The Maya Archaeological Sites of Yucatán

In México there are over 53,000 known archaeological sites, though only 193 of those are open to the public. Of those, 17 can be found in Yucatán. Although none is more visited than Chichén Itzá, each of the sites you visit will show you a different side and a different vision of what the pre-Hispanic Mayan culture was, and will provide you with a completely unique experience.


  • All Yucatan archaeological zones are open every day, from 8 am to 4 pm.
  • On Sundays, entry is free for residents, showing the document that proves their residence (INE, passport, immigration form).
  • At Yucatán Today we never refer to archaeological sites as "ruins"; This seems to us to be a lack of respect for the reconstruction and restoration work that archaeologists carry out



The 17 archaeological sites in Yucatán

The National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) of Mexico has enabled 17 archaeological zones to be visited in the state of Yucatán. It is important to mention that, of them, some are temporarily closed to the public. The archaeological sites of Yucatán are:

  1. Acanceh (pronounced akankéj)
  2. Ake
  3. Balamcanché (temporarily closed)
  4. Chacmultún
  5. Chichén Itzá
  6. Dzibilchaltún
  7. Ek Balam
  8. Izamal
  9. Kabah
  10. Labna
  11. Loltún (temporarily closed)
  12. Mayapán (temporarily closed)
  13. Oxkintok (pronounced oshkintók)
  14. Sayil
  15. Uxmal (pronounced ushmál)
  16. Xcambó (pronounced shcambó)
  17. Xlapak

yramid and church at Plaza de las Tres Culturas (Three Cultures’ Square) in Acanceh, Yucatán.

Acanceh (pronounced akankéj)

The city of Acanceh brings together elements of three cultures in its square: pre-Hispanic, colonial and modern. Next to the church and the market you will find the “Pyramid of Acanceh” which stands out for its large masks located in the corners of the platform of just over a meter that you can access via its metal stairs, with a recovery fee.

A second place is “Palacio de los Estucos” which is currently closed to the public but you can see it from the street in the heart of the city. You can see the red hieroglyph fragments of human figures mixed with animals. It is believed that the entire building had representations and glyphs.

The third site is a very small one at the end of a city street and is an observatory.


Temple of the Columns in the village of Aké, a small archaeological site in Yucatán.


The archaeological site of Aké is located in the village of Aké. This Maya site may be small but it was actually geographically very important in its heyday, situated as it is between Mérida and Izamal (in fact, there was a sac bé all the way to Izamal from Aké). It is easy to spend an hour or so clambering up the monumental steps, exploring all around, and watching the birds of prey swoop around you. Get the kids to count the steps and then count the columns too – what do they find? While you’re up on top of the buildings, look around and see if you can figure out where the un-excavated sites lie.

If you’re visiting on a weekday, don’t forget to enquire about a tour of the henequén factory next door to Aké and admire the old English machinery in the disused and open section of the factory. We had an absolute blast exploring the disused sections and even following the small train track as far as it went. Small kids will feel like explorers here, just don’t forget the water and snacks or they’ll be dehydrated explorers!


Balamcanché (temporarily closed)

Just 6 km from Chichén Itzá is Balamcanché. Because it’s located inside a cave, there are no large constructions or pyramids at this site. Many remains and artifacts have been found in caves, caverns, and cenotes around the peninsula because they were considered entrances to the underworld and were very important for religious and ceremonial practices The two most important stops on the tour of the Balamcanché caves are the natural stone formations of the Jaguar’s Throne and the Sacred Ceiba.


Chacmultún, an archaeological site in Tekax, Yucatán


The Maya archaeological site of Chacmultún (chac = red / mul = mound / tun = stone) is one of the last sites along the well-known Puuc Route, featuring architectural details and constructions reminiscent of the type found at Uxmal, Kabah, and some of the other sites in the area. Its name comes from the abundant red limestone used in its construction; the color of the stone becomes even more evident when it is humid or wet.

The site is comprised of three main areas that are visitable, all perched on higher rocky ground surrounding a large, red-earth field that shows evidence of corn having been planted there from Maya times to present day. The most spectacular of the structures is called X’ethpool, a large structure or set of structures set upon the highest point of the site and which affords one an absolutely magnificent view of the surrounding area. The breeze at the top is a welcome relief after the rather warm hike across that red earth field and up the side of a small hill.


Chichén Itzá’s El Castillo (The Castle) and Kukulkán’s head

Chichén Itzá

The Mayan city of Chichén Itza was declared a World Heritage Site in 1988 and one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World in 2007. It is also the most famous archaeological site in Yucatán and the most restored by INAH. The symbol of Yucatán and one of the symbols of Mexico is the Castle, where Kukulkan descends every equinox. But there is also the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Eagles and the Jaguars, the Platform of Venus, the Temple of the Warriors, the Complex of a Thousand Columns, the Market, the Steam Bath, the Sacred Cenote, the Ossuary , the Observatory or Caracol, the Nuns Complex and The Church.

In 2023, Chichén Viejo opens its doors in a very controlled manner, a smaller but no less impressive space. You have access to both with the same ticket. Visit our article for details about Chichén Viejo.

Temple of the Seven Dolls at Dzibilchaltún, an archaeological site in Yucatán


Dzibilchaltún is the “place where there is writing on the stones,” referring to the many memorial stones found at the site. Dzibilchaltún is a great Maya city that is only 10 miles from Mérida.

Being so close to Mérida makes it great for a quick visit, but don’t underestimate it: it was one of the first Maya cities founded, and, in its heyday, one of the most populated in Mesoamerica. Its most famous structure is the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls), where an archaeo-astronomical phenomenon takes place: during the March and September equinoxes, you can watch the sun rise exactly aligned to the building’s main entrance. During those days you can enter the site before dawn. At night, the site offers a video mapping show.


Ek Balam, an archaeological site in Yucatán , pyramid Acrópolis, angels

Ek Balam

Ek Balam, which means black jaguar, was at the height of its importance as a city during the Late Classic period (600-900 AD). When the Mayas abandoned the site, it went under cover, literally, as the dense low-lying jungle of Yucatán engulfed it.

The Acropolis is the largest restored building, measuring 480 feet across, 180 feet wide and 96 feet tall. This palace has six levels where the governors and higher echelons of the city’s population lived. You can climb this imposing structure, and from the top you can see all the other structures at Ek Balam, as well as two large hills which are two unrestored buildings.


Ek Balam, located just north of Valladolid, is special in another sense: it is never overwhelmed with tourists. While it is quieter and more peaceful than Chichén Itzá, it is also not as fully excavated nor does it provide the same comfort facilities for the traveler.


Kinich Kakmo pyramid in Izamal


Izamal is known as the City of the Hills due to the coexistence of Maya sites with colonial constructions (such as the convent of San Antonio de Padua) and, of course, the life of modern México, has also given it the nickname City of the Three Cultures.

Izamal tells a story spanning over 2500 years of occupation. As a Maya city, it flourished during the Protoclassic period (150 – 250 AD) and experienced a decline in the early Postclassic period (1000 – 1200 AD), when Chichén Itzá gained more prominence. From its main square, four sacbés (pre-Hispanic causeways) extended in each cardinal direction; of these, only the ones connecting Izamal to the archaeological site of Aké (20 miles to the west) and Kantunil (13 miles to the south) still survive.

The pyramids that survive to this day are part of the city, and therefore, they’re free to visit, and open every day from 8 am to 5 pm. When it comes to archaeological sites in Izamal, everyone talks about Kinich Kakmó (and rightly so, as it is one of the largest in México). That’s why, this time, we decided to go a different way and tell you a bit about four pyramids recently opened to the public: Habuk, El Conejo, Itzamatul, and Chaltun Ha.


Masks of the rain god Chaac, Codz Poop glyphs, at the archaeological site of Kabah, Puuc Route.


Kabah is renowned as the second most significant archaeological site in the Puuc region, just after Uxmal. Moreover, it is soon to be home to the Puuc Archaeological Museum, expected to open at the end of this year. Your journey will begin at what is arguably one of the most impressive structures you can get up close to: the Codz Pop (Kots’ Poop, or rolled-up mat). This building’s façade is entirely covered in stone masks of the rain god, Chaac. As you stand before them (and at every stop on this route), don’t forget to remind yourself of a fascinating fact I mentioned earlier: all these carvings and constructions were created without using metal tools.

Your exploration will continue as you ascend to the top of the elevated temple and then descend once again. By this point, you’ll likely feel that Kabah is a remarkably comprehensive site, having witnessed many awe-inspiring features. But the wonders of Kabah extend across the road, where you’ll find the Great Pyramid and a monumental arch. Although more understated in decoration compared to the Arch at Labná, this one is significantly taller. This arch marks the city’s entrance at the end of the Sacbé (pre-Hispanic walkway) that connects Kabah to Uxmal, which is scheduled to be restored and open to the public, though no definitive date has been set.


Labná arch, archaeological site of the Puuc Route


Entering Labná, amidst the trees, you will come across a building where you can easily recognize the characteristics of the Puuc style: highly geometric, horizontally oriented, and richly ornamented. Right there, you can get a close up look at the Junquillos, which are stone cylinders reminiscent of the Bajareque (wooden sticks used in traditional Maya homes), as well as reliefs, mosaics, sculptures, and Chaac (rain god) masks.

From there, a small elevated Sacbé (walkway) will lead you to the most famous structure of this site: the Arch of Labná. Monumental and highly florid, it’s a perfect spot for taking photos, but make sure to get closer and examine it in detail: within the nooks and crannies of the reliefs, you can still see authentic remnants of the pre-Hispanic Maya paint with which it was adorned.



Loltún (temporarily closed)

Its name is derived from two Maya words, LOL (flower) and TUN (stone). Located in the hilly Puuc region, 110 km. southeast of Mérida, these are the largest caves on the peninsula. They are also the ones that are the most studied. Evidence has been found here of human contact going back 7,000 years. Mammoth, bison, feline and deer bones have been found in the caves, along with fresco paintings on the walls.

The cave has been made more accessible for visitors with lighting on its paths. Your two-hour tour of approximately 1000 meters will take you from cathedral-like underground spaces, to dry riverbeds, beautiful glittering stalagmites that look like frozen fountains, and much more. At the end of the tour is a majestic collapsed vault.



Pyramid and observatory at Mayapán, an archaeological site in Yucatán

Mayapán (temporarily closed)

Home to the so-called League of Mayapán, which incorporated the kingdoms of the Itzaes in Chichén Itzá, the Tutul Xiu of Uxmal, and the Cocomes of Mayapán, Mayapán flourished after Uxmal and Chichén Itzá were already in decline or abandoned. When visiting this important site, you will note a striking similarity between its construction and buildings and those of Chichén Itzá; this is no mere coincidence as the city was built by a group of Itzaes that had left Chichén Itzá.

As Mayapán is not on the Puuc Route (like Uxmal) and is more than two hours from Cancun (unlike Chichén Itzá) the site is not nearly as popular as those world-famous attractions; but it is easily accessible from Mérida. The magnificent buildings of Mayapán stand resolutely in absolute stillness, accompanied by only the sounds of birds overhead and in the trees, waiting for the intrepid explorers who wish to experience the solitude and magic of a great Maya city.



Oxkintok (pronouced oshkintók)

The oldest and most well known building of Oxkintok is the Tzat Tun Tzat, Mayan for labyrinth or place in which one may be lost. Built in three levels on top of each other, its interior forms a maze of long, narrow rooms, connected by small gates and narrow stairs. A grave found on the site included a jade mask and symbols of power and authority were painted on the floor, leading archaeologists to believe it was the burial place of a great lord. It has been speculated that it might have served as a mausoleum, or represented the three levels of the Mayan world-view, or may have been built as a man-made cave. It’s easy to get lost as you wander through the rooms, speculating on their original purpose.

Like all-important Mayan cities, Oxkintok had a ball court. A huge, fragmented ring with a hieroglyphic inscription was discovered during excavation. Near the ball court, a circular hole has been unearthed, and experts believe that it is an ancient steam bath used for the purification and cleansing of the ball game players and pregnant women.

Another item of archaeological interest is the Chultun. Cisterns of Oxkintok were used to collect rainwater. These bottle-shaped receptacles have immense capacities, ranging from 1500 to 25,000 liters.

Many of the artifacts found during digs at this site can be seen at the Museum of Anthropology in Mérida.


The Great Palace at Sayil, an archaeological site of the Puuc Route


Whether you’re coming from Xlapak or Kabah, Sayil will seem like an extreme change. After marveling at the fascinating stelae on display at the entrance of the site, you’ll feel that the path to the first structure seems longer than in other archaeological zones. But rest assured, the longish walk will be worth it, as you’ll be greeted by the impressive Palacio (Palace) or Gran Palacio. True to its name, this three-story structure with approximately 90 rooms will leave you in awe. Along its 85-meter façade, you’ll be able to admire different levels of preservation, which provide insight into its interior layout (though the rooms are not accessible). Don’t forget to peek at its backside; the partially hidden stone details, adorned by the jungle, make it look like something out of an adventure movie.

While the Palacio is Sayil’s most iconic view, it’s far from being the only remarkable feature. The site includes several other buildings, such as El Mirador (similar to the one in Labná), and the fascinating Templo de las Jambas (Temple of the Jambs), which appears to be partially buried, offering a close-up view of the intricate carvings decorating the door frames (jambs).


Uxmal archaeological site palace the fortune teller puuc route


Uxmal is an ancient Maya city which you should visit during your stay in Yucatán. Declared a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1996, it is only 78 km from Mérida, about a one-hour drive south on Highway 261, past the town of Muna. Its name comes from “Oxmal” which is Maya for “three times built” or “what is yet to come”.

The most impressive structure and the tallest at 100 feet is the House of the Magician which you will find just beyond the entrance. According to ancient legend, this pyramid was built by Itzamná in one night. It actually appears to have been built in five phases, and it was situated so that its western stairway faces the setting sun at summer solstice.

The Nunnery, another large building on the site, was named by the Spaniards as it reminded them of a European nunnery. It was probably used as a school for training healers, astrologers, shamans, and priests. The Governor’s Palace is an excellent example of stone mosaic work probably created by hundreds of masons and sculptors. It occupies five acres and contains many beautiful sculptures of the rain god Chaac, serpents and astrological symbols.

Don't miss the video mapping at night that tells the legend of the dwarf of Uxmal.


Xcambó archaeological site on the Yucatán coast


Xcambó is the only known archaeological site on the coast of the state of Yucatán. It is also considered one of the oldest, as it began to be inhabited in the Late Preclassic period (around the year zero of our calendar) and was inhabited until around 700 CE, when it began to decline, probably due to changes in trade routes. However, its fame was such that we now know that during the Postclassic period (starting in the 12th century and up until the Spanish conquest), pilgrims visited the site to deposit offerings.

Xcambó is a testament to the mastery the Maya had over their environment, as it was established by taking advantage of access to fresh water on an islet on the coast. We know that it went from being a small fishing village to an important commercial and salt port, which had contact with regions as far away as Veracruz, the Guatemalan Petén, and the Belize area. It came to control an extensive territory, as there are Sacbeob (ancient Maya paved roads) that connected it to nearby saltworks of Xtampú, Misnay, and Providencia, which depended on the city.

Another detail that archaeologists have been able to confirm is that Xcambó meets the characteristics of a commercial port, as a wide presence of non-local and prestigious products has been discovered. What is still not well established is the nature of its possible contacts with Izamal during the Early Classic period, as the site presents a clear architectural affiliation with that center.


Xlapak, a small archaeological site of the Puuc Route


Xlapak is the smallest site on the Puuc route, as well as the easiest to explore. Despite being populated more recently than other sites on the route (and for a shorter period), its structures are far less preserved, which gives you a clearer idea of the arduous and delicate restoration processes carried out on Maya constructions.

The Xlapak archaeological site is laid out as a 900-meter circuit connecting the structures that have been discovered. Since Xlapak is also one of the least visited sites in the area, the circuit doubles as a nature trail, where you can listen to and observe different types of animals and plants in a more unmanicured setting.