History and Instagram enthusiasts unite at Playa Ruinas, Tulum’s most iconic attraction. Undoubtedly one of the most beautiful sites in the Americas, the beach combines white sand and azure waters with Mayan ruins dating to the 13th century. Tulum’s clifftop Castillo, originally built as a watchtower, is currently Mexico’s third-most popular archaeological site after Teotihuacan and Chichén Itzá.
Set deep in the Mayan jungle, Cobá receives far fewer visitors than Chichén Itzá and feels like much more of an adventure. Just 45 minutes by car from Tulum center, the ancient city was once a thriving Mayan metropolis that engaged in a lengthy power struggle with Chichén Itzá. Located around two lagoons, Cobá is noted for its extensive network of elevated stone roads, or sacbeob, that connect the main pyramid to various smaller sites. Many tours of the site also offer a trip to a local village. This visit will give you a glimpse of contemporary Mayan culture while providing an opportunity to support locals by buying the local handicrafts on offer.
Cobá, Carretera Federal 307 Cancún-Chetumal, Cobá, Quintana Roo, Mexico, +52 553 033 5552
Not to be confused with the theme park that shares its name, Xel-Há is a Mayan archaeological ruin located less than 20 minutes by car from Tulum center. The site was once a major port for the nearby city of Cobá. Today, visitors can admire the jungle setting as they wander through the network of shaded trails—perfect for those who are dismayed by the crowds at the better known archaeological sites. Prepare for mosquitos in the ruins, and follow up your visit with a trip to a cenote or the nearby aquatic theme park.
Xel-Há, Km 240 Carretera Chetumal Puerto Juárez, Solidaridad, Mexico, +52 800 009 3542
Just 20 minutes by shuttle bus from central Tulum, Muyil is a fascinating complex that has somehow managed to stay off the tourist radar. One of the earliest and longest inhabited Mayan sites, the central pyramid rises to a height of 55 feet (17 meters). Nestled on the edge of the UNESCO-protected Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, the jungle surrounding Muyil offers excellent hiking opportunities. The ruins are gloriously photogenic and make a great alternative to the nearby sites of Tulum and Chichén Itzá.
If you are truly looking for a little-known archaeological site, then Ek Balam is the place for you. Restoration work on the ruins only began in 1997, and much of it is still closed to the public. The tallest and most impressive structure in the complex is the Acropolis Temple, which reaches a height of 95 feet (29 meters). Ek Balam’s obscure status brings distinct advantages—visitors can avoid the souvenir hawkers and wander through the ruins without brushing shoulders with fellow tourists. Hidden from the crowds, Ek Balam will make you feel as if you have been transported back in time.
Ek Balam, Santa Rita, Yucatán State, Mexico, +52 999 944 0033