The guide to Mayan Ruins in the Riviera Maya and beyond

places to go from Playa Del Carmen
Tulum ruins is a popular tour that is accessible form the Riviera Maya.

Which Mexican Mayan ruins are best for you to visit?

Are you coming on vacation to want to see a Mexican Mayan ruin? But not sure what are the best ones to visit? We compare everything about them and are giving you a guide so you can choose what is best for you. We will talk about prices, distance, accessibility, and what makes each one unique.

There are four main Mexican Mayan ruins that people go to and three are other ones that are an alternative place to visit. Remember if you are a resident of Mexico, bring your id for a discount.

Should I go to Tulum ruins, Ek Balam, Coba or Chichen Itza?

  • Chichen Itza

    This is by far the most popular Mexican Mayan ruin in the Yucatan Peninsula and is known around the world. It is so popular because the main pyramid is so well preserved, and the site is so large. The price of entry is also the highest at 243 pesos for foreign visitors. Parking is 22 pesos and if you want to go to the light show at night it is another 72 pesos.

    This is the only Mayan ruin site on this half of the Yucatan that does a light show at night. Most people arrive by tours so driving and parking are not to be considered. When pricing tours make sure to ask if the entrance fee is included. Some tours can seem cheap but then you have to pay for more.

    If you drive, you also have to take into account the tolls for the pay roads. It is about $35 round trip for a car. Of the major ruin sites this is the furthest and will make for the fullest day. Most tours include a stop in the colonial town of Valladolid or at a cenote (usually Ik Kil). These are nice to see but are just a quick stop. The ruins are extensive and spread out. You will mostly be in the sun so come prepared. You cannot climb on the pyramid here. Of all the ruins this will be the most handicap accessible.

Chichen Itza, Mexico
Chichen Itza on of the great Mexican Mayan ruins to visit.
  • Tulum

    Tulum ruins is 40 minutes south of Playa Del Carmen and one hour and 20 minutes from Cancun. The site is not large but the most spectacular thing is the view from the cliffs. The entrance fee is 59 pesos and parking is 75 pesos. Tulum ruins can be reached by tour or by doing it yourself. Since these ruins are closer to Playa Del Carmen and Cancun, you can easily do this in a half day and you still can say you went to some ruins. The ruins are mostly in full sun but the good thing is you can actually jump in the turquoise waters right behind the ruins. There is no climbing here and actually not too many high structures. Tulum ruins is the easiest to get to our of the four major sites and on sunny days will provide great photo ops.

  • Ek Balam

    Ek Balam is the newer ruin to visit out of the big ones and has gotten more popular to visit. It is 3rd out of the 4 by distance and is usually done with a tour. Attached to this site is a cenote that you can pay extra to swim in. This can make a nice drip after hiking around the ruins. There is even one pyramid you can climb here, and you get to see the flat Yucatan Peninsula. Entrance is 202 pesos and parking is 100 pesos. These ruins are third in size of the top four. The site is semi shaded and will make for a 3/4 or full day with a stop in Valladolid.

  • Coba Mayan Ruins 

    These are a favorite site to visit because it is shaded in the jungle and the opportunity to bike between the pyramids is cool. You also can climb the steep steps of the tallest pyramid there. Entrance is 64 pesos and parking is 50 pesos. Renting the bikes is extra. It is possible to do it yourself by bus but there are very limited options so make sure you know the times. From Cancun this makes for a full day with a tour and there is usually a stop somewhere else, either a cenote or Tulum. From Playa Del Carmen you can driver here and do a half day adventure or make a day of it with a stop at a cenote or in Tulum.

Coba Mayan Ruins
Coba Mayan ruins

Lesser-known Mexican Mayan ruins in the area

Muyil Mayan ruins

  • Muyil ruins is a small site just south of Tulum. Very few tourists come here because Tulum ruins suck in most tourist because the amazing views off the cliffs and the name it has for itself. What this site is good for is a quiet walk among a semi shaded area and a nice trail out to the lagoon in the back. Entrance to the trail is 50 pesos extra. Make sure you climb the lookout tower and make it all the way out to the lagoon. Entrance is about 54 pesos now and parking is free. If you have been to Tulum and Coba and have a car this makes for a nice half day trip with a stop in Tulum for something to eat.
Mexican mayan ruins
Muyil Ruins site just south of Tulum.

Xelha Mayan Ruins

  • Xelha ruins are often confused with the Xelha Snorkel Park. In fact, these ruins are close to the park. These Mayan ruins are not visited often because there is not a large pyramid. But that does not mean you should just skip them. There are murals here to see a cenote. The area is peaceful and will take about 45 minutes to see.
    Xel Ha Ruins
    Murals on the walls of Xelha ruins.

    Chacchoben Mayan ruins

  • Chacchoben ruins are in the far south of the state of Quintana Roo. These ruins make for a long day trip or an overnight trip with a side trip to Bacalar or other destination in the area. The ruins here were officially open to the public in 2002, so they are lesser known and the distance from most tourist destinations keeps them from being crowded. You really start to see the vegetation change as you go further south in the state, and you have a chance to see monkeys in the trees here. You can find yourself here alone as long as there are no cruise ships in Mahahual. Chacchoben ruins is semi shaded and with some slight hills. Entrance is 48 pesos and parking is free. Most people only come here with a tour from a cruise ship so if you want to visit these by yourself you should have your own car.

El Naranjal Mayan ruins

  • El Naranjal ruins are so unknown you can barely find pictures of them online. These ruins are just over one hour from Playa Del Carmen and good to explore with your own car. The ruins are semi restored. You can see about four pyramids here. The small community around the ruins has some eco-tourism activities and things for you to see as well. See our article and video in the link for more information.

Yaxunah Mayan ruins

  • Yaxunah is a site that is only 13 miles from Chichen Itza, but no one has heard of it. It has over 650 structures that have been identified. It also has the longest road (sac-be) found to be built by the Maya. Yaxunah Mayan ruins are near a small town where you can find a guide to take you around. There is not official entrance or even information on them. These ruins are not restored, and some parts are hard to see amid growth.

El Meco Mayan ruins

  • El Meco is the ruins you have never heard of but are actually in Cancun! Most tourist don’t go here because no one offers tours here because it is so close, and it is a smaller site. It can be a nice hour or two of your day visiting here if you are staying in Cancun. If you are staying in Playa, it is not really worth coming to because Tulum is a better option. There is no vista here but rather nice grassy area with some trees. No climbing is allowed here. If you are not with a car you will need to take a taxi from the center of Cancun to these ruins. Entrance is about 45 pesos and parking is free.

Calakmul Mayan ruins

  • Calakmul ruins are deep in the jungle. These Mayan ruins take some planning to go see but can be rewarding. Not only is the tallest pyramid here accessible to climb, but it is also 50 feet taller than Chichen Itza’s famous pyramid! These Mayan ruins site is large, and you can see many pyramids peaking up from the jungle when you climb to the top. Noteworthy as well are the animals you can see here and very few other tourists. For more about visiting these Mayan ruins, see our link including a video.

Ake Mayan ruins

  • These ruins are between Izamal and Merida. They are seldom visited but is well worth the visit. Here you will see several pyramids. Many are made with the biggest stones we have seen at any Mayan ruin site. See more in our guide here to Ake ruins
Aké mayan ruins
One of the main temples at Aké Mayan ruins.

Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins

Going around the Riviera Maya

If you don’t go on a tour or independent trip to the above ruins you still might just see some while driving or walking around because there are many small reminders of the Mayan civilization around the Riviera Maya.

For example, if you go to Isla Mujeres, you can see some at the south end of the island. They have been damaged over time by hurricanes so there is not much left to see.

If you are in Playa Del Carmen, there are small ruins around town even. You can see where some of them are in the article “Hidden things in Playa you never knew were here.”

We hope you get to experience some of these ruins because they really are some of the things that make visiting this part of Mexico interesting.

What are your favorite Mexican Mayan ruins to visit and why? Let us know in the comment section below. We would love to hear from you!

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    • Hello Gary. There is not one tour agency that we recommend to cover all the ruins. General tour agencies only sell tours based on what commissions they make and many of the people that sell have not been on each of the tours to really know if it is good. If you let us know what Mayan ruins you want to go to we can recommend different companies for different sites. Are you looking to do the Mayan ruin and some other activity? Are you looking for a private tour to avoid the crowds? Are you looking for a bus tour? So you mind if it is a group of 45 people? If you let us know where and what you are looking for we can point you in some directions. On the individual articles we do have links to some tours we have been on and they are good options to those ruins.

  1. We have been to three of the Mayan ruins on this guide. Our favorite has been Coba Mayan Ruins. We like the view from the top and climbing the pyramid. The bikes that you use to get around are a nice activity and cheap to do.

  2. Can you recommend a guide for the Coba ruins? We will be staying near Akumal and would like a private guide for a trip to Coba. It is for a family of 4.

    • Hello Miriam. We know there are a lot of small private guides but we don’t write about many because some are just people that give tours and are not legal companies. We only want to refer people to quality tours and tours that have a somewhat standard quality. Many private tours will be in the range of 110-150 per person. For many families this can be expensive. Some options you have are renting a car, doing it by bus or going with a group tour. One good tour that can set up Coba and really nice cultural activities is Mystical Wanders. They usually take a couple or two couples on tour for a private tour. If you are interested we can talk to them and set that up for you. You can send us a note here or email.

  3. Can you recommend a tour company here in playa del Carmen ? We would like to go to chicken Itza in a couple of weeks Thank you

    • We have been on allTOURnatives tour which is a small van tour and you go to Cenote Maya and we have been with Xichen tours which is a large bus that stops in Valladolid. We will be posting videos and articles this week on these two tours so you can get a feel for what they are like. There are also private tours to. One company is Absolute Adventures. You can contact them to see what they can offer you. These are three options. It will vary in price. There are some tours offered on 5th Avenue that are 40-60 USD a person. We don’t recommend these because they are so cheap both in price and quality. Just note that a trip to Chichén Itza is a long day. It is about 3 hours each way and tours try to break up this trip.

  4. We’ve been coming to Playa for about 5 years now. We’ve done Coba, Ek’Balam, Chichen Itza and Tulum, and all are worth seeing. IMO if you only have 1 day to tour, I would do Chichen Itza and Ek’Balam. The pyramid and ball court at Chichen Itza are just breathtaking. The sheer size of the ball court is just astounding, as big as a modern football stadium. Ek’Balam of course has the palace you can climb, right up to the Shaman’s terrace, which was mind blowing

  5. Again thanks for these informative article! What are some of the driving times from Playa to these Mayan ruins? Of special interest would be how long a drive to Chichén Itzá, Muyil, Coba, me Calakmul. Thanks!

    • Some of the drive times are 1.5 hours to Coba, Muyil 1 hour 5 minutes, Chichen Itza 2.5 hours, Calakmul 4 hours. All of the aforementioned ruin sites can be doable in a day trip except Calakmul. That should be done in conjunction with a night in Bacalar.

  6. Uxmal + Puuc Route ruins really should be mentioned here. Uxmal is so much better than Chichen and far fewer visitors and vendors. Stay at the hotel adjacent to Uxmal and do the Puuc Route sites on the way back the next day. Chichen is packed with vendors, avoid.

  7. A group of my girlfriends and me are planning a trip to either Playa del Carmen or Quintana Roo in March what do you recommend it will be our first time trying a tour and my first time going to Cancun. What do you recommend

    • So are you staying in Playa Del Carmen, Cancun, or the Riviera Maya at a resort? How many people are you that want to go on a tour? If you let us know some more details we can give you some direction on what to do.

  8. We have visited Tulum, Ek Balam, and Muyil. Each has its own specialities. Tulum is interesting because it is near the sea, but does not have large structures. However, you get a better sense of how Mayan life might have been. We stayed close to Playa del Carmen, so it was easy to get to. Ek Balam is a farther drive but is a fascinating experience. Since it is recently opened, it is interesting to see it in progress. Being able to climb the temple steps and see the panorama for miles and miles was great. We had the tremendous privilege of having one of the archeologists as our guide through the site, so learned a lot about the process of restoring the structures. I think I enjoyed Muyil the most. We were the only visitors there at the time. Very picturesque setting. It is less commercialized and therefore feels more genuine. All were great experiences.

    • That sounds like a good adventure Gary. Have you been to Calakmul and Uxmal? If not, maybe next time you can go there. They are more of an adventure but well worth it!

  9. Any tour companies that specialize in taking babies (in particular we need two car seats for 2-year-olds and also space for 4 more adults)

  10. Hello, we are looking to travel to mexico for a vacation in April and I really want to see some of the ruins and do excursions. I am wondering where the best area to stay in would be to be the most central to the ruins etc so we can get a lot of different stuff done. After we find which area we will then look for a beach front resort.

    Thank you

    • It will depend on what ruins you want to see. Tulum is close to Tulum ruins and Coba ruins. Playa Del Carmen is central to go to Tulum, Ek Balam, and Chichen Itza.

  11. Hello,
    So im planning a trip to chetumal later this year and was wondering if a day trip to calakmul was enough time to explore the ruins? Or do u think it would need to be 2 days?

    • A day trip should be enough time. The drive is part of the adventure but is long down the 60km road to the ruins. The ruins themselves are impressive and unique. The only other option would be staying at a hotel in the area, but you might find that boring. There are some other ruin in the area to see that are good to visit and offer different things to see. You can make a full day of exploring.

    • Do you mean visit or walk inside of some of the temples? If you mean climb, Ek Balam is available for climbing to the top. Coba is temporarily closed for climbing but is open. Chichen Itza is open and normally functioning but guests have not been able to climb there for some time.

3 Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Some of the Mayan ruins could be opening soon!
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  3. See why Uxmal Mayan ruins is on our top 3 list to visit in the Yucatan

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