If you’re visiting Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula, you’ll have no shortage of Mayan sites to choose from to visit. But are they all worth your time? Here’s our ranking of some of the major sites we’ve been to and why or why not we’d recommend making the trip.
4) Chichén Itzá
It might surprise you to see one of the famed “Seven Wonders of the World” at the bottom of our power rankings. Our reasoning is simple: it’s really not any more impressive than any of the other sites. While the architectural details of its main pyramid are very impressive, it’s much smaller than the main pyramids at Cobá and Uxmal. However, one key feature that would shoot it to the top of the list would be if you were able to make it for an equinox, when the setting sun gives the illusion of a serpent slithering down the steps of the pyramid. Outside that, it’s hard to recommend making the trip from Cancún or Mérida when both cities have quality sites much closer to them. Also, because of its popularity it is by far the most crowded of the sites, with almost as many merchants vying for your attention to sell you trinkets. If you’re intent on seeing it for yourself, be sure to read our full guide to Chichen Itza.
Perched on a cliff overlooking the turquoise waters of the Caribbean, the setting of Tulum is easily its most impressive aspect. Tulum served as a port for the much larger city of Cobá, and as such lacks any of the dominating pyramids like the larger Mayan cities on this list. Still, you’ll get a good taste of Mayan architecture in the best manicured and easiest to access of sites on this list. Bring your swimsuit and beach towel and be sure to head down the staircase on the cliff to access one of the nicest beaches in Mexico. Being only 45 minutes south of Cancún makes for an easy day trip and the surrounding town offers plenty of charm to fill the rest of your time.
2) Uxmal and the Puuc Route
If you’re interested in a single-serving dose of Mayan antiquity then this might be your best bet. Take one day to visit all these sites and you may well have your fill of Mayan ruins. But their close proximity to Mérida make it an interesting day trip and the massive pyramid at Uxmal is truly impressive. Get an early start to beat the tour buses and you’ll enjoy these sites almost all to yourself, giving them another edge over more crowded spots like Chichén Itzá and Tulum. Get directions and tips on our full Puuc Route post.
In its present state, Cobá offers the most adventurous experience. It’s deep in the jungle and the site hasn’t been nearly as manicured as the ones above, giving it a greater sense of mystery and discovery. And because it sees less traffic than other sites you’re still able to climb the largest pyramid, which is quite high at 42m and pokes above the tree line offering sweeping vistas of the thick jungle all around you. The site is also much more sprawling and you can rent a bicycle to scoot you around from section to section. Combine it with a trip to Tulum for a fun and easy day trip from Cancún or while your cruise ship is docked at Cozumel.
While this list is no means exhaustive it does constitute the main sites in Mexico. As ancient enthusiasts we’ll eventually get around to others such as Palenque and Mayapán, as well as the ones in Honduras and Guatemala, giving us a chance to revisit our rankings in the future. Disagree with our list? Have other sites to recommend? Let us know in the comments below!