Brush Up on Mayan History Before Visiting Playa del Carmen, Mexico

Playa del Carmen lies in the heart of what has come to be known as Mexico’s Mayan Riviera. It is located on the northeast coast of the Yucatán Peninsula, which has been inhabited by the Maya people for thousands of years. Today, this part of Mexico is filled with remnants of the ancient Mayan civilization that used to rule this land. Although Playa del Carmen’s stunning beaches attract most of its visitors, those interested in history will be equally impressed by the region’s fascinating origins.

Staying at one of the hotels in Playa del Carmen is a great starting point for exploring the ancient Mayan ruins in the area. Before visiting these sites, it’s a great idea to learn a little about their history in order to truly understand their significance. Here are some highlights to get you started.

Chichén Itzá

These exceptionally well-preserved ruins of an ancient Mayan city are both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. Covering four square miles or ten square kilometers, Chichén Itzá is impressive in size alone. These form the remains of a complex urban center founded around the fifth century, as well as a revered religious and ceremonial site.

Photo by David Bjorgen via

El Castillo Mayan pyramid at Chichén Itzá, Mexico (Photo by David Bjorgen via

The temple pyramid known as El Castillo is the most iconic structure within the site. It illustrates the fusion of the Mayan and Toltec cultures, which arose after Toltec warriors invaded the city around the 10th century. A reflection of their extensive knowledge of astronomy, this pyramid has exactly 365 steps, or one for each day of the year. As the sun sets during the spring and autumn equinoxes, shadows cast on the pyramid give the illusion of a serpent descending its stairs.

Chichén Itzá is the most famous archaeological site on the Yucatán Peninsula and undeniably attracts thousands, if not millions, of tourists every year. But even if you’re the type of traveler who tries to avoid big crowds, this is an exceptional place that deserves a visit. If you’d like to take a day tour to Chichén Itzá, you can arrange a pick up from any of the Playa del Carmen hotels.


Mayan ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea at Tulum, Mexico (Photo by Miguel Vasquez via

Mayan ruins overlooking the Caribbean Sea at Tulum, Mexico (Photo by Miguel Vasquez via

These ruins of a walled Mayan city are much smaller than Chichén Itzá, but they’re also impressive because of their stunning location. They’re situated on the coast, with some structures sitting on cliffs directly overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Tulum used to be an ancient trading port and is believed to be the only coastal city the Mayans ever constructed. It’s convenient to take a half-day tour to Tulum from any of the hotels in Playa del Carmen, since the archaeological site is located only about 30 miles or 50 kilometers south of the city. It’s easy to arrange for a pickup from your hotel here, too.

If you’re interested in learning more about the history of the Mayan civilization, be sure to brush up on the Maya’s rise and fall before you go. When you arrive, you’ll see history come alive at these archaeological sites.

This article is part of the #HipmunkCityLove series.

As always, happy travels!
– Ala


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