One of the largest attractions in Mexico are the Mayan ruins scattered over the entire country. It’s easy to see why – they’re gorgeous, ancient and the Mayan civilization is fascinating. We visited the Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo areas of Eastern Mexico. The Mayan ruins in Mexico are among the most popular sites in the area and as the day goes on, the temperature goes up. I recommend renting a car and getting there as early as possible so you beat the heat and the crowds. There are several fantastic cenotes (natural sinkholes) close to many of the ruins that are well worth a visit to cool off and relax. So pack your swimsuit!
I really thought Coba would be my favorite since it still retains a lot of the jungle that has taken over when it was discovered. It’s also much more compact and not as spread out as some of other ruins. We got there 845am and there were a lot of people already there. The jungle setting was beautiful, especially compared to the manicured lawns of Chichen Itza. Most people seem to stick to the main trail, so it you wander off of it even a little you will have the area all to yourself. Unfortunately, the main pyramid had such a massive amount of tourists climbing on that it seemed less impressive. Coba is located on the drive from Valladolid to Tulum.
Cenotes near Coba Ruins:
Choo-ha and Tamac Ha are VERY worthwhile trip afterward. We had them all to ourselves and they are both very different from each other. Choo-ha is more shallow and cave-like, while Tamac Ha is a giant hole in the earth.
Ek Balam is a Mayan site near Valladolid (about 40 minutes drive). We got there at 830 am and there was only one other car in the parking lot. The climb to the top of Acropolis is a must do for amazing views over the flat jungle that surrounds Ek Balam. There are also decent but less impressive views from the Oval Palace. Its also worth while to walk around the entire base of the Acropolis because only part of the large building has been restored and it gives you an idea of what it was like when the ruins were discovered. The base of the pyramid is incredibly large and much of it has been taken back by nature, with large trees and shrubs growing from it’s base. This walk also provides an understanding of how much work is being put into restoring the ruins.
Ek Balam villiage is just a short drive away from the ruins. Its a tiny pueblo with hammocks for sale outside of a few of the houses. It’s not really worth a visit unless you’re in the market for a hammock since there is literally nothing to do there.
Cenotes near Ek Balam:
Cenote Xcan Che is on the same property as Ek Balam, and there is also Centoe Zaci in the heart of Valladolid, a short drive away.
Many people visit this Mayan ruin on a day trip from Cancun, but that’s a mistake. We arrived shortly after the park opened at about 815am and there were only about 30 other people there. The complex is huge and slightly overwhelming. We started off at the ball court and El Castillo, just left of the entrance to the park. We were very glad we got there early: its hot, has very little shade, and by 1030 there are SO many people. By then the vendors are all set up and constantly stopping you to look at their trinkets, which certainly takes away from the experience. Our favorite areas were the ball court, Casa Colorade, The Nunnery and the impressive famous El Castillo. We also loved the row of columns and Bano Vapor. I’m telling you, it’s huge!
Cenotes near Chichen Itza:
Cenote Yokdoznot is slightly out of the way but if you’re renting a car its well worth a visit. We were the only ones there and spent a couple hours floating around watching the little fish in the impeccably clear water. Ik Kil has a better location and is very beautiful, but can get crowded.
We made the mistake of waiting until the afternoon to head over to the Mayan ruins near Tulum. We arrived around 3pm and it was so hot and crowded. However, the views are just breathtaking. The ocean is incredibly gorgeous in Tulum, especially as a backdrop for ancient Mayan ruins. The complex is much smaller than any of the others we visited, and all of the ruins are roped off.
Cenotes near Tulum:
There are so many! We loved Dos Ojos, but it also gets crowded. You can also cool off in the ocean right near the Tulum ruins. The views from the ocean looking up at them is worth it! If you’re a diver, the cenotes near Tulum and Playa Del Carmen are incredible.