Downtown Playa del Carmen has so much to offer – from fantastic world-class restaurants, shopping and entertainment, to some of the best beaches in the world and unique cultural offerings that simply can’t be found anywhere else. Among these, Playa’s close proximity to ancient Mayan ruins makes this Mexican Caribbean beach town one of the world’s best vacation destinations for adventure travelers of all ages.
There are six ancient Mayan sites with ruins that visitors can easily access from downtown Playa, including Chichen Itza, Tulum, Ek Balam, Coba, Muyil and Xel-Há. Each location offers its own set of features and unforgettable experiences, from ancient murals and pyramids, to swimming in a freshwater cenote and stopping to explore one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s charming colonial towns.
As one of the most popular ancient Mayan sites in the Riviera Maya region, Chichen Itza is enormous and draws visitors from around the globe. The main temple is well-preserved and there is a nightly light show, but visitors are not permitted to climb any of the structures. Most tours take a full day and include a stop in the colonial town of Valladolid – also one of Mexico’s magic towns – or a visit to Cenote Ik Kil.
The ruins of Tulum lie just 40 minutes south of Playa, making this one of the easiest sites to access. Although the site is not large, it is spectacular and home to the only seaside pyramid, which offers amazing views from the ocean cliffs. The close proximity makes the ruins of Tulum an easy half-day trip, while the clear turquoise waters of the Mexican Caribbean Sea offer the opportunity for a cooling plunge and the site is ideal for photo-ops.
As one of the “newer” Mayan ruins near Playa, Ek Balam has been steadily gaining in popularity recently and visits are usually done as part of a tour. Here, there is one pyramid visitors can climb for a great view of the surrounding landscape and there is also a cenote to swim in. Add in a stop in Valladolid and this trip will easily take up the majority of the day.
Coba Mayan Ruins
Another favorite site among international visitors, the ancient Mayan ruins at Coba are located deep in the shady jungle, offering a unique opportunity to explore this mysterious tropical paradise. There is also a pyramid at Coba visitors are permitted to climb and bikes are available for rent due to the sprawling nature of the site, which also lends itself nicely to a full-day tour.
Muyil Mayan Ruins
The ruins of Muyil are situated just south of Tulum and this close proximity to such a popular destination means Muyil doesn’t usually attract the same amount of visitor traffic that other sites in the region command. This creates a quiet, magical environment that is ideal for a quiet walk in a semi-shaded area that is also home to a scenic lagoon. Be sure to climb the lookout tower and consider stopping for a bite to eat in Tulum on your way back to Playa.
Xel-Há Mayan Ruins
Finally, the Xel-Há ruins situated just south of Playa and north of Tulum offer a unique opportunity to explore a cenote and observe ancient Mayan murals painted on the walls of structures. Just remember the location is not to be confused with the Xel-Há Snorkel Park, which is a large natural aquarium located nearby that offers activities like snorkeling and swimming with dolphins.
Have you ever toured ancient ruins in Mexico or elsewhere? Share your stories in the comments below!
Want to learn more about visiting Mexico’s Riviera Maya? Click the link to see why Downtown Playa del Carmen is the Friendliest City in Latin America!