25 Fascinating Ruins in Mexico to Visit (Mayan, Aztec + Beyond!)

From climbing pyramids to learning about life in Mexico hundreds (or even a thousand) years ago, visiting the many incredible ruins in Mexico–with the Mayan and Aztec ruins being the most famous–is a fascinating experience.

Sure, there are world-famous Mexico ruins like Chichen Itza (and they’re certainly worth a visit), but dive off the beaten path, and you may even find yourself alone for moments at a time amongst all the history.

Over our many trips to Mexico, we’ve explored tons of the country’s fascinating ruins, from the mysterious Teotihuacan near Mexico City to the wonderous Calakmul that is hidden deep in the jungle of Campeche.

With every Mexican archaeological site we visit, we learn even more about the history of the great civilizations that have called Mexico home–and also had a lot of fun ascending pyramids, soaking in views, and ducking into historic buildings along the way.

Tulum ruins overlooking a bright beach, as seen as part of a 10 day Yucatan itinerary

While the Aztec and Mayan ruins in Mexico are often considered the best-known, the modern country of Mexico has been home to many civilizations and indigenous groups over the past millennia, and you’ll see several different cultures and time periods listed here.

For this blog post, we asked several other travel bloggers to share their favorite Mexico ruins to visit with us, and we received quite a range of responses!

From the iconic to the offbeat, here best ruins in Mexico to explore, left behind by the Mayans, Aztecs, and more.

Jeremy Storm's arm reaching out and holding a rope to scale a pyramid in Becan Mayan City Mexico

Mayan Ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan + Quintana Roo

Chichen Itza

From David and Intan of The World Travel Guy

The colossal Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza definitely belong on any Mexico ruins bucket list!

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Historically, Chichen Itza was one of the biggest and most important cities of the Mayan civilization.

The centerpiece of this archaeological park is the giant pyramid known as the Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo).

Even though you can’t climb it anymore, it’s still a spectacular wonder of the world!

Photo of the main pyramid of Chichen Itza on Mexico Yucatan Peninsula

These ruins are located near the center of the Mexican state of Yucatan, at a distance of about 200 kilometers (125 miles) from Cancun.

You can also combine Chichen Itza with a visit to the colonial city of Valladolid and/or one of the many nice cenotes (natural sinkholes) in the area.

For solo travelers, the most economical way to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza is to take the ADO bus.

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If you’re traveling in a group, renting a car and driving can also be very cost-effective.

The easiest way to visit Chichen Itza from Cancun (or from elsewhere in the Yucatan peninsula) is to join a group tour or book a private tour.

Where to Visit Chichen Itza From

Chichen Itza is easy to visit from any of the popular Riviera Maya cities like Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum.

It’s also close to Valladolid.

young woman walking in front of historic buildings chichen itza mexico archaeological sites

Tulum Ruins

From Allison of Viva La Travelista

Located just outside of Tulum’s city center, the Tulum Ruins were originally built as a seaside fortress and are the only oceanfront Mayan Ruins in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo. 

The most noteworthy feature of the Tulum Ruins is the oceanfront location with the ruins elevated at a height of about 39 feet (12 m) above the water, offering spectacular ocean views.

The site also offers a unique public beach access point where visitors can take a dip in the Caribbean Sea after exploring the ruins. 

At the Tulum archaeological site, many basic structures and buildings remain including El Castillo (The Castle) and many different temples.

famous tulum ruins with beach in the foreground, one of the best mexico ruins to visit

Visitors can explore the ruins at leisure, and learn about the history of the Mayan people.

The ruins are widespread and there is little shade on site so you’ll want to be prepared for the heat and wear comfortable walking shoes. 

The Tulum Ruins are open daily from 8-5.  Located just off the main highway, the ruins can be easily reached by driving or renting a car and paid parking is available on site.

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By public transportation, the ruins can also be visited by taking a colectivo (shared van) or the ADO bus from Playa del Carmen or Cancun. 

Where to Visit the Tulum Ruins From

Most visitors will be visiting the Tulum Ruins archaeological site from the nearby beach towns of Tulum, Playa del Carmen, or Cancun. 

kate storm walking toward tulum mexico ruins

Ek Balam

Located near Valladolid, so close to yet so far from crowded Mayan archaeological sites like Chichen, you’ll find the stunning Ek Balam.

Once a thriving Mayan city, construction began on Ek Balam as early as 300 BCE, and the city was potentially occupied as late as the 16th century CE. 

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It was at its height from roughly 770 to 840 CE, and was the home of around 20,000 people.

Eventually, Ek Balam receded into the jungle, and large pockets of its story remain unknown.

Fast forward all the way to the 1980s, and excavations began in the city.

Kate Storm standing on top of the el torre pyramid in ek balam with jungle visible behind her

Today, only a small portion (about one square mile) of Ek Balam is excavated, including the impressive El Torre pyramid.

Around 45 structures have been mapped, and around 1 square mile (of approximately 12 square kilometers) of the city can be explored today.

Ek Balam is also home to one of the most stunning cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, the incredible Cenote X’canche.

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Don’t miss it when visiting Ek Balam!

Where to Visit Ek Balam From

Ek Balam is most commonly visited from Valladolid, but you can reach it from the Riviera Maya as well.

If you’re visiting from Valladolid, the easiest way is to rent a car and drive, but you can also hop in a colectivo or hire a taxi to visit.

Cenote X'canche as seen on a Yucatan road trip--cenotes like this are well worth seeking out, but be sure you go over the best things to bring on a road trip before you go!

Kohunlich

From Brodi of Our Offbeat Life

Kohunlich is a Mayan ruin site 68 kilometers from Bacalar in Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Kohunlich was named after the town nearby because the actual, historic name has been lost to time. 

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The site is unique and fun to visit because it’s still largely unexcavated. Only about 10% has been unearthed.

Visitors are often treated to seeing archeologists working on excavation areas within the ruins, which is very different from fully excavated sites like Chichen Itza.

Since the ruins are less popular, there are no rules against climbing the ruins. In addition, even if a cruise ship is in port, visitors have a chance of being the only visitors.

well preserved statue carved into a pyramid in kohunlich

There isn’t a lot of public transportation in southern Quintana Roo, so the only way to get to Kohunlich is to either rent a car or hire a tour.

Regardless of the transportation chosen, take water and snacks.

There are no amenities on-site at the ruins besides a small ranger station and some rustic restrooms. 

Where to Visit Kohunlich From

Located just an hour’s drive from Bacalar and two hours from Mahahual cruise port, Kohunlich is a perfect day trip from either Bacalar or the cruise port.

view from pyramid at kohunlich, one of the best mayan ruins in mexico to visit

Muyil Ruins

From Shelley of Travel Mexico Solo

The Mayan name of Muyil Ruins is Chunyaxché, though you’ll always see it referred to as Muyil (pronounced moo-yill).

It is an off-the-beaten-path site near Tulum, Mexico, that’s not super easy to get to without a boat tour.

This is why many people skip it, but Muyil really is worth the effort.

Located just south of Tulum in the Felipe Carrillo Puerto Municipality, Muyil is in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

This is a one million-acre protected preserve that’s a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The easiest, safest, and best way to visit Muyil Ruins is on a boat tour.

view of turquoise water of sian ka'an reserve near muyil ruins mexico

The quicker road to get there takes about 45 minutes, but you need a 4X4. The longer route can be done by car but takes three hours from downtown Tulum. 

The boat tours to Muyil are great because you get to go out on the waters of Sian Ka’an, and also visit the ruins.

Sian Ka’an has calm, turquoise waters so it’s a great place to swim, and most people usually see some dolphins while boating.

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The Muyil Ruins, though they aren’t too far from the Tulum Ruins, look completely different.

At Muyil, you’ll see a tall, steep pyramid that’s similar to Tikal Mayan Ruins in Guatemala, which has the Peten architecture style.

Where to Visit Muyil From

Muyil is located in Quintana Roo state, near Tulum, Mexico.

main pyramid of muyil mexico ruins as seen from the ground

Uxmal

From Karen of Outdoor Adventure Sampler

Uxmal is a stunning Mayan ruin located 50 miles south of Merida in the Yucatan state.

The ancient city is known for its unique structures from the Puuc architectural style.

The carved limestone figures on buildings honor the ancient rain god, Chaac.

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The importance of water to the Mayan agrarian people in Uxmal was the basis of the ornate stonework honoring Chaac.

The centerpiece of the restored city is the Pyramid of the Magician, which dominates the entrance to the ruins. 

Folk legend has it that a dwarf magician was ordered by the Uxmal king to build the huge pyramid in one night to save his life.

temple of the magician at uxmal mayan ruins in mexico peeking above the tree line

Unlike many Mexican ruins, you can actually climb up the ruins at Uxmal.  

Ascend the stone stairs of the Governor’s Palace to get a panoramic view of the many structures of Uxmal peeking out from the jungle. The Pyramid of the Magician dominates the view.

Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the outstanding outdoor adventures of the Yucatan.

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It’s less crowded than the neighboring Chichen Itza ruins. Visit in the morning before it gets steamy and hot, with fewer visitors to encounter too.

Where to Visit Uxmal From

Uxmal is about an hour’s drive south of Merida, the capital of the Yucatan state.

There are many tours from Merida to Uxmal or you can rent a car in Merida and drive.

ruins of uxmal as seen from the ground, one of the best mexican archaeological sites

Becan

Located in the small town of Xpujil, Becan is one of the most underrated ruins in Mexico to visit (and so far, our personal favorite).

Once a thriving capital city of the Rio Bec province, Becan was a powerful force in its region, featuring a moat surrounding the city, powerful structures built over many centuries, and sprawling plazas.

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While the oldest structures in Becan date to as early as 500 BCE, its moat and surrounding walls were constructed somewhere around 100 AD to 250 AD, and the bulk of the more impressive structures were built even much later than that–starting around about 550 AD.

That’s a bit dizzying to imagine, considering we’ve already covered around 1000 years of history there, but Becan was just getting started.

jeremy storm climbing a pyramid mexico ruins becan with help of a rope

It thrived from around the 7th to the 12th centuries, more or less, before the city was eventually abandoned around 1200 AD.

Today, 20 structures have been excavated and are open to visitors, and the size and scale of the city are incredible to imagine when standing in the center of it.

Today, wandering the impressively well-preserved city is a magical experience, greatly enhanced by the fact that it is extremely uncrowded.

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Where to Visit Becan From

The Becan ruins are located in Xpujil, about 90 minutes north of Bacalar, and the route makes for an incredibly easy drive, with most of it taking place on the Mexico 186 highway.

If you’d rather not take a day trip, you can spend the night nearby and use the area as a launching pad for visiting Calakmul as we did.

Kate Storm in a tank top and baseball cap sitting on a pyramid in Becan Mexico overlooking another structure

Dzibanche and Kinichna

From Daria of The Discovery Nut

Located in Mexico’s Costa Maya region, Dzibanche and Kinichna are two of the most remote Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo.

The two archaeological areas are located next to each other and require a drive on the bumpy road.

Since there is no public transportation to Dzibanche and Kinichna, you can only visit them with a car rental or a guided tour. 

Keep in mind that this area is truly remote. There are no stores, gas stations, or restaurants in the area and after you pass a few small villages on your way to the ruins, your cell phone service could disappear. 

view after climbing pyramid mayan ruins dzibanche

The ruins are visited by no more than a dozen people daily, and it’s not uncommon to have this entire area all to yourself, especially if you come here in the morning.

When you arrive at the site, you will pay a cash fee of 70 Pesos that covers both sites and will enjoy a relaxing walk in the jungle while exploring some of the coolest Mayan ruins where few other tourists venture.

This is a really fun experience that makes you feel like you’re exploring off the beaten path, which you will not have at more popular Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.

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Since these two ruins are separate, you will need to take a quick drive from Dzibanche to Kinichna which is about 2 kilometers away.

Where to Visit Dzibanche and Kinichna From

The closest city to Dzibanche and Kinichna is Bacalar, but many travelers also visit these archaeological areas from Mahahual, a popular stop for cruise ships in Costa Maya. 

pyramid seen form the ground at dzibanche archaelogical site

El Rey

From Yulia of Miss Tourist

Thought to have been utilized between 1250 and 1630, the site of El Ray was not only an extremely important part of the Mayan trade route but also a town utilized as a retreat for the royals.

It was after findings of royal belongings were made in the area that the site was named El Rey or “the King”.

Located at the southern end of Cancun island, right in the center of the hotel zone, at first sight, the remains of El Rey may not seem too impressive, however, it is much more than its convenient location which makes this site worth seeing. 

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Firstly, while it is located in the heart of one of the busiest areas of Quintana Roo, El Rey provides a welcome respite from the noise as this is one of the more seldom frequented attractions by the mass of tourists who visit the city each year.

Although there are not many full structures still standing today, you can clearly see the outline of where many different buildings once stood.

You can also see two small structures which are believed to have been used as lighthouses or watchtowers. 

tourist walking through mayan ruins mexico cancun, el rey

But the real star of the show here is the iguanas. Dozens of these interesting animals call El Ray home, roaming the ruins and claiming this royal playground as their own.

They make for a good addition to photos and are a cool additional site to see!

Entry to the El Ray ruins costs 55 Mexican pesos (about $2.50) and can be found at KM 18 of the Hotel Zone, reachable by bus, taxi, or rental car via the R1 or R2.

Where to Visit El Rey From

Located amongst some of the best resorts in Cancun, in the heart of the hotel zone, El Rey is easily combined with the many activities the city has to offer. 

iguana sitting on ruins of el rey in cancun

Dzibilchaltun

From Shelley of Travel to Merida

Dzibilchaltún (pronounced zee-bee-shall-tune) is the closest Mayan archaeological site to Merida, Mexico.

With this great location, it’s also one of the best things to do in Merida, especially for travelers who want to experience real Mayan culture.

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The main structure is called the Temple of the Seven Dolls (also known as the Temple of the Sun).

You can’t climb the steps of this temple, but there is another pyramid and a few smaller structures you may climb, all located at the back of the site near the cenote (sinkhole).

seven dolls temple near merida mexico

Besides the ruins, there’s also Cenote Xlacah at Dzibilchaltún Ruins you can swim in.

Don’t forget to bring a bathing suit when you visit because going for a refreshing swim after a long day of climbing ancient pyramids is the best way to cool off — and something you can’t do at most other ruins in Mexico.

There’s also a museum at Dzibilchaltún, the Museo del Pueblo Maya de Dzibilchaltún, with large Mayan artifacts found at sites all over the Yucatan.

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Just outside the museum, there’s a small sculpture garden with even more statues and pre-Hispanic artifacts to see.

Where to Visit Dzibilchaltún From

Dzibilchaltún Ruins is located in Yucatan state, near Merida, Mexico.

cenote xlakah near merida mexico

Coba

From Isabella of Let’s Travel to Mexico

The archeological site of Coba is one of the most spectacular Mayan ruins in the Quintana Roo State.

The site is one of the more fun to visit but also one with the most interesting history. 

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You can get there by local busses or by car, although renting a car would also allow you to visit the amazing nearby cenotes.

Once you are at the site you have the options to walk along the old Sacbe (white roads) that lead you to the groups of temples, or you can rent bikes or take a taxi bike. 

Keep in mind that it is an extensive area so you would want to consider a 2 to 3 hours visit depending on how fast you are.

Jeremy Storm standing in front of a structure at the Coba ruins as seen on a backpacking Yucatan road trip

Among the highlights of Coba, you can appreciate the network of roads that connects Cobá both internally and externally to the other Mayan cities.

Also, note the many stelae that have been found and the 42-meter-high Pyramid of Nohoch Mul. 

Located just a 45-minute drive from Tulum, it is one of the top places you should visit if you are in the area.

Note from Kate: If you visit Coba and discover that Nohoch Mul can be climbed again, please let us know in the comments below! We loved climbing the pyramid in early 2020 but understand that it has been closed off since shortly after our visit.

Jeremy Storm climbing Coba ruins pyramind on a road trip Yucatan itinerary

San Miguelito Ruins and Mayan Museum

From Kenny of Knycx Journeying

The Yucatan Peninsula has no lack of pristine beaches, heritage sites, luxurious resorts, and soothing sunshine.

Most of the tourists come here for Chichen Itza, one of the New 7 Wonders of the World.

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To be better prepared for the excursion and learn more about the Mayan history and culture, head first to the Mayan Museum which is located in the city of Cancun and built on a Mayan ruin, San Miguelito. 

The museum opened in 2012 and it is located on Kukulcan Boulevard.

The building is designed by Mexican architect Alberto Garcia Lascurain, covering an area of eight hectares of area with three key exhibition areas.

mayan pyramid in san miguelito cancun mayan museum as seen from the ground

The display showcases an impressive collection of Mayan archaeological artifacts collected from Chichen Itza, which shed light on the lives of the Mayans in ancient times.

Signature items include the state of Quintana Roo, La Mujer de las Palmas (a 12,000-year-old skeleton discovered in a cenote near Tulum), plus valuable potteries, beaded jewelry, funerary masks, and monuments from a number of Mayan sites. 

Another highlight is the archaeological site of San Miguelito at the back of the museum. It was actually a former vibrant Mayan port that connects to the Caribbean Sea.

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The port was abandoned during the invasion of Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century.

Today, visitors can still see the remnants of residential housing, a temple, and an eight-meter-high pyramid. 

Where to Visit San Miguelito From

San Miguelito and the Mayan Museum are located in Cancun.

remains of columns under shade of the jungle in san miguelito mayan ruins in mexico

Chacchoben

From Ruby of A Journey We Love

Chacchoben is one of the most visited Mayan ruins in Mexico, thanks to the cruise ship guests who visit the ruin as a Costa Maya shore excursion

Chacchoben is located in the south Quintana Roo province of Mexico.

Within a quick trip away is the 7 Colors Lagoon of Bacalar, and it is part of the Sian Ka’an Biospheric Preserve.

This is one of the ruins in Mexico that still allow guests to climb up and explore.

mayan pyramid in chacchoben

Not much is known about Chacchoben, except that it was abandoned and occupied multiple times, and that the earlier settlers arrived in 1000 BC.

Climbing up to the top of the main ceremonial hub of Gran Basamento, one can see the jungle that surrounds the area, and you may even be lucky to see an animal or two.   

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Where to Visit Chacchoben From

The closest city you can base yourself in is Chetumal if you opt to fly in.

There are no public transportation options available, so you will have to rent a car to get around.

Alternatively, if visiting on a cruise ship, the closest town is Mahahual, also known as port Costa Maya, which serves as your main base for shore excursions in the area. 

smaller pyramid in chacchoben, one of the best mayan ruins in mexico arcaheological sites

Xel-ha

From Isabella of Mexico Cenotes and Ruins

Located on the Riviera Maya, the Xel-ha ruins may be confused with the more popular Xelha Amusement Park–but the archaeological site is a completely different place and experience. 

Unfortunately, almost nobody knows about this little and yet precious archeological site, another important ancient Mayan city, and yet it makes an interesting visit if you are staying in the area. 

The old Mayan city of Xelha used to be one of the most powerful ports on the Caribbean coasts, of strategic importance. 

Nowadays little has been left to visit, but you can still appreciate the murals, some building details, and the natural surroundings. 

There is also a cenote that you can visit, the primary source of water in the ancient civilizations, but you can’t swim in that one. 

cenote that can't be swum in seen from above near riviera maya

Xel-Ha means “water inlet”, which clearly refers to the geography of the place as where is now the Xel-ha amusement park, was a group of natural canals where the boats would come in. 

The Mayan name of the site means Xel, “piece or entrance”, and há means “water”.

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Where to Visit Xel-ha From

Getting to Xel-ha is very easy as the entrance is right on the Federal highway that connects Playa del Carmen with Tulum. 

So if you didn’t rent a car you can easily get there by the collectivo (small vans) the most popular public transportation used by locals. Just ask the driver to stop at Xelha ruins (not the park).

tree growing amongst mayan ruins in mexico riviera maya

More Southern Mexico Archaeological Sites

Monte Alban

Dating from 500 BCE, Monte Alban is one of the earliest cities to be recorded in Mesoamerica, and was the largest cultural center of the Zapotecs (though they weren’t the only people to inhabit the city).

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Monte Alban was populated until around 850 CE, and therefore offers nearly 1500 years worth of history to share!

Set just outside of modern Oaxaca City, visiting Monte Alban is a fantastic experience that is packed with structures to explore (including the ceremonial area, which is well preserved), as well as views of the surrounding mountains to enjoy.

monte alban as seen from above, one of the best places to visit in oaxaca

Monte Alban is conisdered the best-preserved and most important Mexican archaeological site in the Oaxaca Valley, and visiting is one of the indisputed best things to do in Oaxaca!

Where to Visit Monte Alban From

As Monte Alban is located only about 6 miles east of modern Oaxaca City, you can easily visit independently by bus.

However, you can book guided archaeological tours as well.

Kate Storm and Jeremy Storm at Monte Alban in Oaxaca Mexico--exploring lots of ruins like this is one of our top tips for traveling to Mexico!

Calakmul

From Emily of Emily Embarks

Situated in the Campeche state of Mexico, Calakmul is home to nearly 6,800 different ancient ruin configurations, and yet only brings in, on average, less than 20,000 visitors per year.

Owing to its secluded location, easy access off a major highway, and endless historic beauty, Calakmul is easily one of the best ruins in Mexico!

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Best accessed via guided tours due to its remote location within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, the ruins are truly an exciting experience.

Surrounded by wildlife including monkeys, vast varieties of birdlife, and even the possibility of spotting a wild jaguar, a visit to the Calakmul ruins is well worth the effort.

For visitors with their own car, your best route will be to travel from Xpujil 2 hours south through extremely dense jungle and ill-maintained roads.

Travelers should be sure to learn some basic Spanish before visiting on their own, as many of the local population in the area is monolingual.

English-speaking guides also book up far in advance, so be sure to plan ahead if you plan on visiting with a guide.

kate storm standing on top of a pyramid in calakmul, one of the best mayan ruins mexico

Once you arrive, take some time to explore Estructura II.

This is the largest ruin in the area and actually allows visitors to climb it! Just be respectful, please.

You can also get great views from Pyramid 2, and see some incredible architecture at the Mayan Ball Court and the Chiik Nahb Acropolis. 

The secluded ancient ruins site of Calakmul is most commonly visited from Xpujil, which is within close proximity to the border of the Yucatan state.

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Where to Visit Calakmul From

Just 90 minutes from the popular tourist town of Bacalar, guests can easily combine a visit to Calakmul with other popular spots along the Yucatan Peninsula.

Note from Kate: When Jeremy and I visited Calakmul, we had our own vehicle and still chose to hire a guide for navigation and context. Guided tours like this are a great value for Calakmul!

staircase leading up a pyramid to climb at calakmul mayan archaelogical sites mexico

Yaxchilan Archaeological Site

From Megan of Packing Up the Pieces

Yaxchilan is an incredible Mayan archaeological site hidden in the Lacandona Jungle in Chiapas in Mexico.

Reaching the ruins is half the adventure, as it is only accessible via a 40-minute long boat ride that twists along the Usumacinta River.

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The river acts as a natural border between Mexico and Guatemala and is a dramatic entrance to these spectacular Mayan ruins.

Wander through the site and follow the self-guided tour. Listen closely, you may hear howler monkeys in the backdrop.

Yaxchilan mexico ruins with a statue on the left side

While the Yaxchilan ruins are not as large as other famous sites in Mexico, the isolated location in the heart of the jungle is mystical and can give the impression as if stepping back in time to this once powerful Mayan city.

Since the site is quite remote, walking among the ruins is a truly intimate experience.

Where to Visit Yaxchilan From

Most people will visit Yaxchilan as a long and organized day trip from Palenque.

However, bold travelers can add Yaxchilan and the gateway city of Frontera Corozal as a stop along a Chiapas road trip.

intricate building in yaxichilan ruins mexico chiapas

Palenque

Set inside the shaded jungle of Chiapas, Palenque is one of the most interesting ruins in Mexico to visit.

This once medium-sized Mayan city in southern Mexico was active from 226 BCE until 799 AD.

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How do we know those exact dates?

Unlike some of the more mysterious archaeological sites in the region, Palenque’s history has been able to be largely recovered thanks to the written records left carved into the many intricate buildings.

Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

The site has now been largely reclaimed from the jungle and features pyramids to climb, buildings to enter, and detailed architecture to marvel at.

It also–unlike many of these Mexico ruins–features plenty of shade thanks to its jungle location, a welcome relief from the heat!

Where to Visit Palenque From

Palenque is popularly visited on day trips from San Cristobal, however, you can also choose to stay in the modern city of Palenque and visit independently from there.

ruins of palenque as seen from above, an amazing stop on a 2 weeks in mexico itinerary

Mitla

From Julien of Cultures Traveled

Tucked into the mountains and valleys surrounding Oaxaca City is Mitla, the second most important archeological site in Oaxaca.

While smaller than some of the other famous ruins in Mexico, it is no less significant.

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Mitla was used as a sacred burial site by the Zapotecs who built it as a gateway between life and death.

The name comes from the Nahuatl word Mictlán, which means “place of the dead.”

It was later occupied by the Mixtecs and continued to be used as an important religious center when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s.

detailed shot of the carvings on the walls of mitla, one of the best things to do in oaxaca

Mitla is also significant for the intricate mosaics that adorn many of the structures.

These geometric patterns are made with small polished stones that are meticulously fitted together without the use of mortar. It is the only archeological site in Mexico with this style of decoration.

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Where to Visit Mitla From

A visit to Mitla can easily be incorporated into one of these day trips from Oaxaca.

To get there, take a collectivo to San Pablo de Mitla and walk through the small town to the entrance of the ruin.

The archeological site of Mitla is located an hour east of Oaxaca City on the way to Hierve el Agua.

exterior of an intricately carved building in mitla

Mayan + Aztecs Ruins in North + Central Mexico

Teotihuacan

Sprawling and fascinating, Teotihuacan holds the distinction of one of the most mysterious Mexican ruins to visit.

Why?

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Well, to start with–it’s not known who built it.

Teotihuacan is believed to have been settled by about 400 BCE and very powerful by 400 AD.

However, when the Aztecs arrived in the 1400s and took it over (they were the people who named it Teotihuacan), the city had been abandoned for centuries.

hot air balloons rising over teotihuacan in the early morning

In addition to its mystery, Teotihuacan is also an incredibly fun archaeological site in Mexico to visit, featuring multiple pyramids to climb.

One of the most popular things to do in Teotihuacan for those in the mood for a splurge is to take a hot air balloon ride over the site in order to appreciate it from above.

Where to Visit Teotihuacan From

Teotihuacan is located about 30 miles northeast of Mexico City, and, along with spots like Tepoztlan, makes for a great day trip.

You can access the site by bus or by booking a guided tour.

3 Days in Mexico City Itinerary: Teotihuacan

Tula Archaeological Site

From Daniel of Layer Culture

Tula ruins are located in the state of Hidalgo and are just 90 kilometers from Mexico City making it the perfect day trip for visitors.

Tula was once the action capital of the Toltecs and the archaeological site that remains today is close to the town of Tula de Allende which is situated northwest of Mexico City.

From Mexico City, you can expect a 2 hours journey and if traveling Mexico by bus, you can head over to Terminal Norte and book your ticket with a company named Ovnibus.

Arriving in Tula de Allende the ruins are a 10-minute walk away from the nearest bus stop, or you can take a taxi.

states of toltec warriors at one of the best mexico ruins

For most visitors to this site, the main attraction is the Pyramid of Quetzalcoatl which is topped by 5-meter basalt columns that are beautifully carved in the form of the Toltec warriors.

This ancient city thrived from the 9th to the 12th century and the Toltec warriors spread the cult of their feathered serpent god all over the empire: from central Mexico down to Central America.

Most of the local tour guides offer tours in Spanish and each of the landmarks displays descriptions in both Spanish and English.

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The site must be seen to be fully appreciated and pyramids are fairly easy to climb for getting pictures of the site.

Where to Visit Tula From

Tula is an excellent day trip from Mexico City.

tula pyramid seen from afar with toltec warrior visible

The Great Pyramid of Cholula

From Bailey of Destionationless Travel

The Great Pyramid of Cholula (also known as Tlachihualtepetl which means “made by hand mountain) is one of the most impressive archeological sites in Mexico.

First of all, this pyramid is the largest by volume in the entire world!

For comparison sake, Teotihuacán measures 220 meters by 230 meters at its base, whereas the Cholula Pyramid is 450 by 450 meters – it’s huge!

Surrounding the pyramid is also the remainder of the ancient city of Cholula. It’s said that this ancient city once had a population of 100,000 people!

You can walk around the different uncovered ruins and read about them on the information boards. 

One thing that is important to note about the Great Pyramid of Cholula is that it is still covered.

In fact, when you arrive, it looks more or less like a big hill in the middle of the city with a church on top of it.

You can actually climb to the top and visit the church if you want. The view from up there is very impressive.

cholula pyramid as seen from the ground, one of the most impressive aztec ruins in mexico

With that said, the best way to explore the Cholula Pyramid is from the inside. When you visit Cholula, you can actually go inside the pyramid and explore the underground tunnel system.

This is a very unique experience and something you won’t experience elsewhere in Mexico.

There are tons of different tunnels inside the pyramid and they total about 8 kilometers long. 

The style of Cholula is often compared to Teotihuacan, as they both are Aztec ruins in Mexico. This also makes sense since both sites are geographically located pretty close to each other. 

Where to Visit the Great Pyramid of Cholula From

The Great Pyramid of Cholula is located in a small town also called Cholula, located only about 4 kilometers from the city of Puebla, Mexico.

You can also visit Cholula on a day trip from Mexico City, but it is about a 2-3 hour drive away.

For this reason, many tourists base themselves in Puebla and visit Cholula from there.

detailed photo of great pyramid of cholula stairs

Guachimontones Pyramids

From Wendy of Empty Nesters Hit the Road

About an hour outside of Guadalajara, in the state of Jalisco, are the Guachimontones Pyramids; circular, stepped, man-made structures built by the Teuchitlan people.

In fact, these are the only circular pyramids in the world!

It’s estimated they were built around 2,000 years ago.

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While there are a few dozen sites in the area with similar pyramids, these are the best preserved and available to the public to view.

Today the pyramids are covered in grass and appear green, but it’s believed that they were originally painted red.

The best way to see Guachimontones is on an organized tour from Guadalajara, especially if you don’t speak Spanish.

round Guachimontones pyramid covered in grass as seen from afar, one of the most unique mexico ruins to visit

A guide will arrange transportation and provide the history of both the pyramids and the region.

The first stop at Guachimontones should be the Visitors Center. A short introductory film with English subtitles gives an overview of the entire area and the history of how it was discovered.

Next, explore the artifacts uncovered through archeological digs.

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Then climb the hill to see the pyramids in person. To protect these structures, most cannot be climbed.

However, climbing is permitted on one of the crumbling pyramids which makes a great spot for photos.

Where to Visit Guachimontones From

The best option for overnight accommodations is in Guadalajara, a major Mexican city offering plenty of shopping, dining, and attractions.

man standing in front of Guachimontones pyramid to take a picture

El Templo Mayor

From Katja of Globetotting

Located in the heart of Mexico City to one side of the enormous public square that is El Zócalo, is El Templo Mayor.

The Great Temple was the heart of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and where, according to legend, the Aztecs saw an eagle perching on a cactus with a snake in its beak.

Today this is the symbol on the Mexican flag.

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The Templo Mayor saw many human sacrifices; the stepped pyramid’s staircase is where the bodies of those sacrificed were thrown once they had had their hearts ripped out.

Its gory history might not be for everyone but a visit to El Templo Mayor really is one of the best things to do in Mexico City.

When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico in 1519 they razed the main ceremonial temple and used stones from the fallen shrine to help build the Metropolitan Cathedral.

statue of a snake head at templo mayor in the heart of mexico city

Amazingly, excavation on this major archaeological site only began in 1978 and much of the ancient Aztec city still lies beneath the modern city streets – it was only in 2011 that a ceremonial platform dating from 1469 was discovered.

Today you can visit what has been excavated of the Great Temple and the accompanying museum showcases all the objects discovered during the excavations. 

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Where to Visit El Templo Mayor From

El Templo Mayor is located in the heart of Mexico City, next door to the Metropolitan Cathedral and just steps from the Zocalo.

If you’re visiting Mexico City, this is undoubtedly one of the easiest Mexico ruins to visit!

Map of the Best Mexico Ruins to Visit

Take This Map With You! Click each highlight to pull up the name of the destination. To save this map to “Your Places” on Google Maps, click the star to the right of the title. You’ll then be able to find it under the Maps tab of your Google Maps account! To open the map in a new window, click the button on the top right of the map.

2 photos of mexico ruins, tulum and chichen itza. black and red text reads "25 epic ruins in mexico"
About Kate Storm
Image of the author, Kate Storm

In May 2016, I left my suburban life in the USA and became a full-time traveler. Since then, I have visited 50+ countries on 5 continents and lived in Portugal, developing a special love of traveling in Europe (especially Italy) along the way. Today, along with my husband Jeremy and dog Ranger, I’m working toward my eventual goal of splitting my life between Europe and the USA.

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