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Uxmal arch in Yucatan

Our Top 12 archaeological sites in Mexico

July 3, 2020

Mexico has a staggering 29,000 archaeological sites of which more than 150 are open to the public. Many of these sites are UNESCO World Heritage Sites and one of them is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. So what are our top 10 picks for ruins in wonderful Mexico? Actually, as hard as we tried, we simply couldn’t narrow it down. So here’s our top 12 archaeological sites in Mexico

1. Teotihuacan

A MUST. If you didn’t visit Teotihuacan on your Mexico City stopover, you have to stop over again! Teotihuacan is known as the place where men become gods. This site was an important city in terms of religion and politics in the pre-Columbian era. You will be truly amazed when you walk down the Calzada de los Muertos to the Great Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon. Our Travel Specialist Heather took the dawn hot air balloon ride over the ruins and highly recommends this awe-inspiring experience! 

2. Monte Alban

Monte Alban is a World Heritage Site, spectacularly situated on a mountain 400 metres above the Oaxaca Valley. It was the greatest of the Zapotec cities, and came to dominate the cultural, religious, and economic life of the region. And it is a triumph of engineering; the mountain top was leveled to allow for the creation of the ceremonial site. You will explore the Gran Plaza, the Ball Court, the Observatory, the Palace, and other beautiful structures.

Monte Alban, Oaxaca Mexico

Monte Alban, Oaxaca Mexico

3. Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza was voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is the best restored of Yucatan’s Mayan sites. The most iconic structure is the Pyramid of Kukulcan. And the height and striking geometric design of this pyramid dominates the whole site. Not to mention the Great Ball Court, which is the the largest and most impressive in Mesoamerica.  Yes, Chichen Itza is a site of superlatives! We recommend staying overnight near the ruins and exploring the site as soon as the gates open. This means you not only avoid the hordes of tourist who start to arrive from 11am. But you’ll also escape the brutal midday temperatures. 

                             

4. Uxmal

Uxmal is famous for its intricate decoration and stonework. And its architecture is some of the most majestic of all the ruins in Mexico! Here, you will find low, broad palaces set around courtyards. Climb to the top for stunning views out over the site and surrounding jungle. 

5. Tulum

Tulum is one of the most visited Maya sites on the Yucatan, thanks to its location along the popular Riviera Maya. This is the only coastal city built by the Maya and it has a commanding position, looking out over the Caribbean Sea. 

Tulum ruins Riviera Maya

6. Palenque

Palenque was one of the most powerful cities in the classical period. And it is home to the impressive Tomb of Pakal. Don’t miss the excellent reconstruction of the tomb at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. 

If you are travelling from San Cristobal de las Casas to Palenque, then you are in for a treat. From the temperate highlands to the humid lowlands, the State of Chiapas is one of the most diverse. 

Palenque ruins

7. Cholula

The great pyramid of Cholula was a major religious site and is the biggest base pyramid in the world. And just like so many pre-Columbian structures in the New World, Cholula was used as a foundation for a Catholic church, erected on top. Today the enormous hill, brightly painted church and Popocatepetl Volcano in the background make for dramatic snapshots! But that’s not all, there are more than 10km of tunnels which bisect the pyramid. These provide a fascinating glimpse into the building strategies employed in the ancient world. 

Cholula Pyramid with Church and Popocatepetl in the back

Cholula Pyramid with Church and Popocatepetl in the back

8. Cacaxtla

Located between Mexico City and Puebla, Cacaxtla is well regarded for its vibrantly colored murals painted in unmistakable Maya style. The most famous of these is the Battle Mural, depicting jaguar warriors locked in battle with bird warriors. 

Cacaxtla Mural in Tlaxcala Mexico

Cacaxtla Mural in Tlaxcala Mexico

9. El Tajin

Depite being one of the largest and most important cities of the Classic Era El Tajin is normally overlooked by foreign tourists. What’s more, the style of the pyramids is very different to the ones you find in the Yucatan Peninsula. So this is a great site to include to provide some contrast to the more popular ruins such as Chichen Itza or Teotihuacan. 

Pyramid in Tajin, Veracruz Mexico

Pyramid in Tajin, Veracruz Mexico

10. Bonampak

Bonampak is considered one of the most beautiful ruins in Mexico. And the carving and murals you will find here are incredibly well preserved. What’s more, Yaxchilan ruins are found nearby and you can visit both sites in one day. Both sites are set deep in the Lacandon Jungle. So you can not only discover Mexico’s ancient past, but also enjoy its rich biodiversity of flora and fauna. 

Contours Travel Bonampak murals

Contours Travel Bonampak murals

11. Calakmul

Yet another Maya city tucked away in the steamy jungles of the Yucatan Peninsula! Why not ask our Travel Specialists to design a self-drive itinerary? So you can get off the beaten track and visit these remote ruins! And while you’re there, why not spend a few nights at the nearby jungle lodge? In this way you can discover the region’s wildlife, as well as its fascinating history. 

Calakmul ruins

Calakmul ruins in Campeche

12. Tula

Tula was the Toltec capital and one of the major urban centres of Central Mexico. We love this site for the famous Atlantes of Tula. These are striking 4.6m basalt stone sculptures, which represent high-ranking Toltec warriors.

Tula pyramids Mexico

Tula pyramids Mexico

As you can see, there is a lot on offer for lovers of history and archaeology! Of course, we know that most people will only want to include a few ruins in Mexico! So talk to our Travel Specialists about the best recommendations for you!