7 best Mayan Ruins Tours From Cancun [2024]

You might want to add a touch of history to your stay in Mexico besides turquoise water and gourmet restaurants. Where should you go? How far are the ruins? What are the best Mayan ruins tours from Cancun?

During my 2-month stay in the Riviera Maya, I visited all the ruins in the area with local agencies to discover the experiences that are worth the effort.

This detailed guide about Mayan ruins will help you choose the historical sites you wish to visit and the pitfalls to avoid (because it is not evident to organize this type of excursion from Cancun).

👉 Don’t hesitate to read our Cancun guide to plan your vacation and not make any more mistakes. You will find all our articles about this destination.

Dream makers 😎

Who are we 👋

In 2 months, I’ve spent more than 10,000 USD to test the best activities in the Riviera Maya. Stay with me to quickly decide which experiences you should do and learn how to make the most of your trip.

Cancun Pyramids: My Map

Compare the best Mayan ruin tours from Cancun

There are many Mayan ruins tours to visit the archaeological sites of the Yucatan Peninsula; here are, in my opinion, the best ones.

A short description of each will help you get a good idea of what each offers.

1# Tulum Ruins + Snorkeling + Cenote (group tour)

Before the crowds of visitors arrive, this guided Tour will first take you to discover the archaeological site of the Ruins of Tulum, a significant heritage of the Mayan civilization. With your guide, you will walk among the ancient ruins of this Mayan walled city overlooking the Caribbean Sea as the morning sun rises over its cliffside pyramid.

You will then go swimming and snorkeling in turquoise waters among colorful fish, beautiful sponges, and purple gorgonians on the Tulum coral reef.

Finally, you will end this tour in the middle of the tropical jungle to enjoy a beautiful cenote cave at the XTun Cavernas site. Here you can relax, swim and snorkel in the crystal clear waters of the underground river and admire the stalactites and stalagmites.

If you want more privacy, a private tour option is also available.

✋For those who are a little short of time and want to get a good overview of the history of the Mayan Empire through its remains and sacred places while discovering the submarine life of the Yucatan peninsula.

  • Max Pers: 12 per van + 1 guide
  • Price: Approx. 119 USD/pers + 13 USD reserve fee.
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun between 6-7 am (7-8 am from Playa Del Carmen)
  • Which ruins: Tulum ruins
  • Historical interest: 3/5
  • Duration: 12 hours (including 6 hours driving)
  • What’s included: Transportation, snacks, drinks, snorkeling gear, life vest, and activities.
  • Difficulty: 2/5

2# Chichen Itza Sunrise and Cenote Ik Kil (private tour)

It will be dark and cool when the vehicle of this Private Tour drops you off at Chichen Itza, one of the most famous sites of Mayan civilization.

There, before the crowds of visitors and vendors, you’ll see the sun slowly shining on the impressive pyramid and casting your shadow on the huge stone blocks of the surrounding buildings.

After some very instructive explanations, your guide will let you wander among the many well-preserved ruins.

Still before the crowds arrive, you will then discover the photogenic Cenote Ik Kil. After a healthy breakfast, you will go down to this open cenote in the middle of luxuriant vegetation with lianas on the walls. You can swim in its cool waters, lighted by the morning sun.

This tour being private, you can add the visit to another high place of the Mayan culture, such as Coba or Ek Balam, or replace the step on Ik Kil with a more secluded cenote.

✋ For those who don’t mind getting up early to enjoy some of the highlights of the Riviera Maya, away from the crowds and in the cooler hours, and like to personalize their experiences.

  • Max Pers: Private
  • Price: 336 USD/pers if 2 pers
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun between 3 – 4 am.
  • Which ruins: Chichen Itza
  • Historical interest: 3.5/5
  • Duration: 11h (including 6 hours driving)
  • What’s included: Transportation, entrances, breakfast, water.
  • Difficulty: 1/5

3# Ek Balam and Cenote Maya (group tour)

This Tour will take you to Cenote Maya Park, where you can swim in the clear waters of a nice cenote cave with an imposing dome and enjoy its fun facilities, such as the zipline (extra fee).

You will attend a Mayan ceremony conducted by a shaman and enjoy a traditional buffet lunch.

Your guide will then take you to the site of the Mayan village of Ek Balam, a high place of Mayan rites in the heart of the forest of the Yucatan peninsula. You will be able to admire superb bas-reliefs well preserved and climb to the top of the Acropolis, a massive Maya edifice still allowed to be climbed.

Please note that taking pictures at Cenote Maya is forbidden unless you have a GoPro with a chest strap.

If you want to immortalize this magical place, you’ll have to buy the photos taken by the agency at an exorbitant price.

✋ For those who want to be initiated into Mayan history and culture with a small group while playing Indiana Jones in less-visited places

  • Max Pers: 12 + guide
  • Price: 143 USD/pers (adult)
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun at 7 am
  • Which ruins: Ek Balam
  • Historical interest: 2.5/5
  • Duration: 10h (including 5,5 hours driving)
  • What’s included: Transportation, entrances, Maya ceremony, traditional Buffet.
  • Difficulty: 2,5/5

4# Tulum & Coba (private tour)

This Private Guided Tour will take you to the ruins of the archaeological site of Tulum as soon as it opens to avoid crowds. As you walk through the ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea, your personal guide will share his knowledge of the history and culture of the Mayan civilization.

With your expert guide, you will then proceed to Coba, another fascinating site of the Mayan empire, where you can rent a bike or enjoy a rickshaw bike to visit the vast archaeological site hidden in the tropical forest.

You will then be free to close this half-day trip and go back to your hotel or ask your private van to drive you for lunch in a beach restaurant with the advice of your guide according to your culinary preferences.

If the beach does not tempt you, you can also ask for lunch in a restaurant near Coba’s site.

✋ For those who prefer the intimacy and comfort of a private tour with a knowledgeable and attentive guide who will tell them tons of Mayan civilization facts.

  • Max Pers: Private Tour
  • Price: 225 USD/pers
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun at 6 am
  • Which ruins: Tulum & Coba
  • Historical interest: 5/5
  • Duration: 11h (including 5,5 hours driving) with lunchtime
  • What’s included: All transportation (even if you choose to stop for lunch), entrances, professional guide, water, and snacks.
  • Difficulty: 3,5/5

5# TULUM & COBA in small group

This Tour is organized by a francophone agency in Playa del Carmen and prioritizes small groups with an expert guide who speaks the language of your choice exclusively.

To avoid crowds, you’ll be on the site of the Tulum ruins as soon as it opens in the morning light. You’ll explore the vestiges of this antique Mayan port built on the rocky littoral.

Then you’ll visit the archaeological site of Coba, which you’ll explore by bike.

After these cultural visits, you’ll enjoy the cool waters of a beautiful underground cenote, Choo-Ha, near Coba before having lunch in a traditional restaurant.

If you’re sensitive to equitable tourism, note that a part of the cost is returned to the Mayan community.

✋ For those who want to discover Mayan history and culture in a friendly and small group way while mixing famous and less-visited ruins.

  • Max Pers: Group from 6 pers (max 15)
  • Price: 156 USD/pers from Cancun – 128 USD/pers from Playa Del Carmen
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun at 6 am
  • Which ruins: Tulum & Coba
  • Historical interest: 4.5/5
  • Duration: 10h (including 5,5 hours driving)
  • What’s included: Transportation, entrances, water, snacks, lunch & drinks, bike to Coba, and photo report.
  • Difficulty: 2/5

6# Chichen Itza, Cenote, and Valladolid (affordable group tour)

This perfectly laid-out Tour will allow you to visit Chichen Itza, a great testimony of the empire Maya considered part of the seven wonders of the Modern World. 

In the middle of the crowd of visitors, you’ll be attentive to the well-documented explanations of your tour guide, who will draw your attention to El Castillo, the pyramid built in the central place.

You will then go to a pretty hacienda to discover the ancient ceremonial site of the beautiful chasm of Saamal. You will be able to enjoy a refreshing dip in the cool waters of this sacred cenote, open among the greenery and whose walls stream with lianas.

You will enjoy a buffet of traditional Mexican Caribbean dishes before heading to Valladolid and ending the tour with a quick visit to this charming colonial city.

Expect to have to run a bit during this very dense day trip.

✋ For travelers looking for a quick and easy overview of Mayan history, at an affordable price, over privacy and detail.

  • Max Pers: 24+
  • Price: 74 USD/pers if 2 pers + 35 USD Chichen Itza entrance
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun around 7 am
  • Which ruins: Chichen Itza
  • Historical interest: 2/5
  • Duration: 12h (including 7 hours driving)
  • What’s included: Transportation, cenote entrance, buffet lunch, guide explanation.
  • Difficulty: 1/5

7# Special Mayan Tours Cancun (multi-day trip, group tour)

This 5-day Tour will trace the history of the Mayan Empire through the most beautiful archaeological testimonies found in Mexico.

From the Tulum Mayan ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea to the world-famous site of Chichen Itza, this exploration-guided tour will take you to the vestiges of the Mayan Empire’s great cities. 

The temple with masks of Kohunlich, the zoomorphic figures of Chicanna, the archeological sites of Becan and Palenque, or the rounded pyramid of the romantic city of Uxmal, you won’t get bored.

You’ll also enjoy relaxing moments such as a swim in the cool waters of the gorgeous Misol-Ha waterfall or at your hotel in the evening.

Meals are not included, so feel free to ask the guides for some good addresses.

I advise you to be in great condition; you will walk a lot!

✋ For the Mayan aficionados who want to learn more about their history and enjoy listening to experienced and knowledgeable guides.

  • Max Pers: 10
  • Price: 875 USD/pers
  • Starting time: Leave Cancun on Monday morning
  • Historical interest: 5/5
  • Duration: 5 days (4 nights)
  • What’s included: Transportation, 4 hôtel nights, all entrances, exclusive bilingual tour guide, water on board
  • Difficulty: 2/5

Booking Guide: Pick the right Cancun pyramids tours

Chichen Itza - Mexico

To really enjoy your visit and depending on what you are looking for, here is what you need to know about each archaeological site.

Some good advice will also help you choose among the best Mayan ruins tours.

Which Mayan Ruin should you include in your itinerary? 

Each Mayan ruin site has its own character. Don’t hesitate to check out my Cancun itinerary guide to get some inspiration!

Tulum ruins: Easiest to visit

Tulum Ruins (3)

The Tulum ruins are the vestiges of an ancient Mayan fortified trade port that prospered between the 11th and 16th centuries.

Its position on an open esplanade on the edge of a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, facing the rising sun, adds a lot of charm to this easily accessible site. It takes about 1 hour to walk around.

Among the 4 main Mayan ruins archeological sites, it’s the easiest to visit.

If you add 30 minutes, you can go down to the beach below for a swim, except during the seaweed season (April to October).

The site has no shade, so you better take a hat or go early in the morning.

The place is also very crowded. Be there as soon as it opens or after 3.30 pm to hope for tranquility.

It’s forbidden to climb the ruins.

I advise you to buy your ticket at the entrance to avoid getting ripped off.

📍 Where: 128 km from Cancun.

Tours available from Cancun:

Chichen Itza: Most exciting history

Chichen itza (2)

At its peak in the 10th century, Chichen Itza was the most significant Mayan city on the Riviera Maya. Its commercial and religious influence reached as far as the Caribbean coast.

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the ancient city is also associated with the cult of the cenotes, where it’s said that human sacrifices took place.

It’s world-famous for its well-preserved 365-step pyramid, which still fascinates with its sunrise shadows, particularly spectacular during the spring and autumn equinoxes.

The area covers 10 km2, and it takes at least 3 hours to wander through the many buildings, including the Mayan great ball court. If you need a break, you can sit in the shade of the trees.

This archaeologically rich site is a magnet for crowds and street vendors.

To be able to visit without too many people, I advise you to come as soon as the site opens or to book a tour that will allow you to be alone at sunrise on this fabulous site classified among the new seven wonders of the World.

It’s forbidden to climb the ruins.

Being far from Cancun, getting to Chichen Itza requires a lot of transportation time.

📍 Where: 200 km from Cancún

Tours available from Cancun:

Ek Balam: The best view

Ek balam (1)

Smaller but older than Chichen Itza, Ek-Balam, “The Jaguar” in the Mayan language, was a politically and spiritually important city in the 8th century Maya Empire.

Excavations, which only really began at the end of the 20th century, are still far from having uncovered all the imposing remains of this still wild site hidden in the middle of a thick jungle, not far from the colonial city of Valladolid.

Unlike other archaeological sites, you can play the adventurer by climbing the ruins.

I advise you to be brave enough to climb the pyramid and admire the incredible view.

It takes about 1h30 to visit this site which is still preserved from the tourist crowd. You should be able to take some great photos of The Acropolis, a vast structure containing the tomb of a powerful man of the city and the beautifully decorated facades of many buildings.

After visiting the site, you can take a refreshing swim in the clear waters or enjoy the zipline at Cenote Xcanche.

📍 Where: 170 km from Cancún

Tours available from Cancun:

Coba: the funniest to visit

Coba Ruins (2)

The remains of many paved roads, “sacbéob” in the Yucatec language, connecting to Nohoch Mul pyramid in Coba, prove the importance of this Mayan city, which was densely inhabited at its peak.

Coba is the oldest historical city in the Cancun region. Located between two lagoons, its access was difficult for a long time.

Still, only a few buildings have been uncovered. Most of them don’t have any remarkable decoration details, but I enjoyed walking in the middle of imposing ruins invaded by trees.

I suggest you rent a bike to add some fun to your exploration, or if you are too lazy to ride the whole 6km circuit, take a tuk-tuk ride. Count on about 2 hours to see everything.

This site has “recently” been opened to the public and is not yet very popular, so enjoy it!

Since the pandemic, you can’t climb the pyramid anymore.

After the visit, I recommend you to go and have a swim at Cenote Choo Ha or Cenote Tamchaha, located only 10 minutes drive from the site entrance.

📍 Where: 136 km from Cancún

Tours available from Cancun:

Various stops in your pyramid tour

I suggest you avoid visiting several Mayan ruins on the same day. 

Visiting two sites in one day is really too much. You have less time to appreciate, the sun will knock you out, and you might be unable to concentrate on all the explanations.

Moreover, they are all far from Cancun. If you absolutely want to visit several archaeological sites, you better choose a hotel in Valladolid or Tulum. Or you can book a complete tour in 5 days (see tour #7 above).

Furthermore, if you are really interested in the ruins, avoid tours that include a stop in a Mayan village; it’s a bit of a tourist trap.

It can be nice to go and cool off in a cenote after a sunny visit in the middle of the ruins but choose a cenote that is really worth it, especially if you don’t plan to see any others. In this case, I recommend tour #1, taking you to the Xtun cavernous site.

Transportation time & time spent on the site

The sites are all more than 125 km from Cancun, so be ready to spend several hours on the road! I suggest you choose a comfortable and air-conditioned vehicle.

To get an idea, look at my map (at the beginning of this article):

  • Chichen Itza; middle of the Yucatan peninsula – west of Valladolid (200 km)
  • Tulum: south of Cancun on the coast (128 km)
  • Ek Balam: north of Valladolid – inside the peninsula (170 km)
  • Coba: southwest of Cancun – north of Tulum (136 km)

And in high season, there is a lot of traffic to get in and out of Cancun. Do you understand now why you must be patient in your car?

If you are passionate about Mayan history, take a bus that allows you to stay as long as you want on the site of your choice without depending on the timing imposed by a tour.

If you want to avoid the heat and the crowds, especially in Chichen Itza and Tulum, I advise you to be on-site as soon as it opens or before sunrise, as offered by tour #2 on Chichen Itza. Or tour #4 for Tulum.

To enjoy each site, plan on the following:

  • Chichen Itza: 3h
  • Tulum: 1h30
  • Ek Balam: 1h30
  • Coba: 2h

When visiting the Mayan ruins

The two main criteria to consider are the weather and the peak tourist periods.

Concerning the weather, be aware that it’s hot and humid between May and October, so wandering through the old stones can be tiring, especially at sites without shade, like Tulum’s ruins.

Mornings are cooler from December to March, but with a cardigan, you can easily bear this coolness. Moreover, you avoid the crowds by being at the opening, so take advantage of it!

Tourists are most numerous during the end-of-year celebrations (end of December to January), the holy week (many Mexicans), and spring break, when hordes of American students come to celebrate the end of their exams.

If you really want a mystical experience, it’s during the days around the spring and autumn equinox that Kukulcan, the snake god, goes down the 365 steps of the El Castillo pyramid at Chichen Itza.

What to wear for the Mayan Ruins

tour to Chichen Itza (3)

You will walk, and it will be hot, so take suitable and comfortable shoes, light clothes with long sleeves and trousers, a K-way in the wet season, and a water bottle.

Remember to bring your sunglasses, your hat or an umbrella.

Take repellent in the wet season.

In winter, especially in December and January, I advise you to take a sweater or a cardigan; the mornings are cooler (average 64°F – rarely down to 59°F).

Bring your binoculars if you own some. You’ll see the building’s details better.

The Mayan ruin sites charge an extra fee for GoPro’s.

The INAH, which manages museums and archaeological sites in Mexico, prohibits using drones over Mayan sites and professional cameras.

If your tour includes a stop at a cenote or if you visit the ruins of Tulum by the beach, take your swimsuit.

Visit the Mayan museum & El Rey first 

El Rey Archaeological Zone - Cancun (1)
El Rey

The history of the Mayan civilization is rather complex. I advise you to visit the Maya Museum and El Rey in the Cancun hotel zone before visiting the sites. You will learn a lot, and you will appreciate the visit to the archaeological sites even more. Moreover, it could inspire your choice among the Mayan ruins tours.

The Maya Museum has beautiful collections of Maya objects in the exhibition part and outside, a space of vestiges with an ancient pyramid. 

The explanations are instructive and well-written. I advise you to read them; it won’t take more than 1 or 2 hours.

The archaeological area of El Rey is small and easy to visit; it contains the most beautiful ruins of Cancun.

It’s better to go as soon as it opens (8 am) before the sun gets too hot. You should take a local guide who will give you exciting information and tell you many stories about Quintana Roo in about 45 minutes for a small fee.

Chichén Itzá Tours with Xcaret is bad

I recommend something other than the Xcaret tours to visit Chichen Itza. 

You keep running all day long, there are no less than 7 stops on the round-trip transportation, and the organization is not very good. Among the cenote’s visit, lunch in the restaurant, and the stop in Valladolid, you can only enjoy Chichen Itza for over an hour.

In short, you will be very disappointed if your objective in choosing this tour was to see the ruins of one of the most beautiful Mayan archaeological sites.

Q&A: Best Mayan ruins to visit from Cancun

Tulum Ruins (8)

Answers to your questions before planning your visit to the Mayan sites.

  1. What is the best Mayan ruin to visit?

    For me, the best Mayan ruin to visit is Ek Balam because it’s still not very popular and not crowded with visitors. 
    Furthermore, many buildings have lovely decorations, and you can climb the ruins. The view of the surrounding jungle is beautiful from the top of the pyramid.

  2. How much does it cost to go to the Mayan ruins in Cancun?

    The entrance price to visit the Mayan ruins in Cancun costs between 100 and 600 MXN.
    If you book a tour, it will cost you on average 100 USD/pers if it’s a group tour and 600 USD/2 pers if it’s a private tour.
    You can also get there by bus for an affordable price or rent a car.

  3. How far are the Mayan ruins from Cancun?

    The Mayan ruins are all far from Cancun. 
    Apart from El Rey in Cancun and El Meco in Puerto Juarez, the closest archaeological site is the Mayan ruins of Tulum, a 2-hour drive away.

  4. Are Mayan ruins worth it?

    It’s worth visiting the Mayan ruins to learn more about the history of this powerful civilization that marked the past of the Yucatan Peninsula and to admire the impressive vestiges.
    However, the crowds of visitors may spoil some of the fun. It’s up to you to choose the best time!

  5. Which is better to visit: Tulum or Chichen Itza?

    If I had to choose between visiting Tulum or Chichen Itza, I would select Itza Chichen because the site is more spectacular, and a touch of mystery hangs over the ruins.
    It’s vast, rich in well-preserved buildings, and you can find shade thanks to the trees.
    Of course, be there at the opening to avoid the crowd.

  6. Can you visit the Mayan ruins on your own?

    Yes, you can visit the Mayan ruins without taking a tour.
    You just need to rent a car or take a public bus to get there and buy an entrance ticket on-site.
    If you like listening to information while visiting, you can get a bilingual guide for a reasonable price.

  7. Can you do Chichen Itza and Tulum in one day?

    No, you shouldn’t visit Chichen Itza and Tulum on the same day if you stay in Cancun. Chichen Itza is in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula, 3 hours away, and Tulum is on the coast, 2 hours south of Cancun.
    It’s doable if you want to, but you won’t enjoy either site. Also, you won’t be able to be at the opening of the two world-famous sites, so you’ll have to deal with the big crowds.

  8. Where to stay if you want to see the Mayan ruins?

    Suppose you are a big fan of the Mayan civilization and want to visit as many archaeological sites as possible. In that case, I advise you to stay in Valladolid—the central point of the 4 main Mayan sites.

Bottom line

Cancun is not the ideal starting point to visit the ruins in Quintana Roo and Yucatan because you must travel many hours. To counterbalance this disadvantage, choose a tour that leaves early from Cancun. Be there at dawn to visit Chichen Itza or book a private tour to Tulum ruins and Coba on the same day. If your budget is smaller, these two tours (Chichen Itza & Tulum ruins) are also a solid option. 

INFORMATION: PLEASE NOTE THAT SOME LINKS ARE AFFILIATE S AND AT NO EXTRA COST TO YOU, I EARN A SMALL COMMISSION IF YOU MAKE A BOOKING. IT’S A NICE GESTURE TO THANK US FOR THE MANY HOURS WE DEDICATE TO TOMPLANMYTRIP 🙂

I have been traveling around Colombia and Mexico since 2015 to discover new experiences and help travelers make the right choices.

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