• Alan Travers

The Best 10 Historical Sites in Mexico

Updated: Jul 31, 2019



Mexico has endless amounts of places that are of huge historical importance, according to UNESCO there are a total of 35 world heritage sites here, ranking Mexico 7th in the world on the lists of countries with world heritage sites.


There are so many wonderful and unusual historical sites in Mexico that were built by so many different ancient civilisations throughout the centuries, with so many important places throughout the country, it can be quite hard to choose which place you want to visit.


So with this in mind I have created a list of the top 10 most important sites in Mexico, in my opinion! That I think everyone should visit atleast once in their life!


With so many wonderful places in the country to choose from, narrowing it down to 10 was quite the task! There are absolutely more places than this you can visit, if you want more information about other historical sites in Mexico, be sure to check this link out, https://whc.unesco.org/en/statesparties/mx.


So without keeping you waiting any longer, here are my top 10 historical sites that everyone who is wanting to experience Mexican culture and heritage should consider visiting!



1. Chichen Itza


It might come as no surprise that Chichen Itza is the first of all my picks on this list, this is the second most popular place/attraction visited by tourists in Mexico. It has now also been given the prestigious title as one of the new seven wonders of the world!



Did you know?


This large pre-Columbian city was built by the Maya civilisation sometime between the 5th and 6th centuries with some evidence suggesting construction was around 550 AD.


There is a lot more to be found here in this ancient city, many people don't realise that there's more to Chichen Itza than what just meets the eye. With many visitors focusing most of their attention on El Castillo, a lot of people tend to overlook some other fantastic features of this ancient city.


There are beautiful cenotes, ancient temples, and magical forests that you can explore to find mysterious ruins.



How to get there

You can find Chichen Itza about 95 miles from Tulum, 125 miles from Cancun and 75 miles from Merida. Cancun usually being the most popular place people arrive from, you can expect to spend anywhere between two and three hours driving, depending on which route you take, the Couto (toll roads) are the faster and safer option.


If you want to have a fantastic experience without the hassle of the crowds, arrive early!


Rent a car and drive yourself, forget the tour bus! The site is open daily from 8am-5pm, and if you arrive from anywhere between 7.30am and 8am, you'll have this ancient city mostly to yourself for an hour or so, the tour buses and crowds come by the masses around 9am to 10am.



Cost


As like most of the historical sites on this list, the cost of admission to Chichen Itza, is different for foreigners than what it is for Mexican nationals, since January 2019 the cost of entry has since doubled to what it was in previous years, the cost of entry is now $480 MXN ($24 USD), and only half that for Mexican nationals.


If you have a professional or digital camera that is not your smartphone you will also likely have to pay an additional fee of $45 MXN, to record videos and take photographs.



2. Tulum


Another one of the UNESCO world heritage sites in Mexico. This is easily one of the most beautiful places on this list, with the ancient Maya ruins just situated off the cliff as pictured above, the sunsets here are magical, to say the least.


It's difficult to put into words the feeling one has when arriving here to catch the sunset and staying for the stars, it's a magnificent spectacle to behold, it's something that everyone should witness at least once in their lifetime.


Once the moon and the stars start to shine, those bright blue Caribbean waters really illuminate, all of this combined with an ancient archaeological site is something hard to believe that actually exists!



Did you know?

Beneath the cliff is Paradise beach, one of the most popular beaches in all of Mexico, it could also be considered one of most photogenic locations in the whole country, thanks to it's stunning views and ancient histories.



How to get there


Tulum is located just about 81 miles from Cancun, and there are a few different options for you to consider when choosing your method of transportation.


There are multiple buses, private transfers and of course the option of renting a car to drive yourself.


If you want to take the bus there are numerous private shuttles from Cancun to Tulum every day, make sure to check with your resort or hotel as they will most likely be able to arrange this for you.


You could also take the ADO or other bus lines from the Cancun airport to Playa del Carmen, after arriving at Playa del Carmen you can then transfer to a Tulum via bus or Colectivo (marked shuttle van).


From Cancun to Tulum, the drive is anywhere between 2 to 2.5 hours, depending on the traffic, from Playa del Carmen to Tulum it is roughly 1 hour.



Cost


The cost of entrance to Tulum is 65 MXN ($3 USD) per person. A hired guide will take you for around $600 MXN ($30 USD) if you prefer this option.




3. Teotihuacan


Teotihuacan is one of the most famous UNESCO sites in Mexico, and it's a must visit! The history of Teotihuacan is full of mystery and wonder.



Did you know?


This giant complex dates as far back as 100 BC making it more than 2,000 years old. During its peak, this mysterious metropolis had a population of around 200,000 people.


The ancient city collapsed around a thousand years after its creation, sometime around 550 AD for unknown reasons, historians suggest its collapse and demise was most likely due to famine or invasion.


I keep mentioning mysterious and wonder, this for two reasons, firstly unlike most of the archaeological sites in Mexico, this was not built by the Mayans or the Aztecs, nobody knows who, what or how this was made, secondly it's amazingly well preserved for a city that's older than 2000 years old!



How to get there


This is a great day trip from Mexico City, just make sure to arrive early and beat the crowds, as the lines can get extremely long.


If you arrive late in the morning or in the afternoon, it is especially not good for you as you'll have to wait for long periods in the open sun, if you are as white as me even sunblock will have a hard time protecting you!


You can take a tour if you wish to do so, but the truth is, it's straightforward enough for you to get there.


Teotihuacan is only 31 miles away from Mexico City centre, you'll find that buses leave several times a day from multiple terminals throughout the city, the northern bus terminal is the most popular choice amongst tourists in Mexico City. This is the most cost-effective way for you to get there, the journey is also roughly an hour or so.



Cost


As of January 2019, the entrance fee for foreigners is $75 MXN ($4 USD), this also includes entry into the museum, entry to the park for Mexican nationals is free.



4. Castillo De Chapultepec


Chapultepec Castillo is one of the highlights of Mexico City, situated in the very heart of the city centre you will find Chapultepec park which houses a beautiful little lake, multiple museums, art galleries and hundreds of local businesses along with the historically significant complex, which is Castillo De Chapultepec.



Did you know?


The castle began construction in 1785 on the orders of Viceroy Bernardo de Galvez, a Spanish military leader, and since the time of its completion, this castle has had quite the colourful and tragic history.


Chapultepec Castillo has been the home to royalty, been an observatory and after a military college, later in its history, it was used by the Mexican government as a guesthouse for foreign dignitaries.


It has also been through the wars as this was under siege during the Mexican war of independence, to say the history was colourful and tragic would almost feel like an understatement.


Since 1939 the castle has been the home to the Museo Nacional de Historia, this is thanks to former Mexican president Lazaro Cardenas who declared it to be so almost 80 years ago.



How to get there


This national museum is very easily accessible as it's located very near to the city centre, you have a few options to choose from when looking to arrive, there is the bus, metro or taxi.


For me personally, I feel that the best way of getting to the Castillo is by taking the metro to Auditorio or Chapultepec station and walking to the Castillo, you can expect to be walking for 10 to 20 minutes depending on who you are with and your ability to climb steep hills.


The walk is nothing too strenuous, but if you are with an elderly person, children or someone with physical disabilities, you might want to consider taking the small train ride to the top, you can find the train just as you arrive to check your bags at the bottom of the hill.



Cost


The cost of admission to the castillo is $70 MXN ($3.50) USD per person, you also need to check your bag in order to gain entry into the grounds, this is around $15 MXN per bag.


You can gain entry to the castillo on Sunday's for free, but beware, the castillo and entire park can become extremely crowded during this day of the week.



5. Templo Mayor


Mexico City now stands on top of what was once called Tenochtitlan, an ancient city built by the Aztecs during the 13th century.



Did you know?


We are currently finding out more information about this ancient city still to this day, it wasn't until 1978 that some electricity workers accidentally stumbled upon an 8-tonne stone disc of Coyolxauhqui an Aztec goddess.


It was after this discovery that the Mexican government decided to explore and dig a little deeper, after some quick exploration and research they found that there were the remains of an entire ancient city beneath the streets.


After the discovery was made, the government decided to demolish some of the old colonial buildings in the neighbourhood, to excavate the surrounding areas.


After the excavation, they found the Templo Mayor (Main Temple) and the location where historians believe Mexico's national symbol (an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a snake) was founded.


The legend in Mexico goes like this; The Aztecs were told by God to find a location where an eagle stood upon a cactus with a snake in its beak, and that was to be the location for them to build their empire upon, which is now formerly known as Tenochtitlan.



How to get there


Another one of Mexico's national treasures that are located right in the heart of Mexico City. As per the last mention, there are a couple of different options for you avail of when planning your transportation.


You have the choice of bus, metro, taxi or driving yourself, I would highly recommend taking the subway for this trip!


This is one of the most visited attractions in Mexico City, and its right in the centre of everything, you would spend more time in traffic than at the museum, and if you chose to take a taxi, you can be sure it'll cost you a pretty penny.


The best route you can take to get to Templo Mayor is by taking the subway Blue Line to arrive at Zocalo, once there you can walk to the northeast corner of the capital's principal plaza to find the Templo Mayor museum.



Cost


Admission to the Templo Mayor is $75 MXN ($4 USD) per person, for those of you who are Mexican nationals or residents in the country, you can gain entry on Sundays for free.



6. El Tajin


Mexico is definitely not short of having ancient mysterious cities spread throughout its vast lands, this is yet another ancient city shrouded with mystery and wonder as still do this day we understand very little about what happened here.


Although we may know very little about this city, historians have uncovered some truths to help us understand some of the things that went on here.



Did you know?


It is widely believed that this massive ancient city was once a ceremonial and administrative centre that existed between 600 and 1200 AD.


Even though some historians believe that many aspects of the city were built by the Maya civilisation, they are not so sure that the Maya inhabited the place. There is still a wealth of information out there, that can help us understand more about this ancient city.


At this moment there is believed to be around a total of 150 buildings spread throughout the entire city, but we have only excavated and uncovered around 20 or so buildings at this time, this is mainly due to the fact of all the buildings being buried or covered in vast jungle terrain that can make it difficult to excavate and manage.



How to get there


El Tajin is located in the state of Veracruz, just outside the small town of Papantla. If you are looking to arrive from Mexico City, there are a few options for you to choose from.


You can take a flight to Poza Rica, this is easily the most expensive and inconvenient option, you can also take a bus from one of the terminals in Mexico City to Poza Rica or Papantla then take another bus to the ruins, or you can drive.


You can expect to be travelling on the roads for around 4 hours depending on the traffic.


If you choose to drive, you need not worry about criminal activity, it does exist, but it is very uncommon, you do need to take care driving as the roads are easily your biggest threat! I don't recommend driving in the evening or at night.



Cost


The entrance fee for El Tajin is $75 MXN ($4 USD) per person, the cost for foreigners is also the same as it is for Mexican nationals.



7. Calakmul


Named as another UNESCO world heritage site in Mexico 2002, Calakmul can be found in the state of Campeche. Thanks to its unique location, this ancient city is less popular among tourists in comparative with other ancient ruins throughout the country.


Calakmul is located deep into the Mexican jungle, only 21 miles from the Guatemalan border and If you choose to visit, you'll most likely have the place to yourself, even if you take a tour!



Did you know?


The city was at its peak between 500 AD and 800 AD, during this time there was an estimated population of around 50,000 inhabitants. The site itself is enormous, covering a total landmass of approximately 27 square miles, throughout the entire area, there is believed to be over 6700 structures.


Though all of this can be found throughout the jungle, most of it is not accessible to the public, as there is ongoing excavations and historians are continuing to uncover more truths about this ancient city.



How to get there


Located in the state of Campeche, Calakmul is only 22 miles from the Guatemala border, this could also be easily considered one of the most challenging archaeological sites in all of Mexico to get to, this is thanks to the vastly remote location.


If you choose to rent a car and drive you might run into a few hurdles along the way as there does be numerous roadblocks set up by local policemen along some of the more rural areas coming up to the ancient ruins.


These roadblocks are set up in hopes of taking bribes from tourists, even if all of your paperwork is correct, you can be sure that the road might be closed that day, so have some cash ready, 10 or 15 USD usually is enough.


There are multiple tours all over the Yucatan, and I would highly recommend taking one, there are bus tours in Tulum, Cancun, Playa del Carmen and Campeche, all of which will take you to Calakmul, it's a safer, more reliable and a convenient option for non-Mexicans.


Below are the driving times from popular tourist locations in the Yucatan Peninsula to Calakmul, times may vary depending on route and traffic.


  • Campeche, 5-hour drive

  • Tulum, 6-hour drive.

  • Cancun, 8-hour drive.

  • Playa del Carmen, 7-hour drive.


Cost


The entrance fee to Calakmul is $75 MXN ($4 USD) per person, the cost for foreigners is also the same as it is for Mexican nationals.



8. Edzna


Similar to my last mention, the ancient ruins of Edzna are also located in the state of Campeche, if you were to compare the city of Edzna with some of the more popular ancient cities and ruins throughout Mexico it isn't nearly as famous.


This ancient city may not be visited as much as Chichen Itza or Tulum, but it most definitely is just as beautiful and historically significant as the rest of the ruins throughout the country.


If you choose to explore the ruins, you won't be disappointed, they are outstanding and provide you with the opportunity to experience some fantastic Mexican culture and heritage.



Did you know?


The city of Edzna was founded by the Maya around 600 BC, and what started out as a small agricultural community grew into quite a large, influential city that inhabited around 25000 people at its peak.


The Maya built hundreds of structures, buildings and places of worship in Edzna, but the most notable was the advanced hydraulic system.


They had created a system way ahead of their time, it was a network of canals that all led back to the valley so that the water could be fed into the lagoon, and also supply the crop fields, all of which helped feed, sustain and grow the city.



How to get there


The journey from Campeche to Edzna is usually around 1 hour or less, this depends on the traffic and route taken. There are three main options when looking to arrive at Edzna, you can rent a car and drive, take a tour bus or take a colectivo (mini-van).


If you want to drive to Edzna, the journey isn't too long, and the roads aren't to bad either, however as I have previously advised, if you are new to exploring this part of Mexico and are unfamiliar with driving in the country, I recommend you choose another means of transportation.


Public transport or colectivos can be found in Campeche, and it's a popular choice amongst locals and visitors, mostly due to the convenience and cost involved.


Public transport might be the cheapest way to go, but it's also the longest, after you finish wandering around the ancient ruins don't expect there to be transport there waiting for you, it's more likely that you will need to wait around for quite a while.


Taking a guided tour may be the most expensive option but, it's also the safest, most convenient and reliable way to get too and from Edzna.



Cost


The entrance fee to Edzna is $60 MXN ($3 USD) per person, the cost for foreigners is also the same as it is for Mexican nationals.



9. Uxmal


Uxmal is easily one of the most magnificent and majestic discoveries, of all the ancient ruins and cities located throughout the Yucatan. The name Uxmal has some meaning behind it, the city is believed to be built upon five times, thus giving it the name Uxmal (thrice built) in Mayan.



Did you know?


Uxmal is considered to be one of the most important archaeological discoveries in Mexico, providing a wealth of information about the Maya culture and heritage, the amazing thing is, there still so much more to find out, we have barely scratched the surface.


Uxmal started out as a small town around 500 AD, but because of the advancements and intelligence of the Mayan people they were able to build, temples, pyramids, government palaces and a series of hydraulic works, like reservoirs to help store the rainwater.


After years of building and developing, this small town grew quite fast and reached a peak population of around 20,000 inhabitants between the 8th and 10th century.


It's believed that Uxmal met its demise sometime between 1441 and 1541, the city had already been overruled and taken control of by neighbouring cities a few centuries earlier, but it was around the 14th century that it was left almost wholly abandoned.



How to get there


Uxmal is located in the state of Yucatan, roughly 50 miles from Merida. Because of Uxmal's location in the highly popular state of Yucatan, you can expect the ancient city to be very easily accessible, and there are also quite a few options for you to choose from to get there.


You can drive, take a private taxi, take a public bus or a guided tour. If you choose to rent a car, this option isn't so bad as there is a private toll road you can take from most cities in the Yucatan that will lead to Uxmal.


Taking a private taxi can be expensive for long distances such as Cancun or Tulum, but it's definitely an option if you are looking to arrive from Merida or Campeche, you could expect to spend $50 or $60 USD for an hours journey.


Public transport or colectivos can be found in Campeche and Merida, it's a popular choice amongst locals and visitors, mostly due to the convenience and cost involved.


If you are unfamiliar with the areas and have limited Spanish, the best way to go is by taking a guided tour, it's the safest most reliable option for you to choose from.


Below are the driving times from popular tourist locations in the Yucatan to Uxmal, times may vary depending on route and traffic.


  • Campeche, 2-hour drive.

  • Merida, 1-hour drive.

  • Tulum, 4-hour drive.

  • Cancun, 4-hour drive.


Cost


The entrance fee to Uxmal is $75 MXN ($4 USD) per person, the cost for foreigners is also the same as it is for Mexican nationals.



10. Palenque


The Maya temples of Palenque are some of the most amazing examples of how amazing and advanced the Maya people were at developing and building cities. This ancient city was well preserved and is now one of the top attractions in Chiapas, it is also one of the best examples of Maya architecture in all of the country.



Did you know?


This ancient city was surrounded by vast jungle terrain and was hidden away for over 8 centuries, it wasn't until the 1700s when the local Maya told a Spanish priest about the location of an ancient buried city. Although the city's existence was known, it wasn't finally excavated and explored until the 20th century.


The Maya city of Palenque was once an important political centre and one of the most powerful and influential Maya towns during the classical period, the town flourished sometime between 226 and 799 AD, and later met its demise sometime around 900 AD.



How to get there


These ancient ruins are very easily accessible once in the state of Chiapas or the city of Palenque, but unfortunately this state is so far from most of the popular tourist destinations, so if you are hoping to drive or take the bus from Tulum or Cancun to Chiapas, you can do so, just expect a really long journey!


I definitely don't recommend driving around the state of Chiapas either, as it is known that criminals set up roadblocks to try and extort tourists or visitors in some regions of the state, your best option would be to fly into the city of Villahermosa and take the bus after that.


You can also take the bus from any major city in the country, it is the most reliable option, some of the travel time by bus from popular cities can be found below.


  • San Cristobal de las Casas, 5-hours.

  • Tuxtla Gutiérrez, 6-hours.

  • Villahermosa, 3-hours.

  • Merida, 8-hours.

  • Campeche, 5-hours.

  • Cancun, 13-hours.



Cost


The entrance fee to Palenque is $75 MXN ($4 USD) per person, the cost for foreigners is also the same as it is for Mexican nationals, this price also includes entry into the museum and the other surrounding archaeological sites.


For Mexican nationals and residents, you can gain entry on Sunday's for free.


Children under age of 13 can visit for free.


If you have a professional or digital camera that is not your smartphone you will also likely have to pay an additional fee of $41 MXN, to record videos and take photographs.