Which pyramids in Mexico can you climb?
One of the top things to do on vacation in the Riviera Maya is to visit some of the Mayan ruins in the area. Not only for the historical aspect but also for the adventure. Some of the ruins are in thick jungle and others can feel like time traveling. The main temples, or pyramids, are one of the top attractions because not only are they photogenic, but they can also offer some great views offer the mainly flat Yucatan Peninsula.
Of the four main Mayan ruin sites that people visit from the Riviera Maya, only one still allows people to climb to the top of the main pyramid. There are however some other Mayan ruins that might be a little harder to get to but offer a great experience including being able to climb to the top of some of the pyramids. Below is the status of the four most visited Mayan ruins and which you can climb. We will also list alternative ruins to visit that still allow climbing.
The top four most visited Mayan ruins
For those visiting the Riviera Maya, the most visited and easiest for tours are, Chichen Itza, Tulum ruins, Coba and Ek Balam. These four archeological sites all offer tours to them and are also the main ruins visited in the area. Below is a little description of each one and what the status is for climbing.
This is the most visited Mayan ruin site and is one of the new wonders of the world. Chichen Itza has the iconic pyramid in the center with what is called the Throne room at the top. Visitors used to be able to climb the main pyramid here and peer into the temple at the top and see the red jaguar statue inside. In 2008 the authorities closed the pyramid for climbing because of safety concerns and preservation.
Chichen Itza has continued to be closed for climbing. Occasionally a crazy tourist climbs up and is either stopped by security or they wait for them to come down and then take them away. All of the structures at the site of Chichen Itza are off limits for climbing. Even though climbing is not allowed, you can get up close to the many structures here.
If you want to see Chichen Itza with less people and cooler temperatures, be sure to check out our article about visiting for the light show at night.
The ruins of Tulum are iconic because of the vantage point overlooking the Caribbean Sea, not for the large temples. There are no large pyramids at the Tulum site, so there were never any pyramids to climb here. Because of the small size of the ruins and the sheer amount of people that visit the site, all structures are roped off and off limits for visitors.
The one thing that people have been able to do at Tulum ruins is climb down the stairs to the beach and take a dip in the ocean. This is only closed when the beach conditions do not allow it.
For years, the most exciting things to do while visiting Coba ruins was the ride the bikes between the ruins in the jungle and climb to the top of the main pyramid. There were rumors that it was going to close to climbing, then the pandemic hit. In 2020 the pyramid was closed to climbing and continues to be closed to this day.
One slight bright spot here, if you got to the parking lot you see a large tower. There is a zipline here that goes over the lake, and you get good views if you can brave the height and the zip line.
Ek Balam Ruins
Ek Balam is the last of the main four ruins visited from the Riviera Maya that you can climb. These ruins are about two and a half hours from Playa Del Carmen if you drive there yourself. There are many tours that offer this and another stop (most likely a cenote) if you want to visit here. Ek Balam is smaller than Coba and Chichen Itza but is enough of a site that people leave feeling like they saw something worthwhile.
If you do go to Ek Balam ruins, be sure to check out the cenote which is just to the side of the archeological site. Some tours include this, but often tours take people to a closer cenote that is easier to get to. This cenote next to Ek Balam is about a 5-minute bike ride to get to.
Alternative Mayan ruins to climb
If you have a little time and sense of adventure, here are some other ruins that we like, and you are still able to climb them. these are located around the Yucatan Peninsula.
Located deep in the jungle on the south end of the peninsula, Calakmul ruins offer tranquility, less people, and two of the largest pyramids to climb. This is too much of a trip from Playa Del Carmen to do in a day. It is good to visit Bacalar and make a day trip to see these ruins. These ruins will also have a stop on the Tren Maya, so it might be better to see it now, before many more people visit and who knows, maybe it will be closed for climbing in the future.
On the other side of the peninsula in the tourist route called Ruta Puuc, you will find Uxmal ruins. These are one of our favorites for several reasons. One, you can climb many of the structures, two, they are well preserved, three are no venders selling things in the ruins, four the area around Uxmal is interesting and contains a lot of local culture.
Kinich Kak Moo Pyramid
(Also spelled Kinich Kakmo). There are five large remnants of pyramids in Izamal. This one is the largest Mayan pyramid you can visit in Izamal. In fact, this pyramid has the largest footprint of any pyramid in the Yucatan, making it the largest by this estimate. Entrance is free and open daily from 8:00am-5:00pm. The first part is easy to climb but the second pyramid has a little bit more challenging steps. There are no railings or rope to balance you, so be careful climbing.
Located to the west of Izamal are the ruins of Ake. Not many people visit these ruins because they are further away and not a large as some ruins. But the really interesting thing about these ruins is the size of the stone they used. This was a massive undertaking similar to the other ancient stone structures that we struggle to understand how they were made. There are several temples which you can walk up here. The only restrictions here are not climbing up where it is too steep or looks like an area not restored.
How to climb and come down a Mayan pyramid
It might seem fairly easy to go up, but coming down is usually the harder part. Going up you have uneven stones that were made as steps going up the temples. These are often very steep, and most do not have railings. Most people can go up with one rest in the middle.
Coming down might look very different. It is steep and can be a little disorienting. The best way is on your butt if you feel nervous. Scoot down the steps, while sitting on each one. The second option is walk down but do a zig zag pattern. This way it is less down and a little sideway at the same time. At any rate, be careful climbing because people do fall and get hurt each year. This is part of the reason Mayan ruins do close to climbing.
We hope you get out to explore some of the great Mayan ruins nearby. Each is unique and tells part of the story of the Mayas. Overtime, access to the ruins changes and also our understanding. There are still ruins that will open soon to the public and accessibility will change a lot with the Train Maya.