Wondering what Mayan Ruins near Cancun you should visit? The Riviera Maya is famous for its archaeological sites, and there are several worth checking out while you’re in the area.
There’s not such a thing as visiting the Riviera Maya and not going to (at least!) one of the many ruins in Mexico that depict the ancient history of the Mayans, the people who lived in the area before the Spaniards arrived.
There are many Mayan Ruins near Cancun that you can visit, and all of them offer a slightly different story and varied structures, so check out this guide to decide which ruins you want to include in your itinerary!
El Rey is a small archaeological site of Mayan ruins in Cancun, located right within the Hotel Zone, making it the perfect site to visit if you don’t want to travel far.
These ancient ruins in Cancun date back to around 200 A.D. and it was a center for maritime trade back in the day. According to historians, the inhabitants worked as fishermen or in salt extraction until 1200 A.D.
While the site has not been inhabited for centuries, it is now home to hundreds of iguanas that have invaded the ruins, and they constitute part of the charm when visiting the zone.
Guides are available at the site for hire, and the ruins are open daily from 8 AM to 5 PM. The entrance fee at the time of writing is 55 MXN (USD 2.5)
Distance from Cancun: right there at your doorstep.
READ ALSO: 41 Fun Things to Do in Cancun, Mexico
El Meco is home to one of the highest pyramids near Cancun, named El Castillo, and the second tallest in the Yucatan Peninsula after Chichen Itza. Serpent heads, an important symbol for the Mayans, are situated on the pyramid’s staircase, and the site is very well preserved, making the visit truly enjoyable.
These Cancun ruins comprise three plaza groups and a total of 18 structures have been uncovered.
It is supposed that during the post classic period El Meco, along with other settlements like El Rey and San Miguelito worked to further develop the sea trade networks in the area, and while the time is not accurate, the site was likely abandoned upon the arrival of the Spanish.
➤ You can visit these Mexican ruins of Cancun with the Cancun City Sightseeing Tour that also includes visits to popular attractions in Playa del Carmen and Puerto Morelos, such as Quinta Avenida, Playa Delfines and Puerto Morelos’ downtown. You’ll also catch a glimpse of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 5.5 miles (9 kilometers) from Downtown Cancun.
The Tulum Ruins are probably the most popular in the Riviera Maya. Perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean sea, the site offers not only great historical insight but unbelievable views.
The Tulum site used to be a walled city back in the Mayans’ time, and it was named Zamá, which means ‘place of the dawning sun’. Nowadays you’ll get to see parts of that wall, that was built around the 1200 AD and abandoned, as most Mayan cities, in the 16th century.
Getting to these Mayan ruins from Cancun takes close to 2 hours, and after your visit you can head to the hidden beach below the ruins to cool off in the sea. The town of Tulum and its other nearby beaches are also worth visiting, so it’s a great idea to spend the rest of the day discovering Tulum’s gems.
➤ To explore the area with a knowledgeable guide you can join the Discovery Combo Tour. You’ll find out all about the ruins’ history and importance for the Mayan society, and then enjoy some snorkeling time in a beautiful reef. To wrap up the day you’ll head to an ancient cenote for a swim. Lunch, water and roundtrip transportation from your hotel in Cancun is included. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 81 miles (131 kilometers) via Carretera Tulum
READ ALSO: A Complete Guide to the Tulum Ruins
The San Gervasio ruins are located in Cozumel, an island that is easily reachable from Cancun. These Mayan ruins in Cozumel were a center of pilgrimage for Mayan women, who came from all over to worship the goddess of love and fertility, Ixchel.
While most structures have lost their roofs or parts of the walls over time, archaeologists have digitally reconstructed what the site used to look like, and you can wander around with the guidebook offered at the site identifying the buildings and picturing them as they were during their heyday.
Nowadays, iguanas, peccaries, and coatis inhabit the site, and you can expect to meet all of them during your visit to most Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula.
Among the interesting areas you’ll get to visit in the site is Las Manitas, the residence of the Mayan ruler of Cozumel which features red-colored handprints on the interior walls, and The Arch that constitutes the main entrance to the site.
➤ If you want to go to Cozumel, you might as well explore the rest of island, and one of the best ways to do it is with a Private Jeep Excursion. You’ll get to drive your own jeep into the Mayan jungle and around the island, and plan your perfect itinerary for the day. You’ll visit the San Gervasio ruins with a local guide, try the food at the local market, enjoy the views from a vantage point or go snorkeling at the reef, among plenty other activities. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Bear in mind that transportation from Cancun is not included; to get to Cozumel you can take the ADO bus from Cancun to Playa del Carmen, and from there take a ferry to Cozumel. Ferries depart from the ferry pier, located only a few blocks from the bus station. The whole journey will take you around 2.5 hours.
Distance from Cancun: 70 miles (113 kilometers)
The ruins of Coba are among the most famous Mayan ruins near Cancun, Mexico, because it still allows climbing its pyramids. The main pyramid, Nohoch Mul Pyramid, is 137 feet tall and it takes 120 steps to get to the top.
It is believed that Coba was one of the most important cities for the Mayan people as it controlled most of the farmlands and trading routes in the area. According to archeological evidence, the site possibly dates as back as 50 BC, making it one of the oldest Mayan ruins close to Cancun.
Since the Coba ruins are not as popular as Chichen Itza, you won’t find big crowds on the site, which is perfect if you’re looking to climb the pyramids or want to get some pictures with the ruins withouts dozens of unknown faces appearing on the background. To many travelers, these are the best ruins near Cancun.
➤ You can visit the archaeological zone with the Day Trip To Tulum and Coba Ruins, which takes you to both historical sites and includes a visit to a cenote, where you’ll be able to swim, and lunch at a local restaurant. Hotel pickup and drop-off is available. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 83 miles (134 kilometers)
READ ALSO: Coba Ruins: A Complete Guide
Ek Balam means black jaguar and is located only 32 miles (51 kilometers) from Chichen Itza. This archaeological site wasn’t discovered until the 1980s and to this day there are still parts that haven’t been uncovered. The ruins are surrounded by thick vegetation, which is probably the reason why the site remained hidden for so long.
The main structure of Ek Balam is the Acropolis, one of the largest in all of Yucatan, reaching almost 100 feet (30 meters) in height and 500 feet (151 meters) in length. This pyramid is spectacularly decorated with intricate designs and patterns, and it served as the residence of Ek Balam’s king. Moreover, it’s believed to contain the tomb of one of Ek Balam’s rulers, Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ. Climbing this structure is still allowed.
The site was surrounded by two exterior defense walls, and there were smaller walls throughout the city for protection.
➤ To visit the site you can join this Mayan ruins tour from Cancun, a full-day excursion to Ek Balam and Cenote Maya. You’ll get to explore the ruins with a knowledgeable guide, and after your visit you’ll be taken to the majestic Cenote Maya, where you can swim and engage in some adventure activities. You’ll also get to participate in a blessing ceremony and enjoy a traditional buffet lunch before heading back. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 106 miles (172 kilometers)
There’s no introduction needed for Chichen Itza; they’re likely the most famous Mayan ruins in the world! While they’re not located on the coast, the ruins are easily reachable from Cancun, and are Mexico’s biggest pride (one of many, actually; Mexico is a wonder!)
The site dates back to around 400 AD, and it’s thought to have been a military, religious and commercial center, home to over 30 thousand people at its peak. The easy access to water via the cenotes of the area is probably one of the main reasons why people settled here.
There are 26 Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, and the main pyramid is El Castillo (the Castle), worldwide known because during the equinoxes, the shadow of the afternoon sun creates the image of a serpent gliding down the northern staircase. It’s believed to be Kukulcan, the feathered serpent of the Mayan traditions.
➤ One of the best Mayan ruins tours from Cancun is the Chichen Itzá, Valladolid and cenote tour that not only takes you to the famous ruins with an expert guide, so you can learn more about the history and legends of the site, but you’ll also get to swim in a sacred cenote and visit the gorgeous colonial city of Valladolid. The tour includes entrance fees, buffet lunch and roundtrip transportation. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 122 miles (196 kilometers). Read also how to get from Cancun to Chichen Itza if you plan on visiting the site on your own.
READ ALSO: Visiting Chichen Itza: All You Need to Know
Uxmal, located near the city of Merida in Yucatan state, was one of the largest cities of the Yucatan Peninsula back in the 600-900 AD, and the capital of a Mayan state. Nowadays, it’s the best preserved archaeological site of all, and it’s also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The honored god at Uxmal is Chac, the Mayan god of rain, because unlike Chichen Itza and other nearby settlements, this city had no natural water supplies.
Uxmal is believed to have been inhabited by around 20 thousand people, and the site is home to 34 ruins, the most prominent being the Pyramid of the Magician. This pyramid was built on top of other existing structures; according to excavations, there are 5 temples underneath it. While the Magician’s pyramid cannot be climbed, you can actually climb some of the other ruins at Uxmal.
Distance from Cancun: 236 miles (380 kilometers)
Mayan Museum in Cancun
If you’re interested in Mayan history, culture and traditions, you can head to the Mayan Museum in Cancun, where you’ll find exhibitions and displays of Mayan artifacts and videos explaining their use and facts about the lifestyle and culture of the people.
You can easily get to the Museum from Downtown Cancun or the Hotel Zone and the entrance fee only costs about 80 pesos (USD 4) at the time of writing.
Distance from Cancun: 13 miles (22 kilometers) from Downtown via Bvd. Kukulcan
BONUS: Ruins at Xcaret Park
Xcaret Park is an ecotourism theme park located in the midst of the Mayan jungle, and is home to some Mayan ruins of the same name.
While the ruins themselves are not as impressive as the ones mentioned above, and it’s not worth the visit JUST to see the ruins, the park is a wonderful day-trip destination from Cancun.
You’ll enjoy activities such as snorkeling, exploring underground rivers, visiting the Butterfly Pavilion and the Living Orchid Museum, or meeting the park’s inhabitants that include jaguars, flamingos, manatees, deers and plenty of aquatic animals. Of course, you’ll also get to follow the rainforest trail to the Xcaret ruins, a site that functioned as a navigation port and was a vital trading center for the Mayans.
If you stay in the park until the night falls, you’ll get to witness the popular Xcaret México Espectacular, an entertainment show that’s been running for over 20 years and that will take you on a marvelous journey through Mexican history.
➤ The Xcaret Day Trip with Transportation gives you priority access to the park and it also includes the activities and all the necessary equipment, a buffet lunch and roundtrip transportation from Cancun. You’ll also get to use the Plus Area facilities and have access to the beaches, bays and natural pools. ➥ BOOK IT HERE
Distance from Cancun: 47 miles (76 kilometers) via Carretera Tulum
Mayan Ruins near Cancun FAQ
There are several archaeological sites near Cancun, located only a few miles from the town center. The nearest Mayan ruins are El Meco, situated less than 6 miles from Downtown Cancun, and El Rey, which is located right in the Hotel Zone of Cancun.
There are several Mayan ruins in the Cancun area that you can visit from the town center. The visit to most sites will only take you about half a day.
The Mayan Ruins of El Rey are right in the center of the Cancun Hotel Zone, next to Playa Delfines.
Chichen Itza is 122 miles (197 kilometers) from Cancun.