Top Mayan Ruins Near Cancun

Top Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
Photo: Nicholas Pitt / Alamy

Go from the lights and glitz of Cancun to ancient stone temples all in one trip. The vibrant city in Quintana Roo, Mexico, is surrounded by some of the world's most captivating ancient cities, built centuries ago by the Mayan civilization, which peaked around 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 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 wear comfortable shoes for walking and climbing, along with a hat and plenty of sunscreen. Here's a look at some of the best Mayan ruins near Cancun.

El Rey

El Rey Mayan Ruins in Mexico
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Most Cancun vacationers never hear about this ancient Mayan city, even though it's right under their noses. Located within the Cancun Hotel Zone right across the street from the city's best public beach, El Rey has structures of all sizes to climb and explore and is just a quick city bus ride away from any Cancun hotel.

Tulum

Tulum Mayan Ruins on the beach in Mexico
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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, located just two hours south of Cancun. While you can't climb on these structures, Tulum does have one of the world's most unique beaches at the foot of the cliff.

Cobá

Mayan Ballcourt at Coba Archeological Site in Mexico
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Less than three hours from Cancun, the ancient Mayan city of Cobá is built around two lagoons. Adventurous travelers have fallen in love with Cobá because of its gorgeous jungle scenery and climbable temples. The entire site covers a large area and bikes are available to rent so you can easily explore the entire city.

Chichén Itzá

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

Ek Balam

View of stone steps of Maya temples in the ruins of the city of Ek-Balam
Eduardo Fonseca Arraes / Getty Images

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

El Meco

El Meco, Mayan archeological site near Cancun, Mexico
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Just 30 minutes north of Cancun's main hotel zone, El Meco was once a thriving Mayan fishing village and port city, situated just across the water from Isla Mujeres. Climb to the top of El Castillo — the tallest ruin in the region at roughly 41 feet high — to view the remains of the other structures, the Caribbean Sea, and several surrounding lagoons.

Xel-Há

Mayan Ruins at Xel-Ha
James R.D. Scott / Getty Images

While closer to Tulum than Cancun (20 minutes vs. 90 minutes from each city, respectively) these ruins are still worth a look, especially if you're visiting the eponymous ecological park down the road. Another formerly active port city, the site's name translates to "water inlet," due to its proximity to the nearby lagoon. Come to see the smaller temples and cenotes, and a series of murals that dates back to 300 A.D. to 600 A.D.

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