The best Maya ruins to visit, My personal Top 12

Best Maya ruins to visit:

At #1: Copán, Honduras

The Number #1 Maya ruins to visit are those op Copán in Honduras. Not only for their beauty, but also because of what we already know about Copán’s past.

Copán is best known for it’s more than life size statues, so called Steles or Stelae’s. But also because of its other beautiful carved monuments & the Hieroglyphic Stairway. In all, a must see in the Maya World.

Image of Maya city Copán, Honduras
Image of Maya city Copán, Honduras.

Copán was de first Maya city visited by John Lloyd Stephens & Frederick Catherwood. The two men who rediscovered the Maya world for us. An amazingly beautiful, adventurous story I’m working on for years already (as a writer of non fiction books).

For more info on Copán: Tips & Impressions, go to: Copán at #1

At #2: Yaxchilán & Bonampak, Chiapas, Mexico

Yaxchilán is one of the most beautiful Maya ruins in the region. And for sure one of the most mysterious ones to visit. Getting there is a big part of the adventure. You have to hire a boat transporting you over the Usumacinta River – borderline between Mexico & Guatemala.

Temple of Yaxhcilán, Chiapas, Mexico
Entrance to the Mayan city of Yaxchilán

Bonampak is nor far away from Yaxchilán, and mostly known for it’s colorful & unique murals. The site is owned by the local, indigenous people – the Lacandones. They are the only ones allowed to bring you to the temple ruins.

The high temple of Bonampak
The high temple of Bonampak

For more info on Yachilán & Bonampak: Tips & Impressions, go to: COMING SOON

For more info on Yaxchilán & Bonampak: Tips & Impressions, go to: Yaxchilán & Bonampak at #2

At #3: The Maya ruins of Tikal, Guatemala

Although I initially missed the artistic embellishment of other Mayan ruins – like those of Copán & Palenque – I learned to appreciate Tikal little by little.

Tikal played a very important role in Maya history. Although there was never a real Maya capital, Tikal for centuries played a leading role in the region.

View of Gran Plaza & Temple I from the top of Temple II, Tikal
View of Gran Plaza & Temple I, from the top of Temple II, Tikal

For more info on Tikal: Tips & Impressions, go to: Tikal, at #3

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At #4: Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

The first Maya ruins I ever brought a visit, where the majestic temples of Palenque. From that moment, I fell in love with the Maya civilization. A feeling that has never left me.

The first time in Palenque (1992) I even had the honor of visiting the tomb of the great Pakal in the Temple of the Inscriptions. Something you can’t do any more nowadays. Palenque is still though a beautiful, magical place to visit.

The Palace of Palenque, with in the background the Temple of the Inscriptions.
The Palace of Palenque, with in the background the Temple of the Inscriptions.

For more info on Palenque: Tips & Impressions, go to: Palenque, at #4

At #5: The Maya ruins of Quiriguá, Guatemala

Small, but impressive may be called the Maya ruins of Quiriguá en Guatemala. However, also absolutely worth a visit. Even as a quick stop on the Eastern highway through Guatemala.

Quiriguá is generally known as the little brother or sister of Copán. Also known for the most artistic Steles in the Maya world. Some of them are the highest in the Mundo Maya.

Maya ruins of Quiriguá, Guatemala.
Quiriguá, Guatemala.

For more info on Quiriguá: Tips & Impressions, go to: Quiriguá, at #5

At #6: Kabah & Labná, Yucatán, Mexico

Both smaller places, not far from Uxmal (at #9), but also beautiful. More so, because you may be the only one to visit these Maya ruins, even in high season.

We visited them both one morning. Starting at Kabah, we almost felt as opening the gate. There was still a morning mist hanging over the ruins, which gave it an extra mysterious appeal.

Maya ruins of Kabah, Yucatán
Early morning visit to Kabah, Yucatán.

After Kabah we continued on to Labná, also recognisable as a close friend of Uxmal, comparting its typical style (called Puuc). Besides us, only a young couple was visiting this old city.

Maya ruins of Labná, on the peninsula of Yucatan
One of the most symbolic monuments at Labná.

After these two Maya cities we went back to the hotel and the swimming pool. However, if you wish there are several other Maya ruins near Uxmal to visit. I have to go back soon …!

For more info on Kabah & Labná: Tips & Impressions, go to: Kabah & Labná, at #6

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At #7: The Maya ruins of Yaxhá, Guatemala

Not far from Tikal but visited by far less people, the Maya ruins of Yaxhá are certainly worth a visit. Not only because of the old temples & monuments, but also because of the surrounding flora & fauna.

I once spotted a wild cat there – a jaguarundi – that unfortunately was a little shier than me. Last time I followed a monkey family through the high trees above the temples. Or maybe, it was the other way around.


In all, another magical Maya place.

Yaxhá, in the middle of the Petén jungle of Guatemala.
Yaxhá, in the middle of the Petén jungle of Guatemala.

For more info on Yaxhá: Tips & Impressions, go to: Yaxhá, at #7

At #8: Uxmal, Yucatán, Mexico

Stately, that’s how I would describe Uxmal. From the first temple you encounter to the last. A unique place in many ways, because of it’s style.

The city survived the Classical decline of many other cities. It probably was one of the Maya cities on the Yucatán peninsula that received migrants from the fallen cities in the South.

Maya ruins of Uxmal, Yucatan
Stately Uxmal, Yucatán.

For more info on Uxmal: Tips & Impressions, go to: Uxmal, at #8

At #9: Toniná, Chiapas, Mexico

When you visit the Maya ruins of Toniná, you soon discover it’s actually one big temple you see. However, an impressive one, with seven terraces that lead you to the sky. 

Many more people visit the Maya ruins of Palenque, but when you’re in the neighborhood don’t miss this impressive pyramid temple. 

Maya ruins of Toniná, Mexico
Toniná, Chiapas, México.

For more info on Toniná: Tips & Impressions, go to: Toniná

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At #10: Ek Balam, Yucatán, Mexico

I have to admit that my first thought on entering Ek Balam – after having visited many other Maya ruins in recent weeks – was “looks like just another …”.

But then we arrived at the highest & partially restored temple of Ek Balam – the Acrópolis. So, now I just want to say: Go there!

Detail of the partially restored Acrópolis of Ek Balam, Yucatán.
Detail of the partially restored Acrópolis of Ek Balam, Yucatán.

For more info on Ek Balam: Tips & Impressions, go to: Ek Balam

At #11: Chichén Itzá & Tulum, Yucatán, Mexico

It may be a surprise for you to find these two Maya sites almost on the last spot of my Top #12. However, they both are so busy, … With that massive busyness the places have lost a little of their magic.

Chichén Itzá, a few years ago was named one of “New 7 Wonders of the World”, and maybe it is. It surely was an enormous metropole in its time, politically, economically, and culturally (religiously).

The famous Gran Cenote was visited by many. Mayan people from every corner of their territory. But also from outside the Maya World, bringing offers to the Gods.

El Castillo, or Temple of Kukulcan, at Chichén Itzá, Yucatan.
El Castillo, or Temple of Kukulcan.

Tulum is also very very busy. One of the reasons you can’t climb the temples no more. Unique for Tulum is its location on the Caribbean coast. Reason why it was the first Maya city spotted by the Spaniards in 1518.

Together with Chichén Itzá, Tulum is still worth a visit as an integral part of you touring the fascinating Mundo Maya.

The Maya ruins of Tulum, Quintana Roo, México.
The Maya ruins of Tulum, Quintana Roo, México.

For more info on Chichén Itzá & Tulum: Tips & Impressions, go to: COMING SOON

At #12: Calakmul, Mexico

In many ways still a rival of Tikal. As the Guatemalan neighbor it’s a long entrance road that leads you to these Maya ruins. Giving you the chance to spot wild flora & fauna (We saw monkeys, turkeys, toucans, wild pigs).

Calakmul was and still is an enormous city, arch rival of Tikal Unfortunately the remains are damaged severely, needing mayor attention. However, still an adventurous experience.

Maya ruins of Calakmul, Yucatab.
Calakmul, Campeche, México.

For more info on Calakmul: Tips & Impressions, go to: COMING SOON

Here ends my Top #12 on best Maya ruins to visit. Hope to complete it to a Top #20 one day. I just can’t get enough. Hope to publish my book soon.

For an overview of all travel posts of my blog, go to: the Home Page.

Me on top of the Acrópolis, Ek Balam.
Me & Ek Balam
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2 thoughts on “The best Maya ruins to visit, My personal Top 12

    • Dank! Absoluut mooie bestemming. Ik wil eigenlijk vandaag nog terug. Sterker nog, zou er wel willen gaan wonen. Zo tussen de oude tempels …

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