5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancún

Tulum on the Horizon | © Lars Plougmann/Flickr
Tulum on the Horizon | © Lars Plougmann/Flickr
Photo of Perri J
17 April 2018

The folklore, legends and rituals that surround the ancient Mayan civilisation are wildly mystifying and intriguing. Indigenous to parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, Mayans had prolific beliefs regarding life cycles, the cosmos and higher powers. What’s left of their culture can be explored and discovered at a variety of different sites scattered throughout the region.

Chichen Itza

Archaeological site, Ruins
Map View
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most iconic sites out of all of the Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza receives more than 1.5 million visitors each year. Renowned for being one of the largest cities of this ancient time, its name translates to ‘At the mouth of the well of Itza’. Though explorers can spend an entire day gazing and snapping Instagram-worthy pictures of these ruins, there are some structures that stand out above the rest, such as the Kukulcan Pyramid, which, at 24 meters high, was recently voted one of the seven wonders of the world.

Tulum Ruins

Map View
Mayan Ruins at the city of Tulum near Cancun, Mexico in the state of Quintana Roo filled with history, limestone buildings, vegetation and wildlife
© Cyndi Hageman / Alamy Stock Photo
A day filled with archaeological visits, history and artefacts can’t quite compete with the stunning white sand beaches that line the Caribbean Sea. But what happens when the ruins actually sit along these picturesque landscapes? Tulum’s archaeological site offers quite a different experience for sightseers in the region as this ancient city was once a seaport for trading jade and turquoise. With an abundance of theories and myths that surround certain structures, exploring these ruins is an alluring option for all inquisitive travellers.

El Rey

Map View
Top of El Rey|©Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
Top of El Rey | ©Dennis Jarvis/Flickr
El Rey is easily accessible to any Cancún traveller who wants to spend a few hours at a cultural site and still make it to the club by nightfall. Not much information is available in regards to the different structures on-site; however, visitors can hire a tour guide to hear stories about the ancient Mayans’ customs and beliefs. In an easily accessible spot home to beautiful flora and fauna, El Rey is a pleasant midday getaway.


Park, Ruins
Map View
Launching Place for Snorklers and Swimmers, Xel Ha Eco-adventure Park, Playa del Carmen, Riviera Maya, Yucatan, Mexico.
© Charles O. Cecil / Alamy Stock Photo
Xelha holds a breadth of history for the Mayan people. Archaeologists have traced the importance of these ruins back to the Mayans’ belief in the spiritual goddess of fertility. Xelha was used as a port to reach other sites where rituals were performed. The stories of what happened here are moving, but what’s also notable is the surrounding land; with cenotes(sinkholes) and a nearby eco-park, a visit to this area could easily turn into an all-day excursion.