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There are SO many reasons to travel to Mexico that you might even forget about the number of Mayan ruins to see there. Hey, I don’t blame you. Given the incredible Mexican food you’ll want to feast on and the impressive but totally underrated waterfalls in Chiapas, it’s easy to overlook some of Mexico’s many other charms. But no trip to Mexico would truly be complete without at least one Mayan temple thrown in.
The Mayan ruins in Mexico are as symbolic as the country’s mezcal and lucha libre. If you’ve ever ogled the Giza pyramids in awe, you’ll be in for a real treat with these. They’re at least as impressive, and usually far less crowded. In fact, we even had a couple of the Mayan temples to ourselves (and it was just as eerie as it was amazing)!
There are tons of Mayan sites to explore in Mexico, so I asked some fellow travel bloggers to help narrow down the ones that are really worth the visit. Even if you’re as history-averse as they come, I’m sure you won’t regret a trip to one – and I say that from experience.
I travelled to Mexico with three other travel bloggers, and there was no doubt between us that Yaxchilán came in top. More than just a temple, Yaxchilán is an ancient city tucked away along the Mexico-Guatemala border. You have to take a short boat ride along the Usumacinta River to reach the site, and it feels almost like you’re in an Indiana Jones movie. Having the entire Mayan site to ourselves was just the cereza on top.
A very close second favourite from our whirlwind tour of Chiapas, Tonina was also completely deserted. The ancient Mayan city of Tonina still stands as tall as it did hundreds of years ago. Allow yourself enough time to climb to the top of the main temple and soak up the views. This is as close as it gets to feeling like an ancient ruler!
Recommend by: Faith, XYUandBeyond
Dzibilchaltún is a sacred Mayan site with a cenote just outside Merida on the Yucatan Peninsula. Dzibilchaltún, is the stage for equinox celebrations that take place in March which is the alignment of the rising Sun with the eastern gateway of the Temple of the Seven Dolls. On this day, the first day of spring, the sun appears through the central window of the House of the Seven Dolls.
The Temple of the Seven Dolls was named after the discovery of seven pottery figurines in the central building. The sun is framed in the doorway of the temple every year during the spring and fall equinoxes. You can see the actual 7 dolls in the Museum attached to the site.
Don’t forget to bring your bathing suit as well so you can take a dip in the Xlakah cenote. You can swim while little tiny black fish nibble your feet. One end of the cenote is very shallow but the deep end runs over 140 feet down and continues onto a tunnel.
Recommended by: Becky, Kid World Citizen
Calakmul is a hidden treasure that lies deep in the jungles of Campeche, Mexico. This massive city is one of the most important Mayan ruins in southeast Mexico. It was inhabited from 2000 BC to about 1000 AD, and at its peak had a population of over 50,000 people. Protected by the tropical forests of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the well-preserved structures are now a UNESCO World Heritage property. The “Great Pyramid” is the tallest ever discovered in the Mayan world, rising 174 feet above the canopy (and you are able to climb them!). Visitors can also marvel at the sacbés (road system), reservoirs, irrigation canals, stucco friezes, massive pyramids, and the incredible stelas. In addition to the phenomenal architecture and art, visitors enjoy the sightings of toucans, spider and howler monkeys, and other endemic wildlife. We absolutely loved this off the beaten track Mayan ruin.
#5 Edzná, Campeche
Recommended by: Ingrid, Second-Half Travels
Tired of the crowds at Chichén Itzá and Tulum? Head to the often-overlooked state of Campeche and base yourself in its charming, sleepy capital, Campeche City. The Edzná ruins make a great day trip from Campeche. The site features an impressive main plaza ringed by spectacular structures such as the five-story Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos. Edzná is not well-known, and when I went I had it virtually to myself. You can visit with a local tour, but it’s also easy and inexpensive to get there on the colectivo minibuses that leave from Campeche’s market. Bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, snacks, and lots of water; there are no vendors at the site.
Recommended by: Tim, Tunnocks World Tour
Palenque is enveloped by deep jungle in Chiapas, Mexico. This tree-clad setting only accentuates the incredible architecture of this 6th century Mayan city. Palenque is small enough to be comfortably walkable and unlike some other sites, you are allowed to climb many of the temples for far-reaching views over the trees.
It is thought that only around 10% of the city has been discovered and excavated, who knows what might still be out there buried under centuries of jungle growth. As you explore the site try not to be spooked by the loud, haunting cries from the howler monkeys which are here in great numbers.
Recommended by: Patti, Luggage and Lipstick
Considered part of the big three along with Uxmal and Chichen Itza, Mayapán is considered the last great Maya capital, dating back to 1000 A.D. Mayapán was a powerful urban center that eventually became the sole political and cultural force in the Yucatan. Some of the buildings resemble those of Chichen Itza, especially the “El Castillo” pyramid and the “El Caracol” round structure. But what makes Mayapan unique and underrated is the intimate experience that is lacking at other Mayan ruin sites. It’s only 25 miles south of Mérida and 60 miles west of Chichen Itza, but can be a challenge to find and few if any tour busses go here, so you’ll likely have this incredible site to yourself. Be sure to climb all the way to the top of Temple of Kukulcan for the Instagram money shot!
Recommended by: Claudia, My Adventures Across The World
#9 Ek Balam
Ek Balam, also known as the Jaguar City of Mexico, is an ancient Mayan city in the Yucatan peninsula. It was built sometime during the 8th century AD and is one of the least frequented ruins in the area.
The presence of mysterious winged warriors under the thatched roofs of the acropolis at Ek Balam make it special. These stucco-figures are not to be found at any of the other, more popular Mayan locations. Who were these winged beings? Were they warriors with supernatural powers? Or creations of architects influenced by global seafarers? We don’t know. Yet!
Ek Balam does not get too many tourists and makes for a great off-beat destination. And the best part is you can still climb to the top of the pyramid for an amazing view of the peninsula. On a clear day, you may even spot the mighty Chichen Itza in the distance!
#10 Chitzen Itza
Recommended by: Christine, The Travelling Pinoys
Recommended by: Claire, Tales of a Backpacker
Cobá is a large Maya site about 45 minutes’ drive or bus ride from Tulum, and it feels a world away from the tourist centre of Tulum and the ruins there. I spent the night at Cobá in order to visit the Mayan ruins early next morning, but most people arrange a day trip to Coba from Tulum. You can hire bikes inside the site to ride around and explore, which is a lot quicker than walking, or you can hire pedi-cabs if you prefer. Walking through the jungle is an adventure in itself, and you can channel your inner Indiana Jones here, especially if you visit early in the morning before the tour groups arrive and you have the site almost to yourself. It is possible to climb one of the pyramids here, which is unusual for Mayan ruins, but take care as the steps are uneven and getting down is a lot harder than climbing up! Once you’ve explored Coba, you can hire a bike to visit several cenotes in the afternoon.
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