After waiting in a long line at the ticket turnstile and fighting your way past pushy souvenir sellers, you finally arrive at a clearing where you can see thousands of other tourists gathered around the Mexican ruins.
It would be nice to go to one of these archaeological sites without having to deal with the usual crowds at an outdoor rock festival.
In 2022, more than 2.5 million people visited Chichén Itzá, or more than 6,800 people per day on average. However, if you choose alternatives to popular tourist destinations like Tulum and Teotihuacán, you can easily achieve your desire for tranquility.
Even though the lesser-known sites may have a few other visitors, you won’t have to use Photoshop to post a pyramid photo without people in it and the parking lot won’t be crowded with tour buses.
Here are our picks for eight Mexican archaeological sites that you won’t have to share with anyone else—especially on weekdays—and where you won’t see thousands of people.
Cobá, Quintana Roo
For a trip from Cancun or the Riviera Maya, skip the popular excursions to crowded ruins and go to Cobá, where some pyramids are still just mysterious mounds and the vegetation is barely held back. Walking the original Maya-era stone paths and admiring the tallest pyramid in Quintana Roo will make you feel like an authentic explorer. Despite being only 48 kilometers (about 30 miles) away from the less impressive Tulum ruins, this location receives only a fraction of the crowds. It’s simply off a significant roadway among Tulum and Valladolid, so visiting here while heading to Ek Balam is simple. For cooler temperatures and fewer other visitors, arrive early or late, especially during the Riviera Maya high season.
Ek Balam, Yucatán
Ek Balam doesn’t get the day-trippers from Cancun because it is 43 miles (69 kilometers) away from Chichén Itzá, Mexico’s most famous archaeological site. The majority of visitors are tourists who reside in nearby Valladolid.
However, this impressive Mayan site features numerous temples, defensive walls, a ball court, and other important structures. A ruler’s tomb with intact paintings and writings from the site’s peak period between 770 and 840 AD is housed in the largest structure.
Here, it’s no problem to have a full car of visitors: Adult admission costs 90 pesos, or about $5 at the moment, compared to $31 for Chichén Itzá.
Mayapán is largely unknown, despite the fact that Uxmal and Dzibilchaltn receive a steady stream of visitors who are staying in Mérida or taking cruise ship excursions from Progreso. There were only eight other tourists on the grounds when this writer and a group of people drove 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Mérida in a van.
A circular observatory, a grand pyramid in the center that you can climb, and the remains of a wall that was 5.65 miles (9.1 kilometers) long make up this extensive site. Between the years 1220 and 1440, the Mayan city was home to as many as 17,000 people. On the five-day Camino del Mayab, where you stay in local villages along the way, Mayapán is the final destination for Yucatan travelers who prefer to travel slowly.
The Mayan ruins of Edzná, which are about 55 kilometers (34 miles) southeast of Campeche, the historic capital, are so unknown that English search engine results for it disappear after the first page.
However, the city may have been home to as many as 25,000 people. This was a thriving community that existed from about 200 to 1000 AD, with some residents remaining until the 1400s.
The fundamental pyramid structure in the Gran Acropolis is on five levels arriving at around 130 feet (40 meters). There are numerous buildings and stelae to explore throughout the nearly 10-square-mile (26-kilometer) Edzná complex, as well as the remains of an intricate water collection and management system.
From 250 to 900 A.D., Calakmul, in southern Mexico, was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Mayan Classic period. It ruled over more than a million people and was only 22 miles (35 kilometers) from the Guatemalan border. Until it lost a war to Tikal’s rulers and fell into decline, it was Tikal’s main rival.
Due to the fact that its two largest structures are atop two hills, the location has a more dramatic feel than others in the extremely flat Yucatán state.
Due to its remote location with only a few small hotels and camping areas, it receives relatively few visitors despite its importance to the Mayan world and extensive excavations. It is true that this UNESCO World Heritage Site is in the jungle: it’s encircled by 2,792 square miles of safeguarded land (7,231 square kilometers), the Calakmul Biosphere Hold.
Yaxchilán was an important Mayan city and trading center between c. 580 and c. 800 AD. It was right on the Usumacinta River, which is where Mexico and Guatemala meet. Although it is three hours away and not nearly as well-known or visited as Palenque, it is there.
The limestone lintel carvings and intricately detailed sculptures that line Yaxchilán’s walls depict the history of the area as well as its rulers. It is simple to combine a trip to Yaxchilán with a trip to Bonampak, which is famous for its vibrant tomb paintings that have been around for centuries.
Cañada de la Virgen, Guanajuato
This temple structure outside of San Miguel de Allende in the middle of Mexico served a number of other ethnic groups, including the Otomi, and shares some characteristics with the Mayan ruins to the east. Before being abandoned around 1050 AD, it flourished for more than 500 years.
Even though San Miguel de Allende is a popular retirement and tourism destination, the effort required to visit this historic attraction keeps it relatively quiet. Although it is situated in the middle of private land, the site itself is managed by the same government archaeological agency that oversees the majority of Mexico’s archaeological sites. Visitors on guided tours are the only ones allowed in.
Although the circular pyramids are located 40 miles (64 kilometers) west of Guadalajara, they are probably older than either the Maya or Aztec cultures. Gauges put the establishing of this city at around 350 BC and the area flourished for near 1,000 years.
The structures that are visible are the result of relatively recent excavation, with the majority of the work completed less than twenty years ago. Many of the structures are still buried beneath dirt and vegetation. In 2006, the region was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Even though it’s an easy day trip from Guadalajara or the town of Tequila, it doesn’t appear that many people are aware of this site or even visit it. Affirmation is 50 pesos, under $3, including the gallery.