Most travelers visiting Mexico include world-famous Maya sites like Chichen Itza and/or Tulum on their itineraries, but what if you’ve already visited the most well known ones? Consider these five Maya sites in Riviera Maya that you may or may not already be familiar with.
Coba is an ancient Maya city with only a few of the estimated 6,500 structures uncovered. The site dates back to 600-900 AD, and it’s believed around 100,000 people called Coba home during its prime.
Its remote location in the dense jungle surrounded by two lagoons, combined with outside factors like the Caste War and lack of funds, made Coba difficult to explore and excavate. The excavation done to date shows Coba was home to multiple settlements, with a number of roads that connected the whole site.
What you see when visiting Coba today is several excavated sites connected to the main pyramid by more than 16 Maya ceremonial roads. Visitors can climb the 120 steps that lead to the top of Nohoch Mul pyramid, which is the largest temple pyramid on the Yucatan peninsula.
You might’ve heard of Xel-Ha Eco-park, but there is also a Maya site with the same name nearby. This coastal site once served as an important maritime port. Structures date back as far as 100 BC, but it’s believed most development took place around 300-700 AD. The site was in use until the arrival of the Spanish in 1527.
Be sure to bring your swimsuit and cool off at one of the two cenotes at Xel-ha. Then head across the way and spend the afternoon at the Xel-ha Eco-park.
Located south of Tulum, you’ll find Muyil as it’s known today, which was once known as Chunyaxché. It’s within the boundaries of the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.
It is believed Muyil was one of the earliest settlements on the Caribbean coast, potentially founded around 300BC, long before Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Uxmal. Its coastal location suggests it was an important maritime trade route, with evidence showing links to Coba. The pyramid is 57 feet high, which is the highest pyramid on the Riviera Maya coast.
If you’re exploring the ruins at Coba by car, consider a visit to the nearby Punta Laguna. It’s owned by the Mayans who still occupy the site and there is a small museum at the ruins. It’s not necessarily easy to find and you’ll definitely want a GPS and loads of bug spray.
If you’re staying in Playa Del Carmen, you don’t have to go far to check out a historic Maya site. Playacar is an exclusive community in Playa Del Carmen that is also home to Xaman Ha, a residential Mayan site dating back to the Post-Classic period, with its most active years from 1200 AD to 1526 AD. Its name means “waters to the north,” and it was primarily a fishing community along the Mayan trade route. Xaman Ha was also one of three coastal communities that led an annual female pilgrimage to Cozumel, in order to pay homage to the goddess Ixchel.
Most of these sites are accessible by taxi or private rental car, and you can combine visits to a few of them in one day, or also in conjunction with a visit to one of the larger sites on the Riviera Maya.
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Erin is a travel and food writer who currently splits her time between the Netherlands and Belize. She's traveled to 60+ countries on 5 continents with a passion for culinary travel, luxury hotels, and all things Disney. Her writing has appeared in numerous online outlets including Gadling, BootsnAll, CNN, Art of Backpacking, TravBuddy, CBS, and more. She was the major author of Belize's official visitor magazine, Destination Belize 2013; wrote the official AFAR Guide to Belize; and is also AFAR Magazine's local Belize expert.. In addition to writing for other publications, Erin maintains several blogs, Our Tasty Travels, No Checked Bags, Pooh's Travels, and the brand new Caye To Belize. Follow Erin on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Google Plus.
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