Mayan Ruins of Cancun

By Viator, April 2015

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Cancun may be known as a beach holiday destination, but there’s so much more to do than here than soak up the sun and enjoy a few frozen drinks. One of the most popular area activities is a visit to the local Mayan ruins, remnants of a sophisticated civilization that once lived throughout Mexico and Central America. Visitors to Cancun who can pull themselves away from the white sand beaches and clear turquoise waters of the Caribbean will find several Mayan ruin experiences to choose from.

Chichén Itzá

A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichén Itzá is the best restored and most visited of the Yucatán Maya archaeological sites. The most impressive structure at Chichén Itzá, the 25m-tall El Castillo pyramid, is a stone representation of the Maya calendar and an important pilgrimage destination during the spring and autumn equinoxes when the shadow of a serpent appears to ascend and descend the staircase; a phenomenon that’s recreated nightly at the sound-and-light show.

El Rey Ruins

Stay closer to the coast with a visit to the El Rey Ruins. Located in the heart of Cancun’s Hotel Zone, the Mayan ruins at El Rey are made up of 47 ancient stone structures, including several platforms and temples that are believed to have once been used for religious ceremonies. The El Rey Ruins are named after a ceremonial mask and skull honoring the Mayan Sun God that was unearthed at the site. As you explore the ruins at El Rey, keep an eye out for the giant iguanas that now inhabit the site. A few miles outside Cancun’s Hotel Zone you’ll find the El Meco Ruins, a smaller group of Mayan ruins consisting of 13 structures organized around a central temple.

Tulum Ruins

Beach lovers will enjoy exploring the Tulum Ruins where you can split your time between the ruins and the beach. The ancient walls built around the edge of the archaeological site once served as a fortress protecting the ancient city’s ruling class, and the name Tulum translates to “wall” in Yucatec Maya. The seaside Mayan ruins at Tulum are some of the most picturesque in the region and best known for the Temple of the Wind God. Situated on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean, this ancient lookout post has become one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s most iconic images. Just a few steps from the temple, a staircase leads down to the beach where you can sunbathe and swim in the turquoise cove.

Cobá Ruins

From Tulum, it’s just a short trip inland to visit the Cobá Ruins. Climb to the top of the tallest Mayan pyramid on the Yucatán Peninsula, the Great Pyramid Nohoch Mul, for spectacular views overlooking the jungle canopy. The ruins at Cobá are spread out over several kilometers and more closely resemble the ruins at Tikal in neighboring Guatemala than any of the other Yucatán Maya archaeological sites. Pedi-taxis are on hand to shuttle visitors throughout the site and well-marked paths make it easy to explore the ruins on foot, though you’ll likely work up a sweat. Cool off with a stop at one of the Yucatán Peninsula’s famous cenotes, or underwater sinkholes.

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