Blessed with white sand beaches and a lush green jungle, Tulum has been attracting international attention for more than a decade. Given the press, they would forgive you for thinking that the Mexican coastal city was specifically designed for sunbathing. However, history buffs will also find a lot to keep them busy because the city and its surroundings have a range of important archeological sites. Here is our guide to the best Mayan ruins to visit in Tulum and its surroundings.
1. Tulum Ruins
History and Instagram enthusiasts come together at Playa Ruinas, the most iconic attraction in Tulum. Without a doubt one of the most beautiful places in America, the beach combines white sand and blue waters with Mayan ruins dating back to the 13th century. The Tulum cliff, Castillo, originally built as a watchtower, is currently the third most popular archaeological site in Mexico after Teotihuacan and Chichen Itza.
Playa Ruinas, Tulum, Quintana Roo, Mexico
2. Chichén Itzá
Travelers seeking to cross out one of the Seven Wonders on their list should head to Chichen Itza, the splendidly preserved Mayan city that once was an important economic and religious center for the Maya. The complex contains numerous temples, ball court and a sacred cenote or underwater sink. The steep castle pyramid dominates the location and is one of the most impressive archeological sites in the world. At certain times of the year, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of shadows that create the appearance of a snake that descends the stairs. Most hotels offer shuttle buses to the site, so ask about day trips at the hotel reception.
Located in the depths of the Mayan jungle, Cobá receives many fewer visitors than Chichen Itza and feels like a much more adventure. Only 45 minutes by car from downtown Tulum, the ancient city was a thriving Mayan metropolis that faced a long power struggle with Chichen Itza. Located around two lagoons, Cobá stands out for its extensive network of elevated stone paths, or sacbeob, that connect the main pyramid with several smaller sites. Many tours of the site also offer a trip to a local town. This visit will give you an idea of contemporary Mayan culture while providing the opportunity to support the locals by buying the local crafts that are offered.
Xel-Há is a Mayan archeological ruin located less than 20 minutes drive from downtown Tulum. The site was once an important port for the nearby city of Cobá. Today, visitors can admire the jungle environment while wandering the network of shaded trails, perfect for those who feel dismayed by the crowds at the best known archeological sites. Prepare for mosquitoes in the ruins and continue your visit with a trip to a cenote or to the nearby water theme park.
Xel-Há Park, Chetumal Puerto Juárez Km 240, locales 1 & 2, módulo B, Quintana Roo, Mexico +1 800 009 3542
Just 20 minutes by bus from the center of Tulum, Muyil is a fascinating complex that has somehow managed to stay away from the tourist radar. One of the oldest and longest inhabited Mayan sites, the central pyramid rises to a height of 55 feet (17 meters). Located on the edge of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, protected by UNESCO, the jungle surrounding Muyil offers excellent hiking opportunities. The ruins are gloriously photogenic and are a great alternative to the nearby sites of Tulum and Chichen Itza.
Muyil, Reforma Agraria-Puerto Juárez km 25, Chunyaxche, Quintana Roo, Mexico, +52 983 837 2411
6. Ek Balam
Ek Balam is a little know, historic site. The restoration work on the ruins only began in 1997, and much of it is still closed to the public. The tallest and most impressive structure of the complex is the Acropolis Temple, which reaches a height of 95 feet (29 meters). The dark state of Ek Balam has several advantages: visitors can avoid street vendors of souvenirs and walk through the ruins without rubbing shoulders with other tourists. Hidden from the crowd, Ek Balam will make you feel as if you have been transported in time.
Ek Balam, Santa Rita, Yucatán State, Mexico, +52 999 944 0033