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5 must-see ruins in the Yucatan

History lovers will swoon over the Yucatan Peninsula’s array of Mayan ruins. Whether you fancy checking a New Seven Wonders of the World destination off your bucket list or want to roam where few people go, the Yucatan brims with culturally rich archeological sites.  

1. Chichen Itza

The moment you lay your eyes on Chichen Itza’s towering pyramid, you’ll know why it gained its title as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Although the Maya built this city over 1,500 years ago, their ingenious engineering remains intact — try clapping your hands at the base of the pyramid, which mimics the chirp of a quetzal bird.

Tulum Ruins

Explore the perimeter of Chichen Itza’s pyramid for unique photo opportunities. (Photo: Laura Olds)

2. Uxmal

Commonly called “the other Chichen Itza,” Uxmal’s remote location in the Yucatan countryside makes it an ideal place for people who don’t want to wake up at the crack of dawn to beat the crowds. As you learn how the Maya used astrology to inspire Uxmal’s design, you’ll get to admire symbolic hieroglyphics and climb up the same steps the Maya did for unparalleled views.


The labyrinth of ruins at Uxmal offers stunning vistas. (Photo: Laura Olds)

3. Tulum

Does it get any better than exploring the Yucatan’s ruins and beaches? The Tulum fortress was a former trading hub where Maya exchanged goods such as cacao, jade, and cotton. Be prepared for iguanas perched on limestone architecture to be the stars of your camera roll until you take the short climb to El Castillo. From there, cliffside views over turquoise Caribbean water will awe you.

Tulum Ruins

The mesmerizing Caribbean and curious iguanas await you at the Tulum ruins. (Photo: Laura Olds)

4. Coba

If you want to climb to the top of a Mayan pyramid, Coba is your chance. Tucked in the jungle less than an hour from Tulum, you’ll have the opportunity to traverse the Maya version of highways — stone footpaths. To date, archeologists have uncovered dozens of ancient stone roadways leading to Coba, making Coba the most connected city in Mayan civilization.

Coba Ruins

Get in your exercise by climbing up the Coba pyramid. (Photo: Robin Canfield)

5. Ek Balam

Jaguars are rare sightings in the Mexican jungle, but Ek Balam guarantees you’ll get to see a manmade version of them — Ek Balam translates to “the black jaguar.” Archeologists didn’t map Ek Balam until the late 1980s, and visitors can still bask in its quiet atmosphere. Unlike many Mayan cities, builders used stucco and mortar to carve their hieroglyphics instead of stone.

Ek Balam

Admire the hieroglyphics at Ek Balam. (Photo: Linda Martiskova)

Are you ready to criss-cross the Yucatan to scout out these ruins and more? Check out our 7-day Chichen Itza to Tulum tour to get started, and contact one of our  Destination Experts  who will help you custom design your ideal itinerary. Make sure to also sign up for our newsletter for must-know travel tips and inspiration. Header photo: Laura Olds

About the Author: Laura Olds is a freelance travel writer and street dog lover. Originally hailing from the countryside of Upstate New York, she has spent most of the last decade abroad and lives her life with the motto, “Home is wherever you are.”

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