13 Best Mayan Ruins to Visit in Mexico

best mayan ruins

13 Best Mayan Ruins to Visit in Mexico.

Wherever you choose for your vacation in South Mexico, there are likely to be Mayan ruins nearby. A private tour is ideal for history and culture lovers to learn more about the Mayans and the extraordinary legacy they left behind.

The Yucatan Peninsula has a rich historic heritage with many Mayan ruins to explore in each of its 3 states:  Quintana Roo, Yucatan State and Campeche State. Further south, Chiapas State has its own archaeological treasures. Here are the best sites of Mayan ruins in each state:

Best Mayan Ruins in Quintana Roo State

tulum ruins

Tulum

Tulum ruins - the most visited Mayan ruins after Chicken Itza, Tulum ruins are in a beautiful location overlooking the beach and sea. Explore the well-preserved temples and Castillo, appreciate the Mayan culture and take photos of this breathtaking spot.

coba

Coba

These ancient Mayan ruins were swallowed up by the jungle and lost for centuries until being rediscovered. Coba ruins has many raised paths (sacbes), pyramids and standing stones (stelae).

muyil

Muyil

One of the oldest Mayan ruins in Quintana Roo, Muyil includes the beautiful Sian Ka’an lagoon.

Chacchoben

Chacchoben

A huge site of Mayan ruins located one hour from Bacalar. Set among palms and tropical hardwood trees, this peaceful site has two large restored pyramids.

Best Mayan Ruins in Yucatan State

Chichen Itza

The massive El Castillo step-pyramid stands 30m high and is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This 1.9 square-mile archaeological site is the most visited in Mexico with a ball court, temples, pyramids and El Caracol observatory.

Uxmal

This UNESCO Word Heritage Site has many ceremonial buildings from the late Mayan period.

Mayapan

The political and cultural capital of pre-Columbian Maya civilization, Mayapan is still under excavation with cenotes, pyramids and over 4000 structures within the city walls.

Best Mayan Ruins in Campeche State

Calakmul Mayan Ruins

Calakmul

Deep in the jungle and close to the border with Guatemala, Calakmul was one of the most powerful Mayan cities ever uncovered. It has 6,750 ruins of Mayan structures including a 45m-high pyramid containing four tombs.

Becan Mayan Ruins

Becan

Off the usual tourist trail, visitors hike through the rainforest to Becan, a powerful ancient city dating back to 550 BCE. It includes many towering pyramids, palaces and ceremonial structures.

Dzibanche

Climb the K’inich Na’ (House of the Sun God) pyramid on this compact archaeological site which was once the capital of the Kan dynasty.

Best Mayan Ruins in Chiapas State

Chiapas is the southernmost state in Mexico, bordering the Pacific Ocean and home to several ancient Mayan ruins.

palenque

Palenque

Built in the 7th century and lost beneath the jungle, the Mayan ruins in Palenque have since been recovered. They include examples of fine carvings and hieroglyphic inscriptions.

bonampak

Bonampak

Engraved stone pillars (stelae) and temple murals record Mayan life, war practices, human sacrifices and politics from AD580 to 800.

Yaxchilan

These Mayan ruins have well-preserved carved lintels above the doorways to the rooms in many ancient structures,

With such a wealth of fascinating Mayan ruins and archaeological sites, Southern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula are the ideal travel destination for history lovers.

Chichen Itza Early Morning Tour: 3 Benefits for Arriving Early

chichen itza early morning tour

Chichen Itza Early Morning Tour: 3 Benefits for Arriving Early.

Chicken Itza is one of the most visited Mayan sites in Mexico with over 2.1 million visitors every year. Listed as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichen Itza early morning tour with your own tour guide is the sensible way to see this amazing archaeological Mayan site.

Here’s why we always recommend an early start:

Beat the rush with Chichen Itza Sunrise Tours!

Imagine arriving at Chichen Itza at the same time as 2,000 other tourists (5,700 is the average number of visitors this attraction gets every day!) Most of the 100+ tour buses and thousands of cars arrive between 9am and noon. Instead, we make sure you arrive at Chichen Itza at 8am when the site opens - well ahead of the crowds.

At the busiest times, visitors can be overwhelmed by crowds of noisy tourists and vendors spoiling this breathtaking and unforgettable cultural experience when visited at quieter times.

Although it’s an early start from your Playa del Carmen hotel, you can sleep on the journey or talk with your guide and let the driver navigate the quiet roads. On arrival, you’ll be fresh as a daisy, ready to see El Castillo, the El Caracol Observatory, the Great Ball Court and other highlights before the crowds arrive.

Get the best experience

Chichen Itza early morning tours ensure you are among the first to arrive when there’s no queue for admission, and no lines for the toilets (which are clean and fresh).

Arriving early at Chicken Itza means that you can concentrate on listening to the explanation from your guide and hear more about the site without the noisy crowds. Also, the vendors will be busy unpacking their souvenir stalls so you won’t be hassled – another plus!

Best photo ops

Professional photographers will tell you that the best lighting for atmospheric photos is early in the morning. Have your camera ready as we arrive and get some beautiful photographs when no-one else is around.

A cool experience

It can be very warm and sticky as the day wears on. Visiting Chichen Itza in the cool morning air makes it pleasant to walk around before the heat becomes oppressive.

Also, you can explore the site much faster without the crowds. Once everyone has done their sightseeing, we’ll head on to the next activity or back to your hotel. Visiting early gives you more time to do another activity during the tour (like visiting Valladolid, or swimming in Cenote) or return early to the hotel to relax in the pool and enjoy the afternoon.

Small group tour vs Private tour:

And even better, take a private guided tour, you can do the full visit to Chichen Itza at your own pace. Another benefit of a private early morning tour is that you will save time by not stopping to pick up guests in other resorts…

If you’re planning a trip to Chichen Itza, make sure you leave early and get the most from your visit. You know it makes sense!

Chichen Itza – 7th Wonder of the World!

Temple and columns, Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza – 7th Wonder of the World!

Visitors staying in Cancun or Playa del Carmen should definitely include a Chichen Itza Tour on their bucket list. Located less than 3 hours’ drive from these resorts, this famous Mayan site will be an unforgettable highlight of any Riviera Maya vacation.

Often referred to as the 7th Wonder of the World, this remarkable attraction includes the landmark El Castillo Pyramid, the biggest Ball Court in Mesoamerica, a remarkable Observatory and a host of temples and pillared platforms.

The very best way to enjoy a visit to Chichen Itza is with a local English-speaking guide. Enjoy comfortable air-conditioned transport on a private tour to Chichen Itza at affordable prices.

Reasons to Book a Chichen Itza Private Tour

Independent visitors may be impressed by Chichen Itza, but understanding the Mayan way of life and the purpose of the buildings really makes the tour worthwhile. During your Chichen Itza Tour, your private guide will help you:

  • Get an insight into ancient Mayan culture
  • Admire the engineering feats of pyramid-building (unfortunately not possible to climb)
  • See well-preserved carvings of serpents, eagles and jaguars
  • Learn how a shadowy serpent appears to descend the pyramid at the spring and autumn equinoxes
  • Appreciate the astronomical understanding demonstrated in the El Caracol Observatory
  • Visit the Sacred Cenote, a place of sacrificial offerings to the gods
  • Understand the purpose of the many monuments spread across this large site

Tips for Visiting Chichen Itza

The best time to visit Chichen Itza is early in the morning to avoid the crowds and heat. Our tours take advantage of this quieter time to visit and you can relax and nap on the journey.

As part of your Chichen Itza Tour, we include a stop at Valladolid on the way back. It’s a great place to have lunch, shop and explore this delightful colonial city. Don’t forget your camera!

Chichen Itza Night Show

chichen itza night show 1

CHICHEN ITZA NIGHT SHOW.

“Noches de Kukulkan”

In this resurgence, Chichen Itza is brought back to life in a big way. Experience the Chichen Itza night show complete with a lesson in history of the Mayan culture and Mayan Legends! The most prominent legend being Kukulkan, the Feather Snake God, and the Mayan creation of the world!

This Chichen Itza projection “Noches de Kukulkan” is displayed on one of the 7th New Wonders of the World and has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1988.

We can offer you a custom tour that includes a private visit to the ruins with stops at the pyramid, the ball game, the Temple of the Warriors and several still-existing platforms from Mayan history. The other part of Chichen Itza, views of Cenote Sagrado and the Observatory Area, are closed for the evening. After our tour, the unique experience is kicked up a notch.

The Chichen Itza Night Show is displayed in Spanish; however, the creators have not forgotten about its viewers from English speaking countries. An iPod audio guide is provided for patrons in order to ensure an enjoyable experience for all parties.

To begin the tour, we provide private transportation from your hotel in Playa del Carmen and surrounding areas in the Rivera Maya. The drive is generally clocked around two and a half hours with a venture down the toll road included. Don’t worry, all of our means of transportation are air-conditioned!

As with all of our private tours, we encourage you to tell us everything you wish to do in an effort to customize the experience to your wants. At Absolute Adventure Mexico, we strive to provide you with an experience that you will never forget.  Contact Us to organize your tour!

NB: No flash photography is permitted during the projection.

chichen itza night show 3
chichen itza night show 1

Mayan Ball Court

Mayan ball court

MAYAN BALL COURT

More than a game, a very special ritual

Through archeological discovery it became evident to experts that Mayans were indeed pretty good sportsmen. The Mayans built grandiose ballcourts to organize games that had ritualistic implications.

Ball court in Chichen Itza

The biggest mayan ball court or as the Mayans put it ‘juego de pelota’ is in Chichen Itza and it is an incredible sight to behold. This great ball court measures a whopping 225 feet in width and 545 feet in length. It is an open-sky ballcourt with no coverings whatsoever. Moreover, the Mayan ballcourt in Chichen Itza is also acoustically perfect. This means that a whisper from one end of the court travels clearly to the other end of the court, being heard by all players.

It is so perfect that the sounds waves are barely ever affected by climatic conditions and wind direction. Regardless of whether it was night or day, nothing affected the acoustics of the ballcourt.

Each side of the court is embedded with a stone hoop or goal. There are various engravings on the walls and pillars surrounding the ballcourt, which give a darker meaning to what may seem like an innocent game of put-the-ball-through-the-hop. The Mayans played with a very heavy ball made out of chicle (a raw material extracted mainly from Mesoamerican trees, chicle is also used to make chewing gum). The ball weighed about 3 to 4 kg or 6 to 8 pounds, which they could only play using their hips, shoulders, knees and elbows. The game could not be played using feet, hands and head.

Although there is a myth surrounding the game that the winning captain of the team is sacrificed, experts on the other hand believe it to be the other way around.

And this is solely because Mayan engravings portray that a player is kneeling-down before being sacrificed for the Gods. And archeologists believe that this act of submission can only depict the loser, whose head is then cut off.

Ball Courts in Coba

There are two courts in the ancient Mayan city of Coba, which are in no way near the court in Chichen Itza in terms of size. However, both ball courts in Coba are different in terms of architecture and design. In Chichen Itza the ball court has straight walls while the in Coba the courts have inclined walls. Experts believe that this smaller ballcourt in Coba was particularly used for ceremonial games.

Toltecs and Human Sacrifice

According to what historians and archaeologists believe, the Toltecs introduced the Mayans to human sacrifice. It became a tradition in the Mayan culture, where the sacrifice was carried out by the high priest (nacom) and the victim was held down on a stone tablet by the priest’s elderly helpers called Chac (named after the Mayan rain god). The victims were mostly slaves, orphans, criminals and children. The victims were called up at the temple one by one held down by the chacs, and that is when the priest pierced their heart with a flint knife. The bodies were then thrown down the steps of the temple.

Human Sacrifices were common and were casually held at various ritual ceremonies in Maya.

Automutilation

Automutilation refers to intentional self-harm. And this was fairly a common practice among the Mayans as well. The noblemen from upper class Mayan families voluntarily and frequently used to cut themselves to please their gods and to communicate with them. Suicide too, was common in Maya and there was even a god named after suicide.

 

The Mayan Calendar

mayan calendar observatory

Some Crazy Facts about the Mayan Calendar

The most incredibly complex calendar that has ever existed

The calendar was purely made using integer arithmetic – whatever that is! There are as much as 17 different ways of counting the Mayan calendar. Despite the mind-numbing complexities behind it, it is indeed deadly accurate.

Understanding a bit about the Mayan calendar will make your trip with us to the Chichen Itza and/ or the ruins of Tulum, when you talk about the historical significance and aspects of the temples. And in light of this, we decided to share some interesting facts about the calendar, which you are going to love and you won’t have to scratch your head in confusion, trying to understand anything.

The Maya Calendars

The Mayans made their calculations for different calendars based on the cosmos. Did you know that some Mayan calendars date back 10 million years? But the calendars that were deemed relevant and precise include three, the Haab, Tun-Uc and the Tzolk’in. Each of the three calendars have different mathematical calculations and interpretations behind them.

For example, the Haab has only 20 days for each month and a total of 18 months and 365 days, and is based on the cycles of the earth. The Tun-Uc is based on lunar readings and calculations and the Tzolk’in is based on the sacred and divine numbers 13 and 20, crazy right!

The Long Count

One of the most mind-boggling ways to count the Mayan calendar is through using the Long Count. The Long Count is also referred to as the Gregorian Proleptic Calendar, which spread backwards into time before the calendar wholly came into existence. A date calculated using Long Count can be converted to a single digit, which can represent the number of days that have passed.

The 2012 Controversy

Well the world didn’t end as it turned out – quite obviously. Although the end of the world as depicted by the Mayan calendar was and is highly implausible, experts did reveal that whenever the Mayan Long Count calendar ended, a new one followed with the initiation of a new cycle. So, just like the Gregorian calendar starts on the first of January every year, the Maya calendar starts after the end of one earth cycle.

Plenty of Nations at that Time Adopted that Mayan Calendar

Several Mesoamerican tribes, people and nations, more popularly the Aztecs, used the Mayan calendar and tweaked it to their own use. For instance, the calendar was technically not altered, except for the different names given to describe a day of the week and the months in the calendar. But the factor that constituted for the inferiority of Aztec calendars, which were purely based on the Mayan calendars, was that the Aztecs replaced the complex number system of the Mayans with way more primitive number systems. This resulted in several discrepancies in their calendar system, especially when it came to recording different dates.

Our tours in Chichen Itza and Tulum will give a more thorough experience of this once great and proud civilization. You will be amazed to witness the opening of various sacred temples, as well as intricately built Chichen equinoxes with the shade enveloping various mystifying snake sculptures. Plus, you will also experience a breathtaking display of various Solstice events in Tulum and watch an exhilarating display of light passing through some of the main temples in Tulum.

Kukulkan Temple of Chichen Itza

CHICHEN ITZA KUKULKAN TEMPLE

While enjoying your holidays in the Yucatan Peninsula, if you wish to make a one day trip then it is an absolute must that you visit Chichen Itza. Why? Well, the ancient city of Chichen Itza was declared as being the one of the new Seven Wonders of the World back in 07-07-2007, and for good reason. There was a worldwide vote cast for it and over 100 million people voted that it should be the new wonder. Chichen Itza has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico and in the world.

Just a three-hour drive from Playa del Carmen, the total area of Chichen Itza is 6 square miles. There have undoubtedly been a plethora of archeological excavations in the once great Mayan city – which has revealed an exponential number of different temples in the jungles of Chichen Itza over the past couple of decades- it is safe to say that each temple is no less amazing and wondrous than the pyramids of Egypt.stem.

The Kukulkan temple of Chichen Itza

El Castillo

The main attraction of Chichen Itza is Kukulkan, which has also been given another name by the locals, El Castillo. The Temple of Kukulkan stands at 75 feet and was meant to help the Mayans with their astrological endeavors.

The feathered serpent god, whom the ancient Mayans called Kukulkan, was a prominent deity worshipped by a majority of Mesoamerican people. The Mayans believed that Kukulkan had a human form as well. The feathered serpent god was one out of the three main gods that the Mayan believed created the world. It was thought at the time that Kukulkan showed the Mesoamerican people how to cultivate, how to run an entire civilization and how to make medicine to cure and treat injuries and disease.

The temple of Kukulkan was built by the Toltecs; they created another temple on top of Kukulkan, which was made by the Mayans. Inside the main temple, you will find another temple, which has steps on one side, created by the Mayans of the classical era. Toltecs had a considerable influence on architecture, they built the pyramids with four sides. The Toltecs originated from central Mexico and conquered Mayan inhabited areas in the Yucatan Peninsula, however, most of them also mixed with the Mayans in the post classical era.

Did you know that mayans had mastery on astrology?

The Temple of Kukulkan was primarily built to act as a physical calendar, one that perfectly aligns with the sun. Each side of the temple has 91 steps. So, if you multiply 91 by 4 (there are 4 sides of the temple) you get 364 and if you add the 1 step at the top of the temple the total becomes 365, which indicates the 365 days in a year.

The temple was designed and built with such sheer perfection and ingenuity that in the seasons of both autumn and spring, there are shadows casted over the temple by the sun, which perfectly depict a tuft of feathers of a serpent that appear as if it is slithering down the steps of the temple. And eventually the entire body of the creature links with the head on one of the staircases. A truly magnificent sight to behold!

Cenote Discovered under the Kukulkan Temple!

It is indeed a powerful testament to a civilization long, long gone and has archeologists absolutely intrigued for ages.

However, a great secret has been revealed under temple’s steps in August this year. Researchers have successfully discovered a large cenote – which at the same time also poses a threat for the temple. The underground river flowing beneath the 1000 year old temple could eventually result in the collapse of El Castillo that is if the roof gives way. Experts also believe that the temple may have been built on purpose on top of the cenote as cenotes held great religious significance for the Mayans.

Cenote Xkeken Samula

Cenote xkeken samula

CENOTE XKEKEN  AND SAMULA

The best cenotes around Valladolid

Cenote Xkeken and cenote Samula are two cenotes that could transport you to some movies of the 80s (Goonies or Indiana Jones), the big difference is that here you can enjoy ones of the most beautiful and not crowded cenotes of the Yucatan.

These cenotes are similar to Ik kil but less visited, that helps you to enjoy your swim and relax in the fresh water with a gorgeous view of the cave where you could find birds, bats, all in all creating a surreal sensation.

The Legend about this cenote...

According to a legend, Xkeken Cenote was found by a pig who always returned full of mud to his home.

One time his owner followed him and found the cenote where the pig refreshed himself in these crystal waters! (X´Keken mean pig in maya). On other hand Samula is massive cenote with an entrance right on the top, you can get down through several stairs from where you can see the cenote from different views.

The two cenotes have holes in the surface, which creates special lights effect coming from them. This light plays with the colors of the water making swimming there more special.

Cenote Samula
Samula

Every cenote is different; we resume the special features of Xkeken and Samula:

  • Activities: Swimming / Snorkeling
  • Special for: Stalactites and stalagmites, bats, birds, spectacular views.
  • Type of Cenote: Cave Cenote,
  • Depth: till 20 feet
  • Mandatory: lifejacket (for non experienced swimmers)
  • Access: two different platforms / several steps
  • Facilities: bathroom/ parking/ rest zone / souvenir shop
  • Location: close to Valladolid

Swimming in Cenote Xkeken and Samula is a relaxing and refreshing moment, especially appreciated after visiting the mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.

Going to Cenote Xkeken will make you have a very special moment with your siblings and enjoy your vacations. And of course we provide you with the best guides and equipment to maximize your experience! Don’t forget to book your private tour with us!