Exploring the ancient cities in Mexico can be like stepping back in time through a myriad of cultures and civilisations. Though many of the most famous ancient cities of Mexico date back to the Maya period, there are in fact archaeological sites and ancient ruins which trace their routes to a number of other societies, including the Aztecs, Totonac, Zapotec and Mixtecs.
Indeed, some of the historical cities in Mexico remain as yet a mystery as to who originally built them and the enigmatic nature of these strange cities makes them all the more enjoyable to explore.
For visitors today, some of Mexico’s ancient cities remain in staggeringly good condition while others give a mere hint of their former grandeur. The range of archaeological sites in Mexico also helps to cater for all kinds of traveller – the more famous ancient cities in Mexico are now well set up for the general tourist, while the more hidden historical cities of Mexico require grit and determination to explore.
You can explore our Mexico ancient cities map or browse the list of Mexico’s historic cities below. Click on each ancient city for more information.
An ancient Aztec city near Toluca, Calixtlahuaca was originally home to the Matlatzinca people and is one of the lesser known Mexican ancient cities.
Calixtlahuaca near Toluca in Mexico is a well-preserved Aztec archaeological site which was once a thriving city originally home to the Matlatzinca people – the people of the Toluca Valley. The Calixtlahuaca site has a series of fascinating and impressive structures, not least of which are its vast pyramid-like temples.... Read More
Home to a number of impressive pyramid temples, Chacchoben is an historical city of the Maya in Mexico.
Chacchoben is a Maya site in Mexico housing some impressive pyramid temples. The exact history of Chacchoben is unclear. Most sources date its pyramids to around 700AD (some say 300AD), although the Mayas are said to have been present at Chacchoben long before this, perhaps as early as 200BC. ... Read More
Probably the most famous of all ancient cities in Mexico, Chichen Itza is an amazing archaeological site built by the Mayas and the Toltecs.
Stunningly well-preserved and imposingly beautiful, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most impressive historical sites. A UNESCO World Heritage site based in the forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is actually made up of two cities built by two peoples, the Mayas and the Toltecs. The site is made up of... Read More
One of the biggest archaeological sites on the Mexico ancient cities list, Cobá is a Maya city in the Quintana Roo region.
Cobá in Quintana Roo in Mexico houses the remains of a once vast city that developed in around 632 AD and peaked between 800 and 1100 AD. Whilst it is thought that Cobá originally spanned a massive 60 square kilometres, the current archaeological site has yet to uncover all its... Read More
One of the lesser known historical cities of Mexico, Dzibilchaltun is an archaeological site containing the remains of a Maya settlement.
Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan, Mexico is one of the earliest of the series of Maya settlements along the Puuc Route - a trail of the Maya sites in the Puuc region in Yucatan. Thought to have been inhabited from around 500 BC, Dzibilchaltun – which is translated as “the site of stone... Read More
A must for any list of Mexico’s ancient cities and boasting a number of impressive Maya temples and other buildings, Ek Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula. The amazing central pyramid rises to almost 100 ft.
Ek Balam or Ek’ Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins. Translated either as Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar, Ek Balam is surrounded by a low, stone wall, an unusual feature in Mayan cities. Within this area are several restored pyramids and large temples... Read More
A very impressive historic site, El Tajin was a city of the Totonac people and is one of several of the ancient cities in Mexico to be UNESCO listed.
El Tajin in the state of Veracruz in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which originally formed the capital city of the Totonac state. In fact, the name “Tajin” refers to the Totonac deity of thunder, lighting and rain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open... Read More
A smaller but nonetheless interesting entry on the list of ancient cities in Mexico, the Mayan ruins of Kabah are located in Yucatan.
Kabah was a Maya settlement and is now an archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan state. Inhabited from the third century BC and, like nearby Uxmal, abandoned in circa 1200 AD, Kabah was mostly constructed from the seventh century and added to in the ninth century. It is thought that Kabah was... Read More
Part of the Puuc Trail, which includes a number of ancient cities in the Yucatan region, Labna is a Maya archaeological site which includes the remains of a beautifully ornate palace.
Labna is one of a series of former Maya settlements in Mexico’s Yucatan region and part of what is known as the Puuc Trail. Like the city of Uxmal, with which it is linked, Labna’s structures, such as its palace and its archway, are beautifully ornate. However, unlike its counterpart, Labna... Read More
The ruins of this ancient Zapotec and Mixtec city are dotted around the modern town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla in Oaxaca.
Mitla was a Zapotec and later a Mixtec settlement in what is now the modern town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla in Oaxaca in Mexico. Thought to have first been inhabited by the Zapotecs in around 600 BC, Mitla evolved into an important ceremonial centre. It was later taken... Read More
Carved out of a mountain at an elevation of over 1,600 ft., Monte Alban is a seriously impressive and popular ancient city and Mexican tourist destination which is UNESCO listed.
Monte Alban in Oaxaca in Mexico is an impressive ancient site created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it. Monte Alban was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession... Read More
In the heart of the jungle and containing some fascinating sites, the Maya settlement of Palenque ranks amongst the most impressive historic cities in Mexico.
Palenque in Mexico is an important Maya archaeological site located just outside the modern city by the same name. It is thought that Palenque was first inhabited in around 100BC and excavations have uncovered writings about a king who ruled there in the fifth century AD, however the city was... Read More
Perhaps dating back as far as 800BC, the remains of Cuicuilco are amongst the oldest of any ancient city in Mexico and include the looming circular Piramide de Cuicuilco.
Cuicuilco is an ancient archeological site and museum next to Mexico City’s Lake Texcoco which includes the striking Piramide de Cuicuilco. Dating back to the Mesoamerican era perhaps as far as 800 BC, Cuicuilco is thought to be one of Mexico’s oldest sites. At its peak, Cuicuilco is believed to... Read More
Quieter than the larger sites in the area such as Uxmal, Sayil contains the remains of a small Maya city built in the Puuc style.
Sayil in Yucatan in Mexico is a small archaeological site of Maya ruins built in the traditional Puuc style. Quieter than the larger sites in the area such as Uxmal, Sayil offers a good place to see Maya structures such as its impressive palace and El Mirador temple, although there is... Read More
One of the most famous ancient cities of Mexico, Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century. Largely engulfed by modern Mexico City, a few remains of this renowned city can still be seen.
Tenochtitlan in Mexico was established on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325 AD as the capital city of the Aztecs and, in its final and most prosperous days, was ruled by Motecuhzoma II, also known as Montezuma. At its peak, Tenochtitlan was a thriving and imposing city with around 200,000... Read More
One of the most striking and imposing ancient cities in Mexico, Teotihuacan is characterised by looming stepped pyramids, some rising as much as 75m high.
Teotihuacan was a holy Mesoamerican city built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico and forms one of the country’s oldest archeological sites. Whilst the founders of Teotihuacan have never been definitively identified, it is thought that the city was inhabited by the Toltecs and was also an... Read More
Once a thriving walled city, Tulum is a cliff-top Maya archaeological site in the Quintana Roo region which looms above picturesque beaches and the clear blue coastal waters of Mexico.
Tulum is a Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region dating back to between the 13th and 16th centuries. At its peak, Tulum was quite a thriving walled city. Whilst relatively modest in comparison to, say Chichen Itza, Tulum does feature some interesting and quite well preserved ruins, including its castle,... Read More
Definitely ranking among the very best historical cities of Mexico, Uxmal was a Maya city in Yucatan which is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Uxmal is an archaeological site in Mexico which houses the ruins of a Maya town thought to have been inhabited as early as 800BC. Having said this, most of the buildings and structures seen at Uxmal today were constructed in between around 700AD to 1000AD. A thriving city and a religious... Read More
Said to have been of great ceremonial importance, the remains of the Maya city of Xcaret are part of a larger eco and amusement park in the Quintana Roo region of Mexico.
Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries. Located in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region, Xcaret was then known as Ppole and is said to have been of great ceremonial importance, as evidenced by its wealth of temples, homes and monuments.... Read More
One of the more hidden of Mexico’s ancient cities, Xlapak is a small archaeological site in Yucatan.
Xlapak is one of the smaller of the archaeological sites along the Puuc Trail in the Yucatan State in Mexico, a trail of Maya sites in the hilly part of this otherwise flat state. The main structure at Xlapak is a small palace which is adorned with carvings of the rain... Read More
Listed by UNESCO for its well-preserved ruins, Xochicalco ranks among the most important pre-Columbian cities of Mexico.
Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico, listed by UNESCO for its well-preserved ruins dating from an important period in Mesoamerican history. At Xochicalco’s peak between 650AD and 900AD - during the Epiclassic period - the Mesoamerican world was in great flux, with places like Tikal, Teotihuacan and... Read More
Often overlooked by tourists, the historic city of Yagul was a fortified Zapotec settlement the ruins of which are located in Oaxaca.
Yagul is an archaeological site in Mexico’s Oaxaca region inhabited by the Pre-Columbian civilisation of the Zapotecs, although the exact time of their first occupation of this area is unknown (sometime between 500 and 100 BC). Yagul was still in use at the time of the Spanish Conquest. Somewhat dwarfed by... Read More