Whether you call them Mayan ruins or Maya sites (apparently Mayan means the language, Maya refers to the civilisation), the ruins left behind by the Maya people are some of the most spectacular around. From ball courts to stepped pyramids, temples to stelae, Mayan sites have plenty to offer both the history fan and the sightseer.
So if you’re looking to explore Maya archaeological sites and Mayan ruins and want to find the best places to view Maya history then you can explore our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.
There’s a great selection of Maya sites and Mayan ruins and you can plan some fantastic things to see on your trips. Once you’ve explored the list and selected those places you wish to visit you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook. This indispensible holiday guide will help you make the most of your time exploring Mayan sites.
Our database of Mayan historic places is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. Remember, if you know of other Maya sites, remains or ruins, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.
With its incredible pyramids and well preserved buildings, this is amongst the most famous Mayan sites in the world. In fact, Chichen Itza is a World Heritage site. Begun by the Maya possibly as early as the 6th century AD, it was captured by the Toltecs in the 10th century and incorporates influences from both peoples.
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 several surviving buildings including a circular observatory known as El Caracol, the Warriors’ Temple and El Castillo. Accounts vary as to the date of the first settlement at Chichen Itza, placing it between the 6th and 9th century AD when the Mayas built the original city including “The Building of the Nuns” and a church.
Chichen Itza was conquered by the Toltec King of Tula in the 10th century AD, accounting for the fusion in Maya and Toltec influences.
Chichen Itza also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
One of the most impressive of Mayan ruins, Palenque is full of architectural marvels such as its palace, the Temple of the Inscriptions, the Temple of the Sun and its carefully engineering central plaza. It also has some of the best-preserved of Maya inscriptions.
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 attacked several times by the inhabitants of neighbouring cities.
Pakal the Great
It was from the seventh century AD that Palenque began to develop once more under the rule of Pakal the Great (sometimes spelt “Pacal”). During his reign between 615 and 683 AD, Pakal built many of Palenque’s most impressive structures and they are often considered to be some of the most important pieces of Maya architecture. Pakal’s works were continued by his son, Kan B’alam.
Abandonment of Palenque
In approximately 711 AD, Palenque was attacked once more and, by 900 AD it was deserted. Having been discovered in the sixteenth century, Palenque is now a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small, but interesting museum, exhibiting finds from the excavation of Palenque and giving an overview of its history.
Some of the most fascinating sites in Palenque include Pakal’s tomb, known as the Temple of the Inscriptions or “Templo de las Inscripciones”, the Palace (El Palacio) and several other temples, such as the Temple of the Sun (Los Templo del Sol) and the Temple of the Cross (Los Templo de la Cruz). Many of these temples centre off Palenque’s central plaza, a marvel in its own right as it was built over the river, requiring advanced engineering mechanisms.
Each of the structures in Palenque is ornate and lavishly decorated, bearing inscriptions chronicling the history of the city, which was probably the capital of the region. In fact, Palenque has the honour of having one of the best Maya inscriptions ever found, located in the Temple of the Inscriptions and telling the story of Palenque.
Palenque features as one of our Top Ten Mexican Tourist Attractions.
A great religious, political and social centre of its time, Tikal is now one of the best preserved Mayan archaeological sites around the globe, with approximately 3,000 structures dating mostly from 600 BC to 900 AD. These include some fantastic pyramids - watch out for the great acoustics from the top to the bottom of these magnificent structures.
Tikal National Park near Flores in Guatemala houses one of the world’s most famous and impressive Maya sites, known as Tikal. In fact, Tikal was a major ceremonial site in the Maya culture, with many temples and pyramids built there between 300 BC and 100BC and then further expansion taking place from 600 AD to 800 AD.
In addition to its ceremonial significance, Tikal was a thriving settlement, a political hub and almost certainly the capital of its region. Tikal has been linked with the Maya city of Teotihuacan in modern Mexico, with which it is believed that it interacted.
Today, visitors to Tikal are greeted with a wealth of well-preserved monuments, palaces, structures and temples. This UNESCO World Heritage site actually has a staggering 3,000 or so ancient structures mostly dating back to between 600 BC and 900 AD, six of which are fully uncovered. Amongst these are five magnificent pyramids, some of them being crowned with temples and the largest one being an impressive 213 feet tall.
Note the sacrificial altars, such as that at the Temple of the Masks, and also try out the acoustics, which were designed so that people could be heard from the tops of the temples down to the bottom of the pyramids.
Main image by Hector Garcia (cc).
When it comes to Mayan sites or Mayan ruins, it doesn't get much better than Uxmal. Populated by around 25,000 people at its peak and with great significance as a religious centre, Uxmal is an incredible site which demonstrates the sophistication of the Maya. Not only are its vast pyramids beautifully engineered, it is also carefully laid out to confirm with principles of astronomy and is full of stunning decorative carvings. Like other Mayan sites of this calibre, Uxmal is 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 centre with great ceremonial significance, at its peak Uxmal had a population of around 25,000 people. Uxmal was abandoned in 1200AD and then inhabited by the Yiu, who would later join the Mayapan League with Chichen Itza.
The layout of the town of Uxmal is one of its most interesting aspects, having been carefully aligned to fit with concepts of astronomy, offering an insight into the beliefs and culture of the Mayas who lived there. Uxmal was also quite advanced in its use of hydraulic systems to gather water up to the hill or “Puuc” on which it was set. Like other ancient cities in Mexico, Uxmal has a series of ceremonial pyramids the most celebrated of which is the Pyramid of the Soothsayer.
Translated as ‘Pyramide el Adivino’ and sometimes known as the “House of the Magician”, the Pyramid of the Soothsayer is an impressive 100-foot high monument dating back to the Late Classic Period. It is flanked by several temples, which were built over time, although legend has it that this pyramid took just one night to complete. Sadly, the pyramid cannot be climbed by tourists.
Beyond this well-known monument, Uxmal has several other impressive structures. The Governor's Palace (Palacio del Gobernador) is one such example, it being completely symmetrical and ornately decorated with depictions of astronomy symbols as well as of the rain god, Chaac. This is near the Casa de las Tortugas or “The House of the Tortoises” which is a simple yet pretty building.
Also at Uxmal is the Quadrangle of the Nuns, also called The Nunnery or “Cuadrangulo de las Monjas” which is comprised of four stone buildings neatly surrounding a courtyard and, like the Governor's Palace, is resplendent with religious artwork. Built at a similar time to the Nunnery and like the one in the city of El Tajin, Uxmal has a ball court, where its citizens would have participated in games.
Uxmal is now a UNESCO World Heritage site and also has a small museum. Organised tours from Merida can last a whole day and include sites such as Kabah. Audio guides are available in several languages for an added fee.
Uxmal features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
Probably underrated in the world of Maya ruins, Yaxha in in Guatemala’s Peten region has quite a few pyramids and other Maya archaeological sites to see.
Yaxha in Guatemala’s Peten region is an ancient Maya site containing several incredible pyramids as well as other structures such as ball courts and also carved stelae.
From its vast size – it’s not much smaller than Tikal – and its many monuments, it appears that Yaxha was an important settlement for the Maya people, although little is known about its origins.
Main image by Walter Rodriguez (cc).
Once one of two thriving Maya capitals, Aguateca is now one of Guatemala’s most famous Mayan sites. It would have been a political and social hub before it was wiped out in approximately 800AD, although there are still some stepped plazas and ruins to see here.
Aguateca is an important and well-excavated ancient Maya ceremonial site in Guatemala’s Peten Region.
Thought to have been one of the two capitals of the Maya Dynasty in the region – together with Dos Pilas – from around 700 AD, Aguateca was a vital stronghold, especially given its elevated position. In fact, in the eighth century, Dos Pilas was abandoned and its people sheltered at Aguateca.
When found, many of the structures at Aguateca had been burnt down and it is believed that the city was abandoned in approximately 800 AD, probably following an enemy attack.
Also known as “El Seibal”, Ceibal is believed to have been inhabited from the preclassic to the late classic period and then possibly once again at a later date. While not one of the richer Maya sites in terms of its quantity of Mayan ruins, it is quite a large site and does boast a circular temple, some stelae, other buildings and even a ball court.
Ceibal or “El Seibal” in El Peten in Guatemala was an ancient Maya settlement probably mostly constructed and inhabited in the Preclassic Period and which is now represented by a set of ruins. Most archaeologists think it was abandoned in the late classic period and then inhabited again at a later date.
Amongst the things to see at Ceibal are a ball court, several stelae (carved stones) which are renowned for being dated fairly late for the Maya civilisation and a few remaining structures such as an impressive round temple. It is quite a large site, although it has comparatively fewer attractions than others in the area.
Within reach of the tourist hotspot of the Costa Maya, Chacchoben is one of Mexico’s more popular Mayan sites and features several pyramid temples.
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.
Chacchoben is quite a popular tourist site, with several tour companies operating here.
One of the Mayan sites near Cancun, Coba has a range of Maya ruins including a ball court and several pyramid temples, one of which is an impressive 138 metres tall, making it the second tallest in the region and is known as the “Great Pyramid”.
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 remains. What can be viewed is spread into four sections, named Grupo Cobá, Chumuc Mul, Macanxoc and Nohoch Mul.
Grupo Cobá contains a large holy pyramid called the Temple of the Church, translated as “La Iglesia”. Nearby, along a worn path is a playing field used to play ball games, signposted as “juego de pelota”.
The most impressive site at Cobá is its Great Pyramid, also known as the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Rising to a height of 138 feet, the Great Pyramid is the second tallest of all Maya pyramids in the region after Estructura II at Calakmul. Climbing the steep stairs of this pyramid can be daunting, but the views are great.
Once an important ancient Maya city of great ceremonial significance, today Copan is UNESCO-listed and is brimming with Mayan places including homes, terraces and, of course, pyramids. Many of these Mayan ruins are ornately decorated with carvings.
Copan (spelt Copán), near the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a major Maya settlement which was probably the most influential city in the south eastern area occupied by this civilisation.
Copan is thought to have been inhabited as early as 2000 BC, despite the fact that there is sparse evidence to this effect. It was certainly at its peak between 300 AD and 900 AD.
In the eighth century AD, Copan experienced a significant military defeat when its leader was beheaded by the rulers of the city of Quirigua in what is now Guatemala. It was abandoned in the tenth century, probably due to the land becoming unsuitable for crop growing.
The cultural, social and ceremonial significance of Copan has been confirmed by UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site in 1980. Amongst other things, UNESCO cites the fact that Copan was the site of great advances in astronomy and mathematics.
Today, visitors to Copan can see its many incredible structures, which also rank highly amongst the reasons for its UNESCO status. Containing five main plazas, an acropolis, numerous temples, terraces, pyramids and dwellings, one cannot fail to be impressed by Copan. Incredible glyphs adorn its staircases, structures, temples and altars, with depictions of animals and human faces.
There is a nearby sculpture museum which explores the Maya culture and artwork.
This former Maya capital sheltered the people of Aguateca when they fled their city to escape enemy attack. While some Mayan ruins can still be seen here, notably some temples, a central plaza and a well-preserved staircase, this is not one of the more famous Mayan sites.
Dos Pilas in northern Guatemala was an ancient capital city of the Maya civilisation. Twinned with nearby Aguateca, its powerful dynasty is thought to have derived from that of Tikal and to have thrived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. However, it was famously abandoned in the late eighth century amidst savage warfare and its important citizens are believed to have fled to Aguateca.
Today, Dos Pilas contains a reasonable set of ruins including a staircase which has carvings chronicling important historical events of the time, several pyramids, temples and a central plaza.
One of the Mayan cities along the Puuc route, Dzibilchaltun was once a vast, thriving settlement. Whilst it is now a shadow of its former self, this site does have some interesting sites to see. Its star attraction is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, a building which is perfectly aligned for the equinox.
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 writing” - is not as big as its counterpart, Uxmal, but does house several interesting buildings. In fact, in its heyday, Dzibilchaltun may have been vast and have even rivalled Uxmal in terms of its size, although comparatively little is left now.
One of the main sites at Dzibilchaltun is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. This holy building is also known as the Temple of the Sun, as it is perfectly located for viewing the equinox – this was almost certainly purposefully achieved by design and demonstrates the advanced nature of the Maya understanding of astronomy.
One great aspect which Dzibilchaltun has and which other Maya sites do not is its natural pool or “Cenote”. Excavations of this pool have uncovered many archaeological finds, but today it is most well-known for being a popular swimming venue.
Ek Balam is a Maya archaeological site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins.
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 as well as a ball court.
Ek Balam also features five sacbe, white roads or causeways, leading from the central area. El Torre, the tower, is one of the largest of Mayan buildings. The site’s vast main pyramid rises to a height of almost 100 feet, making it a remarkable example of Maya engineering.
The Guatemala National Archaeology and Etymology Museum has a comprehensive Maya exhibit and an extensive collection of Maya artefacts from a variety of Mayan archaeological sites.
The Guatemala National Archaeology and Etymology Museum or “Museo Nacional de Etnología y Arqueología” in Guatemala City is dedicated to exploring the country’s history, particularly that of the Maya civilisation.
The National Archaeology and Etymology Museum has an impressive Maya collection ranging from dioramas of ancient cities to pottery, masks and jewellery – especially in the signature Maya stone of jade – using these artefacts and pieces to chronicle the Maya culture from the Pre-Classic period to the Classic and Post-Classic.
A fascinating way to learn about Maya culture, the only real downside of the museum is its lack of English information boards.
Located in Mexico’s Yucatan State, Kabah is one of the smaller of Mayan sites, but has links with one of the biggest - Uxmal.
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 linked to the site of Uxmal – indeed the two are connected by a road - and, whilst it does not boast the grandeur of this larger settlement, Kabah’s ruins are interesting in their own right.
One of Kabah’s most impressive sites is its Temple of the Masks, so called for its many depictions of the rain g-d, Chaac, who is also a central figure in Uxmal. Note that it is best to ask before considering climbing any of the monuments as many of the sites may not be walked on.
Labna is a Maya archeological site in Yucatan State in Mexico containing a small set of Mayan ruins, Labna’s remains are modest but ornately carved.
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 is quite small and most people visit it as part as an overall tour of the sites in the area.
Merida Cathedral in Mexico is the oldest one on the continent and was built on the site of the former Maya city of Tiho.
Merida Cathedral, known locally as Catedral de San Ildefonso, in Mexico is a sixteenth century cathedral built by Spanish colonialists.
In fact, constructed from 1556 to 1598, Merida Cathedral was the first such cathedral to be built in the inland Americas.
Not only was Merida Cathedral built on the site of the former Maya city of Tiho, it was also constructed from the stones of Maya pyramids.
The Mexico National Museum of Anthropology is one of the world’s best renowned museums of pre-Hispanic history.
The Mexico National Museum of Anthropology is a world renowned museum with a large array of archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions, mostly relating to the pre-Hispanic era.
The Museum of Anthropology takes visitors through Mexico’s historic cultures, including the Toltecs, the Maya and the Aztecs.
Some of the National Museum of Anthropology’s most famous exhibits include the jade mask of Zapotec Bat God and the Piedra del Sol or Aztec sun stone excavated from Zocalo. It also holds original pieces found in Chichen Itza.
The museum is quite large and too much to take in during the course of a single visit, but it is well organized, allowing history enthusiasts to explore it according to eras. Guided tours also offer a great way to explore the museum and are offered in Spanish, English and French, Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 to 17:30.
Museo Popol Vuh in Guateala City has an extensive collection of ancient, particularly Maya, pieces.
Museo Popol Vuh is a museum of history and archaeology in Guatemala City, particularly concentrating on the Pre-Columbian era in Guatemala.
It has an extensive collection of art from this era, especially Maya art such as sculptures. Museo Popol Vuh is famed for its funerary objects, particularly urns.
Museo Popol Vuh has pieces from around the country, the oldest being a clovis projection point dating back to 9000 BC. Beyond the ancient world, Museo Popol Vuh has a colonial section and a twentieth century exhibit.
This Honduran museum specialises in Maya history and has finds from the nearby site of Copan.
Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya translated (Regional Archaeological Maya Museum) in Copan Ruinas explores the history of the Maya civilisation and particularly looks at the nearby settlement of Copan.
Exhibiting finds from the archaeological excavations of Copan, such as stelae, jade, pottery and even a tomb, Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya offers a good insight into the Maya culture and is fascinating to see, particularly in the context of also visiting Copan.
Quirigua Archaeological Park is a former Maya settlement and is now a small, yet important UNESCO listed site in Guatemala. Quirigua is best known for its ornately decorated stelae.
Quirigua Archaeological Park in Izabel, Guatemala is an historic site housing the remains of a Maya settlement.
Whilst thought to have been inhabited from 200 AD, most of the structures at Quirigua date back to the mid-sixth century AD and include numerous carved stone objects and structures, such as an acropolis and a pyramid temple, centred on three main plazas.
Quirigua was an initially relatively small city and certainly smaller than its counterpart Copan in what is now Honduras. However, in the eighth century the ruler of Quirigua, Cauac Sky (723–784 AD) was determined to be independent and achieved this when he captured the leader of Copan. Quirigua was thereby autonomous and the capital of its state and, with plentiful resources such as obsidian and jade, was a prosperous society.
One aspect for which Quirigua is famed is for its collection of stelae, each elaborately carved and one of which, at 36 feet high, is the tallest one of its kind in the world (although only two thirds of it protrudes above ground). Quirigua’s artwork also includes a series of pictures of human-animal hybrids known as “zoomorphs”.
The city was abandoned in around the tenth century, although the reason for this remains a mystery.
Quirigua Archaeological Park is smaller and arguably less flashy or tourist-appropriate than sites such as Copan or Tikal, but it is of great historical importance. In 1981, Quirigua achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.
Sayil in Mexico houses the ruins of a small Maya settlement built in the Puuc style. This is amongst the quieter Mayan sites, but does have a pretty palace and temple.
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 less to see here than at some of the more famous sites.
The Brüning Museum has a varied set of exhibits from Peru's history, focusing primarily on the pre-Incas.
The Brüning Museum (Museo Arqueológico Nacional Brüning) in Lambayeque, is an archaeological museum with a varied set of exhibits from Peruvian history, but focusing primarily on the pre-Incas. One of the highlights is known as the Gold Room or Sala de Oro.
Tulum is a cliff-top Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region. With its well-preserved ruins perched on a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the once walled city of Tulum is certainly one of the more picturesque Mayan sites.
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, city walls and temples. One of the highlights at Tulum is its Temple of the Frescoes, with some original frescoes inside it. However, the real beauty of Tulum is its shimmering beachside location.
Tulum features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.
Xcaret has a range of Mayan archaeological ruins, dating mostly to the 15th and 16th centuries when this ceremonial centre reached its peak.
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.
The Xcaret ruins are actually part of a much larger eco and amusement park, with a range of activities.
Xlapak is a small archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan region, along the Puuc trail.
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 god, Chaac.