The Mayan ruins in Mexico, but also Guatemala and Belize, were one of the great reasons for us to travel around Central America. These ancient ruins have a mysterious atmosphere, beautiful jungle scenery and fascinating history. We understand why these ruins are often referred to as one of the seven modern wonders of the world of our time. So we visited many Mayan ruins during our Mexico, Guatemala and Belize trip and can now tell you exactly which Mayan temples in Mexico you shouldn’t miss!
- The ultimate Mexico, Belize and Guatemala itinerary and the perfect itinerary for Yucatán in Mexico
- 23 magical lost cities for your travel bucket list
Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico on the Map
The Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico to Visit
#1 The Biggest Mayan City Calakmul
The Calakmul ruins are not only one of the most beautiful Mayan temples, but it also has some of the largest pyramids in all of Central America. It might surprise you that Calakmul isn’t included in all Mexico travel guides and travel blogs, but that’s because it’s not that easy to reach. Calakmul’s ancient Mayan empire is located deep in the jungle. From the main road, it takes about two hours of driving on a straight bumpy road just leading to the Calakmul pyramids.
One of the highlights of this once mighty Mayan empire are the two enormous pyramids with beautiful jungle views: Estructura II and I, which are 50 and 40 meters high. Unlike other Mayan ruins, you can actually climb these pyramids to look out over the jungle high above the treetops.
#2 Jungle Temples of Palenque
The ruins of Palenque are the only ones on this Mayan bucket list not located in the much-visited Yucatán peninsula. Chances are that your itinerary will not take you close to Palenque, but if it does: the Mayan temples of Palenque are definitely worth a visit on your tour of Mexico.
Palenque is one of the largest and best-restored Mayan cities in Mexico. Some of the buildings have been neatly restored and the area around it is cleared to get a good idea of the old city. But other ruins are still hidden in a lush jungle with howler monkeys, tropical birds and waterfalls. Palenque’s ruins are also worth a stop because of the historical inscriptions on some of the temples, the possibility to actually visit a temple inside and the free entry to one of the coolest Mayan museums in Mexico.
#3 The Famous Ruins of Chichén Itzá
The ruins of Chichén Itzá may not be the most beautiful or largest on this list, but they are the most famous Mexican Mauan ruins. They are close to other popular destinations in Mexico and therefore the most visited. We have to admit that the iconic El Castillo pyramid of Chichen Itza is indeed impressive to see. It is even called one of the Seven Wonders of the World. But Chichén Itzá is more than just this famous pyramid. The entire complex is huge! There are dozens of other Mayan buildings and there is also a cenote that was important to the Mayas and the location for their human sacrifices.
You can visit Chichén Itzá on a day tour from Cancún or Tulum. But also easily by yourself with a rental car or public transport from the colorful town of Valladolid. It is about a 40-minute drive from Valladolid.
#4 Mayan temples in Tulum
A Mexico trip isn’t complete without a stop in the popular town of Tulum. Whether you are sleeping in a beautiful resort on the beach or more downtown in Tulum Pueblo, a visit to the Mayan temples should be on your wish list. You will probably notice that the ruins look a bit like a fortress: on one side are the steep cliffs at the coast and on the other, the city is surrounded by an ancient wall.
The Tulum Mayan city has the only ruins on a coast, making it a unique location to build a city in the ancient Maya world. One of the temples was probably some kind of lighthouse, on which a fire burned at night. The old city was one of the last places where Maya still lived. Even after the Spanish colonization of Central America, Mayas lived here for a long time, until Western diseases wiped out the population.
#5 The ruins of Coba
Not far from Tulum are the Mayan ruins of Coba. That makes Coba a popular day trip from Tulum, but it is also highly recommended to stay here and visit all the special Mexican cenotes in the area. We slept at the small-scale jungle resort Coba, very close to the ruins and cenotes!
The ruins of Coba are scattered throughout the jungle. To easily get from one temple to another, you can rent a bicycle close to the entrance and cycle around the jungle area. The highlight is the large pyramid Nohoch Mul, which you can also climb. The steps are quite steep, so make sure to use the rope when climbing. Also special about the old city of Coba are the elevated roads called “sacbe”. These roads connected not just the clusters of pyramids and residential buildings in the old city, but even Coba and neighboring cities. There were elevated roads from Coba to Chichen Itza! When cycling or walking around Coba, you will mostly use those ancient Mayan roads as well.
Read more: our blog about visiting Coba, explaining all about the best way to explore the Mayan ruins and where to find the best cenotes in the area.
#6 Ek Balam Temples
The temples of Ek Balam are a lot less visited than the other places on this list, but maybe that’s why you should. It’s one of the few places in popular Yucatán you can walk around without hordes of other tourists. Ek Balam is also near Valladolid, so most travelers head for the famous Chichen Itzá ruins and ignore the Ek Balam temples.
Unlike El Castillo of Chichen Itza though, you can climb the largest temple at Ek Balam for a good view of the rest of the complex and the green jungle. The old city complex is not very big – it cannot be compared to Chichen Itza or Tikal in Guatemala – but it is still growing, as archeologists are still excavating and restoring ruins. The highlight is the largest temple. At the top you not only have a great view, but it’s also the location of the tomb of Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ, an important leader of Ek Balam.
#7 Uxmal Mayan Ruins
The Uxmal ruins are located between Mérida and Campeche in the west of the Yucatán peninsula. That is a lot further from the popular coastal towns in the east, making Uxmal less visited. The temples have been preserved and restored in good condition.
You are allowed to climb many of the structures, but unfortunately not the 40-meter high Pyramid of the Magician. The name of this huge pyramid is a reference to an ancient Mayan legend saying that a magician built the pyramid in one night. In reality, the pyramid was built over three centuries and was expanded over time into the enormous structure we can visit today.