Cancun is more than just a tropical beachside paradise; it’s also home to the remains of the Mayan Empire, one of the most advanced civilizations in history. Today, the remnants of their cities remain in ruins, with palaces, observatories, ceremonial sites and temple-pyramids dotting the Yucatan Peninsula’s landscape. Many of the vast ancient architectural monoliths and sites are open to tourists. Some of the ruins are located close enough to hotels in Cancun to make a perfect day excursion or optional overnight trip. Check out the following must-see Mayan ruins around Cancun.
The ruins of Tulum sit on the shores of the Caribbean, two hours south of Cancun by car. It was once called the Walled City and is thought to be a pivotal location the Mayans used to defend their empire. Be sure to take the time to climb the cliffs and marvel at the stunning ocean views from the ruins of the fortress. Stay until nightfall to see the ruins lit up with a bevy of lights.
Chichen Itza is a popular tourist hot spot during the summer and fall equinoxes when the sun creates shadows on the steps of the pyramid that resemble a large descending snake. On March 21 and September 21, Cancun hotels usually book up, as travelers flock to view the phenomenon.
The steep Coba pyramid can be a challenge to climb, but once on top the view of the surrounding ruins and jungle make it well worth the effort. It takes approximately three hours to drive from Cancun to Coba. At the entrance to the ruins are a few small restaurants and gift shops for the hungry traveler.
Kohunlich, Southeast of Cancun, near the Belize border, was once a thriving, vibrant city. The ruins of much of the city still remain and can be toured. Built in 200 BC, it’s known for the Temple of the Masks, a pyramid structure featuring enormous stucco masks.
Most tours of the Mayan ruins and the surrounding Yucatan peninsula are easily booked at any of Cancun’s beach hotel resorts. Some tour operators keep information booths at resorts to make choosing the right tour a breeze.