One of our goals during our one-month-long road trip in Mexico was to look for as many archeological sites as we could on the way. Here comes our favourites, the top 7 archeological sites to visit in Mexico!
Tulum – Quintana Roo
Tulum is one of the most important archaeological zones in the state of Quintana Roo, since it is the only site that faces the Caribbean Sea. For the Mayans, this city was the main center of sea and land commerce in the area. This Mayan city was built on a cliff from which you can see the turquoise tones of the Caribbean Sea in all its shades. The site has more than 60 restored temples, El Castillo is the main building, which is the most photographed site in the Riviera Maya, due to its peculiar location on the cliff. The Mayan city is surrounded by walls, each one symbolising one of the elements: earth, water, air and fire. The reef in front of the coast forms the fourth wall and which made Tulum practically inaccessible.
- Take your own bottle of cold water with you, you will need it. It can be crazy warm under the sun, without any shadow, and the visit is at least 1-2 hours long, even if you don’t take any tourist guide. We have taken a 1,5 liter bottle for two of us (and afterwards for each archaeological site visit), and we easily finished (every time).
- Don’t take any tourist guide. If you lack information you can always google it, seriously. One thing is that you need to pay a lot for the tourist guides, as they are trying to sell you package tours, this and that, don’t buy them! Second is, remember that you are in Mexico, and the conception of time is a bit different, you need to wait and wait and keep waiting for your guide, for your group, listening for long, which is not funny in 40 degrees with close to 90% humidity under the burning sun. Keep in mind you can easily visit all archeological sites by yourself without any tourist guide!
- The entrance ticket is 80 Mexican Pesos (July 2021 data). Don’t let yourself cheated with package tours for more than 1000 Mexican Pesos by fake tourist guides. We mean it, they can be too convincing!
- Read our complete review about Quintana Roo here!
Cobá – Quintana Roo
The Mayan ruins at Cobá are unique in that only a few of its estimated 6,500 structures have been uncovered, but the ones that have been are graceful and impressive. On these quiet and peaceful grounds it’s hard to imagine that Cobá may have once had the largest population of all the ancient Mayan cities. This vast Mayan archeological site dates from 600-900 A.D. and there were an estimated 100,000 people living in its domain. It was the heart of a large metropolis composed of many cities within the eastern Yucatán peninsula.
- The entrance ticket is 80 Mexican Pesos, but be aware that they don’t accept credit cards, neither any foreign currencies. The only place where you can exchange money opens at 9AM, so if you want to arrive for opening (8AM) it’s better to have enough Mexican Pesos with you.
- You can rent here individual bikes, or book a bike taxi as well. We have done the whole path by feet, yes you need to walk a couple of kilometres, like at every archeological sites, since these places are representing the ruins of ancient, real & big cities. So if you have problem with walking, you can always use the bike or taxi options.
- Read our complete review about Quintana Roo here!
Chichén-Itzá – Yucatán
Many people spend the night in Valladolid just to access nearby Chichén-Itzá next day early morning. We did the same way! It was quite easy for us to get there right when the gates open to see the ruins before the crowds came.
Chichén-Itzá was one of the largest Maya cities and it was likely to have been one of the mythical great cities, or Tollans, referred to in later Mesoamerican literature. The city may have had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site.
Chichén-Itzá is one of the new seven wonders of the world, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the most famous of the Mayan ruins in the world. It opens at 8 am and it’s worth to arrive early, so you can enjoy this famous archeological site before the crowds and the heat of the day kicks in. Chichén-Itzá is one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico with over 2.6 million tourists in 2017.
Edzná – Campeche
One of the best things to do in Campeche and our biggest favourite among the archeological sites! Super well-preserved & hardly visited. It was our last archeological zone visit, and if I think about it that we almost skipped it (!), but luckily not. Even though in how great condition is the complete site, the entrance ticket here is the cheapest without any additional general admission jokes. The entrance ticket is 65 Mexican Pesos, exactly as it is stated on their website.
Edzná’s massive complexes were built by a highly stratified society that flourished from about 600 BC to the 15th century AD. During that period the people of Edzná built more than 20 complexes in a melange of architectural styles, installing an ingenious network of water-collection and irrigation systems. Most of the visible carvings date from AD 550 to 810. The causes leading to Edzná’s decline and gradual abandonment remain a mystery, the site remained unknown until its rediscovery by campesinos in 1906.
- Be prepared – out of all the places all around Mexico, the biggest mosquito invasion we faced here. Regardless of the fact that we used crazy amount of repellent, it did not really matter, there were hungry mosquitos all around, biting on skin and through your clothes as well!
- Read our complete review about Campeche here!
Teotihuacan – State of Mexico
Teotihuacan is located in the State of Mexico, 40 kilometers northeast of modern-day Mexico City. Teotihuacan is known today as the site of many of the most architecturally significant Mesoamerican pyramids built in the pre-Columbian Americas. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the first millennium, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population estimated at 125,000 or more, making it at least the sixth-largest city in the world during its epoch.
The site covers a total surface area of 83 square kilometres and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987. It is the most visited archeological site in Mexico, receiving 4,185,017 visitors in 2017.
Monte Albán – Oaxaca
Monte Albán is one of the most well-preserved archeological sites of Mexico. This we knew as well, hence we didn’t want to miss its visit, since we were already in Oaxaca. It is located in the suburbs of the capital, so let’s say it is easy to reach. Our hotel owner also told us that the best to go there for the early morning hours. We checked on the website, it says it opens at 10:00, but since a local is telling to you to go there on time, we listened to him of course.
Learn from our experience!
We arrived at 8:00, and it was already a long queue of vehicles parking and waiting in front of the entrance. This is when we learned that the gate indeed opens at 10:00, but they let in only a limited number of cars (80 cars all together / day) hence it’s better to arrive earlier as later you will miss your chance. There are no more parking places inside the territory of the site, this is why people were already queueing since early morning. We also joined the long queue and realized that we are in the middle of nowhere, with no bars, no shops, zero access to any bathrooms around.
But if we would have known this upfront we could have also organized our day differently. The visit doesn’t take longer than a 1-2 hours, and if you arrive e.g. around 12:00, there won’t be any queue anymore, and you can easily get in without waiting there hours. Not to mention that there are buses and taxis as well available, and for the pedestrians there is no limitation at all, you can enter whenever you want, regardless the amount of people.
- Arrive without a car anytime during the day – take a local bus, taxi!
- If you arrive with your car be prepared for the long queue in the morning hours, and be aware that there are zero options around to buy anything or use a bathroom! So pack your coffee, sandwich, whatever you fancy with you!
- The best is to arrive around 12:00 with your own car and get in comfortably. Inside you have cafeteria, bar and bathrooms available.
- Read our complete review about Oaxaca here!
If you didn’t give it up and once you are inside the site doesn’t disappoint you further, actually on the contrary! It is one of the best conserved ruins that you can visit all around Mexico. The monumental center of Monte Albán is the Main Plaza, which measures approximately 300 meters by 200 meters. You can walk around the whole square, climb up and down on the biggest pyramids, that are not allowed at many other sites. Also, they have a Juego de Pelota (Mesoamerican ballgame) field.
Palenque – Chiapas
Palenque is an ancient Mayan city that still stands in near perfect condition. It’s one of the most thoroughly investigated Mayan sites today and is considered to contain some of the best examples of Mayan sculpture and architecture in the world.
Palenque is a medium-sized site, smaller than Chichen Itza, but it contains some of the finest architecture, sculpture, roof comb and bas-relief carvings that the Mayas produced. Much of the history of Palenque has been reconstructed from reading the hieroglyphic inscriptions on the many monuments; historians now have a long sequence of the ruling dynasty of Palenque in the 5th century and extensive knowledge of the city-state’s rivalry with other states such as Calakmul and Toniná.
By 2005, the discovered area covered up to 2.5 km2, but it is estimated that less than 10% of the total area of the city is explored, leaving more than a thousand structures still covered by jungle. Palenque received 920,470 visitors in 2017.
- The city of Palenque has its own airport, which you can fly to from Mexico City. There isn’t a whole lot happening there, but it’s in the jungle and there are quite a few restaurants with traditional dishes to try.
- If you do go to Palenque, be prepared for humid weather and a lot of mosquitos!