Are you thinking about visiting the Mayan Ruins in Mexico?
When visiting the southern half of Mexico, there’s a very high chance you are visiting an area that contains some incredible ruins.
Mayans, or even a civilization that predated them, created some iconic pyramids, dwellings, and ceremonial buildings.
Due to its huge popularity with vacationers, you may have heard of Chichen Itza, a world-renowned wonder of the ancient world.
Mayan Ruins in Mexico
But, did you know there are iterations and lookalikes that are dotted in the likes of Playa del Carmen, Chiapas, and even Mexico City itself.
Some are crowded with tourists. Some allow you to climb up them to get an amazing view of the landscape. Some are older than you might expect, and some look even better than Chichen Itza!
You may be familiar with Mexican stereotypes but not have heard of many of the ruins in Mexico, so below you’ll find some favorites.
Without further ado, let’s start by looking at Palenque ruins!
The first pick of Mayan ruins in this all-encompassing list is the ancient ruins of Palenque, which stand ironically at the precise point where the first hills rise out of the Gulf coastal plain.
The incredibly dense jungle covering these hills forms an incandescent backdrop to Palenque’s exquisite Mayan-built architecture.
Hundreds of ruin sites are spread over 15 sq/km, but only a small area has been actually excavated.
Everything you see here was built without the use of metal tools, pack animals, or even the wheel!
“The main point of interest about Palenque is not its size and [or] age, as other sites, are larger and likely much older,”
“Its importance lies rather in its naturalistic sculpture, architectural inventiveness, and detailed epigraphic record.”
Says Michael D. Carrasco, an assistant professor of art history at Florida State University.
Calakmul sometimes falls under the radar as a prime spot, but many should reconsider whether the top popular spots are right for them!
The many excavations at Calakmul and Uxul have revealed stucco friezes and mural paintings in some of the massive temple pyramids and palaces.
As well as burials of kings and other members of nobility, containing a rich variety of body ornaments among other incredible finds.
These include elaborate jade masks, ear spools, and polychrome pottery vessels.
The hieroglyphic inscriptions on stelae, altars, and building elements reveal important facts about the history of the area.
Some epigraphic records even provide information that has not been found anywhere else in the Maya Area.
Tulum Mayan Ruins
Located 100 miles (62 km) to the south of Playa del Carmen, the magical ruins of Tulum are walled into the east to face the threat of the Caribbean Sea to the west.
According to archaeological findings at the Tulum Ruins, the site began to be inhabited as early as 564 A.D.!
Always sitting at around 1,600 inhabitants, the site remained occupied until shortly before the end of the 16th century.
That’s when disease brought by the Spanish eliminated the majority of the population.
It’s just colonial history! Over a period of 7 centuries, rulers came and left their mark.
The city we know as Tulum was transformed by each new generation of inhabitants and their variations of style blending into each other.
One of the most significant archaeological sites in the Oaxaca Valley, Monte Alban was an ancient Zapotec metropolis back in the day.
Founded in the sixth century B.C. on a low mountainous range overlooking the city of Oaxaca, it functioned as their capital.
For almost 13 centuries between 500 B.C. and 800 A.D, it was a huge deal. Its impressive architectural remains—terraces, pyramids, and canals—extend over some four miles (6.5 square kilometers).
It also includes structures built around the Great Plaza, the north and south ends of which are anchored by massive platform mounds.
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
The first human settlements in the area of Chacchoben have been carbon-dated at around 1000 B.C.!
That’s a lot older than hundreds of cities in Europe, right?
By 360 A.D Chacchoben had become the largest community in the region of the lakes. It bunched up the local settlements as the most prestigious ceremonial center.
Today, Temple One, soaring above the canopy of the tropical forest, still expresses the glory of Chacchoben’s ancient sophistication.
When you consider how much is there at the historical site, only a portion of the site is even open to the public!
Many temples of Chacchoben are still in their natural condition covered with vegetation awaiting for their turn to be restored and reveal their secrets. Maybe you could discover something?
North of the city of Veracruz, is the town of Papantla. Just outside of Papantla are some mysterious and fascinating archaeological ruins known as El Tajin.
The term has the meaning “thunder” in the Toltec language, but other records link the name etymology of the site to mean “place of the dead” or “place of the invisible spirits”.
The large ancient complex is believed to have once been a ceremonial and administrative center that peaked sometime between 600 and 1200 AD; its construction has been attributed to a tribe related to the Maya.
Over 150 buildings have been identified on the site, although so far only around twenty have been excavated and restored. More than most sites in Mexico.
About two hours north of Mexico City is one of the most northern sites on this list. The archaeological site of Tula was at one time the capital city of the Toltec Empire.
For many visitors to Tula, the four basalt statues of Toltec warriors set on the top of a pyramid are the most striking features of the whole site.
Enjoy Tula as a quick day trip from Mexico City, that’s our recommendation. What Tula lacks in size and pomp, as at nearby Teotihuacán, it makes up for in charm and atmosphere.
Although a relatively small archaeological site, it is situated on a hill overlooking the Tula Valley and the historic town of Tula de Allende.
The views of the archaeological sites and the surrounding area from the top of one of the pyramids, what was the Temple of Quetzalcóatl, are some of the best in Mexico.
If you haven’t heard of these Mayan ruins, that would be very surprising. This sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centers of the entire Yucatán peninsula.
Throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, different peoples have left their mark on the city.
This includes the fact that for a very long time it was overgrown with plant life to the point where it had to be ‘re-discovered.
The Mayans and the Toltecs had grips on Chichen, each leaving different features to the famous structures.
With the fusion of Mayan construction techniques and new elements from central Mexico makes Chichen so unique.
Several buildings have survived, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Castillo, and the circular observatory known as El Caracol.
Compare the Chichen Itza vs Tulum ruins if you find yourself in Cancun and are undecided on which to visit.
Ek Balam ruins have become more and more popular in recent years because they are new to the tourism scene.
The Ek Balam Mayan ruins offer something new for people wanting to explore the Yucatan Peninsula and learn about history.
These ruins started to be restored in 1997 when the spot was largely viewed as not worth a tourist’s time compared with the likes of Chichen Itza. The name means “black jaguar” in Mayan.
The ancient city was used from 600 B.C. to 1600 A.D. and its heyday was between 770 A.D. and 900 A.D..
The site is actually 15 square kilometers in size but the core of the site was a walled city and contained about 40 buildings.
Yaxchilan is an ancient Mayan city located on the banks of the Usumacinta River in the southern state of Chiapas, Mexico.
This classic example of Mayan culture lies near the border with Guatemala.
Yaxchilan was a large metropolitan area, important throughout the Classic era back in the day. It was known as the dominant power of the Usumacinta River area.
It’s a site known particularly for its well-preserved sculptured stone lintels set above the doorways of the main structures.
These lintels, together with the stelae (stone tablets) erected before the major buildings, contain hieroglyphic texts describing the dynastic history of the city.
Some of the lintels are on display in European museums, but there’s no better feeling than seeing them where they belong.
Coba Mayan Ruins
Coba is an ancient Mayan city, and during the classic period (600 A.D. to 900 A.D.) the site was an important center connecting the largest network of stone causeways of the ancient Mayan world.
Coba completely dominated the area, with there being evidence that the city was in touch with other large Mayan cities, not only in the reach of just Mexico.
At its peak, Coba had more than 50,000 inhabitants, but numbers changed irreversibly after the arrival of the Spanish in the 1600s.
Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, same as Chichen Itza. However, there are much fewer crowds here.
This is one of the best things to do in Merida for visitors looking for cultural experiences. Uxmal was once one of the most famous and powerful Mayan cities not only on the Yucatan but in the entire empire.
Most of the construction work took place in the classic period between the 7th and 9th century, and at its peak, around 25,000 people lived here.
The name Uxmal comes from the term ‘Oxmal’, which means ‘three times built’. It suggests that the place has been rebuilt numerous times down the centuries.
The term Edzna comes from “House of the Itzas”, which has led archaeologists to believe that this Mayan city was influenced by the family Itza.
This was the infamous brood that founded the world-famous Chichen Itza, but they founded Edzna long before it.
It has also been documented that the layout of Edzna mimicked that of Teotihuacán near Mexico City.
This Mayan site is as intriguing as it sounds and is a great trip through the Yucatan Peninsula.
Adventure awaits at Edzná. The history of the Edzná ruins is fascinating, the archaeological site a wondrous existing testament to Mexican history.
Mayan Ruins in Mexico: Will you visit?
Mexico is chock-full of incredible ancient wonders that most people may not have even realized existed.
Who would’ve thought that there were so many ruins?
This is for Mexico as a country, but how many pyramids and ancient structures stand in the surrounding countries?
You may have heard of Copan Ruinas, a popular ruins site on the border between Honduras and Guatemala.
Either way, these are some popular ruins in Mexico, what are yours?
See more on this blog, if you’re thinking of backpacking Mexico or embarking on a trip to visit some of these Mayan sites.
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