Mayan Ruins of the Yucatan Peninsula

The Yucatan Peninsula offers many attractions: exquisite beaches along the Caribbean coastline, resort areas like Cancun and the Riviera Maya, ecological reserves and water parks, and the lovely colonial city of Mérida. But among the Yucatan's most fascinating attractions are the amazing ancient Mayan ruins which can be found throughout the area.

 

  • 01 of 10
    Chichen Itza
    ••• Photo courtesy of the Mexican Tourism Board

    "The edge of the well of the Itzaes"
    One of Mexico's most important sites, for centuries Chichen Itzá was the political, religious and military center of the northern Yucatan Peninsula. The city flourished from 300 to 900 AD, was abandoned, then re-established from 1000 to 1250 under Toltec rule. This is why there are two areas of Chichen, the "old" and the "new." The most well-known building of Chichen Itza is the Castillo, or "Castle," which was dedicated to Kukulcan, the Plumed Serpent. On the equinoxes, a play of light and shadow on the stairs appears to take the form of a serpent.
    Location: 75 miles (120 km) east of Merida and 60 miles (195 km) west of Cancun.

    Chichen Itza Visitor's Guide
    Photos of Chichen Itza

  • 02 of 10
    Mayan Ruins at Cobá
    ••• Cobá. Gary J. Wood Creative Commons

    "Ruffled water"
    Functioning between 400 and 1000 AD, Cobá was built around four small lakes. Only a few of its estimated 6,500 structures have been uncovered. It was the hub of a complex network of causeways called sacbeoob (plural of sacbe, which means white road). The Nohuch Mul Pyramid, the tallest in the area, has 120 steps and if you don't suffer from vertigo, from the top you can enjoy a breathtaking view of the surrounding jungle.
    Location: 95 miles (150 km) from Cancun, 28 miles (45 km) from Tulum
    Cobá Ruins Visitor's Guide

  • 03 of 10

    El Rey

    ••• Paul Mannix Creative Commons
    "The king"
    The original name of this site is unknown. The present name refers to a stone sculpture that was found on-site that depicts a head with an elaborate headdress. This stone is on exhibit in the Cancun Archaeology Museum. The excavated area contains 47 ancient structures which formed the center of a small city devoted to maritime trade and fishing.
    Location: within Cancun's tourist resort area.
  • 04 of 10

    Mayapan

    Mayapan Archaeological Site
    ••• Mayapan. Flickr user mediomundo Creative Commons
    "Mayan flag"
    The site was part of a triple alliance with Chichen Itza and Uxmal, but was at its peak after the fall of Chichen Itza, between 1250 and 1450. It is considered the last great Mayan stronghold. The archaeological zone covers 4 square km and that area contains vestiges of nearly 4000 structures, mostly residential buildings. Several of the constructions contain mural paintings. Mayapan has a Castillo which is a replica of the one in Chichen Itza.
    Location: 27 miles (43 km) south east of Merida
    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10

    San Gervasio

    ••• Flickr user Brave Sir Robin Creative Commons
    Inhabited from 200 A.D. until the Spanish conquest in the 1500s, this is the largest of 30 Maya sites found on Cozumel Island. It was the political and economical center of the island and also the sanctuary of the Mayan moon goddess Ixchel, deity of childbirth and fertility. Pilgrims from the entire Mayan world may have come to worship her.
    Location: On the northern part of Cozumel island, Transversal highway Km 7.5
  • 06 of 10

    San Miguelito

    san_miguelito_pyramid.JPG
    ••• San Miguelito Archaeological Site. © Suzanne Barbezat

    Located right in the Cancun hotel zone, this archaeological site is on the same property as the Cancun Maya Museum. The Maya inhabited the site over 800 years ago until the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors (roughly 1250 to 1550 A.C.). The site contains some 40 structures, of which five are open to the public, the largest being a pyramid of 26 feet in height.
    Location: Boulevard Kukulkan Km 16.5 in Cancun's hotel zone.

  • 07 of 10
    Ruins at Tulum
    ••• Tulum. Flickr user sparkyd Creative Commons

    "Wall"
    It is believed that the original name of this city meant dawn. The most spectacular aspect of Tulum is its stunning location right on a cliff by the clear turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea. The fortress city of Tulum had a population of only five to six hundred people within its walls, probably only nobles, and commoners dwelled outside the walls. The site was at its peak between 1200 and 1520 and was one of the first sites mentioned by the Spaniards. The most important structures within the site are El Castillo, which functioned as a navigational aid, directing Mayan craft through the break in the reef, and the Temple of the Frescoes.
    Location: 81 miles (131 km) south of Cancun on Highway 307.
    Tulum Ruins Visitor's Guide

  • 08 of 10

    Uxmal

    ••• Photo by Guillermo Aldana courtesy of the Mexican Tourism Board
    "Three harvests" or "Three times built"
    This is the most important site of the Puuc region and was at its peak between 600 and 1000 A.D. The legend of the city's founding involves a dwarf who outwitted the king, became the new ruler and magically constructed the buildings of Uxmal. The Pyramid of the Dwarf (also known as the Pyramid of the Magician) dominates the site. Many of the buildings are arrayed in ornate stone carvings .
    Location: Uxmal is located 48 miles (77 km) south of Merida on federal highway 261.
    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10

    Xcaret

    Maya Ruins at Xcaret
    ••• Maya Ruins at Xcaret. Flickr user Sitomon Creative Commons

    "Little inlet"
    Xcaret is an eco-park which encloses a small Mayan archaeological zone. Due to its location on one of the most important coves in the area, this site was a leading commercial port.
    Location: 35 miles (72 km) south of Cancun

    Read more about Xcaret eco-archaeological theme park.

  • 10 of 10

    Xel-Ha

    Xel Ha Coastline
    ••• Vincent Jary / Getty Images

    "Where the water is born"
    A water park with ruins on-site, Xel-Ha's archaeological zone is only partially excavated. This was once an important sacred site where a variety of gods were honored. It was also a key ocean port and trade center. It went through two periods of flourishing, from 100 to 600 and again from early 12th century until the arrival of the Spaniards in the 1500s.
    Location: 75 miles (122 km) south of Cancun