Nicholas Pitt / Alamy
August 08, 2014

Go from the lights and glitz of Cancun to ancient stone temples all in one trip. The vibrant city of Cancun, Mexico, is surrounded by some of the world’s most captivating ancient cities built centuries ago by the Mayan civilization, which peaked (c. 250 to 900 A.D.). During your trip, you can visit extensive and dazzling ruins found just minutes away from your hotel, or venture out into the lush jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula to discover some of the most powerful ancient cities in Mayan history. No matter which ruins you choose, you’re sure to learn more about the fascinating culture and mysterious culture that once inhabited this breathtaking region of Mexico. Each Mayan ruin has its own captivating stories and history, so hire a tour guide once you get to the site for the full experience. Just remember to bring along comfortable shoes for walking and climbing, along with a hat and plenty of sunscreen!

El Rey

Most Cancun vacationers never hear about this ancient Mayan city, even though it’s right under their nose. Located within the Cancun Hotel Zone, El Rey has structures of all sizes to climb and explore, just a quick city bus ride away from any Cancun hotel. It’s right across the street from the city’s best public beach, plus there are no pesky vendors. 

Tulum

You cannot find a Mayan ruin with a more dramatic location. This small but breathtaking city is set on a cliff top by the Caribbean Sea, just two hours south of Cancun. You can’t climb on these structures, but Tulum does have one of the world’s most unique beaches at the foot of the cliff.

Coba

Less than three hours from Cancun, the ancient Mayan city of Coba is built around two lagoons. Adventurous travelers fall in love with Coba for its gorgeous jungle scenery and climbable temples. The entire site covers a large area, and bikes are available for rent so you can easily explore the entire city.

Chichen Itza

By far the most famous Mayan ruins in Mexico, Chichen Itza is a popular day trip for travelers staying in Cancun. The main highlight is the famous El Castillo pyramid, one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. However, this huge city also has other jaw-dropping structures like the Observatory and the Temple of the Warriors. The only downside: You can’t climb on these structures.

Ek Balam

These climbable ruins are nestled in the jungles of Yucatan state, about two hours west of Cancun. The site has several large structures including a tall main pyramid, along with beautifully preserved carvings. Ek Balam is a great way to experience ancient Mayan culture without the crowds.

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