Merida is an excellent base from which to explore the Yucatan Peninsula’s ancient Maya ruins. Experience the temples and pyramids of these architectural marvels, including UNESCO-listed Chichen Itza. See below for how to see the ruins from Merida.
Dzibilchaltun — 15 miles (24 kilometers) from Merida
A small town and the closest Maya ruin to Merida, Dzibilchaltun is noted for its pleasant surroundings and deep cenote—a big swimming draw on a hot day. The on-site Museo del Pueblo has some well designed exhibits tracing the Maya people’s history from ancient times to the present. Another highlight is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, named after the effigies inside. It’s designed so the rising sun shines through it twice a year on the summer and winter solstices, showing the Mayas’ astronomical and mathematical prowess. Visiting the ruins on a private tour can give you deeper insight into the area’s history.
Kabah — 65 miles (105 kilometers) from Merida
Kabah is the second-largest site in the Puuc region (after Uxmal), with its most notable building being the Palace of the Masks, aptly named after the hundreds of stone masks that pay homage to the rain god Chaac. Because the two ruin sites are connected by an 11-mile (18-kilometer) pedestrian causeway, a tour of Kabah is often combined with one of Uxmal, allowing visitors to see two of the most important ancient Maya cities on the Yucatan Peninsula in one day.
Uxmal — 52 miles (84 kilometers) from Merida
These impressive ruins are as noteworthy as Chichen Itza but are not flooded with crowds visiting from Cancun. Located on one of the best-restored archaeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula, the ancient city’s architecture is characterized by low horizontal palaces set around courtyards, decorated with sculptural elements and details. Uxmal was the main city and religious center during the Maya late classical period, and today two of its main pyramids remain. For an unusual experience, take an after-dark tour of the UNESCO-listed site with a dazzling light and sound show.
Chichen Itza — 75 miles (121 kilometers) from Merida
The most-visited Maya ruin on the Yucatan Peninsula is Chichen Itza, an architectural site of stone buildings and sacbeob (paved causeways) anchored by a flat-topped pyramid with stairs on all four sides. On the equinox, shadows cast through the pyramid create a serpent pattern on one side. Other notable structures include a ball court, an observatory, and several temples in various states of reconstruction. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is usually packed with visitors arriving on tour buses from Cancun. From Merida, the trip is shorter—and you can avoid the peak crowds by taking a morning or late afternoon tour.