you curious to read more? In the next article you will find everything you want to know about a visit to the Yaxchilán Maya ruins in Mexico.
Travel to Guatemala
Do you want to discover Guatemala after your trip through Mexico? From Frontera Corozal you can cross the Usumacinta river by boat to the Guatemalan border town Bethel. From here, it will take you 4 hours to reach Flores, your starting point for discovering Maya ruins such as Tikal, Yaxha and El Mirador. Check out my itineraries for Mexico and Guatemala, including destinations and tips for your visit.
- Mexico itinerary 3 weeks
- Guatemala itinerary 3 weeks
- 2 weeks in Guatemala
- Guatemala itinerary 10 days
- Guatemala itinerary 7 days
Yucatan Maya ruins in Mexico
Chichén Itzá – famous Yucatan Maya ruins
Chichén Itzá is one of the seven Wonders of the World. It is located in the Yucatan state and one of the best Maya ruins to visit in Mexico. The city was built over a period of 600 years, and is divided into two parts; the old and the new city. Highlights include the world-famous Castillo or Temple of Kukulcán, consisting of 4 steps and 91 steps, representing the number of days of the solar year.
Other structures that are worth exploring are the ball playing field, the largest one in the Mayan Empire, the fascinating colonnaded galleries, the observatory and the cenote, a sacred spring with water and 20 meters deep.
As with many wonders of the world, you will find many tourists at Chichén Itzá. To get from one section to another, you walk on a boulevard with hundreds of marketstalls. I personally think this takes away the magic of the ancient Maya complex. But Chichén Itzá is a place you simply do not want to miss, just make sure you are prepared.
Tips for your Chichén Itzá visit
If you want to visit Chichén Itzá, it is important to go very early in the morning. Book a ticket with early access here, so you don’t have to stand in line. Chichén Itzá can be visited from Valladolid (45 minutes), Cancún (2.5 to 3 hours), Playa del Carmen (2.5 to 3 hours) and Tulum (2 to 2.5 hours). Looking for a guided tour? This is an overview with tours where you can check availability and prices.
Uxmal is located at the Yucaten peninsula and one of the best Maya ruins to visit near Merida in Mexico. The archaeological site is known for its Puuc style and this mosaic work is truly impressive. The city was built in different periods, hence the name Uxmal, which means “built three times”. Uxmal had its flourishing period between 800 and 1000 AD. with probably around 300,000 inhabitants.
Highlights include the 40-meter high Pyramid del Adivino, pyramid of the fortuneteller and the 32-meter high Gran Pyramid, large pyramid. You can climb both pyramids, by taking up many steps. Once at the top, you can enjoy a great view and wonder how the Maya chose these incredible locations. The Cuadrangulo de las Monjas, the nunnery, and Palacio del Gobernador, the Governor’s Palace, are worth visiting to enjoy its many detailed decorations.
Tips for your Uxmal visit
Uxmal is a 85 km drive from Mérida. Are you interested in learning more about the history of Uxmal? Then I recommend going with a guide on a Uxmal tour. You will experience the ruins in a different way, as the stones come to life and you’ll get a better idea of how people must have lived in those days. Moreover, your transportation is included. This is an overview of different tours, where you can also check availability and prices. Are you planning to visit Uxmal with your own car? Then it is best to visit Uxmal, when you are on your way to or from Mérida.
Tulum – Yucatan ruins at the beach
Tulum, along with Chichén Itzá, is one of the most visited and best Yucatan Maya ruins to visit in Mexico. What makes Tulum special, is its unique location on the Caribbean Sea. It is the only Maya archaeological site with a seafront. It was built as a political and religious center, and one of the last Maya structures before the Spaniards arrived. Tulum played an important role in sea trade and served as a port city. It was surrouded by a large wall to protect the city from raids. Not much is left of the city nowadays but because of its beautiful location, it is a true picture heaven.
Tulum, is located on the Riviera Maya, with Playa del Carmen and Cancún in the vicinity. Mak sure to visit Tulum as early as posible. Tours in and around Tulum can be found here.
Cobá Maya ruins Mexico
Cobá is an archaeological Maya site, located in the jungle, on the shores of the lakes Lago Cobá and Lago Macanxoc. It used to be an important trade and transportation city. The city was connected to other cities in the area by a unique road system, called sachbe’s.
The jungle enviroment makes Cobá a beautiful place to visit. Cobá consists of 80 km2, but only a small part has been excavated. You can admire the 42-meter high pyramid, Nohoch-Mu, or Castillo, the second largest pyramid in Yucatan (the largest one is located in Chichén Itzá). There is a ball playing field, observatory and there are different stelea and remnants of murals to observe. The Maya ruins of Cobá can be explored by foot. But the site is large and distances between archaeological excavations are long, therefore it is also possible to rent a bike or a taxi bike at the entrance.
Tips for visiting the Coba Yucatan ruins
The Yucatan Maya ruins of Cobá are visited by fewer people than Chichén Itzá, wich is nice. Still, it is recommended to go as early as possible. Then there is a good chance that you will be walking here with only a few people, many birds and other animals. Cobá is located 45 minutes away from Tulum and one hour from Valladolid. This is an overview with tours to Cobá.
Hotels near Cobá Yucatan ruins
One of the most beautiful hotels to spend the night near the Cobá ruins is Coqui Coqui Papholchac Coba Residence & Spa. This place is a true paradise, located in a beautiful environment and inspired by the rich Mayan culture and history. There are a few exclusive suites, of which the top suites even have their own terrace and swimming pool. Check here the latest rates and availability for Coqui Coqui. This is an overview with tours to Cobá.
Other beautiful ruins in Mexico
Lots of people have heard about the Maya. But there are many more ancient civilizations in Mexico, such as the Mixtecs, Zapotecs and Aztecs. These are the best ruins, temples and pyramids to visit during your trip to Mexico.
Teotihuacán – Aztec ruins of Mexico
One of the best ruins to visit when you are in and around Mexico City, is Teotihuacán. The pyramids of Teotihuacán are just impressive. Teotihuacán means in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztecs, the place where one becomes god. The city was built by the Toltecs and later used as an important ceremonial center by the Aztecs. Between 300-700 AD, 200,000 inhabitants must have lived in Teotihuacán and the city had about the same size as Rome.
The temple of the sun and the moon are the most spectacular. You can get all the way to the top of these Aztecs ruins in Mexico, by taking countless steep steps. At the top, you will be rewarded with a wide view of the surroundings.
Tips for visiting Teotihuacán
Keep in mind that this place is always busy with locals and tourists. It is best to visit the site early in the morning or late afternoon and try to avoid weekends and holidays as much as possible. Teotihuacán can be visited from Mexico City within 2 hours, by private transportation or a guided tour. This is an overview with tours to Teotihuacán. Are you traveling by car? Make sure to buy your tickets in advance here, so you don’t have to make a line upon arrival.
Monte Albán – Oaxaca ruins
Monte Albán is one of the best ruins to visit when you are in Oaxaca. The city was built around 200 BC and was the religious, political and economic center of the Zapotec empire for 2000 years. The city is located on a hill, and the view is beautiful. If you look out over the complex, you want to travel back in time and know how it must have looked. The complex contains several parts, including the central plaza, a ball playing field, the buildings of the elite, tombs and the frescoes of Danzantes.
Tips for visiting
Monte Albán is just half an hour away from Oaxaca. Do you want to learn more about the history of Monte Albán in Mexico? Then I recommend going with a guide on a Monté Alban tour. You will experience the ruins in a different way. Moreover, your transportation is included. This is an overview of different tours where you can also check availability and prices. Do you want to read more? Find everything you want to know about Monte Albán and the Zapotecs in the next article.
Oaxaca is one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico, with a lovely atmosphere. You can stroll around for hours and enjoy squares, churches, colonial buildings, botanical gardens and colorful street art. Check out my article with the best things to do in Oaxaca city in Mexico.
Mitla is a pre-Columbian city that is visited less often. But it is definitely worth to check out, if you are in Oaxaca state. Especially because of the mosaic work on the buildings. The site is located in a nice quiet area surrounded by cactuses and agave plants. The city was built by the Zapotecs, then conquered by the Mixtecs and inhabited by the Aztecs. Mitla, meaning “the resting place of the dead”, was a city for ceremonial activities. The city later served as a burial site for important priests.
In particular, the Palacio de las Columnas & Grupo de las Columnas are beautiful. The adjacent church, built by the Spaniards, was partly built with Mitla stones, something to pay special attention to.
Tips for visiting MItla
Do you want to visit Mitla from Oaxaca? This is an overview with tours, that include transportation and a guide. You often visit more destinations during a tour, such as the impressive tree of Tule. Do you travel by yourself? Make sure to buy your tickets in advance here.
Is Cholula worth visiting?
The ruins of Cholula are not specifically part of this list with the best ruins to visit in Mexico. However, if you are interested in pre-Columbian cultures, a visit can be worth it. The Pyramid of Cholula is the largest pyramid in the world with dimensions of 450 × 450 m. Cholula is also one of the oldest settlements in Mexico.
Unfortunately, the size of the pyramid is difficult to observe, as very little remains. Nowadays you can only walk along the old foundations and visit the tunnels. Cholula is 15 kilometers away from Puebla. If you are driving around in the area, it is recommended to include a short visit.
Do you want to know how to include these ruins in your trip to Mexico? Check out my Mexico itinerary for 3 weeks, bringing you from Mexico City all the way to the Yucatán peninsula. I will show you beautiful cities, places in nature, archaeological sights, activities and cultural highlights to include in your trip. Enjoy and get inspired to visit Mexico!
More about Mexico
Did you enjoy reading this article about the best ruins to visit in Mexico? In the next articles you can read more of my tips for Mexico:
- 30 things to do in Mexico
- City Guide Valladolid
- Oaxaca City Guide
- Things to do in Izamal, the yellow city of Mexico
- What to do in San Cristóbal de Las Casas
- Itinerary Mexico 3 weeks
Interested in art, culture and archaeology? Read my articles about:
- Yaxchilán, the remote Maya site in Mexico
- Monte Albán, the ruines near Oaxaca
- Frida Kahlo house and museum
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