The best Mayan ruins in Mexico are spread out across the south and eastern part of this incredibly diverse country, notably modern-day Chiapas and the entire Yucatan Peninsula, where the Mayas thrived for centuries.
If you’re not that familiar with the Mayas, they were – and are – a fascinating people who formed one of the most impressive and developed civilizations, with advanced knowledge and systems in writing, mathematics, astrology, art, architecture, and their famous 260-day Maya calendar (or Tzolk’in as it’s known in Yucatec Maya).
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As such, the Mayas were an advanced civilization all-around, with enormous independent city-states in which religion, power, and warfare played out in oft glorious but bloody ways.
The indigenous Mayas’ existence can be traced back as early as 2600 BC.
Since they lived in what today is known as southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, and western Honduras, there are ancient Mayan archaeological sites spread out across thousands of miles.
And even though I’ve only seen a tiny sliver of those once-thriving cities, I do believe that some of the best Mayan ruin sites are in Mexico.
So without further ado…
Here are the most stunning and well-preserved Mayan ruins to visit in Mexico!
9 Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
1. Calakmul Mayan Ruins (Campeche)
Calakmul is a lost Mayan city in the jungle of Campeche, the southernmost state that forms part of the Yucatan Peninsula in eastern Mexico.
With its remote location in the dense jungle, towering pyramids, and mysterious – if not eerie – atmosphere, Calakmul has easily become one of my most favorite Mayan ruins in Mexico.
But despite being one of the most impressive Mayan ruins, there’s a reason it’s not so famous or popular as some of the other Mayan sites in Mexico.
That’s because it was only rediscovered after 500 years by an American explorer and botanist named Cyrus Lundell, who flew over the Campeche jungle and saw two interesting-looking mounds peeking out over the treetops in 1931. Lundell subsequently named the site Calakmul, meaning “Two Adjacent Mounds.”
However, it wasn’t until 60 years later, in 1993 that excavations began when Calakmul was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the secrets and importance of this incredible city slowly became known to us.
Turns out, Calakmul has the largest and tallest pyramid ever found in the Mayan world (and yes, it’s climbable!) and their most formidable rival was that of Tikal in neighboring northern Guatemala.
To this day, there are still dozens of mounds that you can actually see lying hidden below the earth as you explore the Calakmul grounds on foot. Just make sure to keep an eye out for spider monkeys and jaguars!
You can also climb up to the top of the main structures for epic panoramic views of the surrounding jungle.
If you are like me and crave adventure at every turn, you will be enamored with the Calakmul Mayan ruins. Click the link to learn how to visit this incredible ruins site!
2. Tulum Ruins (Quintana Roo)
One of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico is none other than the Tulum ruins. Perched cliffside overlooking the turquoise blue Caribbean Sea, the Tulum ruins are a marvel to explore and see for yourself.
What’s more, the Tulum ruins are one of the most well-preserved Mayan ruin sites in the entire Yucatan Peninsula. Here, you can see the mesmerizing El Castillo, faint remnants of once brightly-colored murals, stele, temples, and more.
At the height of its time, the city, once known as the city of Zamá (meaning dawn or sunrise), was an important pillar in Mayan society as it served as both a thriving seaport for trading to other Mayan cities (such as Coba) and a source of astronomical tools and knowledge.
Make sure to include these amazing Mayan ruins in your Tulum itinerary!
3. Chichen Itza (Yucatan)
Chichén Itzá is the most famous of the Mayan ruins in Mexico. If you’ve never been, it’s a must-visit whenever you are traveling around the Yucatan.
After all, Chichen Itza is iconic of Mexico and the Maya civilization and is considered one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.
However, unlike at Calakmul ruins, or some of the other Mayan ruins sites on this list, you won’t ever have the chance to wander in stillness and tranquility at Chichen Itza for it is always crawling with national and international tourists.
That’s why if you visit Chichen Itza in one day, you should start out early to beat the crowds.
Despite its popularity and somewhat craziness, seeing Chichen Itza in person is truly incredible. The immensity of the grounds and the temples just makes your mind travel back in time. How I wish I could glimpse for a moment into the past to see what it once looked like!
4. Palenque (Chiapas)
The Palenque ruins are one of the best places to visit in Chiapas, Mexico. It is also, along with Chichen Itza and Tikal in Guatemala, one of the largest and most important of the Mayan cities.
To get there, you first need to drive or ride a bus for 5 hours from the pueblo mágico of San Cristobal de Las Casas in the chilly Chiapas highlands to reach the humid and tropical Lacandon jungle.
Once in Palenque, you can visit the ruins and the incredible temples that were once blanketed by a forest of overgrown mahogany, sapodilla, and cedar trees (1).
Inside one of its most prized temples – the Temple of Inscriptions – lies the tomb of the most famous ruler of Palenque known as Pacal The Great (K’inich Janaab Pakal).
A trip to Palenque also means exploring several magical waterfalls and their turquoise-blue pools ideal for jumping in on a hot day. You can find these locations along the route by adding Agua Azul, Misol-Ha, and Roberto Barrios waterfalls to your itinerary.
5. Ek Balam (Yucatan)
For a semi-off-the-beaten-track Mayan ruins site, head to the lost kingdom of Ek Balam (meaning “Black Jaguar” in Yucatec-Maya). These ruins are conveniently located just 1 hour from the more popular Chichen Itza.
Those who are willing to visit Ek Balam will be rewarded with fewer crowds, climbable pyramids, and an oh-so inviting cenote (Cenote Oxman) perfect for splashing in after a busy day of exploring ruins.
If that sounds good to you, don’t miss out on Ek Balam whenever you are traveling around the Yucatan. Seeing as it’s only a short drive away from Valladolid and Chichen Itza, there’s no excuse not to go!
6. Coba Mayan Ruins (Quintana Roo)
Cobá is an ancient Mayan city located just 45 minutes inland from Tulum. It is quickly becoming one of the more popular Mayan ruins in Mexico thanks to its climbable pyramid that gives an epic panoramic view of the surrounding jungle and its mystic forest grounds which can be explored by foot, bike, or tuk-tuk.
There is also a bustling little town with markets, restaurants, and a lake, that you can enjoy at Coba as well. Plus, it’s easy to visit since it’s on the route between Tulum – Valladolid.
7. Uxmal Ruins via the Ruta Puuc (Yucatan)
Uxmal Mayan ruins is a famous site in Mexico located on the well-trodden Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route) which has become a well-trodden road trip route for anyone interested in ticking off dozens of lost Mayan ruins sites in the Yucatan off their bucket lists.
Uxmal may be one of the most popular sites along the Ruta Puuc, but there is also Labná, Xpalak and Sayil, and Kaba (in addition to the Loltún Caves). The best way to visit all these sites is by departing from Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan, and heading south down into the state of Campeche.
8. Yaxchílan & Bonampak (Chiapas)
If you are truly looking for an adventurous time, then I know just the place! Yaxchílan and Bonampak are two stunning Mayan ruins sites in the southeastern part of Chiapas, Mexico, lost in the Lacandon jungle.
Yaxchílan is a lost maze of ruins. Getting there is an adventure in itself as you first have to drive to the Guatemalan border and then take a boat ride up the river splitting the two countries before arriving at a little inlet where the ruins lie dormant.
Bonampak is a little easier to get to (no hour-long boat ride necessary) and they offer equally mesmerizing ruins with the chance to observe up-close brightly-painted murals inside the temple walls.
You can visit both Mayan ruins sites either on day trips from Palenque or overnighters from San Cristobal or go on your own with this epic Chiapas road trip itinerary.
9. San Gervasio Mayan Ruins (Quintana Roo)
Last but not least on this list of best Mayan ruins in Mexico are the San Gervasio ruins located on the tropical island of Cozumel in the state of Quintana Roo. If you have never been to San Miguel de Cozumel, now is the time! This little island oozes adventure.
At the center of it all lies the once-thriving site of San Gervasio, where Mayans, particularly women, would visit the site on a sort of pilgrimage to ask for blessings and give offerings to Ixchel who was the Maya goddess of fertility, the moon, love, childbirth, medicine, and textiles.
Visiting the San Gervasio ruins is one of the best things to do in Cozumel if you appreciate history and culture and crave a sense of adventure.
Of course, there are MANY more Mayan ruins in Mexico to visit!
I didn’t include Teotihuacan on this list as that site was majorly led and governed by the Aztecs of Mesoamerica, whereas the Mayas really flourished in southeastern Mexico and in northern Central America. However, if you get the chance, you should definitely visit the Teotihuacan ruins as well.
I hope this guide to the best Mayan ruins in Mexico helps plan your visit to this magical country! Please feel free to drop any thoughts or questions in the comments below.
[su_box title=”Ready to explore more of Mexico?” box_color=”#d4b02f” radius=”2″]Having lived in Mexico for going on three years now, I’ve been able to put together quite a few travel guides and itineraries! Start here with my Ultimate Mexico Travel Guide or feel free to check out the articles below:
- The Perfect Packing List for Mexico (+ Free Printable)
- The Ultimate Digital Nomad Guide to Mexico
- 50+ Best Places to Visit in Mexico
- 21 Epic Things to Do in the Riviera Maya
- 50 Unforgettable Things to Do in Riviera Nayarit
Before you go, make sure you protect your trip! SafetyWing is the digital nomad insurance I’ve been using since I began living and traveling around Mexico.[/su_box]
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