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These are the very best historical sites in Mexico

These are the best archaeological sites in Mexico

Possibilities are you’ve become aware of Tulum. If you’ve been to the Mexican Caribbean, you’ve likely even been to Tulum. You’re most likely all up to speed on Chichen Itza, also. However, think it or not, when it pertains to ancient ruins in Mexico, you’ve just scratched the surface area.

There are lots (perhaps even hundreds) of ancient ruins throughout Mexico, from Mayan ruins and pyramids around Cancun to those buried deep in the jungles of southern Mexico, and others set down atop plateaus in the mountainous highlands. Mexico is, without a doubt, a paradise for history and culture fans. So if you wish to level up your antiquities video game, here are a few of the very best historical sites in Mexico where you’ll avoid the crowds and dive deep into history.

Palenque Mexico ruins

Meagan Drillinger stands in front of Palenque’s Temple of the Engravings (Meagan Drillinger)

Palenque, Chiapas

Chiapas, Mexico is among my preferred states. It’s one of the most naturally beautiful I’ve ever seen, home to the misty city of San Cristobal de las Casas, steeped in ancient Mayan shamanism traditions, flush with plunging waterfalls, lush jungles, fantastic coffee, and rich chocolate. But it also has some of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.

Shrouded in jungle and surrounded by mountains, the lost city of Palenque was one of the most powerful in the Mayan world, rivaling Tikal in Guatemala. It’s a sprawling complex of temples (the Temple of the Inscriptions is mind-blowing), palaces, and pavilions seemingly untouched by time and rising out of the jungle in true lost city splendor. Palenque was abandoned around 900 C.E. and was stumbled upon by intrepid explorers in the 18th century. Its hieroglyphics have been integral to the study of Mayan culture today.

Majestic Mayan Pyramid 1 at Calakmul rises above the breathtaking Jungle Canopy for as far as the eye can see on a beautiful day in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Campeche MexicoMajestic Mayan Pyramid 1 at Calakmul rises above the breathtaking Jungle Canopy for as far as the eye can see on a beautiful day in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Campeche Mexico

Randy Evoy via Getty Images

Calakmul, Campeche

Right next door to the state of Quintana Roo is the state of Campeche, one of the more mysterious states in the country. About 15% of Campeche is covered in jungle. Hidden within this thick foliage are some of the most beautiful Mayan ruins in Mexico, many of which are overlooked by the majority of tourists.

Calakmul was put on the archaeological maps in the 1930s, however, only a small part of the place has been uncovered and opened to the public. The site was occupied for more than 1,000 years and was the main rival to Tikal in Guatemala. Today you can explore burial crypts, carvings, pyramids, and temples. About 6,000 buildings have been located, but only a few have been explored.

Coba. Archeological site.Coba. Archeological site.

toltequita-juanrojo via Getty Images

Coba, Quintana Roo

If you’re looking for some cool pyramids in Mexico (near Cancun, but closer to Playa del Carmen and Tulum), the ancient ruins of Coba will fit the bill. Believe it or not, the ruins at Coba include the tallest pyramid in Quintana Roo — and you can climb it. Talk about views.

Coba only opened to the public less than a decade ago and it’s still relatively under the radar, especially when everyone else is sweating in the sun at the actual ruins in Tulum, Mexico. But now you know where to beat the crowds (and the heat) with this more secretive, jungle-enveloped location.

The complex is massive, so consider renting a bike to cycle the many ancient stone pathways (for which Coba is particularly famous).

Afternoon view of the ancient circular pyramids of Guachimontones, dating back over 2300 years old, found above the city of Teuchitlán, Jalisco, Mexico.Afternoon view of the ancient circular pyramids of Guachimontones, dating back over 2300 years old, found above the city of Teuchitlán, Jalisco, Mexico.

MattGush via Getty Images

Guachimontones, Jalisco

Looking for cool things to do in Guadalajara? Look no further than Guachimontones. These unique, circular pyramids were discovered outside of Guadalajara in the 1960s. Built around 2000 years ago by yet another indigenous tribe of Mexico, the largest pyramid rises about 60 feet high and has more than 50 steps to the top.

Road trip tip: Guachimontones makes a great stop if you’re doing a road trip from Guadalajara to Puerto Vallarta. The new super highway connects Guadalajara with Puerto Vallarta in less than three hours.

best ruins in Mexicobest ruins in Mexico

Monte Alban is the main archaeological site outside Oaxaca (Meagan Drillinger)

Monte Alban, Oaxaca

Traveling in Oaxaca, Mexico? While you’re there I’m sure you’ll be stuffing your face with mole and mezcal. But you should make it a point to visit the Monte Alban pyramids, as well. This ancient site was built by the Zapotecs, one of the many indigenous tribes of Mexico. Monte Alban is about a 10-minute bus ride out of the city center and provides a great way to spend the afternoon. Since it’s so close you don’t even have to commit the entire day to it, though you can if you want. Trust me, there’s plenty to see.

The entire city sits on a plateau, surrounded by towering mountains and overlooking the entire Oaxaca valley.

Uxmal Merida archaeological sites in MexicoUxmal Merida archaeological sites in Mexico

Meagan Drillinger looks out at the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal (Meagan Drillinger)

Uxmal, Yucatan

If you’re exploring Merida, I suggest taking a day trip out to visit the Mayan site of Uxmal. Uxmal is rather impressive — it’s considered to be one of the most important sites in the Mayan empire. Its Pyramid of the Magician is a sight to behold, with rounded sides that make it one of the more unique Mayan pyramids in Mexico. It rises out of the thick, green jungle like a white-stone beacon. Visitors can spend hours wandering the complex and its many platforms, temples, and structures.

Maya City of Ek Balam. MexicoMaya City of Ek Balam. Mexico

Anton Klyudt via Getty Images

Ek Balam, Yucatan

While everyone else is making the journey to Chichen Itza, you’re taking a detour and heading off to Ek Balam. This Mayan city is just outside Valladolid, a town that sits between Cancun and Chichen Itza. Ek Balam was at its height between 700 and 1000 C.E., though the city was in operation for more than a millennium. The site to see here is El Torre, one of the largest Mayan ruins in Mexico that stands 100 feet tall, 500 feet long, and 200 feet wide. It is among the few structures in the Mayan world that visitors can still climb.

Arqueological Tajin, veracruz MexicoArqueological Tajin, veracruz Mexico

Ivan Malagon Fernandez via Getty Images

El Tajín, Veracruz

Perhaps one of the most awe-inspiring archaeological sites in Mexico, El Tajín is likewise one shrouded in mystery. No one knows the creators of this enigmatic site, but it’s thought that its roots can be traced back to the Totonac and Huastec peoples who were eventually conquered by the Aztecs. The main attraction here is The Pyramid of the Niches, a squat pyramid composed of six platforms. Each platform is pocked with niches (hence the name) and archaeologists believe it was used as a calendar.

Meagan Drillinger·Yahoo Creator

Meagan Drillinger has actually been traveling the world professionally since 2009. Originally from New York, her career has taken her to 6 continents, and she currently calls Mexico home. Her passion is helping to inspire people to see the world and to provide insight on how to enrich experiences while taking a trip properly.

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