Ruins of the Mayan Riviera

Okay, it’s been over a week since I’ve been back from Mexico – but between Ev visiting for New Year’s Eve, a short mini-trip to Santa Barbara, and a harsh adjustment back to the work week, I’ve barely caught my breath.

I spent a quick 6 days with my family at Puerto Aventuras along the Caribbean coast. One of our big logistical wins (and there were many many fails) this trip was renting a car. This area of Mexico, Quintana Roo, is pretty spread out; the coastline is commandeered by large hotels and fancy resorts.

Mayan Riviera Coastline Mexico; view from the sky

It’s entirely possible to spend your trip around the hotel – rotating between beach to pool to hot tub, Mai Tai’s to Corona’s to fish tacos. Nothing wrong with that! But if you want to get out and explore the beautiful nature, having a car is definitely key. The one main road runs straight from the Cancun airport down through Playa del Carmen, Puerto Aventuras, Akumal, all the way to Tulum.

There are 3 main Mayan Ruins within this area – we opted to skip Chichen Itza, mainly because it is so far. It’s located on the opposite end of the Yucatan peninsula… so approx a 3.5 hour drive each way. The entry fees are more expensive (close to $20 USD/per) and everyone I had spoke to had lamented the over-commercialized aspect of this site. Locals swarm the ruins touting their souvenirs and vie aggressively for your attention wallet.

Tulum Ruins
So we spent half a day each at the Tulum & Coba Ruins, and contented ourselves with passing up on visiting one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. (mneh? mneh I guess…)

Tulum Ruins

Tulum Ruins

Getting there: Right along the main hwy, 307, signs clearly mark the entrance. There’s a small parking fee, and then entrance onto the site is 59 pesos per person. You can pay a bit additional to ride a tram/trolley over from the park entrance to the actual start of the ruins… but the walk is only about 1km or so, and really isn’t bad.

Tulum Ruins

Pros: All the ruins are pretty close together and it makes for pretty light walking around the area, most of it is even wheel chair accessible. The entire site is dotted with huge iguanas hanging out on the rocks like fat kings, as if they built the darn ruins themselves or something!

Tulum Ruins

Weather here is cooler since it is right on the beach… speaking of which – the ruins lead right up to a spectacular lookout point over the water, with wooden stairs descending down to the beach. Definitely go down there, hang out, swim in the warm salty water, take iguana selfies, etc.

beach tulum ruins

my sister selfie-ing hard with the Tulum iguanas

You’re also super close to Tulum (both beach-side and the pueblo part) so plenty of restaurant & bar options are around for you to fill up at once you’re ruined-out for the day.

Cons: Can get very crowded quickly, since the site is so small. Ruins are relatively small… they don’t do a great job of describing each site, history, etc. so a tour guide would’ve definitely been beneficial here.

Coba Ruins

Coba Ruins
Getting there: A bit of a longer drive – once you hit the 307/109 intersection in Tulum, take 109 inland for about 40 minutes, past the Gran Cenote, and then you’ll hit the ruins. Parking is free but fills up fast. Entry fee is also 59 pesos.

Coba Ruins Jungle
The entire site is sectioned off into different regions, each with their own large ruins and landmarks. They are each pretty far apart… probably 1km apart each. A lot of people hire petty cabs or bicycles at the beginning to ride between each site. We didn’t do this, and probably spent 1-1.5 hours just walking in between sites.

Coba Ruins
Pros: The ruins are much more intact and impressive here (haven’t really been rebuilt & restored much) – with signs that give a good, albeit loose, explanations. Tourists are still allowed to climb a majority of the ruins, which definitely makes the experience more fun.

hiking Coba Ruins
The highlight is hiking to the top of the main pyramid. Hang onto the big rope and climb the 123 steps to the top. Don’t turn around and look down till you’re all the way up at the top!

Coba Ruins Jungle Palm Tree
Cons: Coba is located in the middle of a jungle – so very cool nature (no animals though) envelopes the entire location, but as a result it does gets pretty humid.

Anyways, that’s my quick & dirty run down! Really glad we got to visit both locations since they are so different.
Have you visited these ruins before? Thoughts on if we really missed out skipping Chichen Itza?



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