Mexico’s rich and mysterious past is still visible in the amazing ancient ruins scattered throughout the country. From impressive towering pyramids in the Yucatan Peninsula to elaborate ancient cities found in Coba, the Mayan heritage continues to draw millions of tourists from across the globe. If you are looking to extend your knowledge and your travels beyond the Yucatan and Riviera Maya, we have shared our travels to remote Mayan ruin sites in southern and western locations. When traveling to the Riviera Maya, you will have a wealth of INAH ruins to visit, ranging from the Tulum ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea to Chichen Itza, the 8th wonders of the world!
Becán was "discovered" by archaeologists Karl Ruppert and John Denison in 1934. The name Becán means “ravine formed by water, ('Be' meaning roadway and 'Kan' meaning serpent) a contemporary Yucatecan-Maya name that Ruppert and Denison selected for the site. The ancient Maya name is not known. It is this architectural feature that sets Becan apart from other Mayan settlements.
The Bonampak archaeological zone in Chiapas Mexico is small, but it has some very significant relics. It is most famous for its monolithic limestone stela and story-telling murals which gave archaeologists their first clues to the Maya's darker, more violent past. The surrounding jungle is as dense as it is deep. Trees towering over the settlement. were possible inspiration for the tall stela and high pyramid of the archaeological zone.
Located in Campeche, Mexico, Calakmul is only 22 miles from the Guatemala border. Vast jungle surrounds the ruins and is home to over 230 species of birds. Sit in the plaza of the site and you can hear the monkeys in the trees. Remote and beautiful, the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve undoubtedly deserved it's 2002 World Heritage Award for it's cultural and environmental importance.
Located in the Costa Maya, just south of the Riviera Maya, Chacchoben, "The Place of Red Corn," (in Spanish "Lugar de Maiz Colorado,") is a largely restored Mayan site. Chacchoben has a mystical quality with towering mahogany trees, enormous cohune palms, strangler figs, and banyan trees. Its because of the lush foliage, no crowds and its remote location that really makes Chacchoben a special place.
This adventure is not on anyone's vacation itinerary due to its remote location. We have wanted to visit the Mayan Ruins at Chac Mool ever since we glimpsed the Santa Rosa peninsula during a flight along the coastline. The Santa Rosa peninsula and Chac Mool ruins lie between two large bays in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve; Bahia de la Ascension and Bahia Espiritu Santo. Together those bays make up the majority of this UNESCO reserve located south of Tulum.
The Mayan Ruins of Chicanná were rediscovered and named in 1966 by Jack D. Eaton. This discovery happened during his exploration of the Yucatan prior to the official start of the National Geographic/Tulane University archaeological study at the Becán Ruins. The façade at Structure II, The House of the Serpent mouth, in the Chicanná Ruins inspired this Mayan name,. In Mayan “chi” is mouth; “can” is serpent; and “na” is house.
We were first introduced to Chichen Itza through John Lloyd Stevens travel book "Incidents of Travel in Yucatan' published in 1843. Now, Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site, the #2 most visited archaeological site in Mexico and in 2006 awarded the title of one of the new 7 Wonders of the World. Chichen Itza has played an important role in understanding Mayan and Mexican history making it a top tour in the Riviera Maya and an excellent Loco Adventure.
Archaeologists believe Cobá was one of the most important ruin sites on the Yucatan Peninsula. The design and purpose of this settlement was very different from other Mayan cities, with various settlements existing in one area. The white roads lead from each settlement to the main pyramid, Nohoch Mul. Learn more about this off-the-beaten-track Mayan Ruin.
Dzibilchaltun Ruins are located near the colonial city of Merida, Yucatan. Dzibilchaltun was a large settlement and still occupied when the Spanish arrived during the 1500s. Archaeologists estimate there were as many as 200,000 inhabitants and 8,400 buildings during its history with artifacts dating back to the middle of the classic period (700 – 800 A.D.) Highlights are the large plaza, sacbe trails, the Temple of the Dolls, and the Open Chapel, an unusual amphitheater shaped structure.
Ek Balam is a Yucatec Maya name that translates to "the black jaguar" or "bright star jaguar." Located near the colonial city of Valladolid in Yucatan, Mexico, Ek Balam's most important cultural period was during the Late Classic Period 700 - 1000 A.D It wasn't until the late 1980's when the site was mapped, and research continued into the 1990's. This is a mesmerizing ruins site if you are looking for something a bit off the beaten path.
If you like Mayan ruins, southern Quintana Roo has some interesting sites that will increase your understanding of the Maya. Roughly 4 hours south of Tulum, at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Costa Maya region, are some fantastic archaeological sites that have you venturing near some extraordinary beaches and historical ground.
With the ruins of Uxmal and Chichen Itza in the state of Yucatan, Mayapan often is overlooked. At sites such as Mayapan, you can enjoy the richness of the history and environment all to yourselves. Mayapan has a rich history. It is a haul from the Riviera Maya, so plan on staying in Yucatan a night or two and fully enjoy the culture, food and surroundings of the area.
Oh we love this ruins site! Muyil and Chunyaxché, the modern names used to refer to this archaeological site are located within the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve. Muyil is small and lush, no crowds and has a mystical quality about it. An easy site for you to navigate, and you will find the lagoon adds an entirely different spin to exploring the ruins.
Palenque easily ranks with Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tikal in architecture and magnificence. Located 400 miles (650 kilometers) from the Riviera Maya, Palenque is a viable travel option, though off the beaten path for beach lovers. Count on two full days driving for the round trip, and at least a full day there to see Palenque and nearby Misol Ha falls and Agua Azul.
The Tulum Ruins' greatest attraction is its location. Built on a bluff facing the rising sun, this ruin site is the only Maya settlement located on the beaches of the Caribbean. The views continue to be described as spectacular as millions of people visit this Maya ruin in the Riviera Maya.
For us, Uxmal has a magical feel and deep spirit not found at Chichen Itza. This UNESCO Mayan ruin site is less crowded than others and entices visitors to an overnight stay at local hotels so you can fully enjoy the Uxmal experience during the day and in the evening. The Uxmal archeological site is a wonderful balance of jungle, wide open spaces, and few visitors as you marvel over the classic Puuc architecture of the Maya.
Xel Ha, gets passed by too easily as people head to Tulum or are headed into the Xel Ha water park. A perfect place to do a quick spin around the ruins. Xel Ha is rich in maritime trade history due to is proximity to the lagoon. This site is an easy tour that can be conducted on your own yet found to a be wonderful addition to visitors increasing knowledge of Mayan history and historical events.
Down the Usumacinta river – Our journey to Yaxchilan Ruins had us heading down the Usumacinta River in Chiapas, Mexico. Located a fair distance from the Riviera Maya, the state of Chiapas is environmentally diverse with pasture lands, mountains, jungles, rivers, waterfalls and canyons. Culturally, Chiapas is rich with colonial cities, and the Maya who have lived here for centuries.