While Cancun’s pristine beaches are an obvious draw, there’s much more to this naturally stunning region than just sunbathing. Surrounding the area are numerous Maya ruins, a cornerstone of the Yucatan’s history. Here are the top stone structures and ancient walls to visit from Cancun.
Chichen Itza — 122 miles (197 km) from Cancun
A two-hour drive from Cancun is Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the most visited of all Yucatan archaeological sites. The highlight is the 82-foot-tall (25-meter) El Castillo pyramid, which guests can scramble up for unparalleled views of the site and jungle beyond. The pyramid is an important pilgrimage site as a representation of the Maya calendar and holds particular significance during the spring and autumn equinoxes. Booking a day tour with included lunch, round-trip transportation, and the option of adding an archaeologist guide allows visitors to experience all Chichen Itza has to offer.
Tulum — 80 miles (128 km) from Cancun
Tulum’s ruins are beach-bound, meaning this site is ideal for those who can’t bear to be away from the ocean but still want a dose of history and culture. Day tours, which typically include transportation, lunch, and even early access to the ruins with an archaeologist tour guide, ensure you beat the crowds and access expert information about the excavations. After touring the grounds, consider descending from the cliffside Temple of the Wind God onto the nearby beach for swimming and time in the sun.
Cobá — 82 miles (132 km) from Cancun
In Cobá, you’ll see the tallest pyramid in Mexico and tour an ancient Maya city. Experience two unmissable Cancun adventures in one day by choosing a tour that combines a visit to the ruins at Cobá and a stop at Cenote Takach-Ha, where you can swim in crystal-clear waters while surrounded by rock walls. Most Coba tours include a buffet lunch, roundtrip hotel pickup and dropoff, plus transport around the ancient cities.
El Rey — 15 miles (25 km) from Cancun
Just 30 minutes from downtown Cancun is El Rey, the nearest ruins to modern Yucatan civilization.
El Rey’s 47 structures are believed to have been inhabited by Mayans as early as 900 AD and are named for a ceremonial mask and skull that were found while excavating the site. Access this historical site without straying too far from your hotel by visiting on a Cancun day trip tour, and keep an eye out for the many iguanas who call the ruins home.
Ek Balam — 120 (193 km) from Cancun
A 2.5-hour drive from the Hotel Zone is one of the best preserved sites that explorers are still able to climb: the walled city of Ek Balam. Summiting the acropolis gives visitors magnificent panoramic views of the temple complex and the surrounding jungle. Visit on a half-day trip from Cancun to take in the sights and perhaps also visit the town of Valladolid to explore a local market and view Spanish colonial buildings.