At the westernmost end of the Caribbean, Cancun stands as a very popular exotic attraction. It is mostly known for its luxury hotels, paradise beaches, and of course, ancient ruins. The city, seaside resorts, and beautiful beaches have helped tourism grow in Cancun. However, you shouldn’t be deceived if you’re the exploring type. Quintana Roo has the richest history of all Mexican states, sprinkled with countless ruins and temples that tell the story of great ancient Western civilizations – the Maya. While Northern and Central Mexico were inhabited by the Aztec, and Central America by the Inca, the Yucatan peninsula is covered by the traces of the best astronomers of old, making the entrance into the Mayan world. With this in mind, we’ve uncovered the 8 best ruins near Cancun you should visit on your next trip.

1. Tulum

The town of Tulum became popular because of the Mayan ruins in its proximity. They are the best-preserved ruins near Cancun. On arrival, expect to see stunning exotic scenery and it’s even better at sunrise. The city thrived due to its position near the sea. Besides the picturesque views, you can go down the beach after the visit for a swim in the Caribbean Riviera. It is best to go in the morning before it gets crowded. If you like souvenirs, the nearby kiosks have some very exquisite pieces of art but be prepared to negotiate.

  • Opening hours: 8am- 5pm
  • Entry Fees: $4; free on Sundays
  • Address: Yucatan Peninsula, 110 minutes from Cancun

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2. El Rey

Located right at the heart of the hotel area, El Rey is another abandoned Mayan city. It is on the Kukulkan boulevard which crosses the strip of land around the Nichupte lagoon. The ruins consist of 47 structures including a temple and a burial site. While the entombed figure is unknown, the murals will let you delve back into the ancient community and give you a better idea of their society. Though the name of the site, meaning The King, comes from its presumed royal importance. Tours stop here regularly and it’s a great stop for families with young kids.

  • Opening hours: 8am- 5pm
  • Entry Fees: $4; free on Sundays
  • Address: Cancun Hotel Zone, 30 minutes from Cancun

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3. San Gervasio

Situated on the lush island of Cozumel, the ruins of San Gervasio hide a particularly long history of Mayan ruins. What makes San Gervasio unique is the intact preservation due to the lack of restoration on the site. You’ll also see the local iguana population along with the jungle surroundings. This gives the area a very authentic atmosphere similar to the old Maya society.

  • Opening hours: Daily 9am-5pm
  • Entry Fees: $9.50; free for children under 10 yrs
  • Address: San Miguel de Cozumel, Quintana Roo, Mexico; 2 hours 40 minutes from Cancun

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4. Coba

This architectural site is home to the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan Peninsula. The site is rich in exotic vegetation, colorful birds, and scurrying iguanas. While hiking the pyramid ruin is the main attraction, there are plenty of other smaller structures around the area. You can explore the site on foot or on rented bikes.

  • Opening hours: Daily 8am-5:30pm
  • Entry Fees: $4
  • Address: 45 minutes North West of Tulum, 2 hours from Cancun

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5. Ek Balam

The newest discovered ruins in Yucatan, Ek Balam (“black jaguar”) is located near Valladolid. Its architectural style makes this site truly different from the rest. The main buildings are located in the South and Central Plazas. You’ll see the ruins as you head down the sacbes (limestone roads). These roads are similar in design as in Coba, matching the directions of the cardinal points.

  • Opening hours: Daily 8am-5pm
  • Entry Fees: $4
  • Address: Ekbalam, Yucatan, Mexico; 2 hours from Cancun

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6. Uxmal

Uxmal was another important Mayan city, housing more than 20,000 people. It is not as crowded as other ruin sites. Uxmal has an eerie feeling in the air, perhaps due to the famous Magician’s pyramid. This ruin features a combination of jungle shade, spacious surroundings, and nearby accommodations. It’s a great day trip for travelers looking for some peace and quiet.

  • Opening hours: 8am- 5pm
  • Entry Fees: $7.50
  • Address: Yucatán, Mexico; 4 hours 30 minutes from Cancun

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7. Chichen Itza

Deemed one of the 7 wonders of the new world, no journey would be complete without visiting Chichen Itza. It is one of the most iconic pyramid images in Latin America. Chichen Itza stands as testimony to the genius of the ancient civilization. It is an astronomical structure, used as a huge clock and calendar. This is one of the best-preserved ruins in Mexico.

  • Opening hours: 8am-4:30pm
  • Entry Fees: $15
  • Address: Yucatan, Mexico; 2 hours 30 minutes from Cancun

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8. Underwater Museum

This place has nothing to do with ancient Maya civilization, but it is no doubt occupied by the most beautiful ruins in Mexico. These are the coral reef statues of the Underwater Museum. The site comprises of over 500 PH-neutral sculptures depicting human figures, still life, and structures. You’ll see these at the bottom of the ocean at the initiative of Jason deCaires Taylor. It is an attempt to rebuild the coral reef in an artful manner. The museum can be visited either by scuba diving or on a glass-bottom boat tour.

  • Opening hours: Daily 9am-2pm
  • Entry Fees: Tour from 50 USD
  • Address: Cerrada Las Golondrinas Lote #24, Zona Hotelera, 77560 Cancún, Q.R., Mexico

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Of course, there are many other cultural and historical attractions in Cancun, but if you want to see well-preserved ruins and learn about the Mayan past, Cancun is the place to be. Also read:

Cancun Ruins Map

Find More Tours to Ruins from Cancun

For all new cities, I go overboard on my itinerary, just to see every major attraction. Countries I've visited include New Zealand, Singapore, Hong Kong, China, Cambodia, Japan and Thailand. Mostly Asian countries. Next target - Europe!