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21 BEST Mayan Ruins in Mexico and How to Visit Them

21 BEST Mayan Ruins in Mexico and How to Visit Them

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In addition to beautiful beaches, amazing food, and vibrant culture, Mexico is home to some of the most spectacular ancient ruins in the world: the Mayan ruins.

The Mayans were a fascinating ancient civilization whose empire extended across parts of modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. 

Learning about the Mayans is incredibly interesting, and Mexico is one of the best places to do it! 

If you’re visiting the country, taking time to explore the Mayan ruins is one of the best things to do in Mexico! It’s a chance to learn more about an intriguing ancient culture and see some truly impressive and mysterious sites.

The Mayans lived in what is now southeastern Mexico, and many of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico are located on the Yucatan Peninsula. This is where you’ll also find many of the country’s most popular tourist destinations, including Tulum, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen

There are so many Mayan sites to visit in Mexico, so we’ve put together this guide to break it all down for you and help you plan which ones to see and how to do it!

Who are the Mayan people?

Young woman dressed in mayan costume.
Photo credit: Kertu_ee Depositphotos

The Mayan people are an Indigenous group from Mesoamerica, a region that includes parts of modern-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The ancient Maya civilization was one of the most advanced civilizations of its time, and their culture has had a lasting impact on the region.

The earliest evidence of Maya civilization dates back to around 2000 BCE, and it reached its height between the years 250 and 900 CE. 

The Maya people built massive cities, created an intricate hieroglyphic writing system, and developed a complex calendar. They were also expert astronomers and mathematicians.

Remember the apocalypse that was predicted back in 2012? That was based on the Mayan calendar, which ended on December 21, 2012.

The Maya civilization went into decline around 900 CE, and the reasons for this are still largely unknown. By the time the Spanish arrived in Mexico in the 1500s, the Maya people had all but disappeared from their former cities.

However, there are an estimated 7 million Maya people living in Mexico, Guatemala, and Belize today. And their culture is very much alive!

Mayan Ruins of the Yucatan

Just to avoid any confusion, there’s the Yucatan Peninsula, and then Yucatan State. Many of the other states we talk about in this blog are also in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Yucatan State is in the northern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, and it borders Campeche and Quintana Roo, which we’ll be talking about later on.

1. Chichen Itza

Side on shot of the El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza, Mexico
If you want the crowds at a minimum, visit early in the morning when they open.
  • Location: 45 minutes from Valladolid
  • Entrance fee: $30 USD for adults, $4.50 for children aged 3-12
  • Where to visit from: Cancun, Playa Del Carmen, Tulum, Valladolid, Merida
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm every day 

Chichen Itza is probably the most famous of all the Mayan ruins in Mexico, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s an ancient city that was once one of the most powerful in the Mayan Empire. At its peak, around 50,000 people are thought to have lived there.

There are plenty of amazing things to see at Chichen Itza, including El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan.

El Castillo is a pyramid that was built to honor the feathered serpent god, Kukulkan. Many of El Castillo’s features reference the Mayan calendar, including 365 stairs (one for each day of the year), 52 panels (one for each week of the year), and 18 terraces (one for each month of the Maya’s 18-month calendar).

The Temple of the Warriors is another must-see attraction at Chichen Itza. This is a huge complex of temples and plazas, with hundreds of columns carved in the shape of warriors.

The Main Ball Court is also super interesting, as it’s thought to be where the ancient Maya played a game similar to soccer, using a rubber ball. The game was played by two teams of seven players, and it was thought to be a ritualistic game with religious significance. There’s even a somewhat gruesome carving of one player holding the decapitated head of another on one of the panels.

This tour will take you to explore Chichen Itza, and includes a buffet meal and a visit to a cenote – it’s one of the best tours in the Yucatan. You can be picked up all along the coast from major towns including Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Puerto Morelos, so it’s super convenient. Prices start at only $59 USD per person, although this doesn’t include the Chichen Itza entry fee, which you’ll need to pay on arrival.

Related read: You can also see these ruins at night! The Chichen Itza Night Show is a spectacular way to see the ruins after the sun goes down.

2. Mayapan

Mayapan ruins in Mexico
Not many people visit, which makes it a top choice for me.
  • Location: 40 minutes south of Merida
  • Entrance fee: $2.30 USD
  • Where to visit from: Merida
  • Hours: 8 am – 4 pm daily

Mayapan is a bit of a hidden gem, as it’s often overshadowed by the more famous Chichen Itza. However, it’s well worth a visit if you’re in the area, especially since, unlike Chichen Itza, you can actually climb on top of the ruins here!

Mayapan was an important cultural hub, and you can still see traces of paintings and murals here today, which is pretty rare for Mayan ruins.

What’s really cool about Mayapan is that it’s off the typical tourist track, so it doesn’t get crowded and you can explore and climb to your heart’s content. It takes around 90 minutes to fully explore.

If you’re staying in Merida, you can take the public bus to the site, which takes around 2 hours. Or, you can make a day of it and take this tour from Merida, which also includes a visit to the beautiful cenotes of Santa Barbara. For the $90 USD cost, it also includes private transportation which is much faster, so you won’t waste several hours of your day sitting on a bus.

3. Dzibilchaltún

archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun in Mexico
This place is clouded by mystery.
  • Location: 30 minutes north of Merida, 25 minutes south of Progreso
  • Entrance fee: $12 USD
  • Where to visit from: Merida or Progreso
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm

Dzibilchaltún is an archaeological site whose name translates to “the place with writing on the stones.” It’s an ancient city where you’ll find temples, tombs, and pyramids, including the Temple of the Seven Dolls, which is so named because seven mysterious clay effigies were discovered inside.

There’s also a museum on site which you can visit to learn more about Dzibilchaltún, and a cenote that you can swim in. However, there are no changing rooms on-site, so it’s best to wear your bathing suit underneath your clothes if you want to swim – and remember to bring a towel!

You can take an Uber, taxi ride, or the public bus to Dzibilchaltún from either Merida or Progreso, but we recommend this tour for $85 USD. Not only does it include pickup and drop-off from most hotels (or cruise ships) in the area, it also ends with a visit to the beautiful Silcer Beach Club in Progreso, where you can relax in style after you finish exploring.

Related read: While in the area, make sure to visit a local market, museum and the famous Pink Lagoons – just a few of the top things to do in Merida!

4. Ek Balam

Mayan archeological site of Ek Balam in Valladolid, Mexico
Ek Balam in Valladolid
  • Location: 35 minutes north of Valladolid, roughly 2 hours from Maya Riviera 
  • Entrance fee: $22 USD 
  • Where to visit from: Playa del Carmen, Tulum, Cancun, Puerto Morelos, Puerto Juarez, Cozumel, Valladolid
  • Hours: 8 am – 5pm daily

Ek Balam is one of the most important classic Mayan cities, and it’s thought to have been at its peak between 770 – 840 AD. It’s home to 45 stucco and limestone structures, including the Acropolis, which is over 100 feet (30 meters) high. You can even climb to the top for 360° views of the Ek Balam ruins!

Ek Balam means “jaguar”, and the jaguar was a sacred animal to the Mayan people. It symbolized warriorship, power, and authority. You’ll see many references to jaguars throughout Ek Balam, including many carvings, statues, and even a jaguar-shaped tomb.

This archeological site is very well preserved and receives relatively few visitors in comparison to other major ruins, which makes it a great choice for escaping the crowds. There’s also a cenote where you can swim.

The best way to visit Ek Balam is on a tour from the Riviera Maya, which is the stretch of coastline that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. You can be picked up from all of the main tourist hotspots and you can also visit Chichen Itza, which we discussed above, as part of this tour, so it’s a two-birds, one-stone kind of deal! With all entrance fees and transportation included it’s also a great deal at $169 USD.

Alternatively, you can also visit Ek Balam from Valladolid, which is closer. This small group tour takes you to the ruins and also includes stops at the Los Coloradas pink lakes, and Ria Lagartos to see the flamingos. It’s a great way to fit 3 amazing sites into an easy day trip for $159 USD per person.

5. Uxmal

The Uxmal pyramid in Mexico
This is the most underrated Mayan site in Mexico!
  • Location: 1 hour and 10 minutes south of Merida
  • Entrance fee: $24 USD + $4 tourist tax 
  • Where to visit from: Merida 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily 

Uxmal was a provincial capital of the Mayan Empire, and it’s one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico.

Its well-preserved ruins include the iconic Pyramid of the Magician, which consists of 5 temples built on top of one another, and is believed to be over 1,000 years old. Legend has it that the magnificent pyramid was built overnight by a dwarf who then became the ruler of Uxmal.

You can’t climb up the steps to the top of the pyramid, but there are other structures in the ancient city you can climb for great views of the site.

The Governor’s Palace is another highlight. It’s the largest building at Uxmal, and it’s thought to have been used for political, administrative, and religious purposes. It’s also considered to be the finest example of Puuc architecture, which is characterized by intricate stone carvings.

You can take a taxi or public bus from Merida, although the latter is said to be pretty unreliable and is often canceled with little to no notice. The easiest way to visit is on a tour like this one, which also takes you to a cenote and a chocolate museum – yum! The tour is $90 USD which also includes lunch, but you’ll need cash for the various entrance fees.

Related Read: While in the area, be sure to check out the best beaches on the Yucatan Peninsula!

Mayan Ruins in Quintana Roo 

Quintana Roo is the Mexican state that’s home to the Riviera Maya, which is the stretch of coastline that includes Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum – you know, all of the mega-popular places. It’s known as a party and beach area but there are also many interesting Mayan ruins to explore around here.

6. Coba Ruins

The Coba Ruins in Tulum, Mexico
The temple at the Coba ruins is huge! Credit – Big Stock – mathes
  • Location: 45 minutes from Tulum, 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen
  • Entrance fee: $4 USD
  • Where to visit from: Tulum, Playa del Carmen
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily 

The Coba Ruins will make you feel like you’re in the middle of an Indiana Jones movie, not least because you can still climb the main pyramid – Ixmoja – which at 42 meters (138 feet) is the tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula. 

Since Coba is a little harder to reach than other archaeological sites around the Riviera Maya, it doesn’t receive as many visitors, which we think makes it an even cooler place to visit! The ruins are also spread out over a pretty large area, so you’ll often feel like you have the whole place to yourself.

Since the ruins are so large, most visitors opt to rent a bicycle from the entrance in order to cover more ground. This costs around $2 USD, or for around $10 USD a local guide will pedal you around on a tricycle.

Coba is thought to have been a very powerful city, and many of the slabs – or stelae – portray women. Since stelae were used to depict significant historical events, some archeologists believe that this means that Coba had many female rulers.

There are also two well-preserved ball courts here, where the Mayans played pitz, a ball game that required players to use their hips to shoot balls through stone hoops. It’s thought that sometimes, the captain of the winning team was sacrificed to the gods – talk about high stakes!

You can take the bus from the ADO terminal in Tulum for around $2.50 USD each way. It takes around an hour and the bus leaves at around 7:20 am, so you’ll have to wake up pretty early! Alternatively, you can rent a car or arrange a taxi.

If you want to make a day of it, this tour from Tulum will take you to the Coba ruins as well as on an eco-tour of the Punta Laguna Nature Reserve, where you can hike, zip line, and canoe. It’s a full-day tour with lots of time to see the amazing sights for $154 USD – it;s also considered one of the best day trips from Tulum!

7. El Rey Ruins

El Rey Archaeological Zone 
Another ancient site? Yes!
  • Location: Cancun 
  • Entrance fee: $3.50 USD
  • Where to visit from: Cancun
  • Hours: 8 am – 4:30 pm daily

Located in Cancun’s “Hotel Zone”, El Rey is one of the most easily accessible archaeological sites from the popular beach town. The site gets its name from the stone sculpture of the King that was found here when the site was first rediscovered.

El Rey is a relatively small ruin site that was once a maritime trading post. Because of its location, it was an important hub for the import and export of goods between the Mayans and other cultures.

Aside from convenience, what also draws lots of visitors to the El Rey ruins is the fact that they have become infested with iguanas! These friendly lizards lounge all over the site, so you’re guaranteed to see some when you visit.

Related read: Some other fun day trips from Cancun include an underwater museum, visiting Isla Mujeres, and swimming with sea turtles at Playa Akumal!

8. Tulum Ruins

The tulum Ruins in Tulum, Mexico
A beautiful change of scenery from the usual ruins deep in the jungle! Credit – Big Stock – tanaonte
  • Location: Tulum
  • Entrance fee: $4 USD
  • Where to visit from: Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Cancun, Akumal
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

The Tulum Ruins are one of the most popular archaeological sites in Mexico, and for good reason – they are absolutely stunning. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the views from the Tulum Ruins are unbeatable.

Tulum was once a major trading port for the Mayans, and you can still see some of the remnants of this today. There are several temples dedicated to the Mayan gods, as well as a large wall that was built to protect the city from invaders – in fact, Tulum means “wall”!

One of the highlights of the Tulum Ruins is the Temple of the Frescoes, which you can peek inside to see some of the best-preserved Mayan murals in all of Mexico.

You can no longer climb to the top of the impressive main pyramid in Tulum – or, in fact, up any of the pyramids – but you can visit the secret beach just below. This beach opens at around 10 am and is absolutely gorgeous, so you might want to think about bringing a bathing suit with you.

Just like El Rey, Tulum is also infested with iguanas, so you’re sure to see some scaly friends when you visit!

You can take a Colectivo (group taxi) from the center of Tulum to the ruins, or even cycle there if you’re willing to brave the heat. And if you’re looking for a whole day out, this combo tour includes the ruins, a snorkeling trip, and a visit to a Cenote. You’ll get door-to-door transport, all the fun activities, and a yummy buffet lunch for $109 USD.

Related read: While in the area, you can’t miss taking a dip in some of the best cenotes near Tulum!

9. Xel-Há Ruins

  • Location: Puerto Juarez, 20 minutes north of Tulum 
  • Entrance fee: $3 USD
  • Where to visit from: Puerto Juarez, Cancun, Playa del Carmen 
  • Hours: 8 am – 6 pm

The Xel-Há Ruins is an archeological site just across the road from the well-known Xel-Hà Park, which is an eco-park with cenotes, lagoons, and hidden beaches to enjoy. Many tourists pass up a visit to these ruins in favor of aquatic fun, but you can actually combine a trip like this one to the park with a stop at the ancient port.

Xel-Há was an important port with many ties to cities across the Yucatan Peninsula. It was also the gateway to the Island of Cozumel, a spiritual site where the Mayans would host fertility ceremonies before marriage. In fact, couples would come from all over Central America to visit Cozumel and pray to Ixchel, the goddess of fertility.

At Xel-Hà, you will find two cenotes and many small temples with flat roofs. Although these ruins may not be as impressive as major sites like Tulum and Chichen Itza, they’re still definitely worth a visit, especially if you’re planning on spending time at the nearby eco-park.

10. Archaeological Zone of Kohunlich

A temple at the Kohunlich Ruins, Bacalar
A temple at the Kohunlich Ruins, Bacalar
  • Location: 1 hour southwest of Bacalar 
  • Entrance fee: $5 USD
  • Where to visit from: Bacalar
  • Hours: 8 am – 4:30 pm 

The archaeological zone of Kohunlich is a large but relatively little-known ruin site that is well worth a visit. 

The highlight of the site is the Temple of the Masks, which was covered in 5 huge stone masks that were once painted brightly – there were originally 8, but 3 were looted. It’s thought to be dedicated to the sun god, Kinich Achau. You can climb up to the top and enjoy the views below.

Some of the site has yet to be excavated, and the fact that it receives far fewer visitors than other sites means that you’ll have plenty of room to explore. If you’re the kind of traveler who loves off-the-beaten-track destinations, then this is one for you! 

11. San Gervasio

A close up of a temple at Zona Arqueológica San Gervasio. Cozumel, Mexico
Take a minute to look at the engravings!
  • Location: Cozumel
  • Entrance fee: $10 USD
  • Where to visit from: Cozumel, Playa del Carmen, 
  • Hours: 9 am – 4 pm 

Located on the stunning island of Cozumel, San Gervasio is an archaeological site that was dedicated to the goddess of fertility, Ixchel. As such, it was a popular destination for couples from all over Central America who came to worship Ixchel and pray that they would be blessed with many children.

As well as visiting the temples dedicated to Ixchel, San Gervasio also offers an insight into the everyday lives of the Maya people who once lived here. You can see the remains of their homes and learn about the crops they grew, such as corn, beans, and squash.

You can visit San Gervasio by yourself, or as part of a guided tour. This private tour takes you around all of the highlights of Cozumel in a Jeep. You’ll get to drive yourself (while following a guide) and set the agenda with stops to see the ruins, go on a jungle tour, snorkel, and enjoy the included lunch and beers. All this for $75 USD per person!

12. San Miguelito

Zona Arqueológica de San Miguelito
The ruins are really convenient and interesting to visit.
  • Location: Cancun
  • Entrance fee: $4
  • Where to visit from: Cancun
  • Hours: 9 am – 5:30 pm from Tuesday – Sunday

In the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, you’ll find the small but perfectly formed archaeological site of San Miguelito. It was once a bustling coastal city, and at its peak around 1200-1350 AD, it even expanded to include El Rey, which we talked about earlier on this list. You can definitely combine the two in a single morning or afternoon.

It’s not known exactly why San Miguelito was abandoned, but it was later rediscovered by two American archaeologists in the early 1900s and then eventually excavated in the 1970s – although that’s still a work in progress!

At San Miguelito, you can see stone platforms that were once foundations for Mayan homes, ruins of administrative buildings, and the Dragon Complex, which is thought to have been used for ceremonial purposes.

You won’t need much more than an hour to explore San Miguelito, so it’s a short but sweet cultural activity to enjoy while in Cancun.

13. El Meco

One of the main temples at El Meco Ruins, Cancun, Mexico
For some, visiting one site is enough. But after countless trips, I’ve visited them all!
  • Location: Cancun
  • Entrance fee: $3 USD, free entry on Sundays
  • Where to visit from: Cancun
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily 

Located in Old Cancun, El Meco is one of the city’s lesser-known archaeological sites. It’s thought to have started out as a fisherman’s camp sometime around the second century before expanding into a coastal city. It was abandoned sometime between 600-900 AD, although no one is sure exactly when this happened.

These ruins are really well preserved and comprise three main plazas around which you’ll find a series of buildings including temples, altars, homes, and administrative buildings.

This is another site that’s not super popular, but still very interesting for archaeology fans and anyone who wants to learn more about the Maya people.

You can visit by taking a taxi or public transport from downtown Cancun, or take this city tour which includes a stop at El Meco alongside a trip to a local market, a tequila tasting, and a stop at Playa Delfines, which is one of the best beaches in Cancun. This $60 USD tour is a great way to get a feel for Cancun while you’re there!

Related read: After a long day exploring the ruins, you’ll be ready for a meal at one of the best restaurants in Cancun!

14. Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Mayan Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba, Mexico
  • Location: 45 minutes from Tulum, 1.5 hours from Playa del Carmen
  • Entrance fee: $4 USD
  • Where to visit from: Tulum, Playa del Carmen
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily 

The Nohoch Mul Pyramid is the main pyramid at the Coba archaeological site, and the tallest one in the Yucatan Peninsula. Its name means “Great Mound” and that’s pretty apt since it’s 42 meters (138 feet) tall!

It’s 120 steps to the stop which may not sound like a lot, but it’s quite a climb, so be prepared! There’s a rope in the middle to hold onto for support, and the views from the top are definitely worth it.

This pyramid is definitely the main attraction at Coba, and not to be missed.

15. Muyil

The Muyil Ruins in Mexico
The Muyil Ruins in Mexico!
  • Location: 20 minutes south of Tulum 
  • Entrance fee: $2.50
  • Where to visit from: Tulum, Playa del Carmen 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

Muyil was one of the longest-inhabited Mayan sites. It’s believed that the Mayan people settled here as early as 350 BC and stayed as late as 1500 AD. 

Muyil was once a busy seaport, and you can still see evidence of this today with its canals and aqueducts. Goods that were traded here include chocolate, chewing gum, and honey – clearly, human tastes haven’t changed all that much!

The largest pyramid here is El Castillo, which is a 55 feet (17 meters) tall pyramid that consists of five tiers and a temple at the top. There’s also an observation deck that overlooks the Muyil lagoon.

Often, visitors to Muyil combine it with a trip to Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, since the archaeological site sits within the reserve. You can book a tour of Sian Ka’an from Tulum or Playa del Carmen and enjoy a boat ride through the biosphere’s lagoons and mangroves with an expert guide who’ll help you spot local wildlife. Both tours are around $130 USD and also include hotel transportation and lunch.

16. Calakmul

The ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Calakmul, Mexico
  • Location: Calakmul Biosphere Reserve
  • Entrance fee: $3 USD, plus a $3.50 USD entry fee to the park itself
  • Where to visit from: Chetumal, Cancun 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

Calakmul was a powerful Mayan city located deep in the jungle of what is now the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, close to the border between Mexico and Guatemala. It was the seat of the Kingdom of the Snake, which was one of the main superpowers in the Maya region.

The ruins here are huge and spread out over a vast area, so you definitely need a few hours to explore properly. Around 30 pyramids have been uncovered, but it’s thought that there are thousands more.

You’re allowed to climb the pyramids here, including the Great Pyramid which is 45 meters (147 feet) tall. Visiting this site will really make you feel like an intrepid explorer!

Since it’s so remote, the best way to visit Calakmul is on a tour, which you can book from Chetumal or Cancun. It’s a pretty long way from both of these cities, so be prepared for a bit of a road trip! Once you’re here though, the private tour is so nice to move at your own pace through the ruins and have a guide to ask questions to. The tour is a little more expensive at $250 USD per person, but it’s worth it for a personalized experience.

17. Edzna

Archaeological center of Edzna in Mexico
This place is really cool.
  • Location: 45 minutes southeast of Campeche
  • Entrance fee: $3 USD 
  • Where to visit from: Merida, Campeche 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

Edzna is another hidden gem in the Campeche region. It was a major city between around 200 – 1500 AD, although some scholars think that it may have been inhabited as early as 400 BC.

The Gran Acropolis is one of the coolest things to see at Edzna. It’s a raised platform where the ruling class of the city would have lived and worked. Meanwhile, the Pyramid of Five Floors is the tallest building at the site – and one of the few that you cannot climb. Again, this building was home to important leaders.

There aren’t many tours going to Edzna, but you can get there in a colectivo from Campeche or Merida, or rent a car and drive yourself to the site.

18. Becán

The ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Becan in Mexico
  • Location: 1 hour 45 minutes west of Chetumal 
  • Entrance fee: $3.50 USD
  • Where to visit from: Chetumal, Bacalar 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

Some of Becán’s ruins date back to 500 BCE, making it one of the oldest sites on this list. It’s thought that Becán may have been inhabited right up until around 1200 AD, and its golden years were from 700 AD onwards – so we’d say it had a pretty good run.

20 structures at the site have been excavated but there were many, many more. No one even knows what the city’s original name was, so it’s fair to say that there’s still a lot to discover about these ruins!

Although Bécan is definitely off of the tourist track, there’s plenty of signage so you can learn a lot during your visit. You’re able to climb the pyramids for amazing jungle views and you’re pretty much guaranteed to feel like you have the entire place to yourself, which isn’t something you can say all that often in Mexico.

The tallest building here is simply known as “Structure IX” – catchy. It’s 32 meters tall, so you’ll get the best views by climbing up here.

Structure X is also really cool – it has twelve rooms and is topped with a temple dedicated to the Itzamná, the fearsome Mayan god of creation.

The best way to get to Bécan is to drive, and it’s a simple route from either Chetumal or Bacalar.

Related read: For a truly enchanting and off-the-beaten-path adventure, check out our complete guide to visiting Bacalar, Mexico!

Mayan Ruins of Chiapas 

Chiapas was actually the heart of the Maya civilization, along with Guatemala and Belize. It’s in the very south of Mexico and is home to mountain highlands, dense rainforest, and, of course, ancient Mayan ruins.

19. Palenque

One of the main temples at the Palenque Ruins in Chiapas, Mexico
The Palenque Ruins are some of the best in Mexico!
  • Location: 5 kilometers from Palenque town
  • Entrance fee: $4 USD + $2 USD national park entry fee
  • Where to visit from: Palenque or San Cristobal
  • Hours: 8 am – 4:30 pm daily 

Palenque was a Mayan city-state and a rival of Calakmul. It’s home to what is considered to be some of the finest Mayan architecture ever built, including extensive hieroglyphics which tell the story of the royal family that lived and ruled there.

Palenque is a UNESCO world heritage site and is home to several significant buildings, including the Temple of the Skulls, which is so named for the animal skull sculpture at its base.

There are also a few pyramids, the most famous of which is the Temple of Inscriptions which features the second-largest Maya stele ever discovered. There’s also a palace which is home to more interesting inscriptions.

Meanwhile, the best views of Palenque can be enjoyed from the top of the Temple of the Cross.

You can take a colectivo to and from Palenque from the bus station in town which costs around $1.30 USD each way or visit on a private guided tour from either Palenque or San Cristobal. This will help you to understand the history and cultural significance of these fascinating ruins and afterward, you’ll visit some of the area’s most beautiful waterfalls, including the Cascadas de Agua Azul. It’s also only $155 USD which is pretty good as far as private tours go.

20. Tenam Puente

  • Location: 12 kilometers south of Comitán 
  • Entrance fee: $2.50 USD
  • Where to visit from: Comitán 
  • Hours: 8 am – 5pm daily

Tenam Puente is a medium-sized archaeological site that was once an important center for the Maya people. Its location in the Balum Canan Valley meant that it had access to a number of resources which made it an ideal spot for the Maya to settle. The locals were able to control trade and transportation routes that passed through the area and, as a result, Tenam Puente became quite wealthy.

Most of the site’s structures are built into the side of a hill, and the highest structure of the site is Structure 7, so this is the best one to climb to get good views of Tenam Puente.

There’s also the Cruz de Madera, a large, white, wooden cross that has somehow survived hundreds of years. Tenam Puente declined in around 1250 AD, and yet here it still stands!

You might be forgiven for thinking this cross was a Christian symbol put here later on by Spanish colonists, but crosses were also an important symbol in Mayan culture. This cross represents life, nature, and the god of creation, Itzamna.

Tenam Puente is also home to three ball courts, which may not sound all that great today, but it’s a testament to the fact that it was an important ceremonial site for the Maya.

There aren’t many guided tours to Tenam Puente, but you can reach it from Comitán via a colectivo van. It costs around $1 USD each way, so this is a pretty cheap day out.

21. Bonampak

Bonampak Murals in Chiapas, Mexico
Bonampak Murals in Chiapas, Mexico
  • Location: 3 hours southeast of Palenque
  • Entrance fee: $3 USD + $4 USD national park fee
  • Where to visit from: Palenque
  • Hours: 8 am – 5 pm daily

Bonampak is most famous for its well-preserved murals which depict scenes of war, celebration, and rituals, including sacrifices. It’s a relatively small archaeological site and it collapsed sometime around the 9th Century along with Yaxchilan, a nearby city.

The biggest attraction at Bonampak is the Temple of the Murals, where you can see some of the most significant Maya paintings. It’s amazing how well the vivid colors have lasted, and seeing them really is a unique experience.

Bonampak is located in the Lacandon Jungle, and you can reach it from Palenque by taking a colectivo to Crucero San Javier, and then a van to the Bonampak ruins, which costs around $8-10 USD.

Alternatively, you can take a guided tour which, to be honest, makes things a whole lot easier (and more comfortable during the long journey). For $131 USD, this tour will take you to both Palenque and Yaxchilan, including a boat ride to the latter site. Breakfast and lunch are also included, as are all entry fees.

Renting a Car in Mexico

Bailey and Daniel in a rental car in Mexico
Bailey had to drive at first because Daniel is used to driving on the other side!

Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to get around Mexico is in a rental car. 

I struggled to get around by bus and taxi for the longest time. But after renting a car in Mexico in 2019, I never looked back. It allowed me to explore the country without worrying about tours or taxis. It was why I fell in love with Mexico and eventually decided to live here periodically. 

I refuse to use local services whenever I rent a car in Mexico. The truth is they sometimes can’t be trusted or come with hidden fees (or costly insurance that doesn’t make sense.) There are even rental car scams! So instead, I use Discover Cars, the company most experienced travelers or ex-pats in Mexico recommend. 

The rates on Discover Cars are cheap, too, with the average rental costing around $25 USD per day. Full coverage insurance can be added for an extra $10 USD a day too. 

Driving in Mexico also only requires a driver’s license using the Roman alphabet. If yours uses another like Japan and China, you simply need an international driving permit. 

Insurance is required, but if you book with Discover Cars and get the full coverage, that’s all you need! Oh, and being over 18 is required, and if you’re over 25, your renal will be much cheaper! 

Thanks for reading!

Bailey and Daniel at Chichen Itza, Mexico
Thanks for reading!

Mexico is full of Mayan ruins and exploring even just a few of these sites is an amazing addition to your vacation. Hopefully, this guide to the best Mayan ruins in Mexico helps you narrow down where to go and how to get there!

If you’re flying this way soon, make sure to check out our other blogs about Mexico. We’ve been lucky enough to travel to this beautiful country many times and have lots of tips and hidden gems to help make the most of your getaway!

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