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Top Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
From impressive jungle ruins to the remains of former cities by the beach, here's a look at the best Mayan ruins you can visit around Cancun.
Go from the lights and glitz of Cancun to ancient stone temples all in one trip. The vibrant city in Quintana Roo, Mexico, is surrounded by some of the world's most captivating ancient cities, built centuries ago by the Mayan civilization, which peaked around 250 to 900 A.D.
During your trip, you can visit extensive and dazzling ruins found just minutes away from your hotel or venture out into the lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula to discover some of the most powerful ancient cities in Mayan history. No matter which ruins you choose, you're sure to learn more about the fascinating and mysterious culture that once inhabited this breathtaking region of Mexico . Each Mayan ruin has its own captivating stories and history, so hire a tour guide once you get to the site for the full experience. Just remember to wear comfortable shoes for walking and climbing, along with a hat and plenty of sunscreen. Here's a look at some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun .
Most Cancun vacationers never hear about this ancient Mayan city, even though it's right under their noses. Located within the Cancun Hotel Zone right across the street from the city's best public beach, El Rey has structures of all sizes to climb and explore and is just a quick city bus ride away from any Cancun hotel .
You cannot find a Mayan ruin with a more dramatic location. This small but breathtaking city is set on a cliff-top by the Caribbean Sea , located just two hours south of Cancun. While you can't climb on these structures, Tulum does have one of the world's most unique beaches at the foot of the cliff.
Less than three hours from Cancun, the ancient Mayan city of Cobá is built around two lagoons. Adventurous travelers have fallen in love with Cobá because of its gorgeous jungle scenery and climbable temples. The entire site covers a large area and bikes are available to rent so you can easily explore the entire city.
By far the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico, Chichén Itzá is a pretty popular day trip for travelers staying in Cancun. While the main highlight is its impressive El Castillo pyramid, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, this huge city also has other jaw-dropping structures like the Observatory and the Temple of the Warriors. The only downside is you can't climb on these structures.
These climbable ruins are nestled in the jungles of Yucatan state about two hours west of Cancun. The site features several large structures including a tall main pyramid, along with beautifully preserved carvings. Ek Balam is an inspiring place to experience ancient Mayan culture without the crowds.
Just 30 minutes north of Cancun's main hotel zone, El Meco was once a thriving Mayan fishing village and port city, situated just across the water from Isla Mujeres. Climb to the top of El Castillo — the tallest ruin in the region at roughly 41 feet high — to view the remains of the other structures, the Caribbean Sea, and several surrounding lagoons.
While closer to Tulum than Cancun (20 minutes vs. 90 minutes from each city, respectively) these ruins are still worth a look, especially if you're visiting the eponymous ecological park down the road. Another formerly active port city, the site's name translates to "water inlet," due to its proximity to the nearby lagoon. Come to see the smaller temples and cenotes, and a series of murals that dates back to 300 A.D. to 600 A.D.
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Stories by Soumya
The Travel Blog of a Culture Addict
Mayan Ruins In Cancun – 13 Unique Pyramids To Visit In 2023
Last Updated on September 6, 2023 by Soumya
Looking for the best Mayan ruins near Cancun ? Wondering where the best Cancun pyramids are? We have you covered because here is the best Cancun ruins guide for you.
Cancun , one of the most visited places on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula , is well-known for its white sand beaches and turquoise blue waters.
But did you know that the city is a paradise for history seekers too?
With an umpteen number of Mexican ruins and Mayan pyramids nearby, some right in the heart of the Hotel Zone, Cancun makes for the perfect historical getaway.
Whether it is a longish day trip to the mighty Chichen Itza or a short one to the lesser-known El Rey ruins, Cancun presents us with a ton of opportunities.
You have an option of checking out famous Mayan sites such as Tulum and Coba but you also have an option to visit hidden gems such as El Meco and San Miguelito.
The best part is that some of these stunning Mayan ruins are located right next to your Cancun hotel.
In this epic Cancun Mayan Ruins travel guide, I will show you how to visit the best Mayan temples near Cancun, check out stunning Mexican pyramids with intriguing history and picturesque locations, and (maybe) climb some of them.
Please note: This post may contain affiliate links which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase by clicking a link on this post. This will be at no additional cost to you. Affiliate links help me keep this website up and running. Thanks for your support!
Best Guided Tours for Cancun Mayan Ruins
The 3 most popular Mayan ruins in Cancun are Chichen Itza (for its World Wonder status), Tulum (for its picturesque location by the sea), and Coba (for its location within jungles and presence of carved stelae).
Tours are a popular way to get to visit these ruins from Cancun.
If you are looking to quickly book a tour, check out these amazing guided tours from Cancun with great reviews.
- This full-day tour from Cancun allows you to explore the famous pyramid of Chichen Itza, refresh yourself in Cenote Samaal, and then end the day with a quick trip to Valladolid. With over 13,000 5-star reviews, this tour is one of the most popular Chichen Itza tours in the market.
- On this Chichen Itza early-access tour , you will discover the ruins with a private archaeologist. Highly recommended for history enthusiasts.
- This full-day tour from Cancun will take you to two famous Mayan sites, Tulum and Coba . Also includes a cenote swim.
Note that most tours don’t include entrance fees to the archeological sites in their basic package. Be sure to check that when you book your tour.
Table of Contents
Famous Mayan Ruins to Visit Near Cancun
- Distance from Cancun: 123 miles (2hrs 45mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 8am – 4pm
- Admission: 614 pesos (~$36) (foreigners)/ 272 pesos (Mexican citizens)
There is nothing that beats the thrill of visiting Chichen Itza , a World Wonder, and one of Mexico’s most visited UNES CO heritage sites. Even if it is a little crowded and a longish day trip from Cancun .
The name Chichen Itza literally translates to “the edge of the well where the wise men of the Itza group live”.
Itza were people of the ancient Mayan civilization who became powerful in the Postclassic period, coinciding with the time of rise of Chichen Itza. And of course, the well refers to the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza that you can still see.
What to see at Chichen Itza?
The most important structure at Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulcan , a 4-sided pyramid with a shrine on the top. Legend has it that every year Mayan Serpent God, Kukulkan, descends on this pyramid.
Well, this does happen in reality – a mix of science, mythology, and religion. Learn more about it in my post on “ Intriguing facts about Chichen Itza “.
Other interesting structures include the Temple of Warriors, the Great Ball Court, a Wall of Skulls , and the rounded observatory.
Best time to visit Chichen Itza is early in the morning when there are fewer people around.
Best Tours for Chichen Itza ruins from Cancun
Here are some popular Chichen Itza tours from Cancun.
- This full-day tour takes you to the ruins of Chichen Itza, an underground cenote, and the colorful town of Valladolid.
- This early-access guided tour gives you a chance to explore the ruins in peace.
✦ Pro Tip : If you’re visiting Chichen Itza , then be sure to check out our article on the best Chichen Itza tours to take from Cancun and other places in the Riviera Maya.
Tulum Mayan Ruins
- Distance from Cancun: 82 miles (1hr 45mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 9am – 5pm
- Admission: 90 + 58 = 148 pesos (~$9)
One of the most visited Mayan ruins near Cancun is the archaeological site of Tulum . Located on a cliff by the Caribbean Sea , Tulum ruins make for an unmissable Cancun attraction .
As evidenced by its location, Tulum was a port city during the Mayan times.
It was established as early as 500 CE but became a prosperous trading hub and reached its zenith in the Late Postclassic period. It was during this time that several important buildings were built in Tulum.
What to see at Tulum Ruins?
The most notable structure here is the main pyramid or the El Castillo which functioned both as a shrine and as a lighthouse.
Other highlights include the Temple of the Descending God, and the beautiful Temple of Frescoes (which still has intact pre-Hispanic Mayan murals).
The major highlight of Tulum ruins is of course the beach and the blue torquiose waters of the Caribbean Sea which make these Mayan ruins special.
Best Tours for Tulum Ruins from Cancun
- Experience a day full of history, swimming, and snorkeling on this adventurous full-day tour of Tulum and Akumal from Cancun.
- This full-day archeology tour from Cancun takes you to the ruins of Tulum and Coba. It is one of Cancun’s most popular tours and appeals greatly to history enthusiasts.
✦ Pro Tip : Visiting Tulum? Do not forget to check out our ultimate travel guide for the ruins of Tulum .
- Distance from Cancun: 83 miles (2hrs 10mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 8am – 5pm
- Admission: 90 pesos
Coba is yet another iconic Mayan ruin that cannot be missed when in Cancun. It was a powerful Mayan center in the olden times and dominated the Yucatan Peninsula between 600 -900 CE.
There was a time when more than 50,000 residents lived in this huge city. Coba’s might started weaning off when Chichen Itza rose to power in the Postclassic period.
Research suggests that people started settling in Coba as early as 100 BCE. The city developed around five lakes which was a major reason it continued to grow.
Did you know that Coba is actually the original Mayan name of this city? And that it literally translates to ruffled waters?
What to see at Coba?
One of the most interesting things that you will see in Coba is its collection of Sacbe or white stone and plaster roads.
Since the city was a powerful center and literally the hub of all activity, people from smaller towns came to Coba for work and trade. That required roads or sacbe.
There are more than 50 sacbeob (plural for sacbe) in Coba radiating in different directions. The longest one takes you as far as Yaxuna which is 80 miles to the west.
Apart from the sacbe, other highlights at Coba include the tall Nohoch Mul Pyramid, a church, the Pyramid of the Painted Lintel, and several sculpted stelae that give us rich insights into life, rituals, dresses, and ceremonies at Coba.
Best Tours for Coba Mayan Ruins from Cancun
The ruins of Coba and Tulum are just 30 miles apart. Hence, they are easily combined on a full-day archeology tour like this one from Cancun.
✦ Pro Tip : Do you love Mexican ruins and pyramids? Be sure to check out our post on the 20 most fascinating pyramids in Mexico .
Best Mayan Ruins in Cancun Hotel Zone & City
- Distance from Cancun Hotel Zone: 0
- Distance from Downtown Cancun: 13 miles (30 mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00am – 4:30pm
- Admission: 70 pesos
If you wish to see some ancient Mayan ruins in Cancun and do not want to spend an entire day heading to Chichen Itza and back, then consider the El Rey Archaeological Site. It is located right here in the middle of the Cancun hotel zone.
El Rey literally translates to “The King”. The place was named so after the statue of a king (or a royal character) was discovered here.
El Rey started as a small Mayan settlement around 200 CE and went on to become prominent in the 1200s when it became the hub of maritime trade and fishing along with San Miguelito.
There are theories that suggest that during this time, many people also migrated from the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula . This is also when many of the structures that you see today were constructed.
It takes about an hour to explore the ruins of platforms, walls, and columns of El Rey.
What to see at El Rey Mayan Ruins?
The most important building is Building #2 which has a pyramid base and a temple on top.
Buildings #1 and #4 are palaces that once had large audience halls supported by tall colonnades.
You can also visit Museo Maya de Cancun which is just a couple of miles away for a richer insight into the history of this area. By the way, if you love iguanas, you will find a lot of them here.
Best El Rey Ruins Tour in Cancun
- This highly recommended, half-day tour in Cancun allows you to see the best of both El Rey and El Meco archeological sites. It also includes free time at the Mirador and a visit to the Playa Delfines beach.
San Miguelito Archaeological Site
- Distance from Downtown Cancun: 11 miles (25 mins)
- Opening hours: Tuesday – Sunday, 9:00am – 5:30pm
San Miguelito is another Mayan site in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
The ruins of San Miguelito are like an extension of El Rey. They are located right within the complex of the Mayan Museum of Cancun . Same ticket for both the museum and the ruins.
Along with El Rey, El Meco, and Isla Mujeres, San Miguelito formed a powerful network of Mayan trading centers in the Post-Classical Period (1200 – 1500 CE).
Trade items mostly included dried fish, salt, and honey for export and obsidian and jade for import. Now that reminds me that the ancient city of Teotihuacan was once a major exporter of obsidian . Interesting connections, right?
What to see at the San Miguelito Ruins in Cancun?
The site is divided into 4 groups: North Set, Chaak Palace, Dragon Set, and South Set.
Chaak Palace is the most impressive with the remains of a large public building.
The South Set is home to the ruins of a small pyramid in Costa Oriental architecture , a style common to the eastern coast of Quintana Roo in the Postclassic period.
Best Tour of San Miguelito Ruins in Cancun
- This Cancun City Private Tour includes a guided tour of the San Miguelito ruins and the Mayan Museum followed by a shopping and foodie adventure at Mercado 28.
- Distance from Downtown Cancun: 10 miles (20 mins)
Yet another Mayan ruin located right next to the Hotel Zone in Cancun is the small but pretty site of Yamil Lu’um.
It sits on the top of a small hill on the beach, right in front of the Park Royal Beach Hotel – a great place to stay if you wish to live right next to ancient ruins. However, I would say every hotel in Zona Hotelera is close to one ruin or the other.
What to see at Yamil Lu’um?
There isn’t a ton of stuff to do at Yamil Lu’um. It is basically just the weathered walls of Templo del Alacran or the Scorpion Temple.
The temple is called so because of the remains of a scorpion sculpture found on its walls. It is more popular for the stunning views of the sea it offers.
- Distance from Downtown Cancun: 6 miles (15 mins)
- Admission: 55 pesos
Located just 20 minutes north of downtown Cancun, the Mayan ruins of El Meco are an absolute hidden gem.
El Meco is home to the tallest Mayan pyramid in the Cancun area and the one of the largest in Yucatan. Yet, it remains hidden behind large trees, shy iguanas, and a general lack of awareness.
Chances are high that you will find this Yucatan pyramid in Cancun completely to yourself when you visit.
What to see at El Meco Mayan Ruins?
The pyramid here is called El Castillo and is dedicated to Mayan Rain God, Chaac . You can climb up to some stunning views of the city of Cancun, the beach, and the peninsula.
When El Meco started off as a fishing village in the 600 – 900 CE (Late Classic Period), Coba had a strong influence on it. As Chichen Itza went on to become more powerful in the Postclassic era, the effect of Coba waned off. This is probably why we see a strong influence of Chichen Itza in the monuments of El Meco.
Between 1200 and 1500 CE, El Meco became a powerful port in the Yucatan peninsula because it controlled access to the nearby sanctuaries on Isla Mujeres.
Devotees had to pass through El Meco to get to the sacred Temple of Ixchel. This, no doubt, made this once-small fishing town highly influential.
Best Tour of El Meco Ruins in Cancun
- Here’s a great tour in Cancun that takes you to not one but two amazing Mayan ruins – El Meco and El Rey. That is followed by some amazing beach time at Playa Delfines.
Bonus: Mayan Museum of Cancun
If you’re planning to visit the Mayan ruins in Cancun and nearby, I highly recommend checking out the displays at the Mayan Museum of Cancun.
Founded by the National Anthropology Institute of Mexico, this museum has a lot of amazing displays that give you an immersive experience of ancient Mayan history and culture.
✦ Pro Tip : For details on what to see and expect at the museum, check out our detailed Visitor’s Guide for Cancun’s Mayan Museum.
Other Mayan Ruins near Cancun, Mexico
Isla mujeres mayan ruins.
Now that we are talking about the Temple of Ixchel, let’s move on to our next destination i.e. the Mayan ruins of Isla Mujeres.
The most prominent structure on Isla Mujeres is the Temple of Goddess Ixchel located on the southern tip of the island.
Ixchel was the Mayan Goddess of fertility, medicine, weaving, and happiness. No doubt, devotees thronged to this sanctuary. It is also possible that this temple was also used as a lighthouse in the ancient times.
There’s an interesting story about how the island got its current name. Seems like only women (priestesses of the temple) inhabited this island in the past.
When the Spanish landed here in 1517, they discovered several statues of Goddess Ixchel and other female members of her family. That is how the Spanish started calling it the Island of Women or Isla Mujeres.
Uxmal Archeological Site
Yet another amazing Mayan ruin near Cancun is the Archeological Site of Uxmal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Considered one of the most important archaeological sites of Mayan culture, Uxmal is renowned for its majestic Pyramid of the Magician.
The architecture at Uxmal is characteristic of the Puuc style , featuring intricate stone mosaics and detailed facades, which distinguish it from other Mayan sites.
However, remember that Uxmal is among the farthest ruins from Cancun on this list. It can up to 4.5 hours to get to Uxmal from Cancun. Therefore, it is best to do Uxmal on a guided tour from Cancun or plan a DIY trip from Merida instead.
What to see at Uxmal?
The Pyramid of the Magician is a towering monument with a distinct elliptical base quite unusual among the other Mayan ruins in the region. Its size and history make it a must-visit attraction in Mexico.
Another highlight is the Governor’s Palace, a long low building with a stunningly detailed façade, which is a prime example of Puuc architecture.
Further, Uxmal is also an integral part of Ruta Puuc or the Puuc Route , a 60-km stretch that takes you through other Mayan sites depicting this unique architectural form.
If you love history and ancient ruins, then you’ll enjoy visiting other remarkable ancient sites such as Kabah, Xlapak, and Labna on the Puuc Route.
Muyil Mayan Ruins
- Distance from Cancun: 96 miles (2hr 10mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00am – 3:00pm
Muyil archaeological zone, also known as Muyil-Chunyaxché ruins, gets its current name from a lagoon located nearby.
Once upon a time, Muyil was a thriving Mayan city in the Yucatan Peninsula. It was also one of the earliest.
Settlers began arriving in Muyil as early as 300 BCE long before the grand cities of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Uxmal came into existence.
In the early Classic period (200 – 600 CE), many Peten-style buildings were built here. To give you some context, this style was common in the ancient Mayan cities of Belize and Guatemala.
Quite possibly, Muyil had strong trade and cultural relations with the rest of Mesoamerica.
The best thing about Muyil ruins is that it is located right next to the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve. It is also a few minutes away from the ruins of Tulum which means you can easily combine both of them together on a day trip from Cancun.
Best Tour of Muyil Ruins from Cancun
- This private tour from Cancun combines three amazing Mayan ruins together – Muyil, Tulum, and Coba. If you love ancient Mayan history, then this tour is for you.
- Distance from Cancun: 71 miles (2hr 45mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 9:00am – 3:30pm
As Chichen Itza rose to power between 1000 – 1500 CE, San Gervasio rose to prominence not just because of its coastal location but also for its reputation as a hub of worship.
It is believed that San Gervasio was a sanctuary of Goddess Ixchel, Mayan god of fertility and medicine. We spoke about her in the section on Isla Mujeres ruins.
Therefore, San Gervasio was an important pilgrimage center for ancient Mayans. Evidence suggests that every Mayan woman tried to visit San Gervasio at least once in her life.
What to see at San Gervasio?
The site is home to several interesting buildings (in ruins now) from the Postclassic period. The small house, the tall house – which could have been the shrine of Goddess Ixchel, the big house, and Los Murcielagos are especially notable.
San Gervasio is one of the largest Mayan ruins on the island of Cozumel and a great addition to your day trip. Check out latest opening hours and prices on the Cozumel Parks website here .
Best Tours of San Gervasio Ruins
Here are a couple of good guided tours that show you the best of Cozumel including the ruins of San Gervasio.
- A private shore excursion of Cozumel that includes a tour of San Gervasio ruins.
- Visit San Gervasio ruins, have some beach time, and enjoy a tequila factory trip on this small group tour .
Xcaret Archaeological Park
- Distance from Cancun: 48 miles (1hr 10mins)
- Opening hours for Xcaret Park: Monday – Sunday, 8:30am – 9pm
- Admission fee for Xcaret Park: 100+ USD
Originally known as the Polé (refers to merchandise or merchants), Xcaret archaeological park is an ancient Mayan village that lies with the huge Xcaret theme park today.
The name Polé points the village’s importance in Mayan trade and economy. Additionally, it also served as a stopover/departure point for pilgrims traveling to the sanctuary of Goddess Ixchel in San Gervasio, Cozumel.
Because of its location within a theme park, many tourists believe it to be unreal. But that’s not true. These Mayan structures are authentic and date back to more than a 1000 years ago.
The only way to access the ruins is by purchasing a ticket to Xcaret Park which can be super expensive.
However, if you already have plans for Xcaret and wish to see a small Mayan ruins along with it, then don’t forget to step into this Mayan wonderland within the park.
- Distance from Cancun: 107 miles (2hrs 20mins)
- Opening hours: Monday – Sunday, 8:00am – 5:00pm
- Admission: 531 pesos (~$31) (foreigners) /211 pesos (Mexican nationals)
Of all the Mayan ruins in Yucatan, the ones at Ek Balam were one of my favorites because they are unique.
It is quite common for heritage seekers to club Ek Balam with Chichen Itza on a day trip from Cancun .
What to see at Ek Balam?
In Ek Balam, you will find distinctive stucco structures that you will generally not see anywhere else in Yucatan. Of special interest is a huge monster mouth that has often been denoted as the road to death.
There are also a couple of winged warrior structures which are highly unusual in the Mayan culture. If you are visiting the ruins of Ek Balam , do not forget to check out these special sculptures.
Ek Balam has an extensive complex that was designed according to astronomical principles like many other Mayan cities including Chichen Itza.
Highlights include the main pyramid, the Oval Palace, twin pyramids, and the arched gateway which once connected Ek Balam to a Mayan sacbe.
I find the admission fee a little too steep here – something you might want to consider when planning your Cancun day trip.
Best Tours for Ek Balam Ruins from Cancun
Have a look at this full-day tour that includes Ek Balam, Chichen Itza, and a cenote . If you choose their Cancun hotel pick-up option, tickets to both Ek Balam and Chichen Itza are included in it.
Map of Mayan Ruins in Cancun
Practical information for visiting Mexican ruins in Cancun
- Always be sure to refer to the website of INAH Mexico for updated opening hours and admission charges for all archaeological sites in Mexico. INAH, or the National Institute of Anthropology and History, is the government body that protects and preserves these ruins.
- Several Cancun pyramids were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They are slowly starting to open up. Please check on INAH, Google Reviews, and Tripadvisor before planning.
- Be sure to get a pair of sturdy walking/climbing shoes, sunglasses, water, and a hat. It can get supremely hot in the Yucatan!
- There are a few Mayan pyramids near Cancun such as the one at Ek Balam which you can still climb. But I wouldn’t recommend that because of the fragility of the structures. I did climb Ek Balam a few years but I do feel guilty when I recall that those stairs and walls have been badly damaged by years of climbing.
- If you are planning to see a couple of Mayan ruins, read our guide on how to visit Chichen Itza and Ek Balam on the same day .
- Refer to our Yucatan bucket list for more things to do in the area.
Cancun Mayan Ruins Travel FAQ
The Mayan pyramids in Cancun are located right within the Hotel Zone which means you don’t really have to travel far to explore Mayan history. Hotel zone ruins include the archaeological sites of El Rey, San Miguelito, and Yamil Lu’um as well as the well-curated Museo Maya de Cancun. Less than an hour away from Cancun are the ruins of El Meco and Isla Mujeres.
Yes, it is absolutely possible to go to the Mayan ruins from Cancun. Numerous guided tours are available that transport you from Cancun to various Mayan sites, including the famous Chichen Itza. You can also opt for car rental services or use the buses and collectivos (local vans) to get to these Mexican ruins.
There are no Aztec ruins close to Cancun but you’ll find numerous Mayan ruins in Cancun and nearby. It’s important to note that the Aztecs and the Maya were different civilizations. The Aztec ruins are primarily found in and around Mexico City whereas all ruins near Cancun are Mayan.
Yes, there are several ancient pyramids close to Cancun with some of the closest ones like the San Miguelito and El Rey ruins located in the Cancun Hotel Zone. The most famous Mayan pyramid of Chichen Itza is about 125 miles (2.5 hours) away from Cancun.
Yes, you can climb some of the Mayan pyramids near Cancun, although the number of scalable pyramids has decreased over time. One of the famous Mayan pyramids that’s still open to climbing near Cancun is the El Castillo at Ek Balam. However, please note that the preservation of these historical sites is crucial, and climbing just worsens the condition of these ancient pyramids. Please check with the authorities and respect the rules if they change.
Yes, you can see Mayan ruins in Cancun. The ruins of El Rey, San Miguelito, and Yamil Lu’um are located right within Cancun’s Hotel Zone. El Meco and Isla Mujeres are just 30 minutes away. Some of bigger and more popular ruins such as Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum are usually done as a full day tour from Cancun .
The Mayan ruins that are the closest to Cancun are El Rey, Yamil Lu’um, and San Miguelito. They are located within the Hotel Zone. Two other ruins that are also pretty close (30 minutes away) are El Meco and the Temple of Goddess Ixchel on Isla Mujeres.
The famous pyramids of Chichen Itza and Coba are both more than 2 hours away from Cancun. The Mayan pyramids that are closest to Cancun are at El Rey and San Miguelito ruins, both located in the Cancun Hotel Zone.
The ancient ruins that are closest to Cancun are the Mayan ruins of El Rey and San Miguelito. Located in the Cancun Hotel Zone, they make for an interesting getaway along with the Mayan Museum of Cancun. Another set of ruins that are also super close are those of El Meco and the Temple of Ixchel on Isla Mujeres.
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You may also like:
- Mayan Museum of Cancun: The Best Visitor's Guide For 2023
- How To Visit Chichen Itza And Ek Balam In One Day
- Mayan Ruins Of Ek Balam Mexico: The Complete Travel Guide
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11 Mayan Ruins Near Cancun Not to Miss 
By: Author Virginia Bello
Posted on Last updated: January 1, 2023
Categories Mexico , North America
Wondering what Mayan Ruins near Cancun you should visit? The Riviera Maya is famous for its archaeological sites, and there are several worth checking out while you’re in the area.
There’s not such a thing as visiting the Riviera Maya and not going to (at least!) one of the many ruins in Mexico that depict the ancient history of the Mayans, the people who lived in the area before the Spaniards arrived.
There are many Mayan Ruins near Cancun that you can visit, and all of them offer a slightly different story and varied structures, so check out this guide to decide which ruins you want to include in your itinerary!
BEST TOURS TO THE MAYAN RUIS NEAR CANCUN
➤ This Tulum and Coba Ruins Day Trip takes you on a full-day excursion to the archaeological sites, where you’ll enjoy a guided tour around them. You’ll also swim in a cenote and enjoy a traditional buffet lunch. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ The Tour to Chichen Itza and Coba includes breakfast and lunch, as well as transportation and guided tours of the sites. You will also get to visit Cenote Samaal and swim in it. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
➤ The Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Valladolid Tour is a full-day excursion that starts with a guided visit of Mexico’s most famous Mayan ruins. You’ll then get to swim in a cenote, and wander around gorgeous Valladolid. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
11 BEST MAYAN RUINS NEAR CANCUN
El Rey is a small archaeological site of Mayan ruins in Cancun, located right within the Hotel Zone , making it the perfect site to visit if you don’t want to travel far.
These ancient ruins in Cancun date back to around 200 A.D. and El Rey was a center for maritime trade back in the day. According to historians, the inhabitants worked as fishermen or in salt extraction until 1200 A.D.
While El Rey has not been inhabited for centuries, it is now home to hundreds of iguanas that have invaded the ruins, and they constitute part of the charm when visiting the zone.
Guides are available at the site for hire, and the ruins are open daily from 8 AM to 4.30 PM. The entrance fee to El Rey ruins is 55 MXN (USD 2.5) at the time of writing
Distance from Cancun to El Rey : right there at your doorstep.
READ ALSO : 41 Fun Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico
El Meco is home to one of the highest pyramids near Cancun , named El Castillo, and the second tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula after Chichen Itza. Serpent heads, an important symbol for the Mayans, are situated on the pyramid’s staircase.
El Meco is one of the best-preserved ruins in Mexico near Cancun, making the visit truly enjoyable.
These Cancun ruins at El Meco comprise three plaza groups and a total of 18 structures have been uncovered.
It is supposed that during the post-classic period El Meco, along with other settlements like El Rey and San Miguelito, worked to further develop the sea trade networks in the area , and while the time is not accurate, El Meco was likely abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish.
The site is located north of Cancun , right in front of Isla Mujeres, and it’s just a 14-minute drive from Downtown.
➤ You can visit these Mexican ruins of Cancun with the Cancun City Sightseeing Tour which also includes visits to popular attractions in Quintana Roo, including Playa del Carmen landmarks, Playa Delfines, and Puerto Morelos’ downtown. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) from Downtown Cancun.
The Tulum Ruins are probably the most popular in the Riviera Maya. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean sea , the site offers not only great historical insight but unbelievable views.
The Tulum site used to be a walled city back in the Mayans’ time, and it was named Zamá , which means ‘place of the dawning sun’. Nowadays you’ll get to see parts of that wall, which was built around 1200 AD and abandoned, like most Mayan cities, in the 16th century.
It’s one of the most stunning Mexican temples near Cancun, and the journey takes close to 2 hours. After touring the ruins you can head to the hidden beach below the ruins to cool off in the sea. The town of Tulum, the other Tulum beaches, and the Tulum cenotes are also worth visiting, so it’s a great idea to spend the rest of the day discovering Tulum’s gems.
➤ To explore the area with a knowledgeable guide you can join the Discovery Combo Tour . You’ll find out all about the ruins’ history and importance for the Mayan society, and then enjoy some snorkeling on one of the most beautiful reefs in Quintana Roo. Lunch, water, and roundtrip transportation are included. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 81 miles (131 kilometers) via Carretera Tulum
READ ALSO : A Complete Guide to the Tulum Ruins
The San Gervasio ruins are located in Cozumel, an island that is easily reachable from Cancun. These Mayan ruins in Cozumel were a center of pilgrimage for Mayan women , who came from all over to worship the goddess of love and fertility, Ixchel.
While most structures have lost their roofs or parts of the walls over time, archaeologists have digitally reconstructed what San Gervasio used to look like, and you can wander around with the guidebook offered at the site identifying the buildings and picturing them as they were during their heyday.
Nowadays, iguanas, peccaries, and coatis inhabit the site, and you can expect to meet all of them during your visit to most Yucatan Peninsula and Cancun Mayan ruins.
Among the interesting areas you’ll get to visit at the site is Las Manitas , the residence of the Mayan ruler of Cozumel which features red-colored handprints on the interior walls, and The Arch that constitutes the main entrance to the settlement.
➤ If you want to go to Cozumel, you might as well explore the rest of island, and one of the best ways to do it is with a Private Jeep Excursion . You’ll get to drive your own jeep into the Mayan jungle and around the island, and plan your perfect itinerary for the day.
You’ll visit the San Gervasio ruins with a local guide, try the food at the local market, enjoy the views from a vantage point or go snorkeling in the Caribbean Sea, among plenty other activities. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Bear in mind that transportation from Cancun is not included ; to get to these Mayan ruins from Cancun you’ll have to take the ADO bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen , and from there take a ferry to Cozumel. Ferries depart from the ferry pier, located only a few blocks from the bus station. The whole journey will take you around 2.5 hours.
Distance from Cancun : 70 miles (113 kilometers)
The ruins of Coba are among the most famous Mexican ruins near Cancun, Mexico, because it still allows climbing its pyramids. The main pyramid, Nohoch Mul Pyramid , is 137 feet tall and it takes 120 steps to get to the top.
It is believed that Coba was one of the most important cities for the Mayan people as it controlled most of the farmlands and trading routes in the area. According to archeological evidence, the site possibly dates as back as 50 BC , making it one of the oldest Mayan ruins close to Cancun.
Since the Coba ruins are not as popular as Chichen Itza, you won’t find big crowds on the site, which is perfect if you’re looking to climb Mexico pyramids in Cancun or want to get some pictures with the ruins withouts dozens of unknown faces appearing on the background. To many travelers, these are the best ruins near Cancun.
➤ You can visit the archaeological zone with the Day Trip To Tulum and Coba Ruins , which takes you to both historical sites and includes a visit to a cenote, where you’ll be able to swim, and lunch at a local restaurant. Hotel pickup and drop-off is available on this Cancun ruins tour. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 83 miles (134 kilometers)
READ ALSO : Coba Ruins: A Complete Guide
Ek Balam means black jaguar and is located only 32 miles (51 kilometers) from Chichen Itza. This archaeological site wasn’t discovered until the 1980s and to this day there are still parts that haven’t been uncovered. The Mayan ruins are surrounded by thick vegetation, which is probably the reason why the site remained hidden for so long.
The main structure of Ek Balam is the Acropolis, one of the largest in all of Yucatan, Mexico, reaching almost 100 feet (30 meters) in height and 500 feet (151 meters) in length.
This pyramid is spectacularly decorated with intricate designs and patterns, and it served as the residence of Ek Balam’s king. Moreover, it’s believed to contain the tomb of one of Ek Balam’s rulers, Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ. Climbing this structure is still allowed .
Ek Balam was surrounded by two exterior defense walls, and there were smaller walls throughout the city for protection.
➤ To visit the site you can join this Mayan ruins tour from Cancun, a full-day trip to Ek Balam and Cenote Maya . You’ll get to explore the ruins with a knowledgeable guide, and after your visit you’ll be taken to the majestic Cenote Maya, where you can swim and engage in some adventure activities.
You’ll also get to participate in a blessing ceremony and enjoy a traditional buffet lunch before heading back. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 106 miles (172 kilometers)
There’s no introduction needed for Chichen Itza ; they’re likely the most famous Mayan ruins in the world! While they’re not located on the Caribbean sea coast, the ruins are easily reachable from Cancun, and are Mexico’s biggest pride (one of many, actually; Mexico is a wonder!)
The site dates back to around 400 AD , and it’s thought to have been a military, religious and commercial center, home to over 30 thousand people at its peak. The easy access to water via the cenotes of the area is probably one of the main reasons why people settled here.
There are 26 Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, and the main pyramid is El Castillo (the Castle), worldwide known because during the equinoxes, the shadow of the afternoon sun creates the image of a serpent gliding down the northern staircase. It’s believed to be Kukulcan , the feathered serpent of the Mayan traditions.
➤ One of the best Mayan ruins tours from Cancun is the Chichen Itzá, Valladolid and Cenote day trip, which takes you to the famous ruins with an expert guide, so you can learn more about the history and legends of the site.
You’ll also get to swim in a sacred cenote and visit the gorgeous colonial city of Valladolid. The tour includes entrance fees, buffet lunch, and roundtrip transportation. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 122 miles (196 kilometers). Read also how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza if you plan on visiting the site on your own.
READ ALSO : Visiting Chichen Itza: All You Need to Know
Uxmal, located near the city of Merida in Yucatan Mexico, was one of the largest cities in the area back in 600-900 AD, and the capital of a Mayan state. Nowadays, it’s the best preserved archaeological site of all, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site .
The honored god at Uxmal is Chac, the Mayan god of rain, because unlike Chichen Itza and other nearby settlements, this city had no natural water supplies.
This Mayan city is believed to have been inhabited by around 20 thousand people, and it’s home to 34 ruins, the most prominent being the Pyramid of the Magician. This pyramid was built on top of other existing structures; according to excavations, there are 5 temples underneath it.
While the Magician’s pyramid cannot be climbed, you can actually climb some of the other ruins at Uxmal.
Distance from Cancun : 236 miles (380 kilometers)
Mayan Museum in Cancun
If you’re interested in the history of ancient Mayan civilizations, their culture and traditions, you can head to the Mayan Museum in Cancun , where you’ll find exhibitions and displays of Mayan artifacts and videos explaining their use and facts about the lifestyle and culture of the people.
You can easily get to the Museum from Downtown Cancun or the Hotel Zone and the entrance fee only costs about 80 pesos (USD 4) at the time of writing.
Distance from Cancun to Mayan ruins : 13 miles (22 kilometers) from Downtown via Bvd. Kukulcan
Ruins at Xcaret Park
Xcaret Park is an ecotourism theme park located in the midst of the Mayan jungle, and is home to some Mayan ruins of the same name.
While the ruins themselves are not as impressive as the ones mentioned above, and it’s not worth the visit JUST to see the ruins, the park is a wonderful day-trip destination from Cancun .
You’ll enjoy activities such as snorkeling, exploring underground rivers, visiting the Butterfly Pavilion and the Living Orchid Museum, or meeting the park’s inhabitants that include jaguars, flamingos, manatees, deers, and plenty of aquatic animals.
Of course, you’ll also get to follow the rainforest trail to the Xcaret ruins, a site that functioned as a navigation port and was a vital trading center for the Mayans.
If you stay in the park until the night falls, you’ll get to witness the popular Xcaret México Espectacular , an entertainment show that’s been running for over 20 years and that will take you on a marvelous journey through Mexican history.
➤ The Xcaret Day Trip with Transportation gives you priority access to the park and it also includes the activities and all the necessary equipment, a buffet lunch, and roundtrip transportation from Cancun. You’ll also get to use the Plus Area facilities and have access to the beaches, bays, and natural pools. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun : 47 miles (76 kilometers) via Carretera Tulum
San Miguelito is located north of El Rey, and dates back to the Post-Classic period of the Mayan Civilization, although evidence suggests that it was inhabited as early as 250 A.D.
This ancient Mayan city was part of a very large trading network between the 13th and 15th centuries, importing and exporting products to many settlements in the Caribbean. The site is divided into four areas that boast remains of structures and Cancun pyramids, some of which are very well preserved.
There’s a great museum on site that you should check out to learn more about the Maya and discover artifacts recovered from various archaeological sites throughout Yucatan Peninsula.
Distance from Cancun : 11 miles (17.8 km)
MAYAN RUINS NEAR CANCUN FAQ
There are several archaeological sites near Cancun, located only a few miles from the town center. The nearest ancient Mayan ruins are El Meco, situated less than 6 miles from Downtown Cancun, and El Rey, one of the closest Cancun temples in the Hotel Zone.
There are several ancient Mayan ruins in the Cancun area that you can visit from the town center. The visit to most sites will only take you about half a day.
The Mayan Ruins of El Rey are right in the center of the Cancun Hotel Zone, next to Playa Delfines.
Chichen Itza is 122 miles (197 kilometers) from Cancun.
Most ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula belong to the Mayan Civilizations. There aren’t Aztec archaeological sites in Cancun.
The best tours from Cancun to visit Mayan ruins are the Tulum and Coba Ruins Day Trip and the Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Valladolid Tour .
If you plan on visiting the Mayan ruins on your own, you can buy the entrance tickets online on the site’s website or get them directly when you get there. Otherwise, you can join a tour that includes the entrance fee as well as a tour guide and transfers.
Virginia is a writer originally from Montevideo, Uruguay. She left her career as a TV Producer to gain more freedom and never looked back. She's been traveling the world full-time ever since! Virginia has traveled extensively through Latin America, Europe and Asia. You can currently find her gallivanting through Southeast Asia.
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Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancún, Mexico
The folklore, rituals and science of the ancient Mayan civilization are intriguing. Indigenous to parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, the ancient Maya had prolific beliefs regarding life cycles, the cosmos and higher powers. And you can explore what’s left of their culture at different sites throughout the region. From Chichén Itzá to San Miguelito, here are the best Mayan ruins near Cancún.
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The ancient city of Chichén Itzá is among the most iconic of all the Mayan ruins, receiving more than 2m visitors each year. You could spend an entire day admiring these Instagram-worthy structures, but some stand out above the rest. Among them is the Temple of Kukulkán (El Castillo), a stepped pyramid standing 98ft (30m) high; it’s part of the reason Chichén Itzá was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Less accessible than Chichén Itzá, the Cobá ruins, which really merit a day trip, feel more like an Indiana Jones-style jungle adventure, with lush greenery creating an atmospheric setting for this ancient city. Cobá is most notable for having the largest amount of sacbes (white-stone roads) of any ancient Mayan site. You can follow these pathways from the main pyramid to small villages where ancient Mayans used to rest at night. The opportunity to stroll, cycle or be driven around these protected sites makes it the perfect outing from Cancún.
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Torn between history and lazing by the Caribbean Sea? Head to the magnificent Tulum site, where ruins stand on a cliff above the waves. This ancient city was once a seaport for traders in jade and turquoise – and with an abundance of theories and myths surrounding certain structures, it’s a fascinating place to explore at your leisure before throwing down your towel and taking a dip.
Want to visit a historic Mayan site but be back in town for nightfall? El Rey, with abundant flora and fauna, is easily accessible from Cancún and makes for a lovely half-day getaway, ensuring you don’t miss valuable clubbing time. Not much information surrounding the various structures can be found on-site, but here’s our advice: hire a private tour guide who’ll be well-versed in spilling well-I-never stories about ancient Mayan customs and beliefs.
Xel-Há is rich in history related to the Mayan people. Archaeologists have traced the importance of these ruins back to the civilization’s belief in the spiritual goddess of fertility. Xel-Há (which means “where water is born”) was used as a place of departure to other sites where rituals were performed. The stories of what happened here are moving, but also notable is the surrounding terrain, which is pockmarked with cenotes (sinkholes) and home to an ecopark. Visit Xel-Há and you could easily end up staying all day.
Ruins of Ixchel Temple
Isla Mujeres is a sliver of coral and sand in the Caribbean shallows just off Cancún. The name, which translates as the Island of Women, was bestowed by the Spanish conquistador Francisco Hernández de Córdoba, who unearthed statues of the goddess Ixchel here while looting in 1517. Just a huddle of stone today, the ruins – thought to be from a lighthouse, not a temple – sit at the end of a trail overlooking the turquoise sea at Punta Sur, in the far south of the island.
El Meco Archaeological Site
You’ll find this cluster of Mayan pyramid ruins a few miles north of Cancún, overlooking the water just south of the Punta Sam boat pier for Isla Mujeres. Thought to have been the ritual center for a small fishing community, it was only cleared in the late 20th century and opened to the public in the 2000s. Immersed in scrubby woodland, it comprises a handful of platforms and one main pyramid, El Castillo, with views over the Caribbean from the summit.
San Miguelito Archeological Site
Opened to the public in 2012, San Miguelito is the northern extension of the partially unearthed Mayan city of El Rey – its ruins are located around (and under) Cancún’s hotels. The site gives a taste of what you can expect at the bigger specimens, with the main pyramid jutting over the bird-filled tropical forest. There’s also an excellent little museum crammed with artifacts.
Alex Robinson contributed additional reporting to this article.
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10 Fantastic Mayan Ruins in Cancun You Can Visit (Easy Day Trips)
This Cancun Mayan ruins guide includes the best Mayan ruins to visit in Cancun and nearby including Chichén-Itzá, Tulum, Coba, Ek Balam, and many others. Each Mayan ruin section includes details about how much time you should plan for your visit, directions from Cancun, other nearby ruins and much more.
Many of these mysterious Mayan ruins by Cancun and on the Yucatan Peninsula have been designated World Heritage Sites.
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Let’s explore the most important Mayan ruins of the Yucatan!
Best Mayan Ruins & Archaeological Zones Near Cancun
For this guide, I reached out to some of my favorite travel bloggers who are experts on Mexico travel. This article shares the absolute best Mayan Ruins you should visit if you vacation in Cancun . We’ve included Mayan ruins in Tulum and Mayan ruins in Cozumel and everything in between!
When I visited Cancun, we rented a car and drove ourselves to several ancient Mayan ruins and cenotes. We used rentalcars.com to reserve our car in advance.
Map of Mayan Ruin Locations in and around Cancun
These are the Mayan Ruin locations mentioned in this article. From the Cancun ruins to archaeological sites within a few hours of Cancun. Just zoom in to see each location.
Best Mayan Ruins by Cancun (Easy Day Trips)
Mayan Ruins in Cancun are some of the most impressive ancient cities that can be visited in Mexico today.
Contributed by Sarah & Olivier from Off The Tourist Treadmill
Chichén-Itzá is a magnificent archaeological site located in the east of Yucatan. This well-preserved ancient Mayan city is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Chichén Itzá was built 1,500 years ago and its name means ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza’ in Maya. By 600 AD, Chichén-Itzá had become one of the most important and powerful regional capitals with 50,000 inhabitants at its peak. Mysteriously, the site was abandoned in the 1400s leaving behind amazing architecture, sculptures and artifacts.
Valladolid is a charming colonial town en route to Chichén-Itzá with pastel-colored houses and Spanish architecture. Why not cool off in the town’s central Cenote Zaci? Close to Valladolid and Chichén-Itzá are also the Ek Balam ruins in their jungle setting.
Chichén-Itzá are the most visited Mayan ruins on the peninsula of the Yucatan . There are eighteen structures that have been restored over the years. Pyramid Kukulcan is the tallest and most famous ruin at Chichen Itza and is a Mesoamerican step-pyramid in the center of the Chichen Itza archaeological site.
During the Spring and Fall equinoxes, (March 21 & Sept 21) the setting sun creates shadows down the steps of the pyramid that resemble a snake descending.
Allow at least half a day to visit Chichén-Itzá. Avoid the crowds and heat by visiting early morning or late afternoon. Take a hat and plenty of water as there is little shade. If you time your visit with the spring or fall equinox, expect plenty of tourists but you will catch a glimpse of Kulkulkan!
Distance from Cancun: 2 hours (120 km) Directions from Cancun: Take highway 180D. Then take the 79 to Piste and then the 180 to Chichen Itza. Alternatively, buses run from Cancun to Chichén-Itzá via Valladolid. Minimum Time to see ruins: Half Day Closest Ruin: Ek Balam Closest Town: Valladolid
5 Fun Chichén-Itzá Facts
- Chichén-Itzá has its own form of hieroglyphs! Similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs, the Mayan people used carved pictures and characters to convey meaning. Look out for these all over the site!
- Chichén-Itzá is a mathematical masterpiece! The imposing main pyramid at Chichén-Itzá (El Castillo) is symmetrical and has 365 steps which represent the Mayan solar calendar.
- Chichén-Itzá has hidden treasure! The towering temple of El Castillo hides a smaller temple inside with a stunning jaguar throne studded with jade.
- Chichén-Itzá is still visited by a serpent deity! During the spring and fall equinox, you can witness the shadow of the feathered Kulkulkan descend the pyramid’s staircase.
- Chichén-Itzá has amazing sound effects! Stand at the bottom of El Castillo’s staircase and clap your hands. The echo eerily sounds like the sacred Quetzal bird!
Chichen Itza Tours
- Ik-kil cenote & Chichen Itza Ruins Tour
Contributed by Sarah Hughes of Live, Dream, Discover
There are some amazing archeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, but the Mayan ruins of Tulum are unique in that it sits on a cliff overlooking the beautiful Caribbean Sea.
The impressive ancient city was inhabited as far back as 564 AD and was originally named Zamá meaning “dawning sun.” The name was later changed to Tulum which is Mayan for “wall.” This is because Tulum was one of the few ancient Maya cities built with three surrounding walls. Together with the cliff and sea, forming the fourth “wall”, Tulum was quite the fortress.
Due to its location, Tulum archaeological site was also an important trading port for nearby city-states like Chichen Itza and Coba. It too was an important city-state in the 13th and 14th centuries although it’s thought there were never more than about 1,600 inhabitants at any time. Shortly after the Spaniards began to occupy Mexico in the 1500s the Mayas abandoned their home of Tulum.
Today, the Tulum archaeological site is one of the most visited Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Today visiting Tulum is a popular excursion from Cancun or Playa del Carmen. Tourists flock to this ancient Mayan site for both the historic value as well as the awe-inspiring views. The site is not as large as some of the other Mayan ruins and can get very crowded and hot during the day. Therefore, if you’re able to arrive early morning (8 am) or late afternoon (4 pm) you may be rewarded with fewer people and more tolerable temperatures.
Allow at least one hour to tour the site and visit the important ruins of El Castillo, the Temple of Frescoes, and the House of Columns. Add on another hour to go swimming at the gorgeous beach below the ruins.
However, if you’re visiting the Tulum ruins from other parts of the Riviera Maya you’d be well advised to make a whole day of it and spend some time in the town of Tulum and exploring the beautiful Tulum beaches
Facing the sea, the Mayan ruins at Tulum are impressive and powerful. Known as the “Walled City”, Tulum was thought to be one of the most important cities of the ancient Mayan during its time. Fresco remnants are still visible inside some of the structures.
Distance from Cancun: 128 kilometers / 80 Miles south of Cancun Directions from Cancun: 90-minute drive straight down Hwy 307 Minimum Time to see ruins: At least one hour Closest Ruin: Coba Ruins Closest Town: Akumal is 20 minutes south of Hwy. 307
5 Fun Facts About Tulum
- It is one of the very few walled cities built by the Maya as a fortress
- The original name, Zama, means “Place of the dawning sun” because it was one of the first places in the Maya empire to see the sun in the morning.
- Tulum is the third most visited archaeological site in all Mexico
- Tulum was also a school of astronomy attended by Aztec nobles
- Tulum sits on top of 39 ft cliffs overlooking the Caribbean Sea
Contributed by Tristan from Traxplorio
Located in the state of Quintana Roo Mexico, west of Tulum are the Coba Mayan ruins. With many buildings still covered by jungle, Coba is over 80 sq. miles and has five lakes.
The Coba ruins are, in my view, one of the most spectacular ruins in Mexico. The largest ruin at the site, Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan peninsula. It is 12 stories tall and has 120 steps to the top and you are still allowed to climb. From the top there is a magnificent span of jungle where you can also see the tops of other ruins.
Be careful and don’t wear only flip-flops. The climb is quite steep and there is only one safety rope. But at the top you will be more than rewarded for your effort – the view over the Mexican jungle is unique!
The entire area is huge. You can of course explore it on foot – but I would not recommend that. Hire a bicycle taxi or rent your own bicycle instead.
Distance from Cancun: 2 hours Directions from Cancun: The route via Puerto Morelos , past Playa del Carmen (with the most beautiful beaches on Yucatan) via Tulum (another great ruin) to Coba is much the most beautiful route. Here you are on the road for about 2.5 hours. For a day trip it makes sense to choose this route on the way to Coba and to take the shorter one on the way back. If you like this way of traveling, you can find even more inspiration on Traxplorio . Minimum Time to see ruins: 60-90 minutes Closest Ruin: Tulum Closest Town: Valladolid
5 Fun Facts About Coba
- One of the few places in the world where you can actually climb a real Mayan pyramid
- There is a court fort the famous Mayan ballgame: ōllamaliztli
- There are amazing Cenotes nearby, where you can relax after climbing the pyramid (e.g. Cenote Choo-Ha)
- Coba can be translated as „waters stirred by the wind”
- You have to climb up 120 steps to get to the top of this ruin
Contributed by Julien Casanova of Cultures Traveled
Located in the middle of the jungle of the northern Yucatan peninsula is Ek Balam. The name translates to Black Jaguar, a sacred and powerful animal to the Maya, Aztec, and Inca. For the Maya, the black jaguar represented the ruler of the underworld and thus the night sun, and darkness.
As you climb to the top of the main pyramid, stop about halfway to admire the tomb where a king is buried. An open jaguar mouth with large carved teeth signifies the portal to the other world. Surrounding the tomb are incredibly detailed original stucco sculptures depicting warriors and other animals.
Ek Balam is located about two hours west of Cancun via the toll road 180D. Just as you reach Valladolid, turn right on 295 towards Tizimin. Ek Balam will be 30 minutes ahead. Plan to arrive early to beat the crowds and expect to spend about two hours there.
On the way back, stop for lunch in Temozon, a town known for smoked meats. And you’ll definitely want to allow time to explore the traditional Yucatan town of Valladolid where you can find colonial buildings, lots of churches, authentic food, and many nearby cenotes.
Distance from Cancun: 2 Hours Directions from Cancun: Head west on the toll road 180D & then turn right on 295 towards Tizimin. Minimum Time to see ruins: 2 Hours Closest Ruin: Chichen Itza Closest Town: Temozon & Valladolid
5 Fun Facts About Ek Balam
- The name translates to “Black Jaguar,” a sacred animal for the Maya.
- Ek Balam was inhabited for over 1,000 years which is one of the longest periods in the northern Yucatan.
- The largest structures were built during the city’s peak, from 770 to 840 AD.
- Based on the size of the buildings, Ek Balam was an important center in the northern region before the rise of Chichen Itza around 950 AD.
- Archeologists have mapped 45 structures on the four and a half square mile site. However, only one square mile has been excavated.
Contributed by Ellie from Ellies Travel Tips
As one of the best Spring Break spots , Cancun is home to historic El Rey Mayan ruins that were once an important trade route during the height of the Mayan empire. This is the closest Mayan Ruins from Cancun . The best time to visit this archaeological site is early morning to avoid the crowds and intense Cancun sun.
Once you arrive at El Rey, named after ‘the king’ stone sculpture on the site, you can walk among the 47 structures making up these Mayan ruins. It will take anywhere from 20-30 minutes to walk around, however, you may want to stay a little longer to take some pictures and learn about the Mayan culture.
El Rey played a huge role in the Mayan empire’s trading enterprise. In fact, it has been discovered that El Rey had direct communication with the most influential Mayan cities! El Rey was strategically placed on the Nichupté Lagoon for its strong defensive location and access to the Caribbean Sea.
El Rey is relatively small compared to other Mayan ruins in the area, running only 520m north to south and 70m east to west. The Mayan pyramid with the most significance is labeled as Structure 2 – where the base of the original pyramid and temple was constructed. Make sure you also explore the other ruins like Structures 1 and 4 which were historic palaces and administrative buildings for the Mayans.
Make sure to stop at the nearby Cancun Mayan Museum to learn more about El Rey’s history on your way or to these Mayan ruins. Another great Mayan ruin to check out while you are vacationing in Cancun is Tulum—located on top of a cliff by the Caribbean Sea.
Distance from Cancun: 20 minutes Directions from Cancun: Just before the Cancun Airport exit on Highway 307. Minimum Time to see ruins: 30 minutes Closest Ruin: Coba and Ek Balam are both 2 hours from Cancun Closest Town: Cancun
5 Fun Facts About El Rey
- El Rey was linked to hundreds of other Mayan sites by trade.
- Dozens of iguanas roam around the structures of El Rey.
- El Rey is named after a king whose remnants are believed to still remain on the property.
- These ancient ruins hold intricate pieces of art left by the former inhabitants.
- El Rey is located in Cancun’s hotel zone as a convenient morning or afternoon trip within the city.
Contributed by Claudia Tavani from My Adventures Across The World
At a solid 5 hours drive from Cancun, the Ruta Puuc is one of the best places to visit in Yucatan and a fun overnight trip to take if you want to get away from the fantastic beaches of Mexican Riviera Maya .
This lovely 58 km route at the heart of the peninsula comprises 5 sites that are now UNESCO protected- Uxmal is the most popular one; then there are Kabah, Labna, Xlapak and Sayil. The easiest access point to visit is Merida, from where you can take the Ruta Puuc bus, or a guided tour. Alternatively, you can opt for a fun road trip for a day or – if you want to take it easy – even two.
The term “puuc” is used to describe the architectural style of the ruins, which date back between 600-1100 AD. All ruins along the Ruta Puuc are connected by sacbes – ancient pathways.
Uxmal is definitely best enjoyed with a guide: the site is large, there is a lot to see and a guide will be able to share some curious facts about it (ie the ball court where you can hear the echo) and take you to the best viewpoints.
You will find the main complex of Kabah on the eastern side of the Ruta Puuc, but the Gran Piramide (the Great Pyramid) is located on the western side – you’ll have to cross the street and follow a short trail to get there.
If you are planning on visiting all sites, definitely start with Uxmal and plan to be there as soon as it opens to avoid the crowds and the heat of the peak hours – other sites aren’t as popular so the crowds won’t be an issue.
Keep in mind that climbing the pyramids on the Ruta Puuc is not allowed.
Distance from Cancun: 5 Hours Directions from Cancun: 180 D toll road from Cancun to Merida. As you approach Merida you will need to take the ring road toward Campeche (the 180 O). Take the 261 to Uxmal following the signs. Minimum Time to see ruins: 4 hours drive time plus at least 1 hour at each ruin site. Note: The entire distance from Merida centro is 259 km (161 kilometers) and takes about four hours of actual driving time. Closest Ruin: Other ruins in the Ruta Puuc. Closest Town: Merida
5 Fun Facts About Ruta Puuc
- There are 5 sites along the Ruta Puuc
- The Ruta Puuc is 58 km long
- Puuc means “hills” in Mayan and it’s the word that best describes the area, which as opposed to the rest of Yucatan is indeed hilly.
- The most popular site on the Ruta Puuc is Uxmal, which at its peak boasted a population of 25000 people
- Uxmal is a fun place to spot iguanas
Contributed by Jane and Duncan from To Travel Too and Staycation Australia
Uxmal was an important Maya city dating back to the 6th – 10th century CE. It is an important UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the best-preserved in the Yucatan Peninsula.
You should allow 2- 3 hours to explore the site. The best time to visit is in the morning when the gates open at 8 am. If you employ the services of a local guide the tour will be approximately 2 hours and then you can wander at leisure after.
Uxmal is pronounced ‘oosh-mahl’. Uxmal means ‘built 3 times’ which relates to the site being built over 3 times, so the story goes.
The Pyramid of the Magician is the largest structure in Uxmal standing at 35 m tall with 90 steep steps leading to the top.
The Mayans were excellent astronomers. If you visit the site of Uxmal on April 12 or August 13 at sunset you will notice that the door on top of the Pyramid will align to the setting sun in the west.
Other Uxmal structures to visit are:
- The Governors Palace
- The Nunnery
- The Ball Court
- The House of the Turtles
- The Great Pyramid
After visiting Uxmal you can dine at the Lodge which is a few minutes from the Entrance Gate.
The Choco Story Museum is close by to the Lodge. Not only can you enjoy tasting local Mayan hot chocolate and chocolate you can learn about the history of chocolate in the region.
Another Mayan ruin close by is Kabah just 22.7 km away. Kabah is the second largest ruin in the Puuc region, the first being Uxmal.
Uxmal has it all located in one spot which makes it a great day out in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Distance from Cancun: 4.5 hours (382.5 km) Directions from Cancun: 180D through Valladolid and Merida. Minimum Time to see ruins: 2-3 hours Closest Ruin: Kabah Closest Town: Merida
5 Fun Facts about Uxmal:
- Legend states that the Pyramid of the Magician was built by a dwarf in one night.
- 100 stone masks of the Rain God are on the facade of the Governor’s Palace.
- In its heyday Uxmal was home to 25,000 Mayans.
- The central doorway of the Governor’s Palace is aligned to the planet of Venus.
- The Mayan ruins of Labna, Sayil and Kabah are close by and can be visited in one day.
Contributed by Daphna Bar from A Tiny Trip
One of the most magical experiences in the Yucatan peninsula is visiting Kabah .
Kabah is one of the ruins on the Ruta Puuc. During the Classic Period, roughly 600 to 900 CE Uxmal was the main center of the regional civilization. Kabah was connected to Uxmal through a sacbe (road).
A sacbe, (also called a white way) is a paved road built by the Maya civilization of pre-Columbian Mesoamerica. Most connect temples, plazas, and groups of structures within ceremonial centers or cities, but some longer roads between cities are also known.
Kabah is best known for the Palace of the Masks, also known as, Codz Poop. This main structure is decorated with hundreds of stone masks of the rain god Chaac.
Many come to Kabah and spend very little time looking at the Palace and moving on. However, you could easily spend half a day exploring the nooks and crannies and crossing the street to the sacbe to Uxmal. Come first thing in the morning and you may have the ruins to yourself!
Note: There are organized day trips you can book that visit both Uxmal and Kabah .
Distance from Cancun: 4.5 hours Directions from Cancun: 180 D toll road from Cancun to Merida. As you approach Merida you will need to take the ring road toward Campeche (the 180 O). Take the 261 to Uxmal following the signs. You will pass by Uxmal ruins, and bypass the town of Santa Elena on the same road. The entrance to Kabah is on your left. Minimum Time to see ruins: 2-3 hours Closest Ruin: Uxmal Closest Town: Santa Elena (a great place to stop for lunch)
5 Fun Facts about Kabah:
- Kabah is mentioned in the Chilam Balam book from Chumayel, which documented Mayan culture during the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
- Inhabitation of Kabah dates back to at least the Early Classic period.
- Despite being in the Puuc Region, there are architectural elements of both the Petén and Chenes styles.
- If you cross the road to the sacbe you will see the Arch of Kabah.
- There are many parts of Kabah that have yet to be excavated!
San Gervasio Mayan Ruins
Contributed by Shelley Marmor of Travel Mexico Solo
The San Gervasio Mayan Ruins site is located in Cozumel, Mexico. This island is well known for beautiful beaches, and world-class diving and snorkeling in the world’s second-largest reef system, behind the Great Barrier Reef.
Visiting Cozumel Island is one of the best things to do in Playa del Carmen , but also a great day trip from Cancun. From Cancun, take a taxi or the ADO bus to the Playa del Carmen bus station on 5th Avenue, and then walk to the nearby dock and take the ferry to Cozumel.
The whole trip takes just two hours, with half it by boat in the Caribbean Sea, so not too bad! Once you arrive at Cozumel Island, grab a taxi by the dock, or even rent a car or moped, and head to the ruins, located 12-miles away.
Though a smaller archeological site, these are interesting ruins, and in fact, the best ruins in Cozumel. This remote temple site was built in honor of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, healing, and childbirth, and ancient people made pilgrimages to Cozumel to worship there.
As a smaller site, you can explore San Gervasio in about two hours. There aren’t large pyramids to climb, but there are amazing things to see, including the Templo Nohoch Nah, the main altar, and Templo Ka’na Nah de Ixchel, the central temple.
Besides seeing the San Gervasio Mayan Ruins, don’t pass up the opportunity to take a snorkeling tour to El Cielo or Palancar Reef. For divers, there are dive boats that go out a few times a day to all the top spots.
If you rented a car or moped, drive the whole island and check out all the best beaches like Playa Palancar, Playa El Cielo and Punta Sur Eco Park. Head to Cerveceria Punta Sur, Cozumel’s only microbrewery, and have a local beer and bite to eat before taking the ferry back to Playa del Carmen.
Distance from Cancun: 2 Hours (for bus & ferry) Directions from Cancun: From the Playa del Carmen bus station on 5th Avenue, take the ferry to Cozumel. From the ferry, the ruins are an additional 12 miles. Minimum Time to see ruins: 2 Hours Closest Ruin: El Cedral Closest Town: Cozumel
5 Fun Facts About San Gervasio
- They were constructed in honor of Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of the moon, healing, and childbirth, and many Mayan women made the pilgrimage to this site at least once in their life to pay homage to her.
- San Gervasio is the largest Mayan Ruins site on Cozumel Island, though only about one-fourth of it is open to the public.
- This site, located in the center of Cozumel Island, is a popular hangout for the local wildlife — so be on the lookout for peccaries (small wild pigs), coatis (AKA coatimundis), and iguanas.
- The age of the site is unknown, but archeologists believe it was abandoned between 1520-1600, after the Spanish arrived.
- Head to the Las Manitas (little hands) building and be on the lookout for the small red handprints on the wall — this structure was named after these handprints and was the once-home and private sanctuary to a Mayan ruler.
San Miguelito & Scorpion’s Temple Archaeological Sites (In Cancun)
If you’re staying in Cancun, you don’t need to trek all the way to Chichen Itza or Tulum to see ancient ruins in Mexico.
There are two Cancun Mayan Ruins sites in Cancun. One is located on the Park Royal Cancun Beach Resort hotel property called the Scorpion’s Temple. The temple dates to the Late Post-Classic Period (1200-1500 A.D.)
It was given its name due to a scorpion’s sculpture found in one of the walls of the temple. From the temple, there is also an amazing view of the beach and sea.
The other site is One is San Miguelito. Both ancient Mayan ruin sitea are located in the Cancun Hotel Zone. If you are interested in a longer sta, here is a great 5 day itinerary for Cancun .
What to Bring on a Mayan Ruin Day Trip
If you are planning a day trip to visit any of the Mayan Ruins or Archaeological Zones Near Cancun, there are a few things you should bring along.
- Mosquito repellent like the DEET Free Murphy’s Naturals Lemon Eucalyptus Spray
- Sunscreen like Reef Repair biodegradable SPF 50+
- Light rain jacket (never know when you’ll get a short rain shower in the Yucatan)
- Water (It can get very hot, especially in the summer months).
Heading to Cancun? Check out my printable packing checklist for Cancun !
Mayan Ruins Tours
Prefer an organized tour rather than exploring on your own? Below are the best Mayan ruin tours as well as tours that include a cenote visit.
- Coba Mayan Ruin, Mayan Chocolate Tasting & Tankach-Ha cenote
- Tulum and Cenote Dos Ojos Tour
Cancun with Kids – Tour Recommendations
- The best kid-friendly tour in Cancun is the Cenote Day Tour which takes you to four amazing cenotes where you will swim, snorkel, and zipline. (Kids need to be 6 years or older.) Swimming in a cenote (a sinkhole filled with cool freshwater) is the highlight of any trip to the Yucatan and this is an easy way to see four really unique ones. Tour includes hotel pickup, lunch, snorkel gear, and life vests.
- Another fun kid-friendly tours is the Tulum Ruins & Turtle Swim Combo Tour . This 6-hour package combines 2 amazing activities. First, you’ll step back in time at the Tulum Mayan ruins. Later, you’ll swim and snorkel close to the marine turtles and a variety of multi-colored fish in the protected environment of the Caribbean sea.
The Best Time To Visit Cancun
13 Gorgeous Cenotes of the Yucatan (Cancun, Tulum and Valladolid) Best Mayan Ruins by Cancun (Easy Day Trips) Cancun Packing List with FREE downloadable checklist
Cancun is a good year-round destination but the best weather for a family vacation is between December and April. Summer can get fairly hot and late summer also adds the possibility of hurricanes. When visiting Mayan Ruins by Cancun in the summer months, you’ll want to arrive early and bring plenty of drinking water.
Read More About Cancun
- 13 Gorgeous Cenotes of the Yucatan (Cancun, Tulum and Valladolid)
- 10 Fun Day Trips Near Riviera Maya & Cancun
- 50+ Fabulous Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico (The Ultimate List!)
- The Ultimate Packing List for a Cancun Vacation (with printable checklist)
Recommended Cancun & Yucatan Travel Resources
- Travel Insurance: World Nomads .
- Best Sites to Research Flight Prices: CheapOAir and Skyscanner
- Best Hotels in Cancun (Reviews): TripAdvisor
- Best Car Rental in Cancun
- Brush up on your Spanish with a Free lesson with Babbel
- Must Bring Items for a Cancun, Mexico vacation !
Pin for Later!
Read More About Mexico
- 13 Gorgeous Cenotes Near Cancun
- Best Things to do in Rosarito Beach, Mexico
- Where to Eat, Play and Stay: Top Things to do in Puerto Peñasco, Mexico
- 3 Day Baja Mexico Cruise from Long Beach on Carnival Imagination
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Alexa Meisler is the editorial director of 52 Perfect Days. Born in Paris, France she has since lived in Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Portland, Oregon. She currently resides in San Diego with her husband and son where they enjoy exploring California and Mexico.
Travel has always been a part of her life; traveling to such places as Morocco, Tangiers and Spain as a young child as well as taking many road trips to Mexico with her grandparents as a young girl. Since then, she has traveled abroad to locations such as Russia, Taiwan and throughout Europe.
Prior to working at 52 Perfect Days she was a freelance travel writer; focusing on family and women’s adventure experiences.
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Best Mayan Ruins Tours near Cancun, Mexico
Posted on May 26, 2023 | Julie J. |
Last Updated on August 3, 2023
After having lived in the Yucatan Peninsula for over 2 years and having visited extensively the region, I can tell you a trip to Cancun wouldn’t be complete without visiting at least one or two Mayan archaeological sites.
The Riviera Maya and the Yucatan Peninsula are great places to see Mayan ruins, with some of the most beautiful Mayan sites in America . With tons of things to do along the Riviera Maya , make sure you add one or two archaeological sites to your itinerary.
BEST MAYAN RUIN TOURS FROM CANCUN
Don’t have time to read the whole article? The hands-down best choices are either this Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling, Cenote and Caves Tour with over 2,800 5⭐️ reviews or this Chichen Itza Early Access, Cenote, Tequila & Traditional Lunch Tour
Chichen Itza, a UNESCO world heritage site , is definitely the most famous Mayan ruins near Cancun, but there are tons of different options, some way less frequented, that you can visit easily from Cancun.
Read on to discover the best Mayan ruins tours from Cancun you can easily do as day trips , from popular sites to hidden gems!
HELPFUL WEBSITES TO HELP YOU PLAN YOUR TRIP
Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on any links and make a purchase, we’ll get a small commission, at no cost to you.
My Top 3 Picks: Best Mayan Ruins Tours from Cancun
Chichen Itza Early Access & Cenote
⭐️Rating: 4.5/5 ✔ Lunch & Tequila included ✔ Early access to beat the crowds and the heat ✔ Hotel pick up available
Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling, Cenote, and Caves
⭐️Rating: 5/5 ✔ Several must-do activities in one day trip ✔ Lunch & water included ✔ Hotel pick up
Coba & Tulum Ruins Day Trip
⭐️Rating: 5/5 ✔ 2 Mayan ruins in one day trip + 1 cenote ✔ Guided tour + time on your own to explore ✔ Hotel pick up
What are the closest Mayan ruins to Cancun?
There are a few Mayan ruins near Cancun, but most major archaeological sites in the Yucatan Peninsula can easily be accessed as day trips from Cancun.
Here are the closest Mayan ruins to Cancun:
- El Rey Ruins: Located within the Hotel Zone of Cancun, the El Rey Ruins are the closest Mayan ruins to the city. This archaeological site features the remains of a small ceremonial center and several structures, including temples and platforms. Yamil Lu’um, El Meco, and San Miguelito are also just a short taxi drive from the hotel zone.
- Tulum: While not as close as the El Rey Ruins, Tulum is still relatively accessible from Cancun. It is situated about 130 kilometers (80 miles) south of Cancun. Tulum is renowned for its scenic coastal location and the well-preserved ruins of a walled Maya city overlooking the Caribbean Sea. ▶︎ BOOK A TOUR TO TULUM FROM CANCUN
- Cobá: Cobá is located approximately 160 kilometers (100 miles) west of Cancun. It is known for its large network of ancient Maya roads (sacbeob) and the towering Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding jungle. ▶︎ BOOK A TOUR TO COBÁ FROM CANCUN
🗿 Ready to book your Cancun Mayan ruin tour now? I recommend this tour to Chichen Itza (probably the best Mayan site to visit in Mexico!). The tour includes early access to the ruins to beat the crowds and the heat, a guide, a swim in a cenote, and tequila and lunch. ▶︎ BOOK NOW
Best Mayan Ruins Tours from Cancun
1 – chichen itza early access.
⭐️ Rating : 4.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 11 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Chichen Itza Early Access Tour is one of the best overall Mayan Ruins trips Cancun has to offer, with hundreds and hundreds of 5-star ratings.
The best part? You’ll enjoy early access to the site, beating the crowds and the heat.
“ Incredible day!! Best advice is DO THE EARLY ACCESS. You beat the crowds, the heat and if you are lucky, you get Marco as your tour guide. He was a great source of knowledge and he took the best Instagram pictures. “
– HENRI (READ MORE REVIEWS )
When you think of Mayan ruins near Cancun, Chichen Itza automatically comes to mind. El Castillo, the most famous Mayan pyramid is a unique sight , walking through this ancient city, you’ll learn everything about the Mayas and their traditions.
The site is pretty big, many structures have been found and excavated. Chichen Itza is one of the best restored Mayan sites in Mexico and a must-see.
The Chichen Itza Early Access allows you to gain early access to the site avoiding the crowds and the heat. It’s a great tour as it gives you free time to explore on your own as well as a guided tour with a licensed tour guide who will explain the history of the ancient city and tell you all about Maya culture and traditions.
After the visit, you can get a buffet-style Mexican lunch (the tour operator can accommodate special diet needs.
After lunch, you’ll head to a nearby cenote to go for a swim and do a tequila tasting before heading home. Pick-up and drop-off are included for most hotels in Cancun.
2 – Tulum Ruins Visit and Swim in Two Cenotes Guided Tour
⭐️ Rating : 4.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 10 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Tulum Ruins Visit and Two Cenotes Guided Tour is one of the best overall Mayan Ruins trips Cancun has to offer, with hundreds and hundreds of 5-star ratings.
The best part? You can combine a visit to an archaeological site with a swim in two cenotes.
“ We had a great time on this trip! The ruins + cenotes are a perfect combination for a day trip. Our guide and driver were also wonderful. Thanks! “
– GENNA (READ MORE REVIEWS )
Tulum is renowned for its scenic coastal location and the well-preserved ruins of a walled Maya city overlooking the Caribbean Sea. It was a prominent Maya trading port during the Postclassic Period (900-1521 CE).
It reached its peak between the 13th and 15th centuries and was known as Zama, meaning “City of Dawn” in the Maya language. Tulum was a walled city and served as a gateway to maritime trade routes. The Temple of the Frescoes and El Castillo are notable structures within the site.
The tour will start with a guided tour of the Tulum ruins with a knowledgeable guide then you’ll head to an area with 2 cenotes: Chen Há and Mariposa (one underground and one open-air) where you can take a dip in the refreshing water, lounge on the side, and gaze a the beautiful natural scenery.
Pick-up and drop-off for most hotels in Cancun are included . Lunch is not but, that way, you get to pick where and what you want to eat.
You’re sure to spend a memorable day on this Tulum Ruins and Cenotes Guided Tour from Cancun.
3 – Chichen Itza, Cenote, & Valladolid Tour
⭐️ Rating : 4.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 12 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Chichen Itza, Cenote, & Valladolid Tour is another great option to consider when looking for Chichen Itza tours from Cancun, not only do you get to visit the ruins but you get to swim in a cenote and visit the charming colonial town of Valladolid .
“ One of the best tours, they are very organized and well planned. They picked us up on time and the tour guide was very good !!! “
– MANU (READ MORE REVIEWS )
This tour includes pick-ups and drop-offs, all transportation, a guide, and lunch. You’ll start by visiting Chichen Itza with a licensed guide, then head to the underground Saamal where you’ll find restrooms, lockers, changing rooms, and life jackets.
A buffet-style lunch will be served before heading to Valladolid where you can stroll around the main plaza, see the colorful colonial buildings, and shop for souvenirs.
You’re sure to spend a memorable day on this Chichen Itza, Cenote, & Valladolid Tour .
You should know: This tour is one of the most affordable Chichen Itza tours from Cancun, but it means traveling with a large group of people – so it’s a great pick for travelers on a budget, but not so much if you’re not a big fan of big group tours. Also, the entrance fee for Chichen Itza is not included (it’s not included in most tours), count 35 USD per adult and 5 USD per child.
4 – Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling, Cenote, and Caves
⭐️ Rating : 5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 8 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling, Cenote, and Caves Tour is another great option to consider when looking for Tulum tours from Cancun, not only do you get to visit the ruins but you get to go snorkeling and swim in a cenote inside a cave.
“ Amazing trip from start to finish. Our guide arrived exactly on time to pick us up, he was very knowledgeable about Tulum, the snorkeling was amazing and beautiful. The cenote was by far the best experience, everyone agreed it was the highlight. This is a can’t-miss experience! “
– LISA (READ MORE REVIEWS )
You’ll get to tour Tulum ruins with a guide then enjoy some free time to explore on your own . Afterward, go on a boat trip to reach a beautiful reef full of colorful fish and corals where you can snorkel.
Lastly, you’ll head to the rainforest where you’ll swim and snorkel in the crystal-clear fresh waters of a massive cenote , and marvel at the thousands of spectacular stalagmites and stalactites around you.
You’re sure to spend a memorable day on this Tulum Ruins, Reef Snorkeling, Cenote, and Caves Tour .
5 – Tulum, Coba, & Cenote: Full-Day Tour
This Tulum, Coba, & Cenote Full-Day Tour is a great option if you want to visit two Mayan ruins in one tour! This tour has hundreds of 5-star reviews , and best of all, it includes a stop at a cenote!
“The cenote was amazing, very good lunch, and the tour guide was very good. Coba and Tulum are worth seeing.”
– YAQUELINE (READ MORE REVIEWS )
Cobá is known for its large network of ancient Maya roads (sacbeob) and the towering Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which offers panoramic views of the surrounding jungle. It’s a must-see Mayan ruin in Mexico that you can easily visit on this tour from Cancun.
The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, transportation, a licensed guide, and lunch. You’ll tour two Mayan ruins: Cobá and Tulum then take a dip in a refreshing cenote.
This Tulum, Coba, & Cenote Full-Day Tour is perfect for anyone wanting to visit Mayan ruins near Cancun.
6 – Ek Balam, Valladolid, and Hubiku Cenote
⭐️ Rating : 5.0 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 12 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Ek Balam, Valladolid, and Hubiku Cenote is perfect if you want to do several activities in one day . Visit Mayan Ruins, explore a colonial town, and take a dip in a cenote.
Ek Balam is smaller a site but feels more authentic. Surrounded by dense jungle, you can still climb two of the main pyramids and get a stunning view from above . The carvings there are spectacular and unique, some of the best you’ll see outside a museum.
Start your day exploring the ancient ruins of Ek Balam with a knowledgeable guide who will tell you everything there is to know about the site and the Maya people. You’ll then get some free time to explore on your own.
Then you will head to the semi-open Hubiku cenote where you can swim for a while and enjoy the natural beauty of the place. After this, a traditional Yucatan meal will be served ending with a tequila tasting .
The last stop is the charming colonial city of Valladolid where you can stroll around the main plaza, see the colorful buildings, visit the church, and shop for souvenirs.
This Ek Balam, Valladolid, and Hubiku Cenote Tour is definitely a fun day trip from Cancun that is perfect for people wanting to visit a less-visited site to avoid crowds!
7 – Merida, Uxmal, and Cacao Museum Day Trip from Cancun
⭐️ Rating : 3.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 12 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Merida, Uxmal, and Cacao Museum Day Trip from Cancun is a great option if you want to visit a less frequented and more out-the-beatten-path Mayan site. The tour is private so you can follow the typical itinerary or adapt it.
And, best of all, you get to explore the charming colonial city of Merida and see how chocolate is made .
“This was one of the best excursions I have ever been on. The guide did an excellent job, showed amazing hospitality of what Mexico has to offer – definitely don’t miss out”
– SARAH (READ MORE REVIEWS )
Uxmal is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the most beautiful Mayan ruins near Cancun. Less visited than its neighbor Chichen Itza, Uxmal is huge and offers a lot of different edifices to explore. There are several majestic pyramids you can climb on top of and smaller structures with beautiful carvings .
After having picked you up at your hotel, the driver will take you to Uxmal where you can explore the site and get on top of some pyramids to enjoy stunning views over the rainforest. Next, you’ll head to Merida where you can stroll around cobblestone streets and see colorful buildings.
The day ends with a tour of the Cacao Museum where you’ll get to see how chocolate is made from the bean to the bar.
An alternative would be to skip Merida and the museum and visit the Ruta Puuc instead and tour the smaller site of Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, and Labna instead, Just ask if it’s possible when booking the tour.
For an epic Mayan ruin tour from Cancun, this Merida, Uxmal, and Cacao Museum Day Trip from Cancun is a perfect choice.
Note that it takes 4 hours to get to Uxmal from Cancun so be ready to spend a lot of time in the car.
8 – Private Day Tour from Cancun to Izamal with Lunch
⭐️ Rating : 4.8 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 12 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Private Day Tour from Cancun to Izamal with Lunch will take you deep into the Mayan jungle to explore sacred cenotes before touring the ancient city of Izamal.
Izamal , nicknamed the Yellow City, is one of Yucatan’s cutest Pueblos Magicos (Magical Town). This village has kept its colonial architecture, with paved streets and traditional houses, all of them, painted yellow. Along the charming streets, you’ll find several Mayan ruins, sparkled here and there.
Around 6 archaeological sites have been identified and excavated within the town. The main pyramid, Kinich Kakmo, is the country’s third-largest Mayan structure.
You’ll spend your morning swimming in different cenotes known as the Cuzama cenotes reaching them via a train cart pulled by horses. After lunch (included), your next stop will be in Izamal where you can tour the town and the Mayan ruins.
See Mayan ruins in one of Mexico’s cutest towns and swim in impressive underground cenotes on this Private Day Tour from Cancun to Izamal with Lunch .
9 – Full-day tour to Tulum and Jungle Maya Native Park with Ziplines & Cenotes
⭐️ Rating : 5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 10 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Full-day tour to Tulum and Jungle Maya Native Park with Ziplines & Cenote is a great option if you want to go on a fun adventure, explore Mayan ruins, ziplines through the rainforest, rappel down a cenote, and visit an underground river.
“We were very pleased with our experience. The staff was on time, very helpful and nice, encouraging with the adventure parts, and knowledgeable on the history of the Mayan culture in Tulum. 10/10 recommend.”
– BERG (READ MORE REVIEWS )
Start the day by exploring the ruins in Tulum with a local guide before heading to the Jungle Maya Native Park.
There, discover the beautiful Sac-Actun System, the longest underground river in the world . Snorkel while surrounded by ancient rock formations, wander in the majestic Mayan jungle, rappel down and swim in the beautiful Yaaxmul cenote . You’ll also do ziplining and see an authentic Mayan blessing ceremony.
Lunch and pick-up/drop-offs are included.
For an adventure-filled day, this Full-day tour to Tulum and Jungle Maya Native Park with Ziplines & Cenotes is a perfect choice.
10 – Priority Access: Xcaret Day Trip + Night Show + Transportation
⭐️ Rating : 4.5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 6 to 12 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
This Xcaret Day Trip + Night Show + Transportation is great if you want to mix culture, wildlife, and adventures. Many activities are included and you can get add-ons or an upgraded package depending on what you want to do.
“That park from top to bottom is worth the money. The plus package is 100% worth it and saves you money in the long run. Food was amazing and park was fantastic.”
– CIAN (READ MORE REVIEWS )
Xcaret is an eco-archaeological park located in the Riviera Maya, near Cancun and Playa del Carmen. It showcases the natural beauty, history, and culture of the Yucatán Peninsula. While it is not a traditional Mayan ruin site, it does include some Mayan elements and attractions.
The Pre-Hispanic ruins at Xcaret are distributed at the back of the cove, on the Tropical Jungle Trail, behind the stage of the Papantla Flyers, and between the Open Forum and the Aquarium.
At Xcaret, visitors can explore underground rivers, swim in cenotes (natural sinkholes), and enjoy various ecological and cultural activities . The park also features replicas of Mayan temples, traditional Mayan performances, and exhibits that provide insights into the ancient Mayan civilization.
This tour includes transportation to and from your hotel and entrance to the park with priority access – make sure to check what activities are included or not.
This Xcaret Day Trip + Night Show + Transportation is a perfect tour to spend a day exploring that popular attraction and visiting its Mayan ruins.
11 – Chichen Itza Sunrise and Cenote Ik Kil from Cancun
⭐️ Rating : 5 out of 5 Stars | ⏳ Tour Length : 6 to 8 hours | 🗿 Check Rates and Availability
If you don’t mind waking up early, this Chichen Itza Sunrise and Cenote Ik Kil from Cancun Tour is a unique way to visit one of the best Mayan sites near Cancun.
Best of all, it’s a private tour so you get to spend time with your group only!
“We had a great time learning from Gabriel the history of the Mayan people and the ruins. He was also very punctual. The cenote swim and buffet lunch at Ik Kil was very refreshing and delicious respectively. Would book with this tour company again!”
– JENINE (READ MORE REVIEWS )
This private sunrise tour to Chichen Itza lets you avoid the crowds and heat . You’ll see the ancient Mayan city as the sun rises over its ruins. Afterward, you’ll have the chance to t ake a dip in the famous Ik Kil cenote .
As this is a private tour, the itinerary is flexible and you can add on another archaeological site, such as Ek Balam, Coba, or Tulum.
For an epic Mayan ruin tour from Cancun, this Chichen Itza Sunrise and Cenote Ik Kil from Cancun Tour is a perfect choice.
What to Pack for your Mayan Ruin Tour near Cancun
- Bring sunscreen (biodegradable if you’re going to swim in the cenotes), a cap or hat, and long light clothes that’ll protect you against the sun.
- Pack natural mosquito repellent .
- Bring plenty of water and snacks, you’ll find shops in the most popular sites but maybe not in the smaller ones.
- Wear comfortable shoes, you’re going to walk a lot.
- If your tour includes a swim in a cenote, make sure to bring a towel and a change of clothes.
- Make sure you know some basic travel Spanish phrases.
Mayan Ruins Around Cancun FAQ
Are there mayan ruins in cancun.
Yes, there are four Mayan ruins in Cancun that are just a short taxi drive away from the hotel zone. These four Mayan ruins in Cancun are El Rey, Yamil Lu’um, El Meco, and San Miguelito
What are the best Mayan ruins to visit in Cancun?
The “best” Mayan ruins to visit in Cancun will depend on you’re preference. While Chichen Itza is the most popular, it’s also the most touristy. For something just as stunning with lesser crowds, Uxmal and Ek Balam are good options.
How far are the Mayan ruins from Cancun?
While there are a couple of Mayan ruins within Cancun, many can easily be visited as a day trip from Cancun and are within a 3-hour drive.
How safe is it to visit Mayan ruins in Cancun?
Visiting Mayan ruins near Cancun is as safe as it gets, especially if you’re on a tour.
Can you still climb the pyramid at Chichen Itza?
No, you can’t climb the pyramid at Chichen Itza, but you can climb some pyramids in Uxmal, Cobá, and Ek Balam.
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Best Mayan Ruins Near Cancun: Surprising El-Rey, Beautiful Tulum and More
By: Author Rob Taylor
Posted on Published: July 23, 2022 - Last updated: September 19, 2023
Some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun are also the easiest to access. We’ve picked the best Mayan ruins to visit on the Eastern Yucatan Peninsula, basically most near Cancun, to add to a fun, interesting Caribbean Mexico vacation. These spots can either be visited as day trips or shore excursions from cruise ships.
One of the most cool and unique aspects of touring the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico is the abundance of Mayan ruins. The Mayans were spread all across the Yucatan and down into Belize, Guatemala and beyond. They left behind thousands of small and large structures on the beaches and in the jungles. Having spent many days exploring the Yucatan Peninsula, these archaeological sites are some of the most fascinating things to do near Cancun.
Best Mayan Ruins Near Cancun to Visit
Starting directly in Cancun and heading south and west, these are the best Mayan ruins near Cancun to visit on your beach vacation. This list is NOT inclusive of every single ruin or archaeological site, but these are the ruins that are closest to Cancun and Tulum. These sites you can visit on your own or do a tour to Mayan ruins with a local guide.
Any of these Mayan ruins can be added to your itinerary as a half or full day trip.
El Rey Mayan Ruins, Cancun
Before visiting the El Rey Mayan ruins in Cancun, I’d asked several friends for their opinion on visiting. I was told to skip El Rey Archaeological Zone in Cancun . They said that since it’s in the hotel zone it’ll be crowded and not very impressive.
Not true. And nope: don’t skip it. I love visiting El Rey Mayan ruins in Cancun for the exact opposite reasons.
Yes, El Rey is conveniently located in Cancun’s hotel zone, but once inside you’d never know it!
The El Rey Mayan ruins are directly in the hotel zone of Cancun, but it’s actually wonderful. I was THE ONLY ONE THERE when I arrived and for most of my visit. Well, it was me and a hundred iguanas. As far as a photography paradise goes, El Rey is a perfect 10.
While the overall structures weren’t towering and impressive like you think of when you hear the term “Mayan Ruins” the site was beautiful and ideal for a calming, relaxing stroll and taking beautiful pictures of wildlife and small-scale structures.
How to Visit El Rey Mayan Ruins in Cancun
If you are staying in Cancun’s hotel zone , you can easily walk or get dropped off at El Rey Archaeological Site. Parking at El Rey is complicated, as there is only a small lot on the side of the road just north of the entrance. The lot isn’t well marked, so if you miss the entrance drive a bit and do a U-Turn to get back to it.
Plan on arriving at El Rey first thing in the morning you’ll get the best light for photographing the ruins. Also, the iguanas haven’t been scared away by any tourists yet, so there’ll be lots out!
Cost : El Rey is about $5 USD for entry (as of Aug 2022). It’s well worth it, particularly if you can be there when nobody else is.
Also in Cancun : Ruinas San Miguel is another archaeological site directly in the hotel zone of Cancun. It’s not as withdrawn as the El Rey ruins, but if you’re staying in Cancun, you might as well pay them a visit. Also called San Miguelito, these Mayan ruins are located within the grounds of the Mayan Museum of Cancun.
Tulum Ruins National Park Archaeological Zone
South of Cancun, past Playa del Carmen, is the town of Tulum . It’s not difficult to get from Cancun to Tulum , so it’s an easy visit to plan and well worth it! The short trip down to Tulum is much closer than some of the more famous ruins further inland, making Tulum some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun.
Book a tour from Cancun to visit the Tulum Archaeological Zone !
The Mayan ruins of Tulum are very different from what you’ll see at El Rey in Cancun. Tulum is an enormous site with many well preserved and strong standing structures. They’re exceptionally beautiful, particularly set against the Caribbean Sea.
The majority of the structures are small, but clearly set up in the layout of a community. There are broad lawns between the structures and lot’s of benches for sitting and taking it all in.
Tip : be sure that you do all of the trails along the bluff, as you’ll get to enjoy both the gorgeous Caribbean view as well as snap some cool photos of the ruins juxtaposed against the sea. Really something to behold!
How to Visit the Tulum Ruins from Cancun
Arriving at Tulum, you’ll park your car and then have the option of renting bikes or walking to the Mayan ruins. It’s a twenty minute walk from the parking area to the start of the Mayan ruins, so be prepared.
Tip : rent the bikes at the entrance to the Tulum National Park site. It’s well worth it due to the distance from the parking area to the actual ruins and then the beach. You’ll be glad you did, especially when you’ve been walking for a long while with sand in your shoes.
Once at the actual national park entrance you can head directly into the compound or walk to the right and do the loop through the Mayan ruins backwards. There’s no wrong way.
Tour option : If you’re staying in Cancun, this tour is a good option to visit the Tulum ruins.
In addition to the ruins of Tulum , there is also beach access. Upon completing the loop through the ruins, head south (to the left). The beach is a long stretch and it’s got several sandy restaurants along it. It’s quite the walk from the ruins though, so be prepared for the walk there are back.
Tulum Ruins National Park is a beautiful and fascinating place, so take your time to enjoy it. It’s not worth an entire day, or at least won’t take up an entire day. I would recommend three hours tops if you’re including beach time. Visiting the Tulum ruins is best when paired with other things to do between Tulum and Cancun.
Note: if you’re doing a Western Caribbean Cruise and coming into the Costa Maya Cruise Port , Tulum is a land tour option usually, as it’s located north of Costa Maya. Take into consideration that the transport time between points is more than 2 hours though if you plan to book it.
When to Visit: while we are usually about doing activities early in the day, Tulum National Park is best in the afternoon. The glow of the golden hour is gorgeous and makes for unforgettable views. Also, there should be fewer people at the Tulum ruins in the late afternoon.
Cost : the Mayan ruins at Tulum are about $10 per person to visit. This can be paid just before you enter the actual ruins site or as part of a tour if you are not visiting on your own.
Also in Tulum : Muyil Archaeological Site has some very impressive structures and it’s not as well known as Tulum. If you have extra time and cannot get enough of the other Yucatan Mayan ruins, plan a morning visit to Muyil for a different sort of Mayan site.
Favorite of the Best Mayan Ruins Near Cancun: Coba Archaeological Site
After visiting El Rey in Cancun and then the National Park in Tulum, I was really excited to visit the Mayan ruins at Coba . I’d heard that they were really different from Tulum’s ruins and it was true. They were amazing, and for sure the best Mayan ruins near Cancun.
Much different than other ruins / archaeological sites, Coba has several pyramids and a very different layout… and the complete site is HUGE.
Without giving away the farm, let’s just say that the site at Coba was incredible and I would recommend it to anybody visiting Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. If you talk with travelers who’ve spend a fair amount of time on the Yucatan Peninsula and have visited several Mayan ruins sites, many recommend the archaeological site at Coba over Chichen Itza, and I think I know why. For a more detailed account of what to expect at Coba, check out this article and video from my visit.
Need to Know for Visiting Coba Ruins
The Coba ruins are a bit more of a drive than visiting Tulum, as you actually have to leave the coastal corridor. Plan for a two hour drive to go from Cancun to Coba. You’ll have time after your visit to make lots of stops on the way back to Cancun, so get the initial drive done as a straight shot.
Get to Coba as early in the day as possible. If you’re climbing the great pyramid, it gets hot and if you’re out of shape, you’ll be extra glad to climb it in cooler temperatures. Also, tours tend to arrive not long after the archaeological site opens, so if you can beat the tourist crowd, great!
Note : if you’re heading to Coba and don’t want to read the full article I published, take heed – rent a bike at the start of the park or jump on a bicitaxi. From the entrance back to the Great Pyramid is much much farther than you expect and the transportation assistance is really helpful.
Visiting Chichen Itza
Of all the Yucatan Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza may be the most famous, and also it’s one of the best ruins near Cancun for its updated tourist experience. Being an enormous temple and structure complex, visiting Chichen Itza is a half-day activity actually on-site. It does get a TON of tourist traffic, but it is famous for a reason.
Being very grand, well manicured and full of tourist friendly exhibits, Chichen Itza is a very good option.
While it is incredible, it’s the last of the recommendations due to its location. It can indeed be a day trip from Cancun, but heading so far inland, it would make sense to visit Chichen Itza as part of a larger tour plan and to include some wonderful Mexican towns and natural beauty, such as the many cenotes you’ll pass on your way to the grandest of Mayan ruins.
Travel tip : If Chichen Itza is on your bucket list and you want as much time there as possible, consider staying in Valladolid or Merida overnight. Valladolid is very close and is itself a beautiful town with lots of great sights to see. Merida is much larger and is more of the picturesque Spanish colonial city, but it’s also more touristy, so you pick.
Did you know there were so many Mayan ruins near Cancun to explore on the Yucatan Peninsula? I know! Crazy and so cool! Exploring the ruins is a very unique experience if you’ve not traveled to Greece or Italy , so be sure to plan a visit to at least one of the sites, as these are the best around and ideal to add some history to your Cancun vacation.
More Mayan Ruins Near Cancun to Visit
There are Mayan ruins all over the place! If you’re doing a trip to Isla Mujeres or Cozumel, you’ll actually find ruins on both islands. On Isla Mujeres you’ll find the Ixchel Ruins at the southern tip of the island. On the Island of Cozumel is the Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio. This is a large site and worth the trip!
Even walking around in downtown Playa del Carmen you’ll find small portions of Mayan ruins. Near the ferry terminal and in the neighborhoods near the beach are small, ancient buildings, overgrown but beautiful. And we can’t forget to mention Xcaret , which is both a theme park and an archaeological site. Go for the ruins, have fun in the water.
Photographing Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
Spending a whole day going from ruins to ruins is tiring, so it’s best to plan your days visiting just one per day. This is where you have the opportunity to plan your itineraries to get the best lighting at each of the archaeological sites. Low light, meaning light coming from a lower point in the sky, will give the best shadows and prevent each of the Yucatan Mayan ruins sites from being completely washed out in your photographs.
No, I’m not talking about washed out photos while shooting with 35mm film, but with a basic digital camera or even a camera phone. Strong direct light from above will do two things:
- reflect bright white light directly off the ruins causing unbalanced photos
- make the site a hot one and all of the iguanas will be in hiding
Photographing Mayan ruins is a real treat and planning your visit to ensure the best lighting, temperatures and crowds is all to your benefit. The best of the Yucatan is waiting and we all owe it genuinely good photography to preserve our memories of visiting through the years.
Planning a Visit to the Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
I guess you could just fly into Cancun (CUN) and not have a plan for your trip and see where you end up. OR you could make a simple itinerary and visit some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun, or even IN Cancun, along with your beach days. Consider the following when planning your trip to Cancun: where to stay, what activities you want to do, and when you want to visit Mayan ruins in the middle of all of it.
Where to Stay Near Mayan Ruins
Most people visiting the Yucatan will be staying in one of the larger tourist areas, such as Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum, all of which have Mayan ruins very nearby or even directly in town. As you make your decision about where to stay, consider the following activities that you’ll want to be close to:
- the Mayan ruins of the Yucatan
- the soft sand beaches
- or the jungle cenotes
There are spots that all three intersect or are very close, so choosing what’s most important to you will help determine where you’ll stay. If you don’t have a car, and choose to stay up in Cancun, check out this great article explaining how to get from Cancun to Tulum .
You’ll find beaches all along the Caribbean side of the Yucatan and most are picture perfect, but to find the ideal spot that puts you close to endless opportunities for exploring ruins and more is tricky. Even Isla Mujers , an island near Cancun has ruins on it, but then you’re far from the jungles and cenotes.
Check out the variety of hotel and vacation rental options around Cancun or Playa del Carmen. There are some really unique places to stay between Cancun and Tulum.
Playa del Carmen is the most centrally located place to stay and there is plenty of fun and wonderful food to be had there. Our top pick for a home base when you’re touring the Yucatan Peninsula or Cancun area, particularly if you’re planning to visit the best Mayan ruins, is Playa del Carmen.
Tip : I stayed at the Club Yebo Hotel in downtown Playa del Carmen and really enjoyed both the accommodations and the location of the hotel. With kitchenettes and plenty of quiet relaxation space, it’s a great find.
Additional Things to Do Near Cancun Besides Ruins
I recommend planning an itinerary that allows you to have ample beach time, including swimming with sea turtles at Akumal where you’re nearly guaranteed to see sting rays and turtles, as well as where you can easily do a day trip to the Mayan ruins of your choice. You’ll find cenotes everywhere, so research which ones you want to visit to be sure you’re not wasting your time at a lame one when you can swim at an awesome cenote .
You’ll find that some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun have museums attached to them or nearby. In Cancun and Chichen Itza you’ll find wonderful exhibits in several languages, so visiting the museums is very easy, even if you don’t speak or read Spanish. Near some of the ruins in Playa del Carmen, you’ll find the Frida Khalo Museum and all kinds of shopping activities downtown.
Tip : book the Frida Khalo Art Tour in Playa del Carmen for a really cool experience in town!
As you plan your itinerary for visiting attractions and Mayan ruins near Cancun, consider some of these interesting things to do. You’ll love having breaks from the beach and getting a complete experience of the culture and sights around Cancun.
If you have any questions or suggestions, leave a comment below so others can hear your advice or inquiry. And you can always send us a note with your own Mayan ruins ideas too!
Want to pin this for later when it’s time to plan your own Yucatan road trip? Go for it!
Tuesday 1st of June 2021
Love reading these posts. Next time check out Ek Balam! By far my favorite in the Cancun to Tulum area and not nearly as busy as Coba, Chichen Itza or Tulum ruins. Also great cenotes nearby.
The 13 Best Mayan Ruins in Cancun and Nearby to Visit in 2023
During your trip to Mexico, you have the opportunity to learn about great cultures and the Mayan Ruins in Cancun are a getaway to the Mayan Culture.
Mexico is the cradle of fascinating prehispanic cultures such as the Aztec, Holmecs, and the Mayans. The Mayan territory included the coast of the Mexican Caribbean where the popular touristy cities of Cancun Playa del Carmen or Tulum are now located.
In this post, we are going to talk about the Mayan ruins in Cancun and the ones that are close enough to make an amazing day trip.
We hope you will enjoy exploring these areas as much as we do 🙌🛺
INSIDER TIPS – When you are organizing your trip to these areas you could combine different sites, for example, a visit to an archeological site with a refreshing cenote or to a nearby beach where you can cool off after a few hours of walking in the hot sun.
The main goal is to have fun and we are sure you will, in this paradise that we are lucky to call home.
I am sure, unless you live here too, you will need more days to see it all but we will do our best to guide you through the best plan for your vacation, no matter how many days you have.
➣ When renting a car in Mexico we recommend Discover Cars because on their website you can compare different companies and their prices and you can choose between their car insurance or the ones offered by the car rental directly, or both.
Table of Contents
MAYAN RUINS IN CANCUN ON THE MEXICAN CARIBBEAN COAST
The Mayan Ruins that we are recommending in this section are located along the coast of the Mexican Caribbean.
From Cancun to Tulum there are many Mayan ruins some of which are unrightfully ignored. We will take you there too! so, stay tuned, and let’s start exploring 👀🌎
1. MAYAN RUINS IN CANCUN: EL REY
Entry fee: 70 MXN
Hours open: 9 AM — 4:30 PM
Distance from Cancun: It’s located on km 18.5 on the Boulevard Kukulcan in the Hotel Zone.
Services: parking and restrooms. You can hire the services of a specialized guide (not always available)
These ruins are the most beautiful in the Cancun Hotel Zone. The Archaeological site of El Rey is located right opposite the popular Playa Delfines, where you find the colorful CANCUN letters in front of the spectacular turquoise colors of the Caribbean sea.
You can get to El Rey very easily by using the local busses that run along the hotel Zone R-1 and R-2.
The El Rey Ruins offer an amazing walk across what remains of the old structures and lush vegetation populated by many funny iguanas.
We recommend visiting the ruins before heading to Playa Delfines beach where you can bask in the sun, take long walks, or challenge yourself with some surf lessons.
You can also rent beach chairs and sunshades.
2. EL MECO ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE IN CANCUN
Hours open: 8 AM — 4 PM last access to 16:30 PM
Distance from Cancun: 7 km/ 4.3 miles from the bus station in downtown Cancun
Services: parking and restrooms
El Meco is one of our favorite spots in Cancun. When we were both living in Cancun we used to meet up at el El Meco on a Sunday where we would ride our bikes. We sit by a tree listening to birds and chatting away. It is in fact a great place for birdwatching too.
The archeological site of El Meco is located in Puerto Juarez, one of Cancun’s neighborhoods where the ferry to Isla Mujeres leaves from.
There is a local bus that will leave you right by the entrance of the site. Also close to the site you will find a lot of nice restaurants by the sea where you can have a lovely breakfast or lunch.
The Meco is a small site immerse in tropical lush vegetation, and it’s also home to a family of coaties (sort of raccoons) that may pay you a visit if you stay long enough.
Beautiful secular trees are watching over the site as well and offer some cool shade where to take some rest and enjoy the sound of nature
El Meco is indeed one of our favorite places in Cancun 😉
👉🏽ENJOY ALL THE SECRETS AND INFO ABOUT EL MECO
3. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA SAN MIGUELITO
Entry fee: 80 MXN
Distance from Cancun: located at km 16.5 of Avenida Kukulcán along the hotel zone.
Services: parking, coffee shop and restrooms
San Miguelito ruins are accessible through the Cancun Maya Museum, the best museum in Cancun or the Riviera Maya to learn about the Mayan world.
It’s located at km 16.5 of Bulevar Kukulcan in the hotel zone and only 2 km away from the archeological site El Rey.
You can get there by local transportation Bus R1 or R2 which runs along the Boulevard Kukulcan. San Miguelito is a small site that makes a great complement to your visit to the Museum.
4. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA CALICA
The Archeological zone of Calica is the lesser known among all the ruins near Cancun. It’s actually located 8 km south of Playa del Carmen and 78 KM from Cancun.
You can get there by public transportation or by car.
If you decide to use the public transport keep in mind that you will need to get to Playa del Carmen first, either by colectivo bus or ADO bus, and from Playa del Carmen you will need to get the colectivo towards Tulum and ask the driver to drop you off at Calica Ruins (supposing he knows where it is:))
One of the main structures of Calica ruins, “El Templo de las Columnas”, still conserves a spectacular mural on its facade.
This is one of the most representative mural paintings of the region, a beautiful hidden treasure.
It’s always worth exploring beyond the obvious. 😉
Entry fee: free
Hours open: You need to book your visit with Centro INAH Quintana Roo with at least 7 days’ notice at this email addres .
Distance from Cancun: 78 km/ 48.4 miles
5. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA XAMAN HÁ
Hours open: You need to book your visit with Centro INAH Quintana Roo with at least 5 days’ notice at this email address .
Distance from Cancun: 72.5 km/ 45 miles
Xaman Há is a lesser-known archeological site located in Playa del Carmen. Just like its neighboring Mayan cities it belonged to a network of very important ports from the year 1000 A.D.
Also, its location right in front of Cozumel Island played an important part in its development as a commercial center.
We haven’t personally visited this site yet but we are planning to go soon and we will be able to offer more detailed information. 🛺🌎
In the meantime, if you happen to be around before us, make sure you check it out as well. It’s located in the residential area of Playacar in the heart of Playa del Carmen on the beach side.
Here below we will leave a map to make it easier for you to get there.
6. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA XCARET
Entry fee: 85 MXN
Hours open: 8 AM — 5 PM
Distance from Cancun: 76 km/ 47.2 miles
First, let’s not confuse the Xcaret archeological zone with Xcaret park.
In fact, do not need to buy a ticket to the Xcaret Park to visit them, you only have to pay the INAH entrance to the archaeological site.
With the ticket, you have the right to parking, restrooms, and the main store of the Xcaret park.
Being in front of the island of Cozumel, helped Xcaret to become one of the most important ports on the Caribbean coast with the most considerable commercial traffic, especially between the years 100 and 1500 A.D.
With the arrival of the Spanish conquerors, the port continued to be used, where we can now see a small church from the 16th century.
7. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA XEL-HÁ
Hours open: 8 AM — 16:30 PM
Distance from Cancun: 114 km/ 70.8 miles
Services: parking and restrooms. You can hire the services of a specialized guide
The ruins of Xel-Há, as well as those of Xcaret, are hidden by the two recreational parks that bear their names, the famous Xcaret and Xel-Há parks.
It is not necessary to pay the expensive park entrance fees to get to the archaeological zones as they both have their own entrance.
We like the Xel Há ruins very much, it is an area nestled in nature where it is very pleasant to take a walk and surprise ourselves with several mural paintings of its buildings.
It is not very visited, and this is another reason why we like to recommend it.
👉🏽READ MORE ABOUT XEL HA RUINS
8. ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA TULUM
Hours open: 9 AM — 4:15 PM
Distance from Cancun: 136 km/ 84.5 miles
Services: parking, restaurants and restrooms. You can hire the services of a specialized guide
The ruins of Tulum are without a doubt the most visited in Quintana Roo.
With its spectacular location, facing the beautiful Caribbean sea, Tulum is the postcard of the Mexican Caribbean and is the main reason it receives so many visits.
Just like its neighboring cities, Also Tulum was one of the most beautiful and important ancient Mayan ports.
However, we see many more complex structures in Tulum compared to the other smaller site, which makes it more spectacular and interesting to visit.
Actually, there are a couple of buildings that you can only see by taking a boat tour from Paradise beach as there is no trail that leads there.
We advise you to go early because the only thing we don’t like about this site is the huge crowds who visit it daily.
Tulum archeological site is located 128 kilometers from Cancun, and you can combine the visit with another of the old Mayan cities, with a cenote or a beach.
We can assure you that this is an area of the Caribbean that you don’t want to miss. 😉
👉🏽ENJOY ALL THE SECRETS AND INFO ABOUT TULUM RUINS
▼ CHECK OUT SOME TOURS HERE BELOW ▼
ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA MUYIL
Hours open: 9 AM — 16:15 PM
We continue along the coast talking about the most important ports in this strip of the Mexican Caribbean.
The ruins of Muyil opened their sea route to the Caribbean Sea through the lagoons that form the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
The Muyil ruins are not very large ruins, but their tropical surroundings make them a very special place.
It is located only 25 kilometers south of Tulum.
We love Muyil for the perfect combination of culture and nature that you can experience there.
The 500-meter path that leads you to the Muyil lagoon makes it very special. We recommend combining Muyil with a tour of the lagoon and its floating channels, to make the most of your time 🙌
Or you can combine it with a nearby cenote.
👉🏽READ MORE ABOUT MUYIL RUINS
▼ CHECK OUT SOME GUIDED TOURS HERE BELOW ▼
CANCUN RUINS THAT ARE LOCATED INLAND
The Mayan ruins that we recommend in this section are those found in the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula, and you can do them on a roundtrip day tour from Cancun or any of the other cities in the Caribbean coast such as Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos or Tulum.
ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA COBÁ
Distance from Cancun: 176 km/ 109.3 miles via Tulum
Cobá is the archaeological zone of the state of Quintana Roo with the highest temple: the pyramid of Nohoch Mul with its 42 mt of heights and its spectacular views from the top.
Coba lies on a vast territory and there is a path of almost 2 kilometers that leads you to the temple, which is something we consider a gift as it will allow you to walk inside the Mayan Jungle.
If you don’t feel like walking, worry not, as you can rent a bike, or hire a trycitaxi inside the site.
Coba is situated 40 kilometers from Tulum. You can combine your trip to Cobá with a beach, cenote, or other archaeological sites.
There are very good combinations to spend a fantastic vacation in the Riviera Maya.
We also like to spend a couple of nights in the town of Cobá, go very early to visit the ruins and enjoy the Cobá cenotes, which are also amazing hidden treasures.
Both ruins and cenotes are best enjoyed early in the morning, less hot and with fewer crowds.
👉🏽DISCOVER MORE ABOUT COBA RUINS
ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA EK BALAM
Entry fee: 496 MXN
Distance from Cancun: 172 km/ 106.8 miles
Ek Balam is one of the most beautiful archaeological zones to enjoy on your trip through the Mayan world.
A magical place, with wonderful views from the top of its most emblematic buildings.
The colossal Acropolis treasures the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’t Tok, the Mayan governor who brought Ek Balam to its splendor.
It feels simply amazing to be in front of those giant jaws of a jaguar made of stucco, which lead you to the interior of the tomb, to the Mayan underworld.
You can combine a perfect day in the area with one of the wonderful cenotes in the surroundings.
After visiting Ek Balam in the heat, it’s always a good idea to cool off in one of the beautiful and lesser-known cenotes in the area! 🙌
👉🏽THE SECRETS ABOUT EK BALAM RUINS
ZONA ARQUEOLÓGICA CHICHÉN ITZÁ
Entry fee: 614 MXN
Distance from Cancun: 7 km/ 4.3 miles
Chichen Itza is the most visited archaeological zone in the Yucatan Peninsula and Chiapas.
The structure known as the Castle or Temple of Kukulcán is a Wonder of the Modern World, the emblematic symbol of the place, and an essential stop in Mayan lands.
To avoid meeting the many tourists that visit Chichen-Itza every day, you may want to visit in the morning.
This is something that we value a lot on our trips and we always love to recommend it.
The great buildings of Chichén Itzá are impressive, you will not see a Ball Court as big as the one in Chichén 😲
From Cancun or the Riviera Maya to Chichen-Itza it’s quite a long trip, so you may want to combine the visit with one of the nearby cenotes where you can enjoy the refreshing waters.
If you don’t want to rent a car, which is something we always recommend, we leave some of the top-rated tour links here below for you to check.
👉🏽KNOW THE SECRETS TO EXPLORE CHICHEN ITZA RUINS
TIPS FOR VISITING CANCUN RUINS
✅ Use comfortable light clothing and shoes (very important to climb the big temple, flip flops are not a good idea to climb).
✅ Sunshades, hat.
✅ Bring a bottle of water and keep in mind that you cannot walk in with food or alcoholic drinks.
✅ Big backpacks are not permitted
✅ You can hire a certified guide at the entrance
✅ On Sundays, the entrance is free for Mexican and foreigners with permanent residence.
✅ Access to the Mayan ruins is open every day for kids up to 12 ys old, students, teachers, and seniors (must show ID)
CANCUN RUINS MAP
We make maps to facilitate the exploration of ruins and cenotes 🤗
CANCUN RUINS FAQ
What is the best mayan ruin to visit in cancun.
If you ask us about the best Mayan ruin to visit in Cancun, we choose Ek Balam, Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Tulum, Muyil, and Xel Há.
Can you go to the Tulum ruins without a tour?
Of course, here is some information on how to visit Tulum on your own.
Can you swim at the Tulum ruins?
Tulum ruins have a small beach where usually people can enjoy some swimming and sun time unless they decided to close the beach for unknown reasons. Sometimes it happens.
Can you still climb the pyramid at Chichen Itza?
The pyramid of Chichen cannot be climbed, although the best way to appreciate this special place is to observe it from the base, it really is a wonderful tribute to the knowledge of time.
Which Mayan ruins can you still climb?
There are many Mayan Ruins that you can still climb, including Cobá and Ek Balam.
In Cobá you can climb the 42mt building Nohoch Mul, the tallest in Quintana Roo, while in Ek Balam you will visit the colossal acropolis which is 31 mt tall.
Can you go to Chichen Itza without a tour?
It’s not required to book a private tour or guide. In fact, many travelers choose to rent a car and drive themselves around for a more flexible schedule and that’s what we also recommend doing.
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These Mayan ruins near Cancun are off the beaten path, yet super close by and away from crowds.
Yamil Lu’um Ruins
San Miguelito Ruins
El Meco Archaeological Site
El Rey Ruins
Obviously some of the biggest draws of traveling to Cancun are for the INCREDIBLE beaches and sunny weather. Those are pretty much a given.
There’s another attraction too though – and that’s the chance to see some history in the form of ancient Mayan Ruins. I mean, you can’t say that having the opportunity to see pyramids in Mexico isn’t a pretty cool thing to do.
While it’s awesome to book an excursion for this, the thought of spending hours on a tour bus might not sound overly appealing to everyone. Most of the well known Mayan ruins near Cancun are quite far ( hours ) away from the main resort areas.
Luckily, you don’t have to venture far from your hotel or spend all day out in the blazing sun in order to see some of them.
There’s actually a few great Mayan ruins in Mexico that you don’t know about, and they are much closer by.
That means you can easily visit them on your own, within a couple of hours and WITHOUT gazillions of other people! YAY!
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– Easy To Get To
– Less Touristy
– Kid Friendly
– Photos Without Other People In Them!
Sounds pretty good right?
Mayan Ruins Near Cancun You Can Easily Get To On Your Own
The el rey ruins.
There’s more than just hotels, shopping and bars in the Cancun Hotel Zone. While it may seem out of place in a resort area, the resorts are actually built all around and probably on top of these ancient Mayan civilizations.
Easily get to the El Rey ruins by hopping on any of the busses going in the right direction. You’ll find it across the street and a couple blocks south of Playa Delfines on the lagoon side.
It might look a bit hidden but you just have to find the stairs to go down. If you’ve rented a car to get around Cancun, there is free parking at Delfines Beach and on the same side of the street as the ruins.
The El Rey ruins are a small site but you’ll find it uncrowded and it only costs $55 pesos to get in. It’s a great price but unfortunately there isn’t any signage to explain the structures.
If you want, guides can be hired for around $200 pesos to help illustrate what they were used for. It will probably much more interesting if you understand what the ruins actually are.
The archaeological site is comprised of 47 structures for you to explore and check out. If you look closely, you should even be able to see what remains of ancient paintings on some of the stone walls.
The best part about the El Rey ruins? That you actually can get close, because unlike other more popular places – you’re allowed to climb the ruins here!
You should be aware though, there isn’t much shade at this ruin site so it’s best to visit earlier in the day. Although it shouldn’t take you more than 30 minutes to an hour to see the entire site without a guide. Overall, it’s an inexpensive and easy way to see some Mayan ruins in Cancun.
Related Post: The Best Cenotes In Mexico You Need To See – The Ultimate List
If you’re looking for Mayan ruins near Cancun that are off the beaten track, the El Meco archaeological site is worth a visit.
Located north of the hotel zone, between Puerto Juarez and Punta Sam, El Meco is about 15 – 30 mins away depending on where you are staying in the hotel zone. You can easily reach these ancient ruins by taxi or by combination of bus and taxi.
Just take the bus to Puerto Juarez ($12 pesos) and then a short taxi ride (about $50 pesos) from there. If you’re driving, parking is free.
One of the best things about the El Meco ruins is that you’ll only be there with maybe a handful of other people. You might even find that you have the WHOLE SITE TO YOURSELF , if you go early – there’s no crowds here! It’s a smaller site but the structures are in good shape and it’s fairly close by.
The El Meco archaeological site includes a big main Castillo, plenty of shade to escape the sun and lots of iguanas. El Castillo stands 41 feet high and is the only Mayan pyramid that’s actually located in the Cancun area.
The ruins here have been roped off to protect the structures and so they unfortunately can’t be climbed. For just $50 pesos ($3 USD) though, it’s super affordable. And if you want to see some Mayan Ruins in Mexico but don’t want to take a whole day and travel for hours, why not.
The area isn’t huge so you can probably walk around the entire site in about 30 minutes to an hour. Go in the morning and you can easily be back at the hotel for lunch and beach time. You could even combine it with a day trip to Isla Mujeres since you’re so close to the ferry terminal.
Signage on some of the structures helps explain what these buildings were or what they were used for long ago. Sometimes you might find guides on site as well and you can hire them to explain the structures to you. Being a smaller, lesser known site though, don’t expect anything like you would of an extremely famous place like Chichen Itza.
Do remember to bring water along as there isn’t anywhere on site to buy any but there are bathrooms available. The ocean is just across the street with restaurants close by so you can grab an authentic mexican meal outside of the Cancun hotel zone.
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Museo Maya de Cancun and San Miguelito ruins
North of the El Rey Mayan ruins on the ocean side is where you’ll find the Mayan Museum of Cancun. Located next to it, there is also another small archaeological ruin site, San Miguelito.
Visiting the Cancun museum is a great way to learn about the history of the Mayan people. You’ll find out how they used to live through their exhibits of ancient artifacts, photos, maps and stories.
The ruins of San Miguelito were only just opened to the public in 2012 at the time the Museo Maya was built. It’s believed that the site was once connected to the close by El Rey archaeological zone; however, with hotels and a golf course on that land, they don’t know for sure.
Admission is only 75 pesos (they don’t accept USD) and it’s within walking distance from many of the resorts. It’s also a quick bus ride away on the R1 or R2. You can access the ruin site by following the path that leads from the museum. All of this is included in the price of your ticket.
The museum itself is air conditioned and the restored Mayan ruin site has plenty of shade from the trees. This makes it a great way to escape some of the heat or give you something indoors to do on a rainy day.
Give yourself around 1-2 hours to see the entire exhibit, including the ruins outside.
You will find that most of the signage in the museum is in both English and Spanish which is helpful. The Mayan ruins outside also have descriptive signs that are in both languages. There are some parts inside the museum that are only labelled in Spanish but tour guides can be hired for a reasonable rate if you want full explanations for all the artifacts.
*Another great way to get the most out of your visit, without hiring a guide is to download a language translator app beforehand. Then you have the ability to translate any of the signs for yourself that aren’t in English. Google has one which is available for both iPhone and android.
If you’re wearing a big backpack, you probably won’t be allowed to bring it with you inside. But they do provide free lockers to keep your things safe while you tour the museum. All in all, it’s an inexpensive way to spend a couple of hours in Cancun that isn’t the beach or bar.
Yamil Lu’um, the Mayan ruin on the beach
Another one of the Cancun ruins in the hotel zone is the very small Yamil Lu’um right along the ocean.
This one is located just above the beach on the highest point of land, next to the Park Royal Resort. It’s technically on resort property but visitors are allowed to access it from the beach and it’s free. So sure, it will definitely feel like you’re trespassing – but just act like you belong there!
If you’re staying at a hotel close by, then just walk along the beach to find it. Otherwise, I don’t recommend going out of your way to visit this ruin if you aren’t staying within walking distance. The ruin is pretty small, with just one structure that stands beside a hotel and overlooks the ocean. It’s still interesting to look at but not enough to make a special trip for, in my opinion.
Because of where it’s situated, up high and by the ocean, Yamil Lu’um was most likely used as a lighthouse or watchtower. Sadly, it seems the resorts might have possibly even been built on top of the rest of the Cancun ruins that this was a part of.
So there you have it, four Mayan ruins near Cancun that you can quickly and easily visit on your trip!
Things to bring
- Sunscreen , Hat
- Comfortable shoes
Have you been to any of these ruins? Comment below!
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Top Tips for Visiting Mayan Ruins in Cancun (Chichen Itza & More)
Are you planning to explore the Mayan Ruins near Cancun but aren’t sure where to start? From getting there early to taking plenty of water to beat the heat, here are our top tips for visiting.
Cancun is one of the best places in the world to get some tropical sun and knock back some beach cocktails, but it’s also home to some of the most impressive ancient ruins in Mexico.
Long before Digital Nomads were soaking up the sun along the Riviera Maya, the Mayans were building vast cities that you can still explore today.
Here’s how to plan your visit to the Mayan Ruins, both Chichen Itza and Tulum, when you’re staying in Cancun.
Table of Contents
Mayan Ruins Cancun: How To Guide
We love Cancun for many reasons. Sure it’s busy and touristy, but there are few other places in Mexico that are so well connected, have guaranteed sunshine and offer so many white sand beaches. But we also love Cancun for its Mayan ruins, which are criminally overlooked in our opinion!
Sure, spending some time on the beach is the first stop, but exploring the ancient Mayan Ruins is a great way to find out more about the history of Mexico. Cancun sits on the Yucatan Peninsula’s eastern shores, but thousands of years before property developers realised the value of its climate and coastline, Mayan civilizations emerged from the forests of Central America.
Cancun became an integral link in the Mayan trade networks stretching across the Yucatan Peninsula, and important cities developed in places like Tulum and Cozumel. Of course, Chichen Itza was the greatest city of them all, and it’s easy to visit the world-famous ruins on a day trip when you’re staying along the Riviera Maya.
Best Mayan Ruins To Visit Near Cancun
Mayan ruins abound in Mexico, and you can delve deep into the past as you explore ancient temples, sacrificial cenotes and the ruins of Mayan ball courts.
Within day-tripping distance of Cancun’s ‘Hotel Zone,’ you have countless archeological sites offering a unique insight into Mayan history. If you want to experience more of Quintana Roo and the Yucatan Peninsula, then why not make an excursion to the Mayan Ruins?
You’ve got lots to choose from, but the closest ruins to Cancun include:
1. Chichen Itza
The crowning destination amongst Yucatan’s Mayan Ruins, Chichen Itza is a 3-hour drive from Cancun, but the long day trip is worth it to see the Temple of Kulkulkan. This is the steep, distinctive pyramid that rises high above this ancient Mayan city, and we’re certain you’ll have already seen the photos!
Don’t try climbing the pyramid (it’s off bounds), but do admire the historical remains around you. Chichen Itza developed from around 750 AD onwards and was the focal point for trade and religion in the region for many centuries after. The city’s decline began in the 13th century AD, and by the time the Spanish Conquistadors arrived in the 16th century, the jungle was already reclaiming the ruins.
Tulum is home to one of the best Mayan Ruins, and it’s an easy day trip away from Cancun. Located just under a 2-hour drive from the Hotel Zone, you’ll love how the crumbling ruins are found right to the Caribbean Sea.
Part of the Tulum Archeological Zone, the Tulum Ruins are much younger than other Mayan sites in the region. The small city only began to expand in the 12th century AD, at the same time that Chichen Itza began to decline. It was a thriving trading hub when the Spanish arrived, but by the end of the 16th century, the Conquistadores had forced Tulum to be abandoned.
A short drive inland from the Tulum Ruins brings you to the jungle-clad remnants of Coba. Built around two freshwater lagoons, the earliest archeological finds here date back to 50 BC. Coba was inhabited until the Spanish arrived, but as with many Mayan cities, it was abandoned towards the end of the 16th century.
Today, Coba is one of the rawest archeological sites to visit when you’re in Cancun. Many of the ruins have yet to be excavated, while the temples are still shrouded in vines. You can even climb to the top of the main pyramid, although this may not remain the case for long!
4. Ek Balam
Mighty Ek Balam is so often overlooked by tourists visiting Chichen Itza. From the top of Ek Balam’s tallest temple, you can even see the ruins of Chichen Itza across the forest ahead of you, and the two cities were fierce rivals for many centuries.
Ek Balam rose to greatness before Chichen Itza became the region’s great power, and the city is thought to have still been inhabited when the Spanish began their conquest of the Yucatan. Despite this, Ek Balam’s ruins have yet to be fully excavated, and you’ll feel a little like Indiana Jones as you climb temples and explore overgrown palaces. Ek Balam is a 2-hour drive from Cancun.
5. Museo Maya de Cancun
Surprisingly, you don’t actually need to leave Cancun’s Hotel Zone to find Mayan Ruins. Just a short walk from many of the major resorts, you’ll find the little-visited Museo Maya de Cancun . This excellent museum has a collection of artifacts that tell the story of the Mayan World, and it’s a great place to learn more about local history.
The museum is set around several distinct Mayan Ruins which are in various states of excavation and disrepair. San Miguelito is the main one, while El Rey is also popular. While not nearly as impressive as Chichen Itza, they’re an excellent warm-up for the bigger ruins further away.
Just north of Cancun, you’ll find the small-scale ruins of El Meco. Also little-known, El Meco is home to one of the highest temples in the Yucatan, although again, it’s not as tall as Chichen Itza’s Temple of Kulkulkan!
El Meco dates back to at least 200 AD, and the small city had trading links to all the other cities, like Ek Balam and Chichen Itza. It’s just a fifteen-minute car drive from Cancun’s Hotel Zone, but despite this proximity, you’ll be one of the few tourists there.
7. Temple of Ixchel
Take the boat over to Isla Mujeres and you can visit one of the most fascinating Mayan Ruins near Cancun. Now devoted to holidaymakers seeking white sands and serene sunsets, Isla Mujeres was once devoted to the Goddess Ixchel.
The Mayans built a grand temple to Ixchel, who was associated with fertility and childbirth. You can still find the ruins of the temple on the island today, although there’s little left compared to the ruins of cities you’ll have already explored on the mainland.
8. San Gervasio
Jump on the ferry to Cozumel Island, and you can visit yet another temple dedicated to the goddess of fertility and childbirth. On the resort island, you’ll find the overgrown Mayan Ruins of San Gervasio, which are also thought to have been dedicated to Ixchel.
The low lying structures have been retaken by nature, and the wild ruins are now partly a wildlife reserve that helps sustain the local iguana populations. It’s a great addition to your itinerary if you’re heading over to Cozumel, where you can also find excellent diving and snorkelling, alongside beautiful beaches.
You can find plenty of sustainable Cancun vacations here, which can provide you with an excellent way to discover more about Mayans and the architecture they built, while also exploring more of Mexico than just Cancun!
However, before you start exploring, it’s time to plan your trip. Here’s how.
Top Tips For Visiting Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
The two most popular Mayan ruins to visit near Cancun are Chichen Itza and the Tulum Archaeological Zone.
They are both worth visiting in their own right, however, they should be done on separate days to make sure you have enough time at each. You could also work each of them into a day-trip, while visiting the nearby Mexican Pueblos, Cenotes and other ruins like Coba and Ek Balam.
Here are 5 tips to help you make the most of your visit to the Mayan ruins near Cancun.
1. Plan Your Trip
Plan your trip to help you make the most of your days out from Cancun.
Not all ruins are close to each other and therefore planning your itinerary helps you to optimise your time at each of the archeological sites.
If you are visiting the most popular Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza , you need to know how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza and what modes of transport are available. If you’re in a hurry, you’ll want to join a day tour from Cancun, but if you’ve got more time, you could plan a route using the local ADO buses to save money. You can take buses from Cancun’s bus station right to the ruins, or you could rent a car.
READ MORE: How to Rent a Car in Cancun or Tulum
2. Always Carry a Water Bottle
The Yucatan Peninsula is a hot place to visit. That’s all part of the region’s draw, but you need to be prepared by carrying plenty of water!
Most of these locations are far away, and therefore you want to ensure that you have access to plenty of water. Also, it means that you don’t have to buy single-use plastic bottles that are harmful to the planet.
3. Dress Well
While you are exploring these ancient ruins you also want to dress the right way.
Stick to loose comfortable clothing with a breathable fabric to ensure that you can beat the heat while you are exploring these ancient Mayan ruins.
Always wear a hat or cap that can help you to stay cool, and keep direct sunlight from hitting your eyes and face. You can also wear some light-coloured clothing to help you manage the heat.
4. Bring Some Cash
When you are traveling from Cancun to any of these ancient ruins, you will need to carry some local cash with you. Dollars can also be fine, but you will be charged a higher rate.
While there are plenty of hotels and restaurants and cafes that accept credit cards, many of these isolated ruin locations have local vendors that do not accept cards at all.
Having some petty cash will help you buy some local foods, drinks, and souvenirs during your trip!
5. Go Early
One of the best ways to explore these ancient ruins is to take a guide along that can help you understand the structures and architecture.
If you have your own private guide, they can usually arrange for you to get there early and avoid the tourist rush. If you’re a real early riser, Chichen Itza also offers super early entrance tickets, although they’re very limited in number. These tickets give you sunrise access to the archeological site, which means you’ll be able to photograph the ruins without the crowds.
READ MORE: Our Complete Guide to Visiting Tulum
Frequently Asked Questions about Visiting Mayan Ruins from Cancun
The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza are located approximately 90 miles west of Cancun. The ruins at Tulum are located about 125 miles south of Cancun.
There are several Mayan Ruins in Cancun, including El Rey. The most famous Mayan ruins are Chichen Itza and Tulum, located approximately 90 miles and 125 miles away from Cancun, respectively.
El Rey and El Miguelito are the closest ruins to Cancun. The closest large Mayan ruins to Cancun are Chichen Itza and Tulum Ruins.
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8 Best Ruins to Visits near Cancun
At the westernmost end of the Caribbean, Cancun stands as a very popular exotic attraction. It is mostly known for its luxury hotels, paradise beaches, and of course, ancient ruins. The city, seaside resorts, and beautiful beaches have helped tourism grow in Cancun. However, you shouldn’t be deceived if you’re the exploring type. Quintana Roo has the richest history of all Mexican states, sprinkled with countless ruins and temples that tell the story of great ancient Western civilizations – the Maya. While Northern and Central Mexico were inhabited by the Aztec, and Central America by the Inca, the Yucatan peninsula is covered by the traces of the best astronomers of old, making the entrance into the Mayan world. With this in mind, we’ve uncovered the 8 best ruins near Cancun you should visit on your next trip.
Table of Contents
The town of Tulum became popular because of the Mayan ruins in its proximity. They are the best-preserved ruins near Cancun. On arrival, expect to see stunning exotic scenery and it’s even better at sunrise. The city thrived due to its position near the sea. Besides the picturesque views, you can go down the beach after the visit for a swim in the Caribbean Riviera. It is best to go in the morning before it gets crowded. If you like souvenirs, the nearby kiosks have some very exquisite pieces of art but be prepared to negotiate.
- Opening hour s: 8am- 5pm
- Entry Fees : $4; free on Sundays
- Address: Yucatan Peninsula, 110 minutes from Cancun
Located right at the heart of the hotel area, El Rey is another abandoned Mayan city. It is on the Kukulkan boulevard which crosses the strip of land around the Nichupte lagoon. The ruins consist of 47 structures including a temple and a burial site. While the entombed figure is unknown, the murals will let you delve back into the ancient community and give you a better idea of their society. Though the name of the site, meaning The King, comes from its presumed royal importance. Tours stop here regularly and it’s a great stop for families with young kids.
- Address: Cancun Hotel Zone, 30 minutes from Cancun
3. San Gervasio
Situated on the lush island of Cozumel, the ruins of San Gervasio hide a particularly long history of Mayan ruins. What makes San Gervasio unique is the intact preservation due to the lack of restoration on the site. You’ll also see the local iguana population along with the jungle surroundings. This gives the area a very authentic atmosphere similar to the old Maya society.
- Opening hour s: Daily 9am-5pm
- Entry Fees : $9.50; free for children under 10 yrs
- Address: San Miguel de Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico; 2 hours 40 minutes from Cancun
This architectural site is home to the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. The site is rich in exotic vegetation, colorful birds, and scurrying iguanas. While hiking the pyramid ruin is the main attraction, there are plenty of other smaller structures around the area. You can explore the site on foot or on rented bikes.
- Opening hour s: Daily 8am-5:30pm
- Entry Fees : $4
- Address: 45 minutes North West of Tulum, 2 hours from Cancun
5. Ek Balam
The newest discovered ruins in Yucatan, Ek Balam (“black jaguar”) is located near Valladolid. Its architectural style makes this site truly different from the rest. The main buildings are located in the South and Central Plazas. You’ll see the ruins as you head down the sacbes (limestone roads). These roads are similar in design as in Coba, matching the directions of the cardinal points.
- Opening hour s: Daily 8am-5pm
- Address: Ekbalam, Yucatan, Mexico; 2 hours from Cancun
Uxmal was another important Mayan city, housing more than 20,000 people. It is not as crowded as other ruin sites. Uxmal has an eerie feeling in the air, perhaps due to the famous Magician’s pyramid. This ruin features a combination of jungle shade, spacious surroundings, and nearby accommodations. It’s a great day trip for travelers looking for some peace and quiet.
- Entry Fees : $7.50
- Address: Yucatán, Mexico; 4 hours 30 minutes from Cancun
7. Chichen Itza
Deemed one of the 7 wonders of the new world, no journey would be complete without visiting Chichen Itza. It is one of the most iconic pyramid images in Latin America. Chichen Itza stands as testimony to the genius of the ancient civilization. It is an astronomical structure, used as a huge clock and calendar. This is one of the best-preserved ruins in Mexico.
- Opening hour s: 8am-4:30pm
- Entry Fees : $15
- Address: Yucatan, Mexico; 2 hours 30 minutes from Cancun
8. Underwater Museum
This place has nothing to do with ancient Maya civilization, but it is no doubt occupied by the most beautiful ruins in Mexico. These are the coral reef statues of the Underwater Museum. The site comprises of over 500 PH-neutral sculptures depicting human figures, still life, and structures. You’ll see these at the bottom of the ocean at the initiative of Jason deCaires Taylor. It is an attempt to rebuild the coral reef in an artful manner. The museum can be visited either by scuba diving or on a glass-bottom boat tour.
- Opening hour s: Daily 9am-2pm
- Entry Fees : Tour from 50 USD
- Address: Cerrada Las Golondrinas Lote #24, Zona Hotelera, 77560 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico
Check Tours Official site
Of course, there are many other cultural and historical attractions in Cancun, but if you want to see well-preserved ruins and learn about the Mayan past, Cancun is the place to be. Also read:
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Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
If you want to take a summer vacation to Mexico , why not head to beautiful Cancun in the Riviera Maya? Located on the Yucatan Peninsula, the region is home to miles of white, sandy beaches and sparkling Caribbean Sea waters. The area is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world thanks to the year long warm climate that is ideal for outdoor activities. Top activities include snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, and more. Also, there are swimming holes to explore known as cenotes that formed where limestone is exposed. Also, no trip to Cancun is complete without visiting the local Mayan ruins in the area, that are part of Mexico’s rich heritage and culture; there are multiple archaeological sites near Cancun including Chichen Itza, Cobá Ruins, Tulum Ruins, and El Rey.
Keep reading more about the top 4 Mayan ruins to visit near Cancun.
For starters, many people recognize Chichén Itzá as one of the most famous Mayan ruins in the country. To get there, it takes about 2 hours to drive from Cancun. There are many tour operators that pick up visitors in Cancun, and return them after the day trip exploring the ruins. The main highlight is the famous El Castillo pyramid which is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World . At one point, Chichén Itzá was the most populous city in the entire Yucatan Peninsula. Impressive architecture and ancient secrets of the Mayans have been uncovered during in-depth site excavations. The main structure has nine platforms, a single stairway, and a temple containing human remains. In addition, a jade-studded jaguar throne and Maya sculpture of an abstract male figure reclining and holding a bowl used as a receptacle for sacrifices known as Chac Mool was discovered at the site.
Secondly, the Cobá Ruins are a fun place to explore if you go on vacation in Cancun. Located 2 hours southwest of Cancun, many of Cobá’s buildings were constructed in the middle and late Classic period from about 500 to 900 AD. In fact, some of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions have been estimated to be as old as the 7th century. Cobá was once an urban hub of many settlements that were joined together by roads called sacbee which are unique to this Mayan city. The roads range in width from 10 to 30 feet and were built by the Maya for commerce. The longest road is 62 km/100 km long, and fifty others have been discovered. The main tower is known as Nohoch Mul and measures 42mt tall (137ft), and it’s one of the few high pyramids left that visitors can still climb.
Thirdly, the Tulum ruins are another beautiful archaeological site to explore in the Riviera Maya. Tulum is a resort town on the Caribbean coast located around 130 km south of Cancun. The Tulum ruins are estimated to have been constructed sometime between the years 1200 AD and 1450 AD. The 13th-century, walled Mayan archaeological site at Tulum National Park overlooks the Caribbean Sea so visitors will enjoy amazing views while they explore the ruins. There, the top landmarks include the clifftop watchtower El Castillo, and the Templo de las Pinturas which contains a partially restored mural. Make sure to read the signs at each site to learn about the site’s history or you can hire a guide to escort you around the ruins for around $30 dollars.
Last but not least, there are actually ruins located within the hotel zone of Cancun . Known as the El Rey ruins, they are located just 2 miles from Cancun’s popular Playa Delfines. Archeologists have concluded that many of the Mayan people inhabited not only Mexico, but also parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, and Honduras. As far back as 1800 BC, the first inhabitants were living in the area. Later, the site was abandoned when the Spanish arrived in the 1700’s. Today, the El Rey Ruins have 47 stone structures that are still in decent shape. Make sure to wear comfortable clothes and shoes when you visit so you can climb the structures as you explore the site.
During your next trip to Cancun, make sure to visit Mayan ruins so you can learn more about the country’s rich heritage. If you’re looking for another fun tour to attend, check out the Jolly Roger pirate show adventure. One of Cancun’s top tours , the Jolly Roger pirate ship is a 17th century replica that always impresses visitors. Both day and evening tours are available, and guests will be wowed by the world class entertainment that includes acrobatic fighting, a gourmet dinner , premium open bar , and live musi c and dancing. Also, Jolly Roger pirate ship tours can be combined with visits to local ruins as well. Check their website to decide which tour best suits your needs. Remember, contact the Jolly Roger today to book your pirate ship tickets and make sure to visit local Mayan ruins, too. Cancun is ready for you to visit!
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Tulum Travelers To Receive Enhanced Service Thanks To These New Projects
By: Author James Henry Currie
Posted on Published: November 4, 2023
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Last Updated 2 days ago
Travelers will soon receive even greater service in Tulum after it was announced a huge investment is being made to up-skill the service knowledge and offerings from local Tulum businesses.
The destination already offers fantastic service, although at a reasonably manageable scale.
But, two huge new projects are set to change the vacation landscape of the Mexican Caribbean forever, and the government, as well as the tourism industry, knows that more needs to be done to meet traveler’s needs.
Present Vs. Future
As mentioned before, Tulum is no slouch when it comes to service. The many stunning boutique hotels offer great levels of luxury, and the staff is well-trained.
With that being said, the supporting tourist businesses, such as the taquerias, cantinas, bars, and restaurants, have a more rustic approach to customer service.
That doesn’t mean travelers are met with negative attitudes, simply that the approach to customer satisfaction and service isn’t up to par with the likes of Cancun and Playa del Carmen.
And that’s why extra training and education of local businesses is such a fantastic initiative. It shows a dedication to the success of Tulum as a destination and also a respect for all future visitors and their vacation needs.
With this approach, the future of Tulum is Mexico’s latest powerhouse destination.
A Huge Shift
Any traveler who has been keeping up with the travel news in the Mexican Caribbean over the past few months will have seen numerous mentions of the Tren Maya (Mayan train network) and the new Tulum International Airport.
This is one of the most significant infrastructure projects in recent Mexican history and one that will open up a whole new world for travelers.
Once operational, the journey from Cancun International Airport to Tulum will be as quick as the transfer from the airport to the Cancun hotel zone.
But it isn’t just going to make airport transfers speedier; it also opens up the whole state of Quintana Roo to travelers eager to explore this stunning state.
Quintana Roo is culturally very rich, and while Chichen Itza is the most famous Maya ruins, it is just a tiny snapshot of the huge number of significant Mayan settlements for travelers to experience.
Coba, Tulum ruins, Chichen Itza, as well as other lesser-known Maya ruins, will all soon be as easy to visit and appreciate as Isla Mujeres is from Cancun.
The first stretch of the train network is expected to go into service as early as December 2023. It will seriously expand the convenience of a vacation to Tulum as well as the whole of the Mexican Caribbean.
Tulum International Airport
It’s not often a destination receives two huge new infrastructure additions at the same time, but Tulum is getting just that.
The new Tulum International Airport is a sign of just how popular and sought-after the destination has become, a far cry from its sleepy fishing village roots.
With flights from the U.S. already being announced from Atlanta, Fort Lauderdale, and Orlando, with many more expected, the tourism industry is holding its breath at the dramatic change that is coming.
In the past, Tulum has always had a more bohemian vibe, in the past decade that has grown into a festival/party atmosphere, while still retaining a relaxed face while the sun is up.
Additionally, the destination has become a firm favorite for travelers from the U.S. and Canada to build and retire to. A route about to become even easier once direct flights go into service.
The Whole Region Wins
While Tulum is no doubt going to be the big winner with these two huge new transport additions, the whole of the Mexican Caribbean will be lifted by this.
Cancun and Playa del Carmen have partially built their popularity on the back of fantastic connectivity, but their location in the northern portion of the state has made it difficult for other areas to feed off their success.
But again, the biggest winners will be travelers themselves. Just a short journey south of Tulum are beautiful destinations like Bacalar, Xpu-Ha, and Mahahual, as well as a near-endless coastline of pristine and paradise-like beaches.
From 2024, a vacation to Tulum and the Mexican Caribbean will change forever.
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