Mayan Ruins in Mexico

The Maya civilization is an important component of Mesoamerican civilization. Not only were the Maya people brilliant enough to develop a hieroglyphic script, but they were creative enough to come up with great inventions in mathematics, art and astronomy. Of particular importance, however, are their architectural innovations. These gave rise to magnificent cities by the standards of that era.

A typical Mayan city would have a palace, a pyramid temple and a ball court. They also improvised causeways to connect different parts of the city. Since they valued astronomy, they also incorporated a few structures that enabled them to study it. The city is known to extend beyond the areas of administration, to various residential areas.

Today the cities exist as ruins. They span some parts in Mexico and extend all over Central America to regions like Guatemala and Belize. Below is a group of Mayan Ruins in Mexico that you should visit.


© Joaquín Martínez - Becan

It is located in the Yucatan peninsula. Becan grew to prominence in the pre-classic era. Its time of abandonment is estimated to be around 1200 BC. At its peak, it was a center for ceremonies and events. It has monumental structures that include an outside stairway as well as several ditches. Researchers think the ditches increased as the town's population continued to grow.


© Daniel Mennerich - Calakmul

Calakmul is in Campeche, Mexico. It is a UNESCO world heritage site and one of the larger Maya cities. The site arose in the mid-classic period and had inhabitants until the post-classic era. It was a major rival of Tikal and the two cities fought supremacy battles, which were won by each side at least once. Eventually, both of them fell during the Maya collapse.

Chichen Itza

© David Stanley - Chichen Itza

This is one of the greatest Mayan dynasties ever founded. Chichen Itza is in the Tinum municipality in Yucatan peninsula. It is a very large establishment with magnificent structures. Notable structures include the Temple of a Thousand Warriors and two open cenotes where residents obtained drinking water and the El Castillo.

Chichen Itza began to exist around 700 AD and rose to prominence in the Late Classic Period to become an important political, cultural and commercial hub. Hunac Ceel, a ruler of Mayapan conquered the city, bringing its regional dominance to an end.


© David R. Hixson - Chunchucmil

This large Mayan heritage site is in Yucatan near another site, Oxkintok. It had very tall pyramids a courtyard, sacbeobs, altars and residential houses. The time of establishment and abandonment is not known.


© Jaysmark - Coba

Coba sits between two lagoons in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. It had numerous causeways and sacbeobs that connect central areas of the city to other areas on the periphery and also to other neighboring cities. Coba came up in 50 BC. At the peak of its civilization, Coba had close to fifty thousand residents. It wielded a lot of power in the peninsula, controlling major trading routes like ports and also controlling sources of water.

The rise of powerful states like Chichen Itza saw the decline of Coba until it became politically and culturally insignificant. When the Spanish invaded the area, the residents of Coba abandoned their city. Apart from sacbeobs, there are huge temple pyramids that stand out.


© Arian Zwegers - Dzibilchaltun

The ruins of Dzibilchaltun are also in Yucatan, Mexico. Its most important feature is the Temple of Seven Dolls. It connects to other areas of the city via a traditional road known as a sacbe. It also has a cenote, a region believed to be the source of drinking water for the residents. The exact time of establishment and abandonment is not known.


Mayan Hieroglyphs

© Paul Huber - Mayan Hieroglyphs



© Richard Weil - Mayapan

This is another Mayan state in Yucatan, Mexico. Mayapan is large, with the number of structures spanning about four thousand in number. It is estimated that it had close to seventeen thousand people living in within in its heyday. It was largely considered as the capital of all the Mayan states in the Yucatan Peninsula in the post-classic era.

A city wall surrounds the ruin. The wall encloses what is believed to be residences of the Maya people. Other architectural features of this site are temples, halls, shrines, sanctuaries as well as platforms.

The exact time of establishment of this city is not known. However, it is known that after the fall of Chichen Itza, Kukulcan called all the Lords of Yucatan and compelled them to come up with a new city, which would be the capital. The Lords agreed, and Mayapan was born. A council ruled the city although the overall head was a member of the prominent Cocom family.

The temple of Kukulcan is the most prominent structure in Mayapan. When a member of another prominent family, the Xiu family, organized a revolt against the Cocom family in 1441, Mayapan's glory days came to an end.


© Adamcastforth - Oxkintok

Located in the Yucatan State in Mexico, Oxkintok is a neighbor of other prominent Mayan ruins like Uxmal and Maxcanu.

The site is known mainly for the Satunsat, an area of the city preserved for throwing those who had committed grave offenses. It could be that it was also used also for initiation and for performing religious rituals.

So far, the exact time of establishment or abandonment of this city is unknown. Some researchers, however, believe that the site was abandoned in 1500 BC, because this is when pottery was last made.

Archeologists have managed to excavate temples, carvings as well as the Satunsat. They have also unearthed a ball court, staircases as well as stelae. It will be interesting to know what other architectural pieces were in the town when they complete the excavation.


© Carlos Adampol Galindo - Palenque

These Mayan ruins are on the banks of Usumacinta River in the State of Chiapas in Mexico. It already existed by the year 226 BC. By the seventh century, Palenque was a force to be reckoned with in the Usumacinta River area. When the dynasty ended at around 799 AD, much of the city was overgrown by jungle plant and foliage.

Researchers estimate that only 10% of the town has been reclaimed so far, and much of it still exists buried in the jungle. Hieroglyphic writings on the city's structures suggest that Palenque fought in many wars with neighboring Mayan states like Calakmul and Tonina.

Palenque's fine architecture and carvings stand out among the Mayan ruins. Some of the finest structures in the area include the Temple of Inscriptions, the Palace, with its famous observational tower that has four floors, and the Temple of Cross Groups.


© Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar - Tulum

Tulum is off the coast of the Caribbean Sea in the region of Quintana Roo in Mexico. It was already in existence in the 13th century. During the Spanish invasion, Tulum managed to thrive for a span of seventy years. It had forts that enabled the city to defend itself against attackers. Due to its proximity to the sea, it was a significant trade route, and this allowed the city to become a major commercial center.

Tulum's notable structures include the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending god and El Castillo. Its structures typically have steps around the lower part of the building, two small windows, and altars on the back wall as well as narrow doorways that have columns for support.


© Esparta Palma - Uxmal

Uxmal is also in Yucatan, Mexico. Its history dates back to 500 AD, when the Xiu family established the settlement. This family ruled it for many generations. Uxmal was a great ally of another Mayan dynasty, Chichen Itza. When Chichen Itza fell to Mayapan kingdom, and the Xiu family relocated to set up a new capital in Mani, while the Uxmal population dwindled rapidly, bringing the kingdom to its knees.

The architecture of this dynasty is prominent because of its buildings of huge size, low walls, and ornate friezes. They were also very beautifully designed. Traditional roads connect areas within the city and the city to other Mayan ruins. The most notable building in Uxmal is the Governor's Palace and the Adivino Pyramid. Some of the greatest Mayan stories written have their setting in Uxmal. An example is the ‘el enano del Uxmal' (the Dwarf of Uxmal).


© Waywuwei - Yaxchilan

Yaxchilan is in the Ocosingo municipality, Chiapas, Mexico on the banks of Usumacinta River. The ruins are impressive, consisting of a large plaza surrounded by palaces and temples.

The main architectural feature that differentiates Yaxchilan from other ruins is the sculptured stone lintels found on the main doorways. These lintels contain writing on the dynastical victories of the kingdom, averaging about one hundred and twenty inscriptions. There is also a huge number of monolithic carved stelae.

Yaxchilan's history dates back to the pre-classic era. The city grew during the rule of Itzamnaaj Balam II from a small town to a large city. The Yaxchilan dynasty came to an end in the 9th century having fought and won many wars with the neighboring kingdoms. The Piedras Negras kingdom, located in the same region, was its arch nemesis. Other rival kingdoms were Tikal and Palenque kingdoms.

Facts about the Mayan Ruins in Mexico

  • They have complex architecture like temples, pyramids, El Castillo and palaces.
  • They were established in the classic era and ended in the post-classic era.
  • Yucatan peninsula has some the ruins.
  • They are hugely artistic with a large number of sculptures, stelae, and carvings.
  • They have interesting Hieroglyphic writing.
  • The Mayan ruins have many religious artifacts.