Five Mayan sites to visit near Cancún
Cancún is located on the north-easterly shore of the Yucatán Peninsula, overlooking the enticing Caribbean Sea. A popular destination for cheap holidays to Mexico, Cancún’s tourist zone is built on a coral island with extensive white beaches, warm seas, a tropical climate and thriving night life.
Before European settlers arrived in Central America, the whole Yucatán Peninsula was home to the renowned Mayan civilisation that built and mysteriously left behind some stunning ruins and monuments. Some of the best sites are located in and around Cancún, and there are more that are being excavated in the jungle.
If you’re keen to visit this beautiful and historically fascinating destination this winter, compare cheap holidays to Mexico with Holiday Hypermarket. These are some of the best tourist sites open to visitors in Cancún:
Las Ruinas del Rey (El Rey)
Located right in the hotel zone of Cancún, the ‘Ruins of the King’ – so named for the sculpted head excavated there – is the easiest of the many Mayan sites to visit. There are 47 ancient stone structures at El Rey, dating from the 10th to 16th centuries, being the ruins of a fishing and trading port.
Located just 35 miles south of Cancún, Xcaret is an archaeological site with a difference. As well as having Mayan ruins, the site is also an ecological reserve where you can explore an underground river and learn about the local wildlife and Mayan culture.
A little further south on the Mayan Riviera (81 miles from Cancún) lies Tulum, a small but magnificently located cliff-top site dating back to around 1200 A.D. One of its highlights is the Temple of the Frescoes, which still has original frescoes inside, showing religious scenes and Mayan gods.
Heading inland about 95 miles from Cancún will bring you to the large and well preserved site at Cobá. This huge Mayan city covered 60 square miles, and was served by dozens of roads to surrounding settlements. Believed to have been occupied from the 2nd to 11th century, Cobá was an important site for the Maya. The ruins include the magnificent Nahoch Mul pyramid, the tallest in the area, which offers a rewarding viewpoint across the jungle for anyone who braves its 120 steps.
Widely regarded as the quintessential Mayan site, Chichén Itzá lies surrounded by jungles 120 miles west of Cancún. Adopted as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988, this is a top-class monument to a lost civilisation.
Its most famous structure is the serpent-topped pyramid, so designed that the shadows from the setting sun on the equinoxes resemble the serpent-god Kukulkan descending from heaven. Other temples include the Temple of a Thousand Warriors, a large step pyramid surrounded by a thousand stone columns carved with images of ancient warriors, and the Caracol observatory temple. Mayan life wasn’t all worship though, as there are also huge playing courts for ball games and a number of ornate residences for powerful individuals.
Most Mayan sites are in hot and humid locations, so wear light, natural fabrics to protect against the sun, and carry sun screen and some drinking water. Stout, comfortable shoes are a must for all the walking. Remember to bring your camera!