Chichen Itza’s soaring pyramid may grab all of the glory, but there are several other standout Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan region that people often overlook. Many of these archeological wonders are also listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites and boast amazing panoramas, but with half the crowds. On your next Yucatan journey, consider a trip to these less-frequented Mayan marvels.
Founded in AD 700, Uxmal is a highlight of Mayan art and architecture. Located in the southwestern part of the state of Yucatan outside of Merida, the site covers 150 well-preserved acres. The highlight is the Magician’s Pyramid, towering over the site at 115 feet. This pyramid is unique in that its sides are rounded instead of linear. Other structures not to miss are the Nunnery Quadrangle, which is covered with intricately carved masks and snakes, and the three-level Governor’s Palace boasting a jaguar throne.
Near the town of Valladolid and not far from Chichen Itza, Ek Balam blends several different Mayan architectural styles in one site. This Mayan arch rises over buildings and two main squares. The Acropolis is the tallest structure here at 104 feet and if you climb the stairs, you’ll glimpse a king’s tomb. Nearby are the palace, Ball Game Court, and observatory.
Known as the longest functioning city of the Mayan World, Dzibilchaltun was once the center of Mayan coastal trade with a population of 200,000 at its peak. The site hosts the Museum of the Maya People, where you can browse through the history and lifestyle of the ancient Mayans before visiting the ruins. The most famous structure at Dzibilchaltun is the Temple of The Seven Dolls, which has doorways that capture the light of the rising sun during the spring and fall equinox. Another popular feature is the lily pad-topped Xlacah cenote. These sacred waterways are typically in caves or partially covered, but Xlacah is located right on-site in an open area.
This small town filled with yellow buildings is home to what was once one of the tallest pyramids in Mexico. Izamal, which was an important Mayan pilgrimage site, is where you’ll find Kinick Kaka Mo pyramid, which rises 114 feet and encompasses 656 feet at the base. Another smaller pyramid, Itzamatul, is located in the southeast corner of the town and Hun Pik Tok pyramid is located near the town’s central plaza. An unusual feature of Izamal is that these archaeological sites are scattered among the colonial and contemporary buildings of the town.