The Riviera Maya stretches south on the Yucatan Peninsula from Cancun all the way to Tulum along Mexico’s only Caribbean Coast in what leading travel organizations have repeatedly named one of the world’s most beautiful vacation destinations. In addition to soft,white sand beaches,sparkling turquoise waters and ready access to the world’s second largest barrier reef,the Riviera Maya is home to a variety of stunning ancient Mayan ruins that truly set this region apart from any other vacation destination. Here,we’ve put together a list of what we consider to be the top five must-see ancient sites for visitors.
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Situated just 130 kilometers south of Cancun,the town of Tulum is easily accessible via a new highway and is home to El Castillo,which is the only seaside Mayan pyramid in all of Mexico. The town’s archaeological zone lies just south of Playa del Carmen and Akumal along coastal highway 307. Known as the “Walled City,” this was one of the ancient Maya’s most important cities at one time and also features a variety of frescoes that are still visible inside the remaining structures.
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The awe-inspiring pyramid temple of Kukulkan at Chichen Itza makes this one of the region’s most-visited sites. Located just two hours from Cancun,Chichen Itza is also a UNESCO World Heritage site that is home to 18 restored structures. Large crowds gather here each year to witness the Spring and Fall equinoxes,when the setting sun creates a shadow effect on the pyramid’s steps that resembles a snake crawling down towards the ground.
Situated just over 40 kilometers west of Tulum,the Coba archaeological zone is still a work in progress,with many of its structures remaining engulfed by the surrounding jungle. At more than 80 square miles,this impressive site is home to five freshwater lakes and Nohoch Mul,which at more than 12 stories high is the tallest pyramid on the entire Yucatan Peninsula. Visitors who can handle climbing the 120 steps to the pyramid’s summit will be rewarded by a breathtaking view of the region’s lush landscape.
The spectacular ruins at Muyil can be found just 25 kilometers south of Tulum amid tropical lagoons and jungle marshland. Although the ruins are only partially excavated at this time,there is a path and boardwalk that allows visitors to explore the site,which is one of the earliest and longest-inhabited Mayan cities on the peninsula’s eastern coast.
Located inside the Xel-Ha Lagoon Eco-Park,the ruins of Xel-Ha are situated close to Akumal not far from Tulum. Thanks to its rich and storied history,Xel-Ha is a popular destination for visitors and is also home to a variety of ancient stone structures. Once a main coastal port for the Maya,today the site stands as a testament to the architectural skill and artistry of these mysterious ancient people.
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As one of the most stunning UNESCO World Heritage Sites,the ruins of Uxmal are worth the three hour trek from Cancun. Home to the magnificent Pyramid of the Magician and one of the largest Mayan cities on the Yucatan Peninsula,Uxmal is also known for its hundreds of resident iguanas,which are easily spotted when traveling through the ruins.