Mayan ruins are one of the top draws of heading away from the beaches of Cancun and Playa Del Carmen and exploring a little more of the Yucatan Peninsula. But, as a parent you and I know that you can't spend hours and hours in the car driving to a place, explore the ruins with a guide for a couple of hours and then drive hours and hours home. So we've picked our top Mayan Ruin sites that are within Kid-Friendly distances of Cancun and even closer to Playa Del Carmen. So read on and discover where you can get to with the kids when you next visit Mexico.
Top Mayan Archaeological Sites to Visit with Kids Near Cancun
Although we visited a few of the Mayan Ruins around Quintana Roo and Yucatan not all of them would be easy to visit from Cancun without a long drive or an overnight stop.
However, 3 of the bigger and most famous of the Mayan Sites are and they are really worth visiting. Check out the information below and scroll down to our top tips for getting to them or book your tours if you don't want to have a go at driving in Quintana Roo.
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Probably the most famous of the Mayan Archeological sites and certainly the most popular is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza.
Famous for it's 4 sided pyramid that dominates the central plaza of the complex it is amazing. But, Chichen Itza is so much more.
About 2 and a half hours from the Hotel Zone in Cancun along the toll road it is a nice easy journey to get to the Archeology Zone.
Once there we recommend hiring an official guide if you don't go on a tour. Although you can go around the complex on your own, the guides speak excellent English and are so knowledgeable, will tell you so much information about the site and Mayans that your mind will be blown.
They are also great with kids!
Highlights for Kids at Chichen Itza
Must not miss highlights are:
- The Ball Park
- Clapping at the steps of the Grand Pyramid
- Visiting a replica of a Mayan House
- Walking through the jungle to discover the observatory
- Chasing iguanas
- Learning about human sacrifices for those kids that are a little bit bloodthirsty
- Peering over the rim at the Sacred Cenote
Your Quick Guide to Chichen Itza for Families
Parking is available at the Chichen Itza Car Park. It was 85 peso for the day if you decide to drive to Chichen Itza.
Entrance to the park is done with 2 tickets total cost of 480 pesos per person (there is no discount here for none resident children unlike at other sites).
Go-Pros and video cameras have an extra fee of 45 pesos.
To hire an official English speaking guide was an extra 1000 pesos for the group not per person.
Be warned unlike every other site once in the archaeological park you will be bombarded with street vendors inside the park.
I think that this is one of the reasons why this was fairly low down on my favourite Mayan sites.
In the "Utilities building/entrance" there is a restaurant which does cold drinks, believe me after walking around you will need one.
The city on the cliff Tulum is a set of ruins that sits on top of a cliff on the Caribbean coast. Once the trading city for the Maya to export and import goods from around the Americas it was a bustling hub where the nobles and kings lived.
Just an hour and 50 minutes from the Hotel Zone in Cancun this is much quicker to get to than Chichen Itza.
Unlike Chichen Itza, this isn't as vast and one of the good things about this is that the kids don't get bored if they aren't that interested in Mayan ruins.
If you arrive by the main entrance to Tulum there is a tourist area where you can watch the Voladores (they expect payment for you to view them perform, so watch for the man with the hat, give some pesos and enjoy it is truly amazing.
Here you can also hire a guide although with the number of signs around the ruins it is the site that it's least necessary with the guide we hired really did know his stuff.
There is only 1 way into and 1 way out of Tulum so you and all the other tourists follow the same route this can make it a little congested especially on the route down to the beach.
If I'm honest as an adult this was the site I liked the least of all of the ones we visited on our road trip but the kids liked it I think because there was the beach there.
HighLights for Kids At Tulum
Here's a quick set of highlights for the kids when visiting Tulum:
- Seeing the Flying Men
- Watching the people dressed up at Mayan Kings walk about the tourist zone (they are there for photos - we didn't do it so I don't know on the cost)
- Taking the train to the Ruins
- Walking through the city wall and seeing the ruins
- Seeing the view from the top of the cliff
Your Quick Guide to Tulum for Families
The car park if you decide to drive does cost it's around 120 pesos.
If you get there early and don't mind a walk you can take an alternative road and park on the road if there is space and avoid the parking fees but there is a trek to the ruins.
However, there is a walk anyhow between the car park and the ruins as well.
You can hire a guide at the car park our guide included the cost of the "train" and meant we avoided the walk and pre-paid our entrance managing to skip the line to buy tickets at the actual ruins. It was around 800 Pesos for the 4 of us.
Children under 13 are free here!
There are no bathrooms in the ruins so head to the ones outside with the kids first.
Inside the ruins, there is also very little shade - this is much more of a dry environment than the Chichen Itza and Coba mentioned here.
So pack a hat, suncream (reef safe if you intend to head down the cliff and swim at the beach) and lots of water.
Be prepared for the tourist zone by the car park - there are shops and shops and shops! All trying to get you to buy. This is as well as the guide companies and the Voladores performing.
There is the additional fee of 45 pesos here as well for professional cameras e.g. video cameras and Go-Pros I didn't have to pay for my DSLR or the kids using my Olympus Tough.
Coba is one of the Mayan Sites that made my Top 3 to visit in the Yucatan!
It predates the others and unlike Chichen Itza has a pyramid that you can climb too. It's also the most laid back in terms of tourists of the ruins near Cancun.
Around the same distance as Chichen Itza taking 2hrs and a half from Cancun's Hotel Zone, this is much less crowded and has some really interesting sites to see.
Coba, unlike the other ruins, is still partly undiscovered. Throughout the site if you look through the jungle you will see piles of regular shaped rocks, those are more ruins waiting to be excavated.
As you enter the complex you arrive at the first of 4 different areas that have been excavated, the earliest set.
In this set of ruins, there are temples including arches and tunnels that have stood the test of time and as originally constructed.
There's also a couple of ball game stadiums, which were much smaller than Chichen Itza and in the first set the rules were different! Plus lots of Stela around that shows the engravings the Mayans made.
As you journey through the other complexes (the last which we didn't go to is the least excavated and there isn't much to see), you can pass over the Sacbe the white roads built by the Mayans.
Because this complex is big and you are in the jungle we recommend at least on the way back from the Pyramid getting a bike, either cycling yourself or like we did hiring one of the rickshaws and pay someone else to do the job for you.
Highlights for Kids at Coba
The kid's high lights at Coba were:
- Getting the Rickshaw back
- Seeing the painting of colours at the temple of the painters
- Going through a tunnel in the ruins
- Making chewing gum with the sap of the Chicle Tree
- Learning about Mayan numbers and dates
- Walking on the Mayan road
We didn't climb the pyramid here as we followed in a large tour group and it was very crowded but the pyramid did have a rope and looked fantastic. However, we'd already climbed two others that weren't crowded elsewhere in Mexico.
Your Quick Guide to Coba for Families
Kids under 13 are free here!
There is a car park with a fee of 70 pesos to park. BUT, unlike the others, you won't be pestered here the restaurants are nice and it's right in front of the archaeological zone.
Get a guide - again this was so useful and we learnt so much. He was the one that showed the kids about the chewing gum tree and even had pictures from when his family worked producing chewing gum that he could show us.
It's a fair walk between the different sets of ruins - we walked to them all and then caught the rickshaw back.
The rickshaw ride was a highlight for the kids - it was 150 pesos per rickshaw which held 2 of us. And although we felt really sorry for the guy peddling (they did get a great tip from us) it was so nice to sit back and watch the scenery pass by.
If you are going up the pyramid make sure you wear sensible shoes - it's not straight blocks but a mix of old stone steps that are misshapen and worn down. This is where our walking boots came into their own.
If you do go to Coba - then just 15 minutes away is Punta Laguna Nature Reserve which is fantastic to visit with kids. We saw 2 different species of monkey, toads, giant grasshoppers and a lizard being eaten by a snake!
Getting to the Mayan Ruins Near Cancun
We highly recommend hiring a car in Mexico. Our trip was actually a 14-day self-drive vacation around the states of Quintana Roo and Yucatan.
Although everyone thought we were crazy it was so easy driving in Mexico. If you do decide to hire a car then do check out our guide to driving in Mexico as we have some top tips on getting around the area and what you should be watching out for.
Don't fancy the drive why not take a tour - we recommend booking in advance and a good day to visit is Saturday or Sunday as these are change over days for hotels and also fewer cruise tourists there! Check out the tours below for the 3 ruins we recommend visiting and don't forget you can book now if you know your hotel name!