One of the highlights of travelling in Mexico is exploring its many ancient ruins. From pyramids poking out of the jungle to temples cast along the shores of the Caribbean, these archaeological sites present a glimpse of the rich architecture left behind during the peak of Mexico’s ancient civilizations. Take a journey back in time and experience the spectacular works left behind by the Mayans, Aztecs and other civilizations of ancient Mexico. Here are our picks for the best ancient ruins and pyramids in Mexico:
Where: The Chichen Itza ruins are located on the Yucatan Peninsula
Best Pyramid: El Castillo, also known as Temple of Kukulkan
One of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is considered one of the best Mayan sites in Mexico. Built in 600 AD, Chichen Itza features incredible stone carvings and admirable structures such as an ancient ball court, a wall of skulls and an old astronomy tower.
The iconic El Castillo is Chichen Itza’s most famous structure. This symmetrical pyramid with a square base is said to have 365 steps to represent the 365 days in a year like the Mayan Calendar. It is no longer possible to climb this pyramid in Mexico but it’s beautiful nonetheless from below. Make sure to clap your hands and listen as the pyramid returns a magnificent sound like that of a chirping bird. Another equally important site in Chichen Itza is Cenote Sagrado or Sacred Cenote, a former sacrificial ground used by the Mayans.
Entrance Fee to Chichen Itza: $220 MXN
Where: The Uxmal ruins are located 62km south of Merida, Yucatan
Best Pyramid: Pyramid of the Magician or El Adivini
The ancient Mayan site of Uxmal, built around 700 AD, showcases exquisitely detailed sculptures and enormous pyramids. Unique to Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician, a pyramid with rounded sides, steep slopes and unusual elliptical base. Too bad, it can only admired from below. Don’t worry, you can explore and even climb some of the other palaces and pyramids at this ancient site. The elaborate details of the buildings in Uxmal definitely makes it in our list of the best ancient ruins in Mexico. Make sure to visit the House of the Governor, the Great Pyramid and the House of the Pigeons which all feature intricate craftsmanship.
Entrance Fee to Uxmal: $182 MXN
Where: The ancient ruins of Teotihuacan are located about 50km northeast of Mexico City
Best Pyramids: Pyramid of the Sun and Pyramid of the Moon
Teotihuacan, a place that some people have referred to as the “City of Gods”, is one of Mexico’s most famous set of ancient ruins. Inhabited from 1st to 7th Century AD, Teotihuacan was among the largest cities in the world at the time. The Teotihuacan ruins complex is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico so it can be quite busy but its astounding architecture makes it well worth a visit. The best part about Teotihuacan is that it’s still possible to climb the original steps of its two magnificent pyramids — the Pyramid of the Sun (the world’s third largest ancient pyramid) and the Pyramid of the Moon. The views here are exhilarating (be careful with your step, though).
Entrance Fee to Teotihuacan: $64 MXN
Where: The Palenque ruins are located in Palenque, Chiapas
Best Pyramid: Temple of the Inscriptions
Surrounded by lush jungle, the ancient ruins of Palenque date back to between 500 and 700 AD. Dominating the scene is the massive Temple of Inscriptions, the largest among the pyramids in Palenque (and there are quite a few of them!). Climb to the top of some of the pyramids, to relish magnificent views of the ancient site or walk along the grounds and admire the incredible architecture left by the Mayans. Apparently the ancient site of Palenque was once painted in blood red with details in yellow and blue — imagine how amazing that would have been!
Have you been Tikal in Guatemala? The setting of Palenque is quite similar to those ruins. Just like Tikal, you can witness a few animals in Palenque like howler monkeys and toucans.
Entrance Fee to Palenque ruins: $51 MXN
Where: The ancient ruins of Tulum are located on the Caribbean Coast, Quintana Roo, Mexico
Best Pyramid/ Structure: El Castillo or The Castle
Set on Mexico’s magnificent Caribbean coast, Tulum is a 13th century archaeological site founded by the Mayans. The highlight of a visit in Tulum is admiring El Castillo, a castle/pyramid built as a watch tower located near the beach. The setting of this structure is truly breath-taking. Fancy a quick swim? It is possible to take a dip while at the archaeological site.
Entrance Fee to Tulum ruins: $64 MXN
Where: The El Tepozteco pyramid is located in Tepoztlan, Morelos
Best Pyramid: El Tepozteco Pyramid or Temple of Tepoztecatl
One of the more secluded ancient ruins in Mexico are the El Tepozteco ruins located on top of a hill above the small town of Tepoztlan. The only thing left in this archaeological site is the pyramid dedicated to the Aztec god, Tepoztecatl which (although small) remains visible from the town below. The interesting part about visiting El Tepozteco is that you get the chance to do a sort of pilgrimage like the Aztecs did during the pre-Hispanic times. The 50-minute hike to the top is between easy to moderately difficult (mostly uphill with some uneven steps). The views are pretty amazing too! Beware of the coatis (animals that looks like something in between monkeys and racoons) on the way up as they love to snatch food from tourists.
Entrance Fee to Tepoztlan: $60 MXN
RELATED POST: The Coati Cartels of Tepoztlan, Mexico
Where: The Great Pyramid of Cholula is located in Cholula, Puebla
Best Pyramid: The Great Pyramid of Cholula or Tlachihualtepetl
Built over 2000 years ago, the Great Pyramid of Cholula is considered the largest pyramid in the world. Instead of looking above for a pyramid, at the Great Pyramid of Cholula, you have to look below. The tour begins at one of the labyrinth-like tunnels underneath the ground and inside the pyramid. To date, the pyramid remains hidden underneath a hill (and a church) however, parts of the archaeological site have already uncovered and can be seen above ground.
Entrance Fee to Cholula: $48 MXN
RELATED POST: Puebla and Cholula: Mexico’s Siamese Twin Cities
Where: The ancient ruins of Monte Alban are located 9km from Oaxaca City, Oaxaca
Monte Alban, which means “White Mountain”, is one of the ancient sites in Mexico that you have to appreciate as a whole instead of in parts (probably one reason they never bothered to name any of the pyramids with anything fancy). Monte Alban, the former capital of the Zapotec civilization (500 BC – 850 AD), is an impressive ancient fortress made up of pyramids, temples and huge plazas. Set in a lush mountain overlooking the Oaxaca valley, the panoramic views from these ruins are amazing.
Entrance Fee to Monte Alban: $52 MXN
RELATED POST: 8 of the Best Colonial Towns and Cities in Mexico
Map of the Best Ancient Ruins and Pyramids in Mexico
Have you been to any of the best ancient ruins and pyramids in Mexico? Do you have anything to add to our list? Let us know.
Do you want to save this post on Pinterest? Click the pin below.