Beyond Chichen Itza: 5 Best Ruins in Mexico to Explore
There are a million reasons to visit Mexico – the world-famous cuisine, fantastic beach resorts, and the warm, fun-loving hospitality so embedded within the fiesta spirit.
For historical enthusiasts, there are also plenty of iconic archaeological sites to visit that help to shape the narrative of Mexico’s pre-hispanic past.
Visiting the best ruins in Mexico provides insights into the ancient Mayan and Aztec civilisations.
Gaining an understanding of these cultures will see travellers develop a meaningful connection with modern Mexico.
Many travellers will perhaps be able to name Chichen Itza or will at least have a vague recollection of having heard of the iconic world wonder. Chichen Itza is the best-known Mayan city, filled with architectural marvels and ancient secrets.
Of course, we recommend visiting Chichen Itza to admire its intimidating pyramids, particularly for the atmospheric evening light show. However, we also want to inform you and your customers of the other sites available to explore with Discova. There’s a whole ancient world of possibilities!
Best Ruins in Mexico
Tulum + Coba
We offer a fantastic opportunity to see two intriguing Mayan sites in one day. Tulum, a majestic walled city perched on the cliff’s edge, with panoramic views of the Caribbean Sea, is the first stop on this trip.
At Tulum, our knowledgeable guide will explain all about this ancient Mayan port and its significance within the Mayan kingdom. As the waves gently lap the beach below, you get a real sense of what it must have been like in its heyday in the 13th and 14th centuries.
After Tulum, head to explore the ruins of the temple complex at Coba. There are several pyramids to explore here, including Nohuch Mul, which roughly translates to the ‘big mound’. It’s a lot more impressive than its name suggests, and visitors can actually climb the pyramid for 360 views of the whole complex.
The temples arise from a thick, tropical jungle bed, giving the site a mystical Indiana Jones feel. Visitors feel like intrepid explorers as they navigate the ceremonial limestone sacbes, or avenues. Besides Nohuch Mul, there are pyramids home to ancient Mayan frescoes and a number of Juego de pelota, or ball courts.
Not finished for the day, we head to a local Mayan village to learn about honey and cocoa production in the village. Here, we endeavour to understand the Mayan legacy for these people.
Take a refreshing dip in the village’s sacred cenote – a freshwater-filled sinkhole. Finally, experience a Mayan ritual as the local shaman gives travellers an authentic blessing.
Teotihuacan, a short drive from Mexico City, was the sprawling capital of the Aztec kingdom. One of the best ruins in Mexico to explore, the complex is vast and spreads out within the glorious valley northwest of Mexico City.
Cutting down the middle is the Avenue of the Dead, linking the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun.
Here, learn from the guide about the Aztecs’ culture, traditions, and legacy, and visit the on-site museum to see artefacts excavated from the ruins. It’s an extraordinary place to explore the rich world of the Ancient Aztecs.
Teotihuacan features on several of our trips from Mexico City and can be included in customised multi-day itineraries exploring the region. However, we want to spotlight an out-of-this-world opportunity to catch a glimpse of the site from above.
With Discova, we can organise hot-air balloon rides over the archaeological ruins of Teotihuacan. Float gently in a dreamlike manner over the complex and admire the spectacular views. First-time flyers will be thrilled by the sensation.
Those who have experienced a hot-air balloon ride before can remind nervous flyers that the journey is peaceful and serene. Even those who are afraid of heights tend to find the ride relaxing.
This is packaged as a whole experience with a range of choices. Choose to include welcome drinks, an exciting look into the history of balloon transport, a champagne toast, or a signed certificate from your pilot.
Travellers also have the choice of including their tickets into the Teotihuacan complex. So, they can decide if they want a closer exploration or if they simply want to glide past. What better way to discover one of the best ruins in Mexico.
Another fascinating site, Ek Balam predates Chichen Itza and is believed to have been founded around 1500 years ago. Recent restoration work at Ek Balam make it relatively new to the list of Mayan attractions and is proving increasingly popular.
The site is set within a gloriously picturesque national park, lush and verdantly green with tropical forest. The highlight of the ruins is a stone acropolis, a cornerstone of Mayan architecture, featuring iconic Mayan design in its carvings and glyphs. The guide here will explain that Ek Balam was a city of religious significance to the Mayans.
As well as the archaeological ruins, visitors to the park enjoy a sense of adventure with various thrilling experiences. Rappel down a cliff into a crystal, clear cenote, whizz down several ziplines through the canopy, or play like Tarzan with the intertwining swinging vines.
Travellers also have the chance to stand before an altar and take part in a shaman’s ritual. This ritual has been passed down throughout the centuries from family to family and is a significant aspect of Mayan heritage.
Standing before the altar, capture smoke burning from a cup of copal, a kind of unique tree sap. This symbolises a request for permission from the Maya gods to pass onto the underworld, “Xibalba.” A meaningful process for some, many travellers describe the experience as transformative.
Further afield, we offer a trip to Palenque, not provided as a day trip but able to be included as part of multi-day itineraries. This is due to Palenque’s distance from Cancun in the state of Chiapas.
Palenque’s site is smaller than that of Chichen Itza and some of the other sites on this list, yet it presents some of the finest examples of Mayan bas-relief carvings to be found. This, along with the exquisite sculptures on display, makes it a real gem for those interested in Mayan architecture.
The Temple of Inscriptions is especially pleasing to the eye, with its sheer, imposing incline of steps. The funerary monument is actually home to the second-longest glyphic text known from the Maya world. Historians have used these inscriptions to work out the intricacies of the ruling dynasties of Palenque.
Other notable structures include other monuments to the dead and the ruins of a palace complex. The palace, built in the 4th century AD, was used by the aristocracy for bureaucracy, entertainment, and ritual ceremony. Many features have been conserved to this day. Particularly impressive is the aqueduct system, still visible, that was used to bring fresh water to the palace.
Explore the site with a local guide who can capably answer curious questions. Also, admire the surrounding National Park, abundant with mahogany and cedar. The National park encompasses the ancient site and hills to the south, and there is a camping site for families.
At Discova, we’re continually expanding our offering for your customers. It’s in our DNA to offer choice and encourage travellers to go beyond. We want to inspire travellers to discover sites less-visited and explore more places to gain a deeper understanding of our destinations.
That’s why, for travellers wanting to explore Mayan and Aztec ruins, we want to highlight there’s more than Chichen Itza.
Depending on traveller interests and tendency, it may be better to explore Teotihuacan, visit Ek Balam, or go further afield and visit the magnificent Palenque.
To learn more about our experiences, and to hear about our multi-day itineraries in Mexico, reach out to our helpful, friendly, and knowledgeable teams.