MAYAN RUINS IN YUCATAN: GUIDE & INFO

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After listing the best beaches in Yucatan, in this article we talk about the second major attraction in this area of ​​Mexico, the Mayan ruins.

These ruins include streets, religious sites, pyramids and fortifications, up to actual urban centres. Among the most famous archaeological sites in Yucatan today we find the pyramid of Chichen Itza, a UNESCO world heritage site and part of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, the sites of Coba and Ek Balam, and the ruins of Tulum.


WHERE DID THE MAYA LIVE?

The Mayan people lived for over 2,000 years in the modern-day Mexican states of Yucatan, Quintana Roo, Campeche, Tabasco, Chiapas, and in the nations of Guatemala and Belize. From approximately 1000 BC until 1500 AD, when the Spanish led by General Cortés began European domination in the Americas.

A huge region, thousands of square kilometres wide covered in jungle and forest.
Despite a harsh climate and difficult terrain, the Maya are estimated to have built around 40 large cities over the centuries, and the total population reached 10 million people at its peak, a very high figure for the time.

The Maya were skilled in agriculture and trade, their people were very literate and some exponents knew mathematics and astronomy deeply, as we know from the well-known Mayan calendars, closely linked to religious beliefs.


MAYA CIVILIZATION DECLINE

The Spanish had a relatively easy time in the war against the Maya, deceiving the Native Americans and pretending they had no intentions of conquest. Furthermore, according to researchers, the Mayan civilization had already been in decline for a few centuries after the year 1000 AD. This was due to internal conflicts and climate changes that brought drought and disease to Mesoamerica. This does not eliminate the fact that the Spanish contributed to the massacre of at least 1-2 million Maya.

Over the last 500 years, ancient Mayan buildings have been destroyed by the Spanish or lost. Many ended up in ruins and submerged in the lush jungle of modern-day Mexico. Only in the 19th century were the first remains of Mayan buildings discovered by archaeologists, leading to major revelations and the establishment of dozens of archaeological sites in Yucatan and beyond.

Even today it is estimated that several ancient Mayan cities are still buried in the deep jungle of Mesoamerica. With the help of new aerial technologies such as drones and lasers, experts will be able to discover more in the years to come.

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Ek Balam, Yucatan


RIVIERA MAYA AND YUCATAN TODAY

Nowadays the gap between past and present is clear. Mass tourism, particularly in Quintana Roo in the cities of Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, comes above all for the beaches in the Caribbean Sea and for the coast that has been renamed Riviera Maya. To be honest there’s very little about Maya here, the name was probably chosen for that appealing touch of exotic…

In tourist areas the usual mix of local and commercial elements can be found. Many Mexicans and Central Americans have moved here for the good job opportunities in tourism. But the further inland you go, the more you find traces and concrete evidence of the ancient Mayan civilization.

The direct descendants of the Maya still survive, a people of around 6 million people who over time retreated further inland to preserve their traditions.
Since the time of Spanish colonization, diseases have contributed to the disappearance of tens of thousands of natives. Even today, the descendants of the Mayans have weak immune systems compared to the standards of the Western world.


MEXICO’S LOVE FOR COCA-COLA

For example, the Covid-19 pandemic has put the population at great risk given the difficulty of bringing vaccines and guaranteeing health measures to the most remote areas. Furthermore, some modern foods and drinks, above all sugary Coca-Cola so loved by Mexicans, are sometimes more easily available than water and are responsible for very high rates of diabetes in indigenous populations (but also among Mexicans in general).

Mexico is the no.1 state in the world for consumption of Coca-Cola, Pepsi and so on. We found ourselves several times having no choice other than Cola, Sprite or sweetened iced teas during our trip to Mexico, because many small restaurants and street stalls only sell these drinks, which are cheaper and more profitable than bottled water!

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Playa Chacmool, Cancun


WHERE TO STAY IN YUCATAN AND RIVIERA MAYA?

Anyway, Yucatan offers various options for visiting Mayan ruins and combining history and culture with the beautiful Caribbean Sea.

As mentioned, the three main cities of Cancun, Tulum and Playa del Carmen are ideal bases for setting off and visiting the Mayan ruins. From these hubs it’s possible to take daily tours throughout the Yucatán, primarily the excursion to the Mayan pyramid of Chichén Itzá.

For an in-depth look at the spectacular cenotes in the region’s interior, read our guide to the best cenotes in Yucatan.

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Playa del Carmen, Yucatan


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN CANCUN

Cancun is the tourist capital of Quintana Roo. It’s a city tailor-made to attract international tourism, particularly from the neighbouring United States. A flight from Florida takes 3-4 hours to reach the Yucatan Peninsula. There are many luxury hotels and resorts, some all-inclusive, but also less expensive options, here are some examples.


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN PLAYA DEL CARMEN

Playa del Carmen is a less party place than Cancun, but offers just as many services for visitors. It’s about an hour’s drive from the airport, and has a long beach with pedestrian areas, bars and restaurants a stone’s throw from the sea. Moving a few streets inland you’ll find accommodation with more moderate prices, including many apartments.


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN TULUM

The third most known beach destination in Yucatan is Tulum. A luxury and chic destination, where resorts and hotels are decorated in the most varied styles. The new Tulum international airport has been active since 2024 to make the area more convenient to reach, given that it is almost two hours from Cancun. Prices on average here are higher than in Playa del Carmen.


MAYAN RUINS AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITES

During your time in Yucatan and Mexico, you’ll realize how vast the states are within the nation, which is the fifth largest in America. And in such a large ​​territory, there are so many things to see.

Dozens of archaeological sites and Mayan ruins can be found in Yucatan. In this article we talk about the most famous ones not to be missed, but also some examples of less visited sites, in order to experience a more authentic and complete journey.

Based on our experience, a visit to Chichen Itza is clearly a must. Skipping it would be like going to Rome without seeing the Colosseum. But what we really enjoyed in Yucatan was visiting some almost deserted archaeological sites (especially early in the morning), and also being able to physically climb one of the great Mayan pyramids.

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Chichen Itza, Mexico


BEST MAYAN RUINS IN YUCATAN, MEXICO

Here are the Mayan ruins not to be missed in Yucatan, plus some alternative less crowded archaeological sites.

TABLE OF CONTENTS:


TULUM RUINS

Let’s start with the ruins closest to the tourist area. The archaeological zone of Tulum, or Ruinas de Tulum, is located a few minutes from the city centre. It’s not far from the busy Zona Hotelera where the luxury resorts of Tulum are located.

Due to its easily accessible location on the Riviera Maya, it is one of the most popular excursions from Cancun and Playa del Carmen in the state of Quintana Roo.

The Mayan ruins of Tulum are small in size compared to other archaeological sites in Yucatan. It’s essentially a religious temple complex with stunning views of the Caribbean Sea.

If this is the first site you visit in Yucatan, you’ll certainly be fascinated by its scenic location. But after having been to other ruins, don’t expect too much archaeologically from the small Ruinas de Tulum.

After touring the ruins of Tulum, don’t forget to go down the stairs and reach the beautiful bay and beach under the cliff.

TULUM RUINS ENTRY FEE: 150 pesos (9€), allow 1h.

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Tulum ruins and beach


XEL-HA

The Xel-Ha ruins are another archaeological site in Quintana Roo, about 20 km from Tulum.

This site is small too, and the Xel-Ha Waterpark is probably much more visited than the ruins. Xel-Ha in Mayan language means “where the waters mix”, in fact here the Caribbean Sea gets inland to meet the fresh waters, forming natural bays and cenotes.

The area is home to the remains of some Mayan buildings such as “El Palacio”, and some interesting rock paintings in the “House of Birds”. It takes less than an hour to get around, but it can be a good introduction to Mayan ruins, without straying too far from the cities.

The lagoon area is very beautiful, although it looks like here the sacred and the profane got mixed up, more than the waters.

The park owner Xcaret (a name that you’ll see almost everywhere in the Riviera Maya) jumped at the opportunity to transform the area into a large water park, complete with slides, trampolines, vines and adventure courses. In short, not very related to the Mayan culture.

Xel-Ha may not be the prettiest archaeological site you’ll see in Yucatan, but it’s low-cost and overlooked due to the nearby water park. We recommend it to those who don’t want to travel too far from the Riviera Maya, or are traveling with children and want to combine the visit to Xel-Ha with a day on the beach in Tulum or Playa del Carmen.

XEL-HA ENTRY FEE: 90 pesos (5€), 45 min visit. The nearby water park is much more expensive (info Xel-Ha Waterpark here).

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Xel-Ha ruins



COBA ARCHAEOLOGICAL SITE

Located in the heart of the jungle, here are the ruins of Coba, an extraordinary archaeological site that offers a very different experience from the ruins of Tulum, but also from Chichen Itza.

Coba is located 45 minutes from Tulum, 1h from Playa del Carmen, almost 2h from Cancun.

As this site is less crowded, especially if you come when it opens in the morning, and in our opinion underrated too, a visit to Coba is an experience that will give you a much more authentic vision of how the Mayans lived in Yucatan.

The Coba site was a sort of Mayan urban centre. There are four internal groups of buildings, distributed over a several square kilometres wide area.

It’s possible to rent a bicycle or take a rickshaw from one group of ruins to another within Coba (prices from 50 to 200 pesos, distances 1-2km). However, it’s equally doable to get around on foot without too many problems, but it’s better to come when it opens (8 am), to avoid crowds and extreme heat.

Remember mosquito spray in the sultry jungle. Despite the humidity, one of the bonuses of Coba is the fact that it’s one of the most sheltered Mayan sites thanks to the many trees.

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MAYAN BUILDINGS AND BALL GAME

The remains of the buildings include pyramids, carved stelae, playgrounds, temples and an astronomical observatory. These architectural elements testify to the culture and building skills of the Maya, who were also capable of observing the stars, understanding the progress of the seasons, and playing games in stadiums.

The Mayan ball game was a sort of football mixed with basketball, in which players had to kick a rubber ball into a ring placed a few meters from the ground, but without using their hands.
The playing field was very large and matches could last hours without “a goal” being scored.

Depending on the interpretations of researchers, the loser was sacrificed to please the gods. Another version says that it was the winners who were sacrificed, as death by sacrifice was one of the glorious ways to access the afterlife according to the customs of the Maya (along with dying in war).

As they discovered new ruins, the Spanish gave “European” names to the buildings they found. For example you will find “El Palacio”, “El Castillo”, “Palacio de las Monjas”, “La Iglesia”, etc. in descriptions of buildings within Mayan archaeological sites. Only rarely have Mayan names been recovered, such as “Kukulcan Temple” for the Chichen Itza pyramid or “Nohoch Mul” for Coba.

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Mayan ball game field at Chichen Itza


NOHOCH MUL PYRAMID, COBA

The largest pyramid in the Mayan ruins of Coba deserves a paragraph of its own. It’s the tallest pyramid in Yucatan with its 42 metres of height and 120 steps.

It was possible to climb this pyramid until a couple of years ago, to admire the Mesoamerican jungle from above. Then during Covid-19, the climb was closed and reopened at times, and we weren’t sure if it was still doable or not.

Upon our arrival in Nohoch Mul, we had to face reality. A rope cordons off the base, and an employee guards the site. Having arrived here early, we were alone in front of the huge pyramid nestled in the jungle, a magical feeling. It’s a shame we couldn’t go up, the photos we saw were incredible!

But the visit to Coba is equally worth the price and effort, it was our favorite archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula. Compared to Chichen Itza, the area here is much quieter and appears more authentic. It takes at least 3 hours to fully see the four groups of Coba, even more if you hire a guide who will explain all the details carefully.

After visiting Coba, don’t miss the opportunity to cool off in one of the 3 cenotes that are located near the archaeological area: Tankach-Ha, Choo-Ha and Multum Ha (entrance 100 pesos). If you come to Coba by car, you can reach the cenotes in 15 minutes by road. Alternatively, here’s a tour that includes a visit to Coba and the cenotes.

COBA RUINS ENTRY FEE: 100 pesos (6€) per head, parking 50 pesos. Visit length: 3-4 hours.

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  • Coba pyramid view



UXMAL

We now move into the interior of Yucatan, almost to the border with the state of Campeche. Here lies the archaeological area of ​​Uxmal. We are very far from the Riviera Maya, but we include Uxmal in this list as it’s a UNESCO world heritage site. It’s also considered to be the second most important archaeological site in Yucatan after Chichen Itza.

Similar to Coba, the Uxmal site receives a much lower number of visitors than Chichen Itza, and here too the visiting experience is more pleasant. However, consider that it’s necessary to stay at least one or two nights in one of the hotels near Merida or Valladolid to be able to visit Uxmal in the day.

Among the many ruins in Uxmal, it’s no longer possible to climb the great main pyramid or El Palacio. However, you can enter some remains of buildings and climb other side buildings to get good views from above. In general in Uxmal there’s more accessibility and freedom of movement to explore the site, even if it’s exposed to the sun.

The most popular excursions to Uxmal depart from the city of Merida, an excellent destination to stay a couple of nights during your trip to Yucatan.

UXMAL ENTRY FEE: about 500 pesos for both taxes (28€), 80 for parking. Visit length: 3 hours.

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Uxmal archaeological site. Ph Wiki Commons


CHICHEN ITZA WORLD HERITAGE SITE

Here’s the queen of all Mayan ruins in Yucatan: Chichen Itza! The most famous archaeological site in Mexico is part of the elite group of the 7 New Wonders of the World, as well as being a UNESCO world heritage site. I recommend the pronunciation “Cicen” with the soft C and not hard, it’s definitely not Chicken!

Located in the centre of Yucatan, it’s the main destination of any tour from Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Tulum or Merida. But the closest town to Chichen Itza is Valladolid, a pueblo magico that we really liked for its welcoming atmosphere.

Staying overnight in one of these hotels in Valladolid is an excellent solution for visiting Chichen Itza early the next day.

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MAYAN RUINS OF CHICHEN ITZA

Obviously all eyes will be on the main pyramid, but the Chichen Itza site is quite large. It takes 3-5 hours to visit depending on whether you go on your own or with a guide.

Among other important ruins at Chichen Itza are the ball court, the platform of Venus, the enormous Temple of Warriors, the platform of the Eagles and Jaguars, and even a sacred cenote that was used for human sacrifice.

It can certainly make sense to hire a guide for this historic place, but be careful of the prices which can be excessive (up to 800-1000 pesos, €50, payment in cash), and if you can, rely on a guide recommended by friends who have visited before.

After being in Coba, we preferred to purchase an online audio guide to Chichen Itza for an easier and more independent visit (audio guide in English or Spanish). However, for groups of 4 or more people the cost of an on-site guide can be softened.

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EL CASTILLO PYRAMID, OR TEMPLE OF KUKULCAN

Shortly after the entrance you’ll arrive in front of the beautiful pyramid of Chichen Itza, known as the Temple of Kukulcan to the Maya, and then called El Castillo by the Spanish.

The pyramid today appears perfectly restored, after being found in ruins by the colonizers. Since 2006, climbing the Kukulcan Temple has been prohibited for preservation, safety and religious reasons. Over time, researchers have increasingly understood the customs and meaning of the Mayan buildings.

El Castillo is not only a feast for the eyes, but also a masterpiece of architecture and astronomy. Here every spring and autumn equinox, the sun is exactly vertical to the pyramid, generating the shadow of the serpent god sacred to the Maya, represented as descending to Earth.

The Mayan kings equipped themselves with the best scholars who knew astronomical phenomena such as eclipses and equinoxes well. In this way they managed to intimidate and govern the population, summoning the gods “at will”.


CHICHEN ITZA TIPS

The area around the pyramid is very exposed to the sun’s rays, wear a hat, drink a lot and take breaks often. To avoid the crowds, come as early as possible in the morning. There is ample parking on site which costs 100 pesos per car, don’t get stopped at the supposed check-points before arriving at the car park, and only pay the officials at the gate to Chichen Itza.

The site gets hyper crowded around the main pyramid. But in some areas like the one around the astronomical observatory and the “Red House” there is less chaos.

As with Coba, here too some beautiful cenotes are nearby, ideal to cool off in the afternoon. The main tours combine the visit to Chichen Itza with the Ik-Kil cenote.

CHICHEN ITZA ENTRY FEE: 614 MXN (35€) per person. Visit of 3-5 hours.

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One of the 7 New Wonders of the World!


MAYAN PYRAMIDS IN IZAMAL

The Ciudad Amarilla (yellow city) of Izamal is a beautiful pueblo magico between Valladolid and Merida. It’s a stop worth a visit if you’re traveling by car in this area of ​​Yucatan.

In addition to the convent of Sant’Antonio from Padova in its perfect centre, the streets of Izamal are very characteristic, coloured in intense yellow. Plus, there are several Mayan pyramids in Izamal, just inside the city. The main one is the Kinich Kak Moo pyramid, which takes its name from the sun god for the Maya.

We recommend this short stop to see a different example of Mayan ruins in Yucatan. In fact, here the pyramid is not perfect nor renovated unlike Chichen Itza, with grass and plants growing on it. Moreover, access is free and climbing is allowed, the climb is not too high.

The Kinich Kak Moo pyramid remains an important pilgrimage site, religious and ceremonial centre for the Maya. At 700,000 m³, it’s one of the most massive pyramids in Mexico in terms of volume.

KAK MOO IZAMAL PYRAMID FEE: Free. Visit time: 20 minutes.

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MAYAN RUINS OF EK BALAM

We remain in the central Yucatan area near Valladolid, where we find the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam. These are located about two hours from the Riviera Maya, an advantage if you’re looking for less crowded ruins.

But the no.1 reason we came to Ek Balam was undoubtedly to climb its main pyramid, now known as the Acropolis. In fact, Ek Balam is a relatively more recent site in terms of excavations. The area has been open to the public for less than twenty years, barely a tenth of the area has been brought to light!

After the Coba pyramid disillusion, we decided to visit Ek Balam to see with our own eyes the famous Mesoamerican jungle views from above, “Eldorado” style.
As of 2024, it’s possible to climb every building and construction in Ek Balam, which made our visit very interesting and engaging.

In the morning we only met about twenty other tourists. In a couple of hours we toured the entire portion of Ek Balam open to the public so far.
Once again the ruins include the ubiquitous ball game field, an observatory, the main building El Palacio, a large engraved stele, painted texts and images, and several structures with stairways.

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EK BALAM ACROPOLIS

The most impressive building is the Acropolis. More than a pyramid, it is in fact a large building that extends for tens of metres horizontally, but it’s necessary to climb the steep stairway to get to the top.

The Acropolis was the royal palace at Ek Balam. In some parts of the Acropolis, straw coverings have been erected to protect from the sun the incredible stucco elements discovered a few years ago.

The most impressive among them is the temple where the tomb of King Ukit Kan Lek Tok lies. The finely crafted stucco facade is almost perfectly preserved. A huge open mouth with the fangs of a Mayan deity leads to the mortuary. Decorating the temple are statues and geometric patterns with carved writings.

More than 40 texts, both painted and carved, have been discovered within the Ek Balam site, revealing information regarding the kings and their interactions with other sites. Most notable is a text called the Mural of the 96 Glyphs.

The climb is tiring, it takes a challenging 10 minutes to go up. But once you get to the top you can enjoy a breathtaking view.
P.S.: a tip for climbing the high steps more effectively is to walk obliquely or zig-zagging!

EK BALAM RUINS ENTRY FEE: 531 MXN per person (28€). Visit length: 2h.

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Top of Ek Balam!


ROAD BLOCK AT EK BALAM

Be careful because you may find an unofficial checkpoint before reaching the entrance at Ek Balam. Which is not uncommon in Mexico, we met several blocks, both in Yucatan and in the state of Oaxaca.

Due to a dispute between the Yucatan government and the local populations, who accuse the former of profiting from the Mayan sites at the expense of the latter, some individuals have begun to block the roads demanding a toll in a somewhat shady manner.

We paid the required 100 pesos (50 per person), then arrived at the archaeological site and paid again for parking, and then again the two government taxes. Unfortunately, there is currently no way to escape this situation.

It’s quite annoying to have to pay one tax after another, even if it’s just a few dollars, and in the end this risks driving tourists away. But to avoid problems we preferred to pay the 100 pesos without arguing, and access Ek Balam.


UNOFFICIAL ROAD BLOCKS AND TOLLS IN MEXICO

Even at Chichen Itza we were stopped along the road, in a parking lot where official employees put a stencil on our car to then access the site’s parking lot. In Yucatan the police often carry out checks to monitor illegal immigration by sea. Given the presence of authorized and unauthorized checkpoints, it becomes complicated to understand what is legal or not!

In another case, outside Cancun, we followed a secondary road by car to avoid the Cancun-Valladolid highway (€15). Halfway down this road, an illegal barrier and toll booth blocked us, with two guys asking us for 50 pesos to get through. Despite the low figure, we preferred to turn back and take the highway. We couldn’t be sure that later they wouldn’t stop us again in that little-traveled area…

This is not to scare you, but we advise you to stay alert. If you are in a tourist area, ask around or pay the small fee to access the site. However, if you happen to be in isolated areas, it’s better to go back!



CALAKMUL ARCHAEOLOGICAL AREA

The last two archaeological zones on this list are located deep inside the Yucatan Peninsula. Coming here requires a well-planned trip.

The ruins of Calakmul are located in the south of the state of Campeche, near the Mexico-Guatemala border. They represent the largest Mayan city ever discovered in the state of Campeche.

Calakmul is a four-hour drive from the nearest cities, San Francisco de Campeche to the north, or Chetumal to the east. You need to penetrate the jungle and enter the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. We recommend coming here only with guided tours from Campeche due to the very remote area.

We mention the Mayan ruins of Calakmul because they are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There are two very large pyramids which you can climb and admire the view as far as Guatemala.

Here you’ll truly be in the middle of nowhere, able to feel like the first explorers to climb the largest Mayan pyramid ever in Calakmul, 45 metres above the ground. Only for true adventurers!

CALAKMUL RUINS ENTRY FEE: 110 pesos. 4-hour visit.

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Calakmul Pyramid, Ph Wiki Commons


PALENQUE SITE

Another UNESCO world heritage site is Palenque, a pueblo magico in the hinterland of Chiapas, 4 hours’ drive from San Cristobal de las Casas.

An excursion not to be missed for anyone visiting the state of Chiapas, one of the most authentic and untouched by mass tourism in Mexico. In Palenque there are several pyramids and Mayan temples, surrounded by the greenery of hills and forests all around.

Consider one of these Palenque tours that include guidance and transportation to the archaeological site.

PALENQUE RUINS ENTRY FEE: 200 pesos per head (11€). Length: 3-4 hours.

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Palenque aerial view. Ph Tour GetYourGuide Palenque


MAYAN RUINS F.A.Q.

Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we get about Mayan ruins and pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico.


CAN YOU CLIMB MAYAN PYRAMIDS?

Yes, you can climb some Mayan pyramids, but perhaps not for long. Since Covid onwards, the bodies that manage the archaeological sites began to prohibit climbing the Mayan ruins, first for social distancing reasons, and now for the protection of the ruins themselves.

We find the motivation more than understandable, but we admit that we were annoyed once we reached the great pyramid of Coba and found it closed to the public! We had seen photos online of people who had climbed up until 2022, we just missed it…

This is also why we visited Ek Balam, one of the few “climbable” sites left in Yucatan. We believe that in the future all ruins will become off-limits for obvious reasons, so don’t miss the opportunity to feel a bit like Indiana Jones and admire the Mesoamerican jungle from the top of a Mayan pyramid!


HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO VISIT MAYAN RUINS?

Prices to access archaeological sites in Yucatan have increased slightly since the pandemic. Partly to recover from lost income, partly to cover the costs of maintenance and new excavations of the ruins.

Several areas such as Ek Balam or Coba remain excavated for less than 10% of the total surface area. It will take a lot of time and funds to unearth more Mayan ruins!

The most expensive entry price is to Chichen Itza, which in 2024 costs 614 MXN, or €35. On average the other sites cost between €10 and €20. You should know that for every archaeological site you visit in Yucatan you will pay two taxes: one for the Mexican federal government, and one for Yucatan (or its state) which manages the site. Sometimes the payments are combined, other times separate.

Also consider that the currency exchange rate from Euros to Mexican Pesos (MXN) is quite variable depending on the year. At the moment €1 is equivalent to 17 pesos (or 1$ is 16 MXN), but a year ago it was over 20.

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Ek Balam ticket cost


DO YOU NEED A GUIDE TO VISIT MAYAN RUINS?

There are many authorized guides who speak all the languages ​​of the world. Some, however, are very insistent and perhaps too expensive (we heard up to 800-1000 pesos, €50 for a guide to Chichen Itza).
A guide can certainly explain many fundamental aspects to you, however after two or three sites the knowledge about the Maya might become repetitive.

We chose to download an audio guide to visit Chichen Itza on our own, avoiding the numerous guided groups and excessive prices for local guides. At Ek Balam we purchased the paper guide at the entrance. Instead, in Coba we explored the area on our own, reading the explanations on the accredited sites.

We feel like recommending a guide for your first visit to a Mayan site, in order to learn the most important information about the Mayan civilization. Later you could consider paper or audio guides.


HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE TO SEE MAYAN RUINS?

On average, it takes 3 hours to visit major sites. A visit to Chichen Itza at rush hour, with all the necessary explanations and breaks, can exceed 4-5 hours.
In Coba we spent about 3 hours, while in Ek Balam we finished the tour in 2 hours.

The archaeological sites open at 8 in the morning and close at 5 in the afternoon. The earlier you start your visit, the better it will be to avoid the heat and the groups of people arriving by buses.

For those less inclined to walk, it’s also possible to use bicycles or take rickshaws or electric golf cars in larger sites such as Coba and Chichen Itza. This way you could spend less time, although we personally believe that exploring these areas on foot is a more immersive experience.

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A gateway in Chichen Itza


ARE THERE CENOTES NEARBY MAYAN RUINS?

Yes, there are plenty of cenotes around the Mayan ruins. Sometimes they are also found inside the sites, but these are not suitable for swimming. Cenotes were sacred to the Maya due to the importance of fresh water underground in the absence of surface rivers.

Due to the Mexican humid heat, we recommend combining visits to archaeological sites in the morning with a dip in a cenote in the afternoon. This perfect combo regenerated us during our tours in Mexico!

In fact, most organized tours to Chichen Itza include a visit to a cenote in the Valladolid area, like this tour with excellent reviews from the Riviera Maya.

Find here our article on the best cenotes in Yucatan.

Migliori cenotes Yucatan
Underground cenote in Yucatan


HOW TO GET TO MAYAN RUINS?

Given the long distances, a private car or bus is needed in 90% of cases, it’s almost impossible to rely on public transport to visit the Mayan ruins. Archaeological sites are often far from populated areas.

Coba is an exception if you are in the Tulum area, you may find collectivos minibuses to reach the site. But generally it’s better to travel by car or tour, considering that the visit itself will already be quite tiring.

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Our rental car in Coba


THINGS TO KNOW IN YUCATAN AND QUINTANA ROO

  • In this area of ​​Mexico everyone speaks basic English, and of course some Spanish can help you big time.
  • Cancun is the reference airport for Yucatan, whilst Tulum airport opened in 2024.
  • Use authorized public buses (ADO) and agree on taxi prices to be safe. If you use bus collectivos, prepare coins and pesos in small denominations and ask for the price.
  • If you want to rent a car, best to ask locally and talk face to face about the final price, before paying a non-cancellable deposit online with dubious companies.
  • You’ll notice a lot of police around, in armored pick-ups and armed to the teeth. The area is safe but it’s always better to avoid non-touristy neighbourhoods in the evening.
  • The sun and temperatures in Mexico are very hot, use sunscreen, a hat, and drink lots of water.



Happy exploring around the Mayan ruins!


ALSO READ:
Best beaches in Yucatan, Mexico
3-day itinerary of San Francisco
The Great Wall of China, Beijing


Practical info about Yucatan and Mexico:


HOTELS – WHERE TO STAY IN YUCATAN


HOW TO GET AROUND

  • Regular buses such as ADO, ETN, Primera Plus;
  • Bus collectivos, the minibuses used by locals;
  • Taxi or Uber/DiDi;
  • Car rental: a car is fundamental if you want to travel the vast Yucatán peninsula independently. There are some car rentals at the airport in Cancun, others in the city. Be careful of hidden costs and required deposits. We booked on site for around €30 per day. If you want to book online, carefully evaluate the reviews before booking. See options for renting a car in Mexico here;
  • Organized tours: if you don’t rent a car, tours are essential for getting around and visiting the most famous destinations in Yucatán. We suggest this tour to Chichén Itzá and this excursion to Tulum and two cenotes.


CLIMATE&WEATHER – WHEN TO VISIT YUCATAN, MEXICO?

To find the best weather in Yucatán, it’s advisable to travel between November and March. Obviously this period coincides with the high season in and around Cancun, expect higher prices and larger crowds. In particular, the Christmas holidays and Spring Break are super popular with American tourists.

The shoulder season includes April-May and October, excellent months when the weather is usually good and prices are still low.

For the best value for money, the summer months from May to September are the least expensive. However, this period is extremely hot and humid, it can often rain (watch out for mosquitoes!). During the summer months the presence of sargassum and algae on the beaches is greater.

P.S.: Hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean is officially between the months of June and November. Although Yucatan overlooks the Caribbean Sea, a hurricane rarely directly hits Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Tulum, but stay informed when traveling to Mexico.

For excursions, bring comfortable shoes, long but light clothes, hat, sunscreen and lots of water!


ONLINE IDP – INTERNATIONAL DRIVING PERMIT

We recommend getting an International Driving Permit online if you’re planning to drive a vehicle abroad. The International Drivers Association offers a reliable online service that allows to get a digital+physical licence even if you’re already travelling, valid and accepted in 150+ countries worldwide.
More info on the official website.


TRAVEL INSURANCE

Never leave home without a reliable travel insurance. Better safe than sorry.
Here are two options for you to compare.
Get a quote with World Nomads here, and get up to 20% off your travel insurance with Heymondo here.

World Nomads provides travel insurance for travelers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.


COMPARE PRICES, BOOK FLIGHTS + STAYS

Did you know? Besides hotels and stays, you can now compare and book your flights + stays in one place on Booking FlightsSearch and compare deals on destinations and flights here.

Disclaimer: this post contains links to products and services for which we may be compensated, at no additional cost for you. Thanks for your support that helps us keep our blog free and operating!


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