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3 Stunning Mayan Ruins Yucatan Sites you must visit!

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The Mayan civilization (also called Maya civilization) was a Meso-American civilization of the Maya peoples. The Mayans occupied all of the Yucatan Peninsula (with Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, and Chiapas) and were known for their arts, architecture, mathematics, calendar, and astronomical system. It is believed that the Mayans began to settle in the Yucatan region between 2600 BC and 1800 BC. We visited 3 of the stunning Mayan Ruins Yucatan archaeological sites and we think you should add them to your Riviera Maya Mexico vacation

Read to find out the top 3 Mayan Ruins Sites to visit in the Yucatan. This post also includes tours, distance from hotel zones in Riviera Maya, and other things to see!

Best Mayan Ruins Yucatan in Mexico

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. 

Coba Mayan Ruins in Mexico Yucatan Peninsula

Coba ruins are the oldest Mayan ruins in Mexico. Coba ruins are located in a HUGE complex and are deeply embedded inside the Yucatan forests.

Coba ruins are characterized by the iconic – Nohoch mul pyramid or the mound. The Nohoch mul pyramid is the tallest pyramid in Mexico at 137 feet high. It is also credited to be the second tallest Mayan pyramid in the world. And yes you can climb this ancient pyramid.

Coba Ruins in Mexico. Nohoch Mul pyramid in Yucatan
Coba Ruins – Mexico

When we visited Cobá, we were allowed to climb up to the top of the pyramid. The pyramid is composed of 120 (large) steps.  

It does take a bit of effort in climbing downhill, but going up was easy. The pyramid steps were big and you will have to take giant leaps to climb up or down from one step to the next. We did a history guided tour of the Coba ruins, so we were not worried about being sore or driving back.

If you are up for it, take the leap and climb the steps – this IS the only Mayan pyramid where you can still do it. There are thick ropes attached to the pyramid so that you can hold them as guard rails to climb up and down.

Coba Ruins Yucatan from top
Top of Coba Ruins

The views from up the Coba pyramid were breathtaking. Everywhere you look – you will find the mighty Yucatan peninsula calling you. It is gorgeously stunning with all the greenery. This view is something that I will hold on to forever,

Never had I seen such beautiful lush green carpet underneath – an aerial view of this ancient city will surely melt your heart!

Yucatan Forest top of Coba Ruins
Yucatan Forest top of Coba Ruins

Nohoch mul is just one of the many pyramids in Coba. In fact, there could be thousands of these buried under the thick layer of the forest. There are also many small temples and structures scattered in and around the Cobá ruins. You will also find a smaller pyramid in the ruin grounds.

There are stone walls and underground tunnels that are open for visitors to explore. Two ball courts are open for exploration as well. You will most likely see some fossil beds and other inscriptions that speaks volume of the rich past and the trade activities and the civilization that flourished there.

Mayan Ruins of Coba
Mayan Ruins of Coba

Coba ruins are actually one of the least visited ruins in Mexico. When you arrive at the ruins site, you will be transported to the Mayan days of trade and living.

When you walk the forest beds, you will very well be taking the white roads that the Mayans took. The white roads (white sacred roads) or the sacbe are like today’s ring roads – multiple routes in and from the pyramid to the outside world, taking them as far as Honduras.

It is still unclear how the Mayans transported all the materials to build the pyramid, temple, and ball court and in the forest depths. But they were definitely a civilization that was far ahead of its times.

Coba ruins can be traced back to 100 AD and at its peak, the complex was occupied by 50,000 inhabitants. The site must have been abandoned during the Spanish expansion in the 1550s.

To explore the Cobá ruins and understand its history, we took a guided tour of the Coba ruins.

We were told that what we see in Coba today is only 1-2% of the actual ruins, many of the structures are still buried in deep woods. Difficulties still lay ahead and many are unsure if the complex will be ever further excavated to reveal more structures.

The tour was definitely an interesting one, especially if you LOVE history or would like to know more about the ancient Mayan culture and civilization. Through this tour, we learned about the Mayan history and its ultimate fate – when and why it was abandoned and civilization moved to Chichen Itza.

Coba Ruins Travel Tips

As the Coba pyramid is located in a dense forested area, vehicles are not permitted inside. You will have to park the car or leave the tour van, and then rent a bike or hire a tuk-tuk to reach the pyramid.

Coba Ruins Information Board

We took a tuk-tuk (or bici cycle) for $10 USD for two, and it was actually so amazing to get some relief from the heat and enjoy the breezy ride to the pyramids. So worth it and LOVED every bit of it!

Entry Fees to Coba Mayan Ruins

  • Ruins entrance – 70 pesos or 4 USD per person 
  • Car Parking – 50 pesos or 2.50 USD

How to get to Coba Mayan Ruins in Mexico – Yucatan?

Coba ruins are located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. 

  • Drive from Tulum – 1 hour 
  • Drive from Playa del Carmen  – 1 hour 30 minutes 
  • Drive from Cancun – 2 hours 10 minutes

Guided Tours to explore Coba Ruins

Guided tours are a great way to explore Coba Ruins. Here are a few recommended tours including the one that we took –

  • Coba and Cenote Tour from Riviera Maya – BOOK HERE
    • Full day guided tour of Coba ruins
    • Swim at a cenote nearby
    • Traditional Mexican lunch
    • Round trip from hotels in Riviera Maya (call to confirm pick or meeting point)
    • BOOK YOUR TRIP HERE
  • Coba and Tulum day tour from Riviera Maya> BOOK HERE
    • Coba and Tulum ruins tour
    • Swim at a cenote
    • Traditional buffet lunch (Mexican)
    • Round trip from Riviera Maya
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Coba and Chichen Itza day tour > BOOK HERE
    • Coba and Chichen Itza Ruins Tour
    • Swim at the beautiful Ik Ill Cenote
    • Small-group tour with lunch
    • Round trip from Cancun hotel zone or Playa del Carmen hotels
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE

Other activities and things to see near Coba Ruins

Coba ruins are surrounded by 2 lagoons and 3 cenotes. These 3 cenotes are located only a 10-minute drive away from the Coba ruins. As part of our guided tour, we were taken to Choo Ha cenote as well. Let’s take a quick look at what cenotes are and which ones are located near Coba ruins.

Mayan Ruins Yucatan - Coba Ruins of Mexico
Choo Ha Cenote

Cenotes are sinkholes. The ancient Mayans used to regard the cenotes very scared and even today the existing Mayan people rely on the water from their cenote for their day to day living. Because Mayan consume this water even today, it is recommended that before a swim at the cenote, you take a shower and do not apply any lotions (or chemicals) on your body.

  • Choo-Ha – Great for a quick dip in the cenote water on a hot day. This cenote is beautiful with a lot of stalagmites. You have to have a stairway leading down to the sink-water underneath. This cenote is closest to Coba Ruins. 
  • Tamcach-Ha – One of the MOST popular cenotes in the area. You can swim and dive here. 
  • Multum-Ha – Located a little further away from Coba ruins, this cenote is BEST for snorkeling. 

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Yucatan 

One of the MOST iconic, most visited Mayan ruins in Yucatan is the Chichen Itza ruins. This site alone attracts millions of visitors every year, especially around the time of summer solstice in June. (And yes it is super hot, but also very crowded).

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza – Mexico

Chichen Itza is considered as one of the new seven wonders of the world. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site. So you can give yourself a trophy for checking this off from your bucket list.

The Mayan name “Chichen Itza” means “at the mouth of the well of the Itza.” The El Castillo pyramid (which is the centre of the Chichen Itza archaeological site and the main temple) is dedicated to Kukulkan – the serpent deity. The pyramid dates back to the 9th century. Unlike the Coba ruins, you cannot climb the pyramid here.

Exploring the Mayan Ruins of Chichen Itza, Mexico. Read all about its history, travel tips and itinerary. A quick guide to Chichen Itza, one of the wonders of the modern world.
ChichenItza

The Kukulkan pyramid is believed to be constructed in utmost symmetry and in line with astrological directions. Each of the pyramid’s four sides has 91 steps. In the past, tourists were allowed to climb up the steps and reach the top court, but not anymore.

The 91 steps on each side sums up to a total of 365 (including the temple platform on top as the final “step”) which represents the 365 days of the year.

When the Autumn equinox hits the earth, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the western balustrade on the north side that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase.

Chichen Itza pillars
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza ruins also have other structures including a ball court, temples comprising of 108 pillars and markets. The number 09 was very scared and dear to the Mayans.

Of all the guided tours that we took in Riviera Maya, the Chichen Itza tour with a historian was the most memorable and very interesting, to say the least.

We LOVE history and getting the insights and lessons from a researcher was great. (And the pictures you see here were all taken during the guided tours, and no we didn’t find them intrusive. It was informative without the hand-holding/interference!)

Chichen Itza

Expect a decent amount of walking at the archaeological site. So wear comfortable shoes and carry bug spray and umbrella. The actual site complex only has the pyramid itself, no trees are located near it, so it gets very hot if visiting at noon. Trees and benches are placed at the distance, where you can sit and admire the pyramid.

Chichen Itza Ruins Visit Tips

Chichen Itza Ruins site is easily accessible from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. We did a guided tour/ day trip to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen.

Entry Fees to Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

  • Ruins entrance – 480 pesos or $24 USD (for foreign nationals)
  • Car Parking – 30 pesos or 1.50 USD
How to get to Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico – Yucatan?
  • Drive from Tulum – 2 hour
  • Drive from Playa del Carmen  – 2 hour 10 minutes
  • Drive from Cancun – About 2 hour 25 minutes

Guided Tours to explore Chichen Itza Ruins

There are SO SO many tours to Chichen Itza and with a lot of variety like sunrise and evening lights tour, planetarium, and also visits to other Mayan ruins sites like Uxmal. So let’s begin 

Chichen Itza Tour
Chichen Itza Tour
  • Chichen Itza – Classic tour from Cancun > BOOK HERE
  • Chichen Itza Lights and Sound Show with Cenote Swim > BOOK HERE
    • Guided tour of Chichen Itza, with Light and Sound Show
    • Access the Temples at Chichen Itza through a private entrance with no lines
    • Swim in a sinkhole at Cenote Hacienda Chukum
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Chichen Itza Sunrise tour > BOOK HERE
    • Special tour to watch the sun rays fall on Chichen Itza
    • Tour is conducted in a Mercedes Benz
    • Early access to the site. Toll fees paid
    • Breakfast included
    • This tour is from Merida. The colonial city of Mérida is the largest city in Yucatan. Merida is located off the coast of Gulf of Mexico. 
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Chichen Itza and Uxmal 2 day tour > BOOK HERE
    • 2 day tour to Chichen Itza and Uxmal Mayan Ruins Tour 
    • Round trip Mercedes Benz transportation
    • Tour from Cancun or Riviera Maya
    • Includes use of all facilities at the Mayaland Resort (swimming pools, lounge chairs, botanical gardens)
    • 1 night’s accommodation at the Hacienda Uxmal
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Chichen Itza and Ek Balam Tour > BOOK HERE
    • 2 Mayan ruins exploration one from the Classic Mayan period and another from post Classic period
    • Chichen Itza architecture belongs to the post-classic Mayan civilization. With Ek Balam, you will view the architecture of the Classic Period with the pointed top to the main temple. 
    • Swim in the sacred Cenote Hubiku
    • Full day tour from Cancun or Playa del carmen
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE

Other activities at the Chichen Itza Ruins

After exploring the Chichen Itza pyramid and other structures on-site, you can visit the small market stalls at the complex. Most souvenir stores will be a tad pricey, but a bargain! 

There are a few cenotes located in the vicinity including the popular and beautiful Ik Ill cenote. 

Tulum Mayan Ruins in Mexico

Tulum Ruins are the youngest amongst all the 3 Mayan ruins in Yucatan. The location of Tulum ruins is unique as it is enclosed by walls on three sides and faces the stunning Caribbean sea on one side.

Tulum one of the finest Mayan Ruins Yucatan

It is believed that when the Mayans suffered from drought, they eventually moved to Tulum and set their community here. The sea also allowed them to connect other Mayan civilizations in Central America.

Tulum Ruins are much smaller as compared to Coba and Chichen Itza. It is however scattered all across the site. The main structure at Tulum ruins is the El Castillo pyramid. Every Mayan ruins site has an El Castillo pyramid and it is the main castle of the site.

As you enter the Tulum archaeological site, you will pass a huge wall – this 16 feet wall safeguarded and fortified the city. That is why Tulum is often referred to as the “walled city”.

Tulum is a coastal town located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Tulum is well-known for its beaches and the ancient Mayan ruins. This post highlights a day’s itinerary and a quick guide to the Parque Nacional Tulum, including the Playa Paradiso.
Great Palace – Mexico

The site also has 5 gates that lead to the central part of Tulum ruins archaeological site. There are many smaller structures – temples, houses of cenotes, and a great palace located at the Tulum ruins.

Once upon a time, these structures were painted in red (vermilion color, denoting the Goddess of fertility). Much of the paint is now gone, leaving the bare (beige colored) structures, but you can still see inscriptions on the stone on a closer look.

What makes Tulum unique is the Caribbean Sea and the God of Winds temple, facing the sea. That image has drawn thousands of visitors to this gorgeous site.

Tulum is a coastal town located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Tulum is well-known for its beaches and the ancient Mayan ruins. This post highlights a day’s itinerary and a quick guide to the Parque Nacional Tulum, including the Playa Paradiso.
A day at the Tulum Ruins of Mexico

Although easily accessible by road and tours, expect to walk a lot at the Tulum complex. It is almost like a mini hike. So wear comfortable walking shoes and carry a hat or umbrella for sun protection. Add a bug spray to the list as well!

Almost all of the structures at Tulum are barricaded and visitors are allowed to explore them from a distance. And of course, you cannot climb any pyramids here.

Tulum Ruins Guide Tips

Tulum ruins site is easily accessible from Playa del Carmen and Cancun. We did a guided tour to Tulum from Playa del Carmen. If you are planning to drive to Tulum ruins, you can park your car close to the site. The parking area is located a little further away from the ruins, so you can either walk to take a train for $1 USD.

Tulum is a coastal town located in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. Tulum is well-known for its beaches and the ancient Mayan ruins. This post highlights a day’s itinerary and a quick guide to the Tulum Ruins including the Playa Paradiso.
El Castillo – Tulum

Entry Fees to Tulum archaeological zone  

  • Ruins entrance – 65 pesos = $3.50 USD
  • Car Parking – 30 pesos or 1.50 USD

How to get to Tulum Mayan Ruins in Mexico – Yucatan?

  • Drive from Playa del Carmen  – About 1 hour 
  • Drive from Cancun – About 2 hours 

Guided Tours to explore Tulum Ruins

  • Tulum Exploration Tour > BOOK HERE (good value)
    • Half-Day tour to Tulum
    • Explore Tulum ruins in 4 hours
    • Round trip transportation from Cancun and Riviera Maya hotels
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Tulum and Coba day tour from Riviera Maya> BOOK HERE
    • Coba and Tulum ruins tour
    • Swim at a cenote
    • Traditional buffet lunch (Mexican)
    • Round trip from Riviera Maya
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE
  • Tulum and Xel Ha Full day tour from Cancun > BOOK HERE
    • Explore Tulum ruins with a guide
    • Spend time at the Xel Ha Park
    • Entrance fees included for Xel Ha Park with lunch 
    • Round trip from Cancun
    • BOOK YOUR TOUR HERE

Other activities at the Tulum Ruins

Playa Paradiso

There are many things to do at the Tulum Ruins other than the ruins. Tulum ruins itself can be a full day’s itinerary. After exploring the ruins, you can head to the Paradise Beach (Playa Paradiso). Relax at the beach or snorkel. There are snorkeling tours available at the beach.

Beautiful Beach in Tulum Mexico - Enjoy your Mexico Vacation, with packing tips for Mexico
Tulum Beach

Pancho Villa – bar and restaurant is conveniently located at the beach. It is a perfect spot to grab a beer and some fish tacos while enjoying the gushing sound of the waves.  


At the Yucatan peninsula, you will find more Mayan ruins that are worth visiting including Ek Balam and Uxmal. We have included tours to visit the same under the Chichen Itza Mayan ruins section. The 3 Mayan ruins Yucatan are the BEST that shouldn’t be missed from your Riviera Maya vacation. 

We have a recommended tour here that combines all 3 Mayan Ruins Yucatan sites on a full-day tour! (with lunch)

Additional Resources on Mexico Travel

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. If you click one of them, we may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you.

Pin: 3 Mayan Ruins Yucatan Sites (in Mexico) to add to your bucket list

Mayan Ruins Yucatan
Mayan Ruins Yucatan

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