If you’re looking for the best ruins in the Yucatan, look no further. I’ve been to this amazing side of Mexico a few times now and I try to visit at least two or three of the Yucatan ruins whenever I’m there.
There are so many Mayan ruins in the Yucatan peninsula, it can be hard to determine which are the must-sees and which are the ones to save until next time.
It’s also hard to know how close you really are. On a map, none of it looks all that far from one another, but the Yucatan Peninsula is a lot bigger than you might think.
You can plan a 2-week itinerary to see tons of them at once or you can plot a 3-week Yucatan road trip if you have more time.
If you’re based in Tulum, Coba is a great addition to your trip after visiting the ruins by the beach. However, a trip to Chichen Itza is pretty far – it’s more than three hours each way.
From Merida, you can definitely see a ton of the ruins on day trips, but getting to Tulum would require an overnight trip, there’s no chance of seeing that in a day.
Then there are the ruins near the city of Campeche city or those that are down by Guatemala. Those all require overnight stays in nearby towns and cities so that you can really experience a full day of exploring the ruins.
Whatever you don’t see on this trip just makes for a good excuse to come back again!
Price to Visit Ruins in the Yucatan
In January 2019, the Yucatan state government put all of the prices up for the ruins around their state (many of which are on this list).
If you are a Mexican resident, whether temporary or permanent, be sure to bring your visa card with you to receive a very significant discount.
If you are not, be sure to bring plenty of cash because, in addition to the normal 75 Peso Mexican federal government fee, you will also pay several hundred Pesos extra to the state.
Amazing Mayan Ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula
Chichen Itza is by far the most famous set of ruins in Mexico. It is the beautifully formed pyramid that I dreamt of visiting ever since I first moved to Mexico a few years ago.
Seeing it person was just as incredible as I imagined it would be. I was based in Merida and my friends and I had rented a car, so we could easily get from Merida to Chichen Itza and back again in a day.
We opted not to get a guide, and instead grabbed a map and I also took screenshots of the Chichen Itza page of Lonely Planet so I could read out facts about each structure as we walked around.
You can definitely see Chichen Itza as a day trip tour from Cancun and Playa del Carmen if you go with a company like Olympus Tours or Get Your Guide. It’s a long day and they pick you up pretty early, but if you want an English speaking guide who can tell you more about the ruins and you don’t want to rent a car, this is definitely the best option.
A Chichen Itza Tour usually also includes a stop at a cenote, which is a naturally formed freshwater pool as well as a buffet lunch. This Chichen Itza tour gets really great reviews and is the one that I’ve sent family and friends on when they are in the Yucatan on vacation.
Read also: A Guide to Visiting Chichen Itza
Uxmal is an easy day trip from Merida.
It’s only an hour away if you want to rent a car and self-drive or an hour and a half if you want to take the bus. In my opinion, driving yourself is best if there are three or more people going. It ends up costing about the same and if you’re a group or family, driving is definitely the cheapest option.
You can easily rent a car for the day in Merida for about $35 from places like Veloz Car Rental or Montejo Car Rental.
Entrance to the ruins as of July 2019 is 413 Pesos for foreigners and 176 for citizens and residents. If you’re really on a budget, you can pack a lunch for the day or you can have a cheap meal in the nearby town or once you get back to Merida.
You could easily spend a few hours here exploring the ruins site. It’s one of the biggest ruins in the Yucatan and it also happens to be one of the least touristed, so you’re likely to have it almost all to yourself (except during Easter).
One of the things that makes this site slightly different to other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan is that you can actually climb up some of the different pyramids.
Because the site receives so few tourists throughout the year, the wear and tear on the ruins is minimal compared to what it would be at a site like Chichen Itza.
If you don’t want to rent a car in Merida, you can also take the bus from Merida to Uxmal.
Head to the Terminal de Segunda Clase (TAME) bus station in Merida where you can hop on a bus that leaves every two hours between 6am and 7pm (check the day before so you don’t miss the early ones). It costs 73 Pesos each way. I recently made a YouTube video about how to get there by bus which you can watch here.
If would prefer to have a guide take you through the ruins to explain more about the history as well as to visit a few different nearby sites, this tour from Get Your Guide takes you to the ruins at Uxmal as well as the ruins at Kabah and a stop at the Mayan Chocolate Museum. It also includes lunch, a bilingual guide, and all of the entry fees.
Coba is a smaller set of ruins, but similar to Uxmal, is not as widely visited as others, especially early in the morning before tours from Cancun and Playa del Carmen arrive. It only takes 40 minutes to drive from Tulum to Coba, so if you’re doing a road trip down the coast, it’s an easy detour along the way.
The site itself played a huge role in the region during the time of the Maya. Keep your eyes peeled for the stelae, or tall carved stones that documented the daily life and important ceremonies performed by the people of Coba between 600 and 900 AD.
It’s such a big site that you can actually rent bikes to explore the majority of it and when you get to the largest pyramid, you’ll use a rope to help you climb to the top.
If you don’t have a car, you can either take an ADO bus (inquire at the ADO terminal in Tulum for times) or you can take a tour. If you are based in Tulum, it could be as simple as joining a tour from one of the companies that sell tours on the main street. Most offer English speaking guides for an extra fee, but if you just want to get there, opt for the transportation only option which should only cost about $15 or $20 USD for the day.
If you are staying in Cancun, this tour of Coba with dinner is a really cool option. It’s definitely something that you won’t find elsewhere and offers something a little bit unique – perfect if you’ve been to Mexico a few times already and want to experience something new. If you’re staying somewhere along the Riviera Maya between Cancun and Tulum and you’re pressed for time or don’t want to deal with a bunch of tours, this is a one-stop-shop. This Get Your Guide tour will take you to Chichen Itza, Coba, and Tulum. It includes lunch, an English speaking guide, bottled water for the journey, and all of your entry fees.
I went to Calakmul on my most recent trip to the Yucatan and it is now, to date, the most amazing ancient city that I have seen in all of Mexico. It’s kind of hard to get to, which makes it very quiet and there isn’t really anything around it by way of city or town, so most people just skip it.
We rented a car to get here, which is really the best way in my opinion, especially if you want to move onto Bacalar, Chetumal or anywhere along the east coast.
If you’re coming from Bacalar, I highly recommend Explora Rental. They are a small company with great service. Be sure to book the car at least a few days in advance because they only have a few. From Bacalar, it’s a one and a half-hour drive to Xpujil. Base yourself here. We stayed for two nights and did the tour on the middle day. You can also skip the tour, but I really recommend going with a guide like ours, Abel (contact him via Facebook here).
The site is truly amazing. It was discovered in the 1930s and is still being excavated, so it’s rugged. You can climb all of the buildings and explore five huge structures. It’s really breathtaking with the jungle surrounding you in every direction. Just bring LOTS of bug spray. I’ve never seen so many mosquitos in my life.
If you plan to self-drive, just be aware that it’s still quite far from Xpujil, so you’ll want to get an early start. From Xpujil, it takes about an hour to reach the entrance to the park. Once you get into the park you’ll then drive for an additional 40km (25 miles) on a very bumpy uneven road. This takes almost an additional hour to reach the parking lot.
Besides being a great little beach town, which has recently become a luxury resort area for fashionable and food-loving tourists, Tulum is also home to one of the most stunning ruins in the Yucatan. These Mayan ruins are said to be some of the most important in the region and the view you get as you stand on the cliff’s edge is unbeatable.
If you’re based in Tulum, it’s incredibly easy to get there. You can either rent a bike and cycle to the entrance (there are places where you can lock it up outside) or you can take a taxi or colectivo to the parking area.
If you are coming from Playa del Carmen, you can easily and cheaply visit the Tulum ruins without a tour. Simply take a colectivo (shared taxi) from the colectivo area on Calle 2 between 20th and 25th avenues. You’ll see them all lined up. Simply look for the ones that say Tulum. Tell the driver you want to get off at the archaeological area (zona arqueologica).
If you are staying in Playa del Carmen or further afield along the Riviera Maya, you can also take a tour to Tulum which usually also includes a stop in Akumal and at a nice cenote along the way. You can take a half day tour if you’re pressed for time or go for a longer 5-hour tour which gives you a bit of free time at the Tulum beach or more time to explore the ruins on your own.
Read Also: A First Timer’s Guide to Tulum
Dzibilchaltun is another easy day trip from Merida. It’s actually an incredibly short drive from the city center and can be easily reached if you have a car. It takes about half an hour to get there and is a great place to start the day if you plan on heading north to Progreso Beach for a day trip. It’s a small site, but is still really cool to walk around and one that I really enjoyed on our trip to Merida last year.
If you don’t have a car, the second best way to get there is to take the bus from Merida. Head to the Autoprogreso terminal which is located on 62nd street between 65th and 67th in downtown Merida. As of writing this (May 2018) the buses leave the terminal at 7:20, 9:30, and 11:35 hrs. On Sundays it’s at 8:00 and 11:00am. The bus is 14 Pesos each way and it takes about 40 minutes. It stops about five minutes walk fro the entrance of the archaeological zone.
Read Also: A Guide to Merida – Where to Eat, Sleep, Drink & Play
These are the ruins in the Yucatan that got away. I still have yet to make it here, but it’s high on my priority list for the next trip to this region of Mexico. It’s closest to Campeche, so you can base yourself there and do a day trip to explore these incredible looking ruins.
The largest pyramid there is over 40 meters tall, that’s over 130 feet and while you can no longer climb it, it looks like a really incredible sight to behold. It’s also not frequently visited so there are a lot fewer tourists there than there are at other Mayan ruins in the Yucatan.
I’d check with the bus station for more up-to-date timetables, but otherwise this is a very helpful post about how to get to Edzna and what there is to see and do.
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