No trip to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula is complete without visiting a Mayan Ruin Site. The millennia-old, monumental structures leave you speechless – not to mention the cultural achievements of the Mayas in terms of calendar, writing and more.

If you are planning a trip to Yucatán, then you are probably already aware or have heard about at least one Maya Ruin: Chichén Itzá especially as it is probably the most famous ruin in Yucatán. But apart from this  Wonder of the World, there are countless impressive Mayan temples in the Yucatán Peninsula.

In this blog article we will share with you, the seven ruins that we visited on our trip. In addition, we will also share our personal experiences and of course reveal our best tips.

1. Mayan Ruins of the Yucatán Region in Mexico: Personal Experiences and Tips

Chichén Itzá

This is the most famous ruin site in Mexico. Chichén Itzá is not just the landmark of the region, but is also one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. You can imagine that with this fame, also comes with correspondingly much larger crowds. So our tip is to visit Chichén Itzá at sunrise, so you can avoid the masses completely.

The main attraction of Chichén Itzá is the striking pyramid of Kukulcán, also called El Castillo. This is also the first you pass on the tour. In addition there are countless other buildings, such as the Gran Juego de pelota (sports ground of the Mayas) or the Templo de los Guerreros (warrior temple). We recommend that you schedule around three hours for your visit.

Our detailed blog article with many tips: Chichén Itzá at Sunrise

In summary – what awaits you in Chichén Itzá

  • One of the seven new Wonders of the World – which makes it quite special
  • There are large masses of visitors during the day (the area is hopelessly overflowing from about 10am onwards)
  • Structures may not be entered

Information about the visit of Chichén Itzá

Admission: about 480 Pesos per person
Starting point for sightseeing: best directly at Chichén Itzá or in Pisté
Recommendation Accommodation: Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows (directly in the area, only 5 minutes walk away)
Length of time for sightseeing: about 3 hours

Mayan Ruins Yucatan

Uxmal

We travelled to Uxmal without any expectations – and voila, we ended up being totally blown away by this Ruin Site, which is located in the west of the Yucatán peninsula, approximately an hours drive (80 kilometres) from the colonial town of Mérida.

Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico. Nevertheless, the crowd is limited, because Uxmal is still in the shadow of Chichén Itzá. Nowhere else have we seen more iguanas in one place than here.

The most famous and striking building is the so-called Adivino Pyramid with its slightly oval shape. You are not allowed to enter, but from the Governor’s Palace you have a great view of the surrounding area of Uxmal’s Mayan ruins.

More about Uxmal can be found in our Mérida blog article: Mérida Tips & Excursions

In summary – what awaits you in Uxmal

  • Pretty extensive area with beautifully restored ruins
  • Not crowded, therefore much more pleasant to visit than Chichén Itzá
  • Not all temples are allowed to be climbed, but one of them gives you a really nice view

Information about visiting Uxmal

Admission: about 410 Pesos per person (plus 30 Pesos parking fee)
Starting point for sightseeing: Mérida
Recommendation Accommodation in Mérida: Viva Mérida
Length of time for sightseeing: about 2 hours

Uxmal Mexico

Calakmul

Calakmul is undoubtedly the most secluded Ruin Site we visited. There is nothing but jungle all around you: Calakmul is located about 60 kilometres from civilisation and is only reachable via a 1.5 hour drive through the rainforest. This gives the Mayan Ruin of Calakmul a very special feel – during our visit, for example, a family of monkeys crossed our path.

The ruins at Calakmul can be climbed. The distant view of the jungle from the impressive, 45 metre high main pyramid (Estructura II) is one of those travel experiences that we will remembered forever.

More about Calakmul can be found in our blog article: Tips for Calakmul & Becán

In summary – what awaits you in Calakmul

  • Rather long journey (1.5 hours drive through the deepest jungle)
  • Very few visitors
  • Unique, mysterious atmosphere as the ruins are completely surrounded by jungle
  • Ruins may be climbed and you have a great view over the rainforest at the top 

Information about the visit of Calakmul

Admission: a total of about 200 Pesos per person (you pay three times along the way)
Starting point for sightseeing: Xpujil
Recommendation Accommodation in Xpujil: Hotel Casa Maya
Length of time for sightseeing: about 3.5 hours

Mayan Ruins Mexico

Tulum

No other Ruin Sites can match this impressive backdrop: the Mayan ruins of Tulum are located directly on the cliffs overlooking the turquoise-blue sea. For that reason alone, we think that this Ruin is a must-see.

However, the ruins themselves are, and we have to be honest, less impressive than others. In addition, the Mayan site of Tulum is a visitor magnet. We were glad to be there at 8am (opening time). From about 10am the area is littered with bus groups. It’s definitely worth coming early!

Here is our detailed blog article with many more tips: Tulum Tips

In summary – what awaits you at the ruins of Tulum

  • Spectacular location right on the cliffs
  • Very very large number of visitors (the ruins here are just as overrun as in Chichén Itzá)
  • Temples can not be entered and are not as impressive as other ruins 

Information about the visit of Tulum

Admission: 75 Pesos per person
Starting point for sightseeing: Tulum
Recommendation Accommodation: Biwa Tulum
Length of time for sightseeing: about 1.5 hours

Maya Ruins Tulum

Becán

Should you visit Calakmul, then we recommend that you also visit Becán. Becán is located in the state of Campeche near Xpujil. Without doubt, Becán can be described as something of a secret insider tip for Mexico.

What you absolutely should not miss is the ascent up the ruins of Becán. From the larger pyramid you have a gigantic view over the rest of the area and the expansive landscape.

You can find further helpful tips in our detailed blog article: Tips for Calakmul & Becán

In summary – what awaits you in Becán

  • Ruins off the beaten track inland of the Yucatán Peninsula
  • Very spectacular ruins that can also be entered

Information about visiting Becán

Admission: 60 Pesos per person
Starting point for sightseeing: Xpujil
Recommendation Accommodation in Xpujil: Hotel Casa Maya
Length of time for sightseeing: at least 1.5 hours

Bacan Maya Ruins

Coba

The ruins of Cobá lies inland from the Yucatán Peninsula, some 40 kilometres from the coast. Cobá is one of those ruins that lie in the middle of the jungle and was once upon a time, one of the largest cities of the Mayas. Correspondingly, the area is also very extensive: In Cobá you can get around through the jungle paths much quicker on a rental bike.

Although Cobá is far less frequented than Tulum, it was still too touristy for us. Nevertheless, we really liked it. Our undisputed highlight was climbing the Nohoch-Mul pyramid.

More helpful tips for Cobá can be found in our blog article: Tulum Tips & Excursions

In summary – what awaits you in Cobá

  • Relatively easily to get to, expansive Jungle-like Ruin Site
  • Crowds at the individual pyramids can be quite large (but not as bad as in Tulum)
  • The highest pyramid (Nohoch-Mul) can be climbed

Information about the visit of Cobá

Admission: 75 Pesos per person (plus 50 Pesos parking fee)
Starting point for sightseeing: Tulum or Valladolid
Recommendation Accommodation in Tulum: Biwa Tulum
Length of time for sightseeing: about 2 hours

Ek Balam

The ruin site Ek Balam is located near the colonial town of Valladolid and is one of the lesser-known Mayan ruins. Like many other ruins, Ek Balam is surrounded by jungles. Unlike other ruins, however, Ek Balam offers even more insight into Mayan culture. Thanks to the reconstructed roofs on the main ruin, you can then get a better picture of how the Mayas lived back then.

In Ek Balam you can climb the ancient structures. There is a particularly impressive view from the main ruin (the so-called Acropolis), but it’s also worthwhile climbing the stairs on the smaller ruins, as can be seen in the photos.

More information about Ek Balam can be found in this blog article: Valladolid Tips

In summary – what awaits you in Ek Balam

  • Unique architecture
  • Comparatively unknown and very seldom visited ruins
  • Temples may be climbed

Information about visiting Ek Balam

Admission: about 430 Pesos per person
Starting point for visit: Valladolid
Recommended accommodation in Valladolid: La Flor Casa Boutique
Length of time for sightseeing: about 1.5 hours

Ek Balam Mexico

2. Things You Should Know when Visiting Ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula

Guide or No Guide?

Although we are more the type that likes to “explore on our own”, we believe that you should treat yourself to a guide once in a while, especially on a Yucatán Trip. A good guide will usually tell you a lot of interesting things about the Mayan culture in just a few hours, and you get to experience those “Aha” moments on your sightseeing tours. In principle, you can, of course, explore every ruin completely on your own.

How do I find a guide?

That varies from place to place. For some ruins (Tulum, for example), you can easily book a guide right by the entrance. For others (Calakmul, for example), it was not possible for us to find an English-speaking guide, even the night before.

In general, we always think that your accommodation is a good place to begin in search for a guide. Usually hotels/guesthouses are well connected and they know who they like to work with.

How much does a tour cost?

Prices Vary: On site you can sometimes strike some good bargains. For example, at the ruins of Tulum there is a separate counter at the entrance where you can book private tours. The total cost (for a group of 4 people) is about $40-50 USD(about 800 Pesos). The price is usually negotiable.

Depending on how isolated a place is, it can also be considerably more expensive: in Calakmul for example, a guided tour (including the 2-hour transport by car through the jungle) cost us a total of 2,500 Pesos for the both of us. Considering the fact that this also includes petrol, we did not find it so expensive.

For our 3-hour sunrise tour in Chichén Itzá we paid (without any transport) 1,500 Pesos per person.

What clothes should we wear for the visit?

There are no dress codes at the Mayan Ruins, unlike the Buddhist Temples of Bagan. Nevertheless, we would recommend keeping your shoulders covered or at least a thick coat of sunscreen as the midday sun is quite harsh.

Depending on the site of the ruin, visitors with long clothes (for example in Calakmul) can often be seen as protection against the mosquitoes. We ourselves would also dress in long sleeved clothes, although in hindsight it was not absolutely necessary. There were not that many mosquitoes at the sites. In general, you cannot go wrong with a pair of wide, long pants.

The shoes should be comfortable and stable – this is especially true for those particular ruins, which you intend to climb up. And some sort of head coverage doesn’t hurt either.

Is Filming and Photography allowed at the Mayan ruins?

Apart from the admission, many of these ruin sites also impose a camera fee – however, this fee is normally only for those who intend to film. For most ruins, the fee is around 45 Pesos. From our experience, it seems that you can bypass the fee if you leave the camera in your backpack or camera bag when you enter the area.

All ruins have a strict ‘NO DRONE’ rule and flying one is absolutely forbidden. This is also indicated by the corresponding signs. If you start the drone anyway, you risk getting a very hefty fine. We would advise against bringing drones with you.

When is the best time to visit?

The sooner the better! Some Mayan ruins are completely overrun from 10am – such as Chichén Itzá or Tulum. For some ruins we found the mid afternoon period (3pm) most ideal (for example in Becán or Uxmal). The advantage: The light is a bit softer and there are not quite as many visitors on the road as there would be at noon. The important thing is to make sure you still have enough time, because many of those ruin sites close their gates at 5pm.

Lunchtime: You should definitely avoid this period! Especially at the famous ruins as large bus groups are being carted around during this time.

One more thing: on Sundays, Mexicans have free admission to all archaeological sites. We would generally try to avoid this day of the week. However, we did visit Ek Balam on a Sunday and did not find it overly crowded.

What should I take with me?

Very important: enough water! There are some ruins (such as Becán and Calakmul) where there are no stalls to hydrate yourself. Bringing along a  snack wouldn’t hurt either. Climbing the ruins requires more energy than you think.

Two more things that shouldn’t go amiss either are: mosquito spray and sunscreen. You will most likely need both.

You should also have enough cash with you. Cards are not always accepted and some services (for example, on-site guide, bike rental, snacks etc.) can only be paid in cash.

For larger and less well-known ruins (such as Calakmul and Becán), we recommend that you take a picture of the plan right at the entrance with your mobile phone so that you don’t lose your orientation. We also like to use the offline map on our phone for location purposes.

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Have you been to the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico or perhaps you have some more tips for visiting the Mayan ruins? Leave us a comment below with your experiences – we love to read them!