One of the things I love about Mexico is the abundance of Mayan archaeological sites. Here’s a curated list of the most impressive ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico.
The ancient Mayan civilization, one of the most remarkable and enduring cultures of Mesoamerica, thrived for over two millennia. Renowned for their monumental stone pyramids and sophisticated urban centers, the Mayan civilization was an ancient society with a profound knowledge of agriculture, hieroglyphic writing, calendars, and mathematics.
Today, over 4400 Mayan archaeological sites remain, scattered all over Mexico and Central America. Archaeologists are still continuing to uncover new sites as we speak, and work is underway to learn and discover the secrets of ancient Maya, buried beneath a combination of thick jungle and time.
Since moving to Mexico in 2021, I’ve visited many ancient ruins in Mexico: from the poster child of Chíchen Itzá to the lesser-known Uxmal ruins in Yucatan and Bonampak in Chiapas. I have curated this list of 15 most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico that are worth visiting for those curious about Mexico’s ancient civilizations. Get ready to join me on an epic journey through time and history!
Table of Contents
- Mayan Ruins in Mexico Map
- Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
- 1. Teotihuacan Ruins
- 2. Monte Alban
- 3. Chíchén Itzá Mayan Ruins
- 4. Tulum Mayan Ruins
- 5. Palenque Mayan Ruins
- 6. Bonampak Mayan Ruins
- 7. Yaxchilán Mayan Ruins
- 8. Cobá Mayan Ruins
- 9. Ek Balam Mayan Ruins
- 10. Uxmal Mayan Ruins
- 11. Kabah Mayan Ruins
- 12. Calakmul Mayan Ruins
- 13. Becán Mayan Ruins
- 14. Edzna Mayan Ruins
- 15. El Tajín Ruins
- Rules at the Mayan Ruins in Mexico
- Enjoy Your Trip to the Mayan Ruins!
History of the Mayan Civilization
The origins of the Mayan civilization can be traced back to as early as 2000 BC when they began to establish settlements in the fertile lowlands of Mesoamerica.
However, it was during the Preclassic Period (2000 BC – 250 AD) that the foundations of this civilization were laid. The Classic Period (250 – 900 AD) is often considered the zenith of Mayan civilization. During this time, they established powerful city-states, the most famous among them being Tikal, Palenque, Calakmul, and Copán.
These city-states were characterized by monumental architecture, such as pyramids, temples, and palaces, adorned with intricate stone carvings and inscriptions. The Maya people developed a sophisticated writing system using hieroglyphs, which allowed them to record their history, religion, and astronomical knowledge.
How the Mayans Left their Legacy
The Spanish arrival in the 16th century marked a new chapter in the history of the Mayan civilization. The conquest led to the downfall of the Mayans, as European diseases, forced labor, and religious conversion took their toll. However, Maya people endured, and their culture persisted, albeit transformed by Spanish influence.
Today, their descendants number well over 6 million (1.5 million of which live in Mexico), speaking more than 28 surviving Mayan languages, and reside in nearly the same area as their ancestors. The ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico continue to remind us that the echoes of the past continue to shape the present and inspire the future.
Mayan Ruins in Mexico Map
I have pinned the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico on this map:
How to use this map: Click on the top left of the map to display the list of locations, then click on the locations to display further information. To open a larger version in a new tab, click on the top right corner of the map. Star the map to save it to your own Google Maps.
Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Out of the thousands of ancient remnants that remain, I’ve picked 15 of the most impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico based on how well-preserved they are and their historical importance. Here are the must-visit Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico:
1. Teotihuacan Ruins
Just 1 hour outside of Mexico City stands the most impressive archaeological site in Mexico: the Teotihuacan Pyramids. Teotihuacan was one of the largest cities in the pre-Hispanic Americas, at one point housing over 150,000 people. The Teotihuacan pyramids are some of the largest in the world and the entire complex is incredibly well preserved. Because of its historical significance, Teotihuacan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Translated to mean ‘the place where the gods were created’, Teotihuacan was once a powerful center in Mesoamerica. The Teotihuacan civilization mysteriously declined around 650 A.D., and the city was eventually abandoned. It’s theorized that a combination of environmental and social issues could have led to the decline, but no one knows for sure.
It’s not fully known who founded Teotihuacan and constructed its immense pyramids and temples. But some archaeologists speculate that it was likely the Toltecs or the Totonacs. Hailing from central Mexico, the Toltecs were well known for their ridiculously huge statues and head carvings. The Totonacs came from the state of Veracruz and the people, who still exist today, believe that their ancestors were the ones who built Teotihuacan. [Technically it’s not a Mayan ruin but I included it as it’s the #1 most visited archaeological site in Mexico.]
Read my guide to the Teotihuacan Ruins.
Highlights of Teotihuacan
- Pyramids of the Sun – the highest pyramid in the world
- Pyramid of the Moon – oldest structure in Teotihuacan built around 150 A.D
- Avenue of the Dead – the main thoroughfare through Teotihuacan and it’s lined with pyramids on both sides.
- Tepantitla Palace – home to the most impressive mural of all Teotihuacán: the mural of Tlālōcān
- Teotihuacan Cultural Museum – displays more than 600 artifacts found in the archaeological site, from over the ten centuries the city lasted.
- Teotihuacan Ruins Hours: Open daily, 9am-5pm
- Teotihuacan Ruins Admission: 80 MXN (US$4)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Teotihuacan Ruins? No
- Tour: Teotihuacan Tour with a Hot Air Balloon Ride
2. Monte Alban
Built by the Zapotecs, Monte Alban is one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Mexico [Also not a Mayan ruin but I have included it in this list as it’s too impressive to miss!]. Dating back to the sixth century BC, Monte Alban functioned as the Zapotec capital for 13 centuries between 500 BC and 800 AD. Its impressive architecture remains — terraces, pyramids, and canals —on a low-lying mountainous range overlooking Oaxaca.
In 1987, Monte Alban was named a UNESCO World Heritage site. From the top of the North and South Platforms, you can see the sheer scale of the city. At its peak, Monte Alban was home to approximately 35,000 people and was the largest city in the region. You can really get a sense of how it was a complete city during its heyday.
The city was laid out in a grid pattern, and it was home to a complex political and religious system. Today, there are remnants of impressive buildings and structures, such as the Grand Plaza, the Ball Court, and the Palace. They also created intricate carvings, sculptures, and pottery.
Read my guide to the Monte Alban Ruins.
Highlights of Monte Alban
- South Platform – the largest pyramid in Monte Alban.
- North Platform – climb up here for a view of the whole archaeological site
- Observatory – with a platform and central hole that aligns with the sunrise and sunset during the equinoxes
- Templo de los Danzantes – temple with carvings of human figures in a dance-like pose
Monte Alban Tips
- Monte Alban Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-4pm
- Monte Alban Ruins Admission: 85 MXN (US$4.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Monte Alban Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Oaxaca Full Day Monte Alban + Artisan Villages
3. Chíchén Itzá Mayan Ruins
One of the most well-known Mayan ruins in Mexico is Chíchén Itzá, a UNESCO World Heritage Site just a 2-hour drive from Cancun. Read here to find out how to get to Chichen Itza from Cancun. Its recognition as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World further cements its status as an enduring symbol of Mexico’s ancient civilizations.
An important Mayan-Toltec city, it spans a thousand years of history, with its earliest buildings constructed around 600 AD. However, it was during the later years, around 900 to 1050 AD, that Chíchén Itzá reached its peak as a major political and cultural center in Mesoamerica.
Chíchén Itzá’s fame is primarily attributed to its remarkable structures, including the iconic El Castillo pyramid, which stands in the middle of the complex. During the equinoxes, it aligns with astronomical precision, casting a shadow resembling a serpent descending the stairs (a nod to the feathered serpent god Kukulkan). The Great Ball Court, one of the largest in Mesoamerica, showcases a mysterious sport that likely had religious significance.
Read my guide on how to get to Chichen Itza.
TIP: Many people visit Chíchén Itzá on a day trip from Cancun, but I recommend staying at the nearest town, Valladolid, and reaching here first thing in the morning to avoid the crowds. There are also many things to do in Valladolid including epic cenotes and lesser-known Mayan ruins.
Highlights of Chíchén Itzá
- El Castillo – one of the tallest and most remarkable examples of Maya architecture
- Temple of the Warriors – reliefs of warriors and eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts
- Great Ball Court – one of the largest in Central America
- Sacred cenote – a naturally formed open well where pre-Hispanic Mayans made ceremonial offerings to the gods
Chíchén Itzá Tips
- Chíchén Itzá Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Chíchén Itzá Ruins Admission: 614 MXN (US$30.7)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Chíchén Itzá Ruins? No
- Tour: Day Tour from Cancun and Cenote Visits
4. Tulum Mayan Ruins
The Tulum ruins, perched dramatically on the cliffs overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea, represent a captivating chapter in the history of the ancient Maya civilization. Tulum, whose name translates to “wall” or “fence” in Mayan, is thought to have been originally named Zama, which means “dawn” or “morning.” This name is aptly chosen because Tulum is one of the few ancient cities that are not only architecturally significant but also strategically located.
Tulum served as a prominent coastal trading post, facilitating commerce between the Maya in the interior regions and traders from across Mesoamerica and the Caribbean. Its strategic location along trade routes made it a hub for the exchange of goods such as obsidian and jade. The city’s most iconic structure, El Castillo not only served as a ceremonial site but also acted as a lighthouse, guiding seafaring vessels safely through the treacherous coral reefs.
The decline of Tulum, like many other Mayan cities, is attributed to the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in the early 16th century. Although Tulum was likely abandoned before the Spanish conquest due to factors such as disease and changing trade patterns, it remained an important cultural center for the indigenous Maya people. Today, Tulum is one of the most popular Mayan ruins in Mexico, so try to get there as early as possible to avoid the crowd!
Read my detailed Tulum travel guide.
Highlights of Tulum Ruins
- El Castillo – a towering pyramid-like temple that served as a ceremonial site
- Temple of the Frescoes – features intricate stucco decorations and murals
- House of the Halach Uinic – this building was likely used by Tulum’s elite for administrative and residential purposes
- Temple of the Descending God – features a carving of a deity descending from the heavens
Tulum Ruins Tips
- Tulum Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-4pm
- Tulum Ruins Admission: 85 MXN (US$4.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Tulum Ruins? No
- Tour: Guided Tour at Mayan Ruins + Cenote Swim
5. Palenque Mayan Ruins
Located in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas, the Palenque ruins are widely regarded as some of the most impressive ancient Maya ruins in Mexico. Yet, Palenque receives a fraction of visitors compared to famous sites like Chichen Itza and Tulum ruins.
Once buried under thick jungle growth, the massive complex remains only partially restored, with vines dangling over palaces and roots jutting out of steep pyramids. Today, only 10% of the area has been excavated, but you can already get a sense of the grandeur of this ancient city.
Palenque was an important Mayan city during the Classical period from 500 AD until it was abandoned at 900 AD. Palenque’s prosperity was attributed to its capable rulers, who oversaw the construction of impressive pyramids and palaces, which still stand today.
Palenque’s mightiest ruler, King Pakal, who reigned for 80 years, chose this spot to build his palaces and ceremonial complexes. Ascending to the throne of Palenque at the tender age of 12, Pakal started a dynasty that transformed Palenque into a thriving trading and political center in the Mayan civilization. His reign endured until he died at 80.
Read my guide to Palenque Ruins.
Highlights of Palenque
- Templo de las Inscripciones – houses the burial ground of King Pakal
- Templo XIII – housing the tomb of the Red Queen
- El Palacio – a monumental complex used for ceremonial and political functions
- Templo de la Cruz – climb this tall pyramid to see views of the whole area
- Museo del Sitio – with a special exhibition dedicated to the Red Queen
- Palenque Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-4pm
- Palenque Ruins Admission: 85 MXN (US$4.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Palenque Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Full Day Tour from San Cristobal with Waterfalls
6. Bonampak Mayan Ruins
Located deep in the Lancandon jungle about 150 km (93 miles) southeast of Palenque, Bonampak is an ancient archaeological site that remained a secret to the outside world until 1946. Two American explorers, Charles Frey and John Bourne, were the first outsiders to visit, guided by a Lacandón.
Bonampak’s history beyond its murals is less well-documented. It is believed to have been a small city-state that allied with the nearby larger Maya center of Yaxchilan, located along the Usumacinta River. The site likely served as a ceremonial center and a place of political importance within the broader regional network of Maya cities.
While Bonampak covers an area of 2.4 square kilometers (2.5 sq ft), the main structures are concentrated around the central Gran Plaza. The most impressive monuments were built by Chan Muwan II, who ruled from around 776 to 795 CE. Bonampak, which means “painted walls” in Maya, derives its name from the incredibly detailed frescoes inside the modest Templo de las Pinturas. These vibrant turquoise and red paintings depict royal life during the 7th century.
Bonampak is controlled by the Lacandon indigenous community, a group of indigenous people that call themselves the Hach Winik or the guardians of the jungle. You’ll need to transfer near the entrance to the jungle to be taken to the site by a Lacandon driver. Even if you’ve rented a car, you won’t be allowed to enter the Lacandon jungle on your own. Bonampak is best visited on a day trip to Palenque as accommodation is limited in the area.
Highlights of Bonampak
- Templo de las Pinturas – with vibrant paintings that gave this site its name
- Stele 1 – among the tallest stele the Maya ever carved, which depicts Chan Muan II standing above an earth monster
- Bonampak Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-4pm
- Bonampak Ruins Admission: 55 MXN (US$2.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Bonampak Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Yaxchilan & Bonampak Ruins from Palenque
TIP: GETTING TO BONAMPAK
Neither is it cheap nor easy to get to Bonampak and Yaxchilán on your own. First take a bus or colectivo to Frontera Corozal, then a boat down the Usumacinta River. The boat will set you back around $1300MXN ($76USD) unless you’re willing to wait for other tourists to split the cost. Honestly, it’s wiser to book a tour from Palenque to visit both ruins and the Lancandon Jungle as it costs the same.
7. Yaxchilán Mayan Ruins
Not too far from Bonampak, the extensive Yaxchilán ruins are strategically located along a horseshoe bend in the Río Usumacinta, which forms a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala. Yaxchilán became one of the most important Mayan cities in Mexico due to its geographical location and successful alliances. It conquered smaller settlements like Bonampak and clashed with larger powers, including Palenque.
Between 681 and 800 AD, Yaxchilán reached its zenith, under the rule of Itzamnaaj B’alam II and his successor Pájaro Jaguar IV. The jaguar symbol appears frequently on buildings in Yaxchilán, offering archaeologists valuable insights into this Jaguar dynasty. The best-preserved temple, Edificio 33, boasts steep steps adorned with splendid reliefs; while Structure 40 offers breathtaking vistas of the surrounding river and jungle, adding to the site’s allure.
One of Yaxchilan’s most significant contributions to Maya studies is its hieroglyphic inscriptions. These inscriptions provide invaluable insights into Maya history and politics, chronicling the lineage of Yaxchilan’s rulers, their conquests, alliances, and rituals.
Highlights of Yaxchilán
- Main Plaza – city square lined with a myriad of buildings on either side
- Great Acropolis – dedicated to King Pájaro Jaguar IV
- Edificio 33 – boasts steep steps adorned with splendid reliefs
- Structure 40 – offers breathtaking vistas of the surrounding river and jungle
- Yaxchilán Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-3pm
- Yaxchilán Ruins Admission: 80 MXN (US$4)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Yaxchilán Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Yaxchilan & Bonampak Ruins from Palenque
8. Cobá Mayan Ruins
Located a short 45-minute drive from Tulum is another Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula: Cobá archaeological zone. The relatively unknown ruins receive far fewer tourists than Chíchén Itzá (even though it’s an easy day trip from Tulum), but the scale of its pyramids are impressive and you can still climb them.
At its height, Cobá was one of the largest and most significant Maya cities, covering an expansive area of more than 80 square kilometers. The city’s strategic location near several large freshwater lakes allowed it to flourish as a major trade and transportation hub in the region, facilitating commerce and cultural exchange with other Maya cities.
Cobá’s unique feature is its extensive network of stone causeways, known as sacbes, which radiate outwards from the city’s central core. These raised roadways, some of which stretch for kilometers, linked Cobá to its various outlying settlements. The longest sacbe extends for over 100 km (62 miles), connecting Cobá with the nearby city of Yaxuna.
The city’s architectural wonders include the Nohoch Mul pyramid, one of the tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula, standing at approximately 42 meters in height. This pyramid served as a ceremonial center and offered stunning views of the surrounding jungle. Make sure you wear a good pair of shoes, as you can climb the 120 steep and daunting steps to the top!
Coba also boasts several ball courts, temples, stelae, and other structures that provide insights into Maya religious practices, governance, and daily life during the Classic period. Right next to Coba ruins is a trio of cenotes that you can easily check out after visiting the Coba ruins.
- Cenote Choo-Ha — a small cave cenote with a small opening and stalactites everywhere
- Cenote Tankach-Ha — a mid-sized cenote with deep water from 14ft to 114ft
- Cenote Multun–Ha — a covered cave with the deepst water
Highlights of Cobá
- Nohoch Mul pyramid – one of the tallest pyramids in Mexico
- Pyramid of the Painted Lintel – well-preserved actual paintings on the top temple
- Sacbes – roads constructed by the Maya for commerce. About 50 sacbes have been discovered within the grounds of Coba.
- Cobá Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Cobá Ruins Admission: 100 MXN (US$5)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Cobá Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Day Tour of Coba Ruins & Tulum from Cancun
9. Ek Balam Mayan Ruins
For those planning to stay in Valladolid on your way to Chíchen Itzá, there is another archaeological site just 30 minutes away from Valladolid. And rest assured you won’t have to jostle the crowd to see this! Like Cobá, Ek Balam ruins receive far fewer tourists and it’s still possible to climb the pyramids. The famous Cenote Suytun is just a 20-min drive away, so you can easily visit the two in one day trip.
The city’s name, Ek Balam, translates to “Black Jaguar” in the Yucatec Mayan language, suggesting a connection to this powerful and revered creature in Mayan mythology. During its peak, Ek Balam was a Mayan center of commerce, politics, and religion, serving as the capital of a regional kingdom.
One of the most distinguishing features of Ek Balam is the Acropolis, a massive structure that served both ceremonial and administrative purposes. The Acropolis is known for its intricate stucco façade, featuring ornate sculptures and decorations. Among these decorations, the portrayal of the Maya cosmos, gods, and rulers is particularly noteworthy.
The site’s most famous feature is the chamber known as Sak Xoc Nah, which translates to “White House of Reading”. It was the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’, a powerful ruler who governed Ek Balam during the 8th century AD. The tomb, discovered within the Acropolis, contained a rich array of offerings and jewelry, providing valuable insights into Maya burial practices and social hierarchies.
Read my guide to Ek Balam ruins.
Highlights of Ek Balam
- Acropolis – a massive structure for ceremonies and administrative functions
- Sak Xoc Nah – the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok
- Structure 17 – named for the two identical temples built together on a single raised platform
- Structure 16 – named the Oval Palace which contains 10 rooms on the first level, two more on the top level
Ek Balam Tips
- Ek Balam Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Ek Balam Ruins Admission: 531 MXN (US$21.5)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Ek Balam Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Day Tour of Ek Balam & Cenotes from Cancun
10. Uxmal Mayan Ruins
Just a 1h 15min south of Merida is Uxmal, another UNESCO-listed Mayan ruins in Mexico celebrated for its impressive construction and ornate stone carvings. Easily visited on a day trip from Merida, Uxma is considered one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites alongside Chíchén Itzá, Caracol in Belize, and Tikal in Guatemala.
Uxmal is located along the Ruta Puuc, a 36-mile-long (58 km) drive that links a series of Mayan archaeological sites. This was known as the Puuc region, and Puuc has also come to signify the intricate architectural styles on the carved stone you’ll see at these sites. The complete list of Puuc Route sites are Sayil, Labna, Kabah, Xlapak and Uxmal — and they all fall under the UNESCO World Heritage Site designation, not just Uxmal.
Between the 7th and 10th centuries AD, Uxmal served as the capital of the Puuc region. The city is renowned for its architectural intricacy and artistic excellence, exemplified in its Puuc-style buildings adorned with geometric patterns, Chaac rain god masks, and finely crafted stone carvings.
The name Uxmal means ‘thrice-built’ in Mayan. It refers to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician which was built on top of existing pyramids. Legend has it that it was constructed in a single night by a dwarf who hatched from an egg. The Governor’s Palace, with its vast courtyard surrounded by elaborately decorated buildings featuring detailed stone mosaics, is another masterpiece of Maya architecture.
Highlights of Uxmal
- Pyramid of the Magician – highest structure at Uxmal
- Governor’s Palace – with a vast courtyard surrounded by elaborately decorated buildings featuring detailed stone mosaics
- Nunnery Quadrangle – four palaces placed on different levels that surround a courtyard
- House of Turtle – carved stone turtles on the cornice moulding
- Uxmal Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Uxmal Ruins Admission: 466 MXN (US$22.3)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Uxmal Ruins? No
- Tour: Day Tour to Uxmal and Cenotes from Merida
11. Kabah Mayan Ruins
Also located along the Ruta Puuc, the Kabah ruins are often overshadowed by Uxmal, but they’re just as worth a visit. At a 20-minute drive from Merida, Kabah can easily be visited along with Uxmal on a day trip from Merida.
Kabah’s most iconic feature is Codz Poop or Palace of the Masks, an awe-inspiring structure adorned with nearly 300 stone masks representing the face of Chaac, the Maya rain god. These intricate masks are a testament to the Maya’s artistic prowess and their deep reverence for the forces of nature.
Kabah’s allure extends beyond its stone monuments. The city’s history is intertwined with the broader tapestry of Maya civilization, marked by periods of growth, decline, and eventual abandonment.
Highlights of Kabah Ruins
- Palace of the Masks – a structure adorned with 300 stone masks
- Altar of the Glyphs – one of Kabah’s mysteries
- Palace – built on a raised platform with chambers and carvings
- Templo de las Columnas – temple of columns, behind the Palace
- Kabah Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- KabahRuins Admission: 75 MXN (US$3.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Kabah Ruins? Yes
- Tour: : Day Tour to Kabah, Uxmal and Cenotes from Merida
12. Calakmul Mayan Ruins
Just 22 miles (35km) from the Guatemala border is the Mayan archaeological site of Calakmul. Located within a protected UNESCO Biosphere, Calakmul has vast jungle, monkeys, and over 230 species of birds. Its history is rich and multifaceted, reflecting the complex dynamics of the Maya civilization during its height.
At its height, Calakmul was a powerful and influential city-state that rivaled other major Maya centers such as Tikal. It was the capital of a vast kingdom known as the “Kingdom of the Snake,” a name that underscores the prominence of the serpent deity in Maya mythology.
Today, Calakmul remains one of the most structurally rich Mayan ruins in Mexico. It has the highest pyramid in the Maya world, and contains the greatest number of stelae (stone monuments) found at any site. The most iconic structure is Structure II, also known as the “Great Pyramid,” which stands at 148 feet (45m), one of the tallest pyramids in the Maya world. Nine royal tombs have been found within the pyramid, some containing rich funerary offerings including jade masks.
Highlights of Calakmul
- Great Pyramid – one of the tallest Mayan pyramids in Mexico
- Great Acropolis – a massive complex housing 20 plazas, courtyards, and patios, making it one of the largest palace complexes in the Maya World
- Structure VII – temple/pyramid complex with also tombs and jewels buried within
- Structures IV and VI – thought of have astronomical function, marking the equinox and solstices
- Calakmul Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Calakmul Ruins Admission: 260 MXN (US$13)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Calakmul Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Day Tour of Calakmul from Campeche
13. Becán Mayan Ruins
Relatively close to Calakmul, the Becán Mayan ruins are much easier to get to and receive more visitors. You can easily visit Becán on a day trip from Bacalar Lagoon or Chetumal, both close to the Belize border (around a 4.5-hour drive from Cancun).
Becán’s history unfolds over millennia, with evidence of settlement dating back as far as the Preclassic period, around 550 BC. However, it was during the Classic period, from the 6th to the 9th century AD, that Becán reached its zenith. The city was part of the Rio Bec region, known for its unique architectural style characterized by elaborately decorated structures, including towering pyramids, ball courts, and ceremonial plazas.
One of the most iconic features of Becán is its remarkable defensive wall, a testament to the city’s strategic location and the challenges it faced during its heyday. This massive wall, punctuated by watchtowers, encircled the city and served as protection against potential threats.
Becán’s architectural marvels include the soaring Structure II, a massive pyramid that rises above the treetops. Climbing its steep stairs offers breathtaking views of the surrounding jungle and a sense of connection with the ancient Maya rulers who once presided here. The city’s ball court, adorned with intricate carvings, provides a glimpse into the ritualistic and symbolic aspects of Maya life and sports.
What sets Becán apart is its tranquility and relatively low tourist traffic. Having only been “discovered” in 1934, Becán is visited only by those who are willing to veer well off the beaten path, and it remains one of the least known Mayan ruins in Mexico.
Highlights of Becán
- Structure IX – highest pyramid at Becán
- Structure X – a huge palace complex with multiple chambers distributed on two levels
- Structure IV – its upper level courtyard has chambers containing a façade with stone mosaic zoomorphic masks
- Structure III – an elongated structure housing numerous, interconnected chambers
- Becán Ruins Hours: Open daily, 9am-5pm
- Becán Ruins Admission: 75 MXN (US$3.75)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Becán Ruins? Yes
- Tour: Day Tour of Becan from Campeche
14. Edzna Mayan Ruins
Just 45 minutes south of Campeche city lies the ancient Maya ruins of Edzna. Edzna’s history stretches back over two thousand years, with evidence of settlement as far back as 400 BC. However, it truly flourished during the Late Classic period, from around 600 to 900 AD, when it became a prominent center of Maya civilization.
One of Edzna’s most remarkable features is the Great Acropolis, an elevated complex of buildings and plazas that showcases the Maya’s advanced understanding of urban planning and construction techniques. The Templo de los Cinco Pisos (Temple of the Five Stories) stands as a testament to the Maya’s architectural prowess, with its distinctive five-tiered pyramid providing panoramic views of the surrounding landscape.
However, what truly sets Edzna apart is its ingenious water management system, a testament to the city’s resilience in the face of the challenging Yucatan climate. The city features a series of interconnected reservoirs, canals, and a massive cistern known as the Gran Canal, which stored and distributed water throughout the city.
Highlights of Edzna
- Great Acropolis – the central platform that faces the Palace
- Cinco Pisos (5 levels) – the main palace featuring five levels
- Temple of the Masks – this building has two small but distinct masks on the base of the temple: one mask represents the Sunrise God and the other the Sunset God
- The Palace – It is hard to miss this structure that faces the Gran Acropolis
- Edzna Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- Edzna Ruins Admission: 65 MXN (US$3.25)
- Can you climb the pyramids at Edzna Ruins? No
- Tour: Full Day Tour with Waterfalls
15. El Tajín Ruins
Located in the state of Veracruz, the ancient city of El Tajín is renowned for its remarkably well-preserved pyramids and temples nestled amidst the picturesque landscape, approximately 10 kilometers west of Papantla. Its historical significance was officially recognized in 1992 when it earned a prestigious UNESCO World Heritage Site designation.
El Tajín means ‘thunder,’ ‘lightning,’ or ‘hurricane’ in the Totonac language. The ancient city reached its high point around 800 to 900 AD. The city’s decline and eventual abandonment around 1200 may have been precipitated by factors such as fire and incursions by the Chichimec peoples. Over time, the jungle gradually reclaimed this once-thriving metropolis, hiding it from human knowledge until its “rediscovery” by an inquisitive Spanish individual in 1785.
The Pyramid of the Niches, an architectural marvel soaring to a height of 18 meters, stands as the most iconic structure in El Tajín. This pyramid is perfectly proportioned and features six lower levels adorned with rows of small square niches, believed to symbolize the dualities of day and night, life and death in the Maya cosmology. Archaeologists speculate that the original count of 365 niches hints at the pyramid’s potential role as a calendar.
El Tajín Chico, often considered the government square of the ancient city, was the seat of power and residence of the ruling elite. The buildings in this area feature intricate stone mosaic patterns, with Edificio I believed to have served as a palace, adorned with exquisite carvings. Notably, the Plaza de las Columnas, situated northwest of the square, houses some reassembled carved columns, which are on display in the museum, offering a tangible link to El Tajín’s architectural grandeur.
Among the 17 ball courts at El Tajín, the Juego de Pelota Sur, dating from around 1150, stands out for its historical significance. Its walls bear six relief carvings vividly depicting the ritualistic and often brutal human sacrifices associated with the ball games of that era. The northeast corner panel presents a clear depiction of the post-game sacrifice, with one player poised to plunge a knife into the chest of another, while a third player restrains the victim.
Highlights of El Tajín
- Pyramid of the Niches – the most iconic pyramid adorned with square niches
- El Tajín Chico – government square of the ancient city
- Juego de Pelota Sur – ball court with well-preserved wall relief carvings
- Juego de Pelota de las Pinturas – featuring two immaculately preserved red-and-blue geometric friezes
El Tajín Tips
- El Tajín Ruins Hours: Open daily, 8am-5pm
- El Tajín Ruins Admission: 180 MXN (US$9)
- Can you climb the pyramids at El Tajín Ruins? No
- Tour: Day Tour of El Tajin and Papantla from Veracruz
Rules at the Mayan Ruins in Mexico
Most Mayan ruins in Mexico are protected by INAH (National Institute of Anthropology and History), a federal government organism founded in 1939 to guarantee the research and conservation of the archeological sites in Mexico. Here are the rules laid out by INAH to protect these ancient ruins in Mexico.
- Smoking is not allowed anywhere within the archaeological sites in Mexico.
- Stay within the designated areas and entering the restricted areas is not allowed.
- You can climb and enter some of the pyramids listed above, however, depending on the current regulations.
- Picking or cutting down any of the vegetation are not allowed within park premises.
- Do not litter in the park.
- Do not feed wild animals.
- Do not graffiti, touch, lean or sit on any archaeological monument.
- Drones and unauthorized filming for commercial purposes are not allowed.
Enjoy Your Trip to the Mayan Ruins!
Archaeologists are continuing to discover new Mayan ruins as we speak, adding to the number of impressive Mayan ruins in Mexico. I hope this list of the best Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico have helped you narrow down your choices and decide which ones to visit. Let me know if you have any questions in the comments field below.
For those who are planning to travel more of Mexico, check out other articles I’ve written on Mexico:
- Palenque Ruins Guide
- Ek Balam Ruins Guide
- Monte Alban Ruins Guide
- Teotihuacan Mexico City Pyramids Guide
- 20 Safest Cities in Mexico
- 30 Pueblos Mágicos in Mexico to Visit
- Oaxaca Road Trip: My 10-Day Oaxaca Itinerary
- 10-Day Yucatan Itinerary
- 10-Day Guanajuato Itinerary
- 10-Day Copper Canyon Itinerary
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