There’s so much beauty in the world both manmade and made naturally by Mother Earth herself. And some of the most visited destinations are to ancient landmarks that connect us with the past. Mexico is known for its ancient ruins, and on our trip to the Yucatán Peninsula we got to see some of the most well preserved in the area! Including one that’s off the breathtaking Caribbean coast, one that’s climbable, and another one that has recently become one of the New 7 Wonders of the World!
📍Carretera Federal, Cancun – Chetumal Km 230, 307, 77780 Tulum, Q.R., Mexico
Hours: 8am – 4:30pm| Daily
Entrance Fee: 70 pesos |$3-4 USD
Guided tour: 600 pesos | $30 USD
If you plan on visiting Tulum, the Tulum Ruins are very easy to get to! The Tulum Ruins are ancient ruins that sit right on the Caribbean coastline of Mexico, overlooking the turquoise sea. To get to the ruins we rode bikes that we rented from our hotel, Zendero Tulum, which is right in the town of Tulum!
To read more about Zendero Tulum, a chic boutique hotel, read here!
From the designated bike path, we headed in toward the main parking lot that reads “Tulum Magico”, which is where you’ll most likely enter if you’re on a tour bus or have a car. The best way to find the entrance is to look for the colorful TULUM sign, which also makes for an awesome photo op!
Before you get to the ruins you’ll walk through the marketplace which has a bunch of shops and bars. That’s where we were able to park our bikes for free, and walk to the ruins from there.
Below is the entrance where you can buy tickets, which were 70 pesos to get in. We decided to walk around first and for some odd reason, we were able to stumble upon the Tulum Ruins without going past security. We accidentally snuck in! Whoops.😳 But honestly, no one was checking for tickets. (We’re obviously not advising anyone to sneak in, we’re still confused about how we got in lol.)
The pathway towards the ruins are gorgeous! And keep your eyes pealed because there’s wildlife all over! We saw these adorable Mexican Coatis, which are apart of the raccoon family but they climb trees like little monkeys! We also saw some really cool looking iguanas, birds, and more!
The Tulum Ruins were one of the few enclosed cities built by the Mayans, and the only city built on a coast! Each city had a specific purpose, and Tulum was a seaport for trading goods. The city flourished between the 13 and 15th centuries. It’s crazy to think that this entire ancient city was created so many years ago and still stands to be visited by tourists today!
The most prominent and well-preserved structure is called El Castillo or The Castle, perched right on the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Caribbean sea! While walking around ruins, you can almost imagine a village of people that once brought life to this place during the ancient times.
This ruin is so well preserved with amazing cliffside views of the coast! And this is where you’ll most likely see some sun-bathing iguanas!🦎☀️
There’s also stairs to get down to the beach, so don’t forget to pack your bathing suit! 👙
Tips For Visiting:
Make Sure You Have Pesos! They only accept Mexican pesos for the entrance fee, no other forms of currency. So make sure to bring some pesos!
Skip the Tours. Skip the guided tours and excursions to go explore on your own! Unless of course, you want to learn about the history.
Go Early! The Tulum Ruins are a very popular tourist attraction so the earlier you go the better.
Bring Extra Pesos. If you plan on bringing a camera or a GoPro you will have to pay an additional photography fee of 45 pesos or $2-3 usd upon entering.
Bring Water. Tulum is a tropical destination, so chances are that it will be very hot and humid when you go. We highly recommend you stock up on water before exploring for the day!
Don’t Forget Your Bathing Suit! These ruins are right on the beach, so after your done exploring, head down the stairs and go for a swim!
Bring a Lock. If you’re riding a bike to the ruins make sure you have a bike lock to lock it up while you’re out exploring!
📍Carretera Federal Tulum 307, 77793 Cobá, Q.R., Mexico
Hours: 8am – 5pm|Daily
Entrance Fee: 70 pesos |$3-4 USD
Guided Tour: 300-700 pesos
From Tulum, Coba is about a 40 minute drive and is home to the largest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula! During our drive, we passed through colorful villages and local communities which was really cool to see Mexico outside of the resort areas!
Once we arrived to Coba, they have a big parking lot that you can park in where we had to pay a small parking fee. The area is filled with little shops and a couple of restaurants to eat at right outside the gate. We did grab food to-go on our way out just for a quick bite to eat before our next destination. The restaurant is convenient and nice looking from the outside but the food was pretty flavorless in our opinion.
The Coba ruins are set between two lagoons, Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc. Which you can actually book to go ziplining over for an all-day adventure!
Below is where you’ll get your tickets, the entrance fee is 70 pesos or $3-4 usd. And they have plenty of tour guides that speak multiple languages to give you the history and secrets of the Coba Ruins, if you’d prefer to take a guided tour!
They also have the option to visit after hours 4:30pm – 7:00pm for 240 pesos/$12-13 usd. Where you can see the sunset over the panoramic view of the Mayan jungle from atop of the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula!
These roads are call sacbes in the Mayan language, which translate to white roads. They were paved with limestone to reflect the moonlight. There’s over 50 that have been discovered in this area which gives you a sense of how big this ancient village really is! Currently, there’s only 16 of the roads that are able to be walked by the public.
This structure is called Templo de la Iglesia meaning “Temple of the Church”. This is the second tallest structure in Coba and is where the Mayans most likely had ceremonies. It’s also the first pyramid you’ll encounter from the entrance but there’s many along the main road.
Those little hoops on the side of buildings are actually a part of a ball court, where the village once would bounce a rubber ball through the hoop for a fun game. The rule is, you can only use your hips and legs, kind of like ancient soccer!
This pyramid, Xaibe, meaning crossroads was used as the lookout tower. The sacbe (roads) lead off into four directions where the guards would go around to watch all sides of the tower. It was blocked off so we weren’t able to get as close to it as the other ruins.
Along the long walk to the main pyramid, there are little huts that have cold water and they also have pedicabs you can hop on, or you can rent a bike! From the front entrance to the main pyramid it’s about 3k or 1.8 miles. We decided to walk but after realizing how far it is (and the fact that we didn’t have proper walking shoes on) we think bikes would be the best way to explore Coba and see all the ruins in the area.
The largest pyramid at Coba is called Ixmoja, which is a part of the Nohoch Mul group of buildings and was the heart of the city. This pyramid is 140 feet tall, (40 ft taller than the main pyramid at Chichén Itzá) therefore it is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. And it’s also the only Mayan ruins that you can still climb today!
There are a 120 steps, and it’s actually so much steeper than it looks. Going down is harder than going up! There’s a strong rope in the middle to help since some of the steps can be pretty slippery.
The views at the top were incredible, it was like a green blanket of treetops that went on forever! Unlike the other ruins that are more developed for tourism, Coba has remained untouched. Since it’s in the middle of the jungle with nothing nearby, it gives the perspective of what the ancient Mayans saw a lifetime ago!
Tips For Visiting:
Get There Early. Try to arrive before 8:30am if you want to avoid the buses full of tourists!
Take a Pedicab. If you’re limited on time and are looking to just see the main attraction than we recommend taking a pedicab! Coba is a huge site! From the entrance to the main pyramid is a long walk, about 1.8 miles away. They do have bicycles for rent too.
Bring comfortable shoes. Again don’t be like us lol, and wear comfortable shoes! We recommend wearing sneakers or whatever you would wear if you were going hiking for the day. Also, don’t bring a ton of stuff or a big purse if you plan on climbing the ruins as there is nowhere to put it (unless you have a friend to watch it while you climb). And since the pyramid is pretty steep, carrying a bag could weigh you down and isn’t the smartest idea.
Don’t forget sunscreen! Mexico is super hot and the sun is even stronger on the top of the pyramid! So be prepared and make sure to bring some sunscreen.
📍Yucatan, Mexico (Chichén Itzá should pop up as a destination in your GPS)
Hours: 8am – 4:30pm|Daily
Entrance Fee: 254 pesos |$13-14 USD
Guided Tour: available
Chichén Itzá is the most famous and iconic of the Mayan ruins! It became one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2009! There is a bit of a line to get in and parking costs about 30 pesos but the parking lot is really big and secure. The Military Police were there for added security. For foreigners like us this was pretty crazy to see because you don’t see that in America, but the policemen were welcoming and were happy to smile for a photo! Since Chichén Itzá is a very popular attraction, it’s good to know that safety is taken seriously for visitors!
The entrance fee to see the ruins was 254 pesos or 168 pesos if you are a Mexican citizen. You also get free admission on Sundays (with valid ID) if you’re a Mexican resident!
From the main entrance it’s a really short walk to the main pyramid. Along the way theres many vendors selling things like t-shirts and magnets, even wooden sculptures and figurines! In our opinion, it does kind of take away from the experience of visiting an ancient ruin because it is so overly touristy.
By the time we arrived it was close to closing time, so we basically got to watch the sunset there!😍 The main pyramid in Chichén Itzá is also called the Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo and is 98 feet tall! Before 2006 visitors were able to climb up and visit the temple at the top, but it was closed down due to a tragic accident and to further preserve the pyramid from damage since its seeing more and more visitors everyday. There are 91 steps on each side, making it a total of 365 to symbolize the days of the year. The people of this pre-hispanic city were very intelligent and used the pyramid as an astronomical instrument!
We weren’t able to walk around as much as we wanted to at Chichén Itzá because we got there too late, but they have plenty of other beautiful ancient structures that were main buildings for the village.
There are also two sacred cenotes at Chichén Itzá which you can visit but can’t swim in. However, there are cenotes nearby like Cenote Ik Kil or Cenote Suytun, which would be the perfect addition to your day!
Since the area has become more accommodating to tourists, there are many shops and restaurants to stop in. The Oxtun is their main resturant, and is a typical Mexican restaurant that reminded us of some back home in the states. It’s pretty average but it’s convenient if you aren’t able to explore the towns nearby. Of course we hd to grab some guac for our drive back home! 😋
There’s also a fun photo op with people dressed up as ancient Mayan civilians near the entrance/exit!
Both Chichén Itzá and the Coba Ruins are a bit of a drive from Tulum. But if you have a car its pretty much a straight shot on the highway, and it’s very easy to do both in one day! Check out our blog post here for more about renting a car in Tulum and getting to Chichén Itzá and the Coba Ruins!
Tips For Visiting:
Plan it out. Chichén Itzá, being one of the new seven wonders of the world is one of the most popular tourist attractions so it gets super busy. The best times to go are as soon as they open and late afternoon 3pm-close!
Explore more. This goes along with the tip above, we didn’t plan our trip perfectly and we got to Chichén Itzá with just enough time to take a few pictures with the main pyramid and that’s about it. We wish we had more time to explore the site because there’s so much more to see than El Castillo! So if you plan on visiting Chichén Itzá, give yourself enough time to explore the grounds properly so you don’t regret it like us!
Be prepared. Unlike Coba, there is no jungle and shaded areas on the site. Chichén Itzá is very open and therefore will most likely be super hot and sunny. So be prepared with lots or water, sunscreen, and maybe a hat!
Don’t arrive too close to closing time. Don’t be like us and get there right before closing lol! Even though Chichén Itzá closes at 4:30pm they stop letting people in at 4:00pm.
Don’t go on Sunday. As we mentioned above, Mexican citizens get in for free on Sundays. So be sure to plan for a different day to go if you want to avoid the crowds!
Brace yourself. As soon as you pass through the gates at Chichén Itzá you’ll walk through a long isle of people trying to sell you everything and anything from t-shirts to magnets and wooden carvings. So brace yourself for people shouting at you and aggressively trying to sell you things. We gave in a purchased a few souvenirs but we got to use our haggling skills!
The ruins are an amazing way to experience the beauty of Mexico! Most of the structures have been taken care of so well, you can almost imagine what civilization back then was like. It’s very unique to Mexico and is a great way to learn about the cultural history. It really is worth including in your plans! There are nearly 200 Maya sites that are open to visit and we can’t wait to come back and explore more!
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**Check out our Ultimate Girls’ Guide to Tulum in our blog post here!