Five Impressive Mayan Archeological Sites in the Riviera Maya
By Betsua Salazar
Translated by Nyima Bieber
The Riviera Maya is one of Mexico’s most impressive destinations. In addition to its white sands, deep blue sea and warm weather, it has intriguing archaeological sites that you simply can’t pass up if you’re in the area.
Read on to learn more about five must-see Mayan cities in the Riviera Maya. Incorporate one or more into your next trip and you’ll really get to see a different side of this tropical wonderland.
This is perhaps the most famous site on the Yucatan peninsula. Exploring Chichén Itzá’s seven square kilometers, you can appreciate in detail the evolution of the Mayan culture. In the middle of this cultural center is the pyramid of Kukulkan; during the spring equinox one can see the mythical feathered serpent descending the stairs. The area also has a Sacred Cenote where the ancient Mayans offered human sacrifices, and many vendors selling colorful souvenirs.
Tulum is the Riviera Maya’s famous fortress on the edge of the sea. It makes for a perfect day trip; you can tour the ruins, take photos from El Castillo (the largest structure) and then take a dip in the Caribbean. Here you can really appreciate the deep turquoise of the water and feel the warm sea breeze.
Cobá is one of the largest cities of the ancient Mayan civilization. Built around two lagoons, its name in Spanish means water stirred by the wind. Cobá has several high temple, the highest of which is the Ixmoja pyramid located in a group of structures called the Nohoch Mul. It soars 138 feet into the sky.
Although this site’s territory does not exceed a square kilometer, the magic and mysticism of Balamkú cannot be denied. Its highlight is an archaeological feat known as the frieze of the universe, in which the Mayans depicted the order of the universe using figures of snakes and jaguars.
Venturing into the jungle is one of the most picturesque Mayan cities of all: Uxmal. This site’s pyramids are characterized by their pink limestone construction. The largest on the site is the Pyramid of the Magician, considered one of a kind due to its oval shape.
Some of these sites are more accessible than others in terms of distance and the effort required to see them. When you arrive in the Riviera Maya, ask around to determine the best one to visit and examine your transportation options- there are plenty of ways to go about it.
You can opt for a guided tour, take public transport or even rent a car for maximum freedom. To visit any Mayan ruins we recommend going early in the morning to beat the heat. Be sure to wear comfortable hiking clothes and shoes, layer on the sun block and come prepared with plenty of drinking water.
A glimpse of these ancient Mayan cities is a unique cultural interlude and great way to round your experience in the Riviera Maya.