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Tulum on the Horizon | © Lars Plougmann/Flickr
Tulum on the Horizon | © Lars Plougmann/Flickr

5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun

Picture of Perri J
Updated: 20 February 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 the ancient Mayans can be explored and discovered at a variety of different sites scattered throughout the region. However, make no mistake, the Mayans are not a lost civilisation. Many Mayan descendants still inhabit the same land that their ancestors ruled during Earth’s first millennium.

Chichen Itza

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. The Kukulkan Pyramid is erected 24 meters high and was recently voted one of the seven wonders of the world.

Chichen Itza, Carr. Costera del Golfo, Yucatán, Mexico +52 01 985 851 0137

5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun, Chichen Itza |©Paul Simpson/Flickr

Clouds over Chichen Itza | © Paul Simpson/Flickr


More discreet and harder to reach than Chichen Itza, a day at the Coba ruins feels more like an Indiana Jones-style adventure through the jungle. Lush greenery creates a beautiful frame around this ancient city. Coba is most notable for having the largest amount of sacbes (white roads) of any ancient Mayan site; these pathways can be trailed and followed from the main pyramid to small villages where ancient Mayans used to lay their heads at night. The opportunity to walk, bike, or be driven around these protected sites makes it the perfect day-trip from Cancun.

Cobá, Carretera Federal 307 Cancún-Chetumal, Cobá, Mexico +52 01 55 3033 5552

5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun, Climbing Coba|©Austin Flynn/Flickr

Climbing Coba | © Austin Flynn/Flickr


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? The ruins in Tulum offer 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 at Tulum, trailing around these ruins is an alluring option for all inquisitive travellers.

Carretera federal Chetumal – Cancún km. 230, Tulum, Mexico +52 01 984 802 5405

El Rey

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 on site in regards to the different structures at El Rey; however, visitors can hire a tour guide to hear stories about the ancient Mayans’ customs and beliefs. In an easily accessible spot bustling with lively iguanas, El Rey is a pleasant midday getaway.

El Rey Zona Arqueológica, Zona Hotelera, Cancún, Mexico +52 01 983 837 2411

5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun, Top of El Rey| © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Top of El Rey | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr


Xel-Há 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. Xel-Há was used as a port to reach other sites where rituals were performed. The stories of Xel-Há are moving but what’s also notable is the surrounding land; with cenotes (sinkholes) and a nearby eco-park, a visit to Xel-Há could easily turn into an all-day excursion.

Xel-Há, Km 240 Carretera Chetumal Puerto Juarez, Solidaridad, Mexico +52 01 800 009 3542

5 Must-Visit Mayan Ruins Near Cancun, Xel-Ha Writing on the Wall | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr

Xel-Há Writing on the Wall | © Dennis Jarvis/Flickr