Visiting the Mayapan Ruins in 2024: The Last Great Mayan City

The Mayapan ruins are among the most impressive ancient Mayan cities in southeastern Mexico and arguably, all of Latin America. They are located less than an hour away from the city of Merida, and make an easy and fun day trip from the Yucatan capital.

This underrated site is not only well worth your time and attention, but it played an integral role in Mayan history and the downfall of the Mayan civilization. After King Kukulkan II and his people abandoned the city of Chichen Itza, they relocated to Mayapan and their move here marked the beginning of the end of the great Mayan Empire.

You are in good hands here because I live in Merida and have visited the ruins several times when playing tour guide to visiting friends. In this post, we will look at everything you need to know before visiting, as well as some interesting history about the site.

2024 update: Unfortunately as of February 2024, the Mayapan ruins are currently closed to the public due to an ongoing land dispute between locals and the government. This has happened various times at Mayapan and Dzibilchaltun over the last few years, and the ruins may continue to be closed for several weeks.

Visiting the Mayapan ruins
Visiting the Mayapan ruins

A Little History of the Mayapan Ruins

The Mayapan ruins are believed to date back to around 1000 AD when they were established under an alliance with Chichen Itza and Uxmal. However, like many Mayan cities in the Yucatan, there is some debate among historians about exactly when they were founded. 

King Kukulkan II of Chichen Itza and his people moved to Mayapan after the downfall of Chichen Itza and he ruled over the city between 1263 and 1283 AD. 

The Post-Classic city quickly became an important political, economic and administrative hub for the Mayans and was essentially the last great capital for the civilization. Approximately  12,000 people lived within the city’s defensive walls, with a further 5000 or so living in the rural areas just outside it. 

Many of the structures here look almost identical to those at Chichen Itza.

The Pyramid of Kukulcan is almost an exact replica of the famous “El Castillo” at Chichen Itza. However, archeologists have confirmed that it is an inferior copy, and many of the 4,000 or so structures at Mayapan were hurriedly built and the Mayans did not take so much care and thought when constructing them as they had done in other cities. 
Throughout history, the site has gone by various different names, including Zaclactun Mayapán meaning “place where white pottery was made” in Yucatec Mayan and Zac Actun meaning “white cave”.

Mayapan ruins
A stepped pyramid at the Mayapan ruins

Downfall of Mayapan and the Mayans 

The residents of Mayapan belonged to two main cultural groups: the Xiu and the Cocom. 

They cohabited together relatively peacefully for as long as Kukulkan was in charge. After he died, feuds broke out between the inhabitants and the Cocom went on to seize Mayapan and take control of the Northern Yucatan. 

Their success was not to last though. The Xiu plotted their revenge and in 1441, they revolted against the Cocom, killed all members of the Cocom in Mayapan, and seized control of the city. 

Eventually, the Xiu abandoned the city. Historians debate about the date when Mayapan was abandoned as they do with the date that the city was founded. However, records indicate that it was some time in the 15th century – perhaps not too long after the Xiu defeated the Cocom. 

Visiting the Mayapan ruins
Visiting the Mayapan ruins

Visiting the Mayapan Ruins, Yucatan in 2024  

Despite the historical significance of Mayapan, the site sees a fraction of the crowds that you see in Chichen Itza, the Uxmal ruins, the Puuc route cities and other famous tourist sites around the Yucatan. This is perhaps in part due to the fact that it isn’t well marketed. (Unless you are super into Mayan history, you might have never heard of it) and it is tricky to get to unless you have access to a vehicle.

If you come here during the week, you may well find that you have the site entirely to yourself. (Mexicans are off work on Sundays so different ruins and Yucatecan beaches tend to see a few more visitors then, but Mayapan still only sees a handful!) 

INAH Archeologists from the US and Mexico still work around the clock to excavate more structures and artifacts from Mayapan and this work has been ongoing for literally centuries. It is interesting to imagine what other wonders await beneath the earth’s surface. 

Structures to look out for in Mayapan 

Only a portion of the 4,000 or so identified structures at Mayapan have been excavated. 

Many of the sunbleached ruins of buildings that surround the central plaza served civic and administrative purposes, or were once the homes of Mayan nobility. 

The Mayans were keen astrologers, and they observed, recorded and predicted various natural events including eclipses, planetary movements and solstices. Some of the circular buildings at Mayapan were “observatories” used to watch the stars and were built in a similar design to the famous “El Caracol” (snail) observatory at Chichen Itza. 

There are also more than 26 cenotes (freshwater sinkholes) scattered around the Mayapan site. However, unfortunately they are currently closed to the public, perhaps due to ongoing excavation work. One relatively large one sits within a cave at the foot of Kukulkan pyramid, although it is taped off to prevent access. 

“La Sala de Los Reyes” (The Room of the Kings) is an interesting collonaded building that takes its name from modeled stucco figures representing human heads that were found throughout its rooms. Nearby, “La Sala de los Mascarones del Dios Chaac” (“The room of the masks of the god Chaac”) sits beside the Che’ en Mul cenote and is an ornate structure that has been decorated in Puuc style with ornate friezes and was most likely used as a place to carry out religious ceremonies and rituals. 

The Pyramid of Kukulkan at Mayan

Mayapan admission information 

Entrance to the Mayapan ruins is 65 pesos ($3.80 USD/£3) per person for foreigners and free for Mexican citizens provided that they show their national ID. That is quite a substantial price difference to Chichen Itza which costs 614 pesos ($35.87 USD/£28.29)!

There are no bathrooms on site, although there are usually a couple of tianguis (stalls) outside the entrance where locals sell a collection of souvenirs and trinkets (fridge magnets, statues of Chaac Muul and other dieties, Mayan masks, etc), as well as snacks and drinks. 

You can easily explore the center of the ruins in just under an hour. Unlike Chichen Itza and other sites, it is possible to climb the majority of the pyramids and structures at Mayapan. 

Interesting carvings and depictions of war can be seen on the ruins
Interesting carvings and depictions of war can be seen on the ruins

How to Get to Mayapan from Merida

It is tricky to get to the Mayapan ruins if you are not renting a car in Merida. Noreste buses headed to Telchaquillo depart from Merida every hour and stop outside the ruins, although taking and waiting around for public transport here isn’t always the most pleasant experience when it’s super hot and humid.  

The Mayapan ruins are located just a few miles south of the town of Telchaquillo. They are about 40km south of Mérida and 100km west of Chichen Itza, respectively.}

Driving to Mayapan 

Driving in Merida and the Yucatan is not as intimidating as it may sound, and opting to rent a car in Mexico can give you a lot more freedom and flexibility during your Yucatan itinerary. Even with the creation of the new Mayan train, public transport in the peninsula still leaves a lot to be desired and many archeological sites, pueblos and beaches are not accessible without a vehicle. 

Numerous reputable rental companies operate in Merida including the likes of Avis and Mex Rent A Car. You are looking at paying around $30 USD a day for an economy-sized vehicle including full coverage insurance.

The roads here are generally well-maintained and in good condition. It takes about 40 minutes to drive from Merida to Mayapan along Peto/México 184.

There is free parking outside the ruins. You can easily visit Uxmal, Labna, Kabah and Sayil along with Mayapan on a day trip from Merida or alternatively pair a visit to the site with an exploration of the pueblo magico of Mani and its various meliponarios.   

Taking the bus to Mayapan 

It takes just over an hour to get from Merida to the Mayapan ruins by bus. The Mérida – Teabo bus runs from the Noreste station every hour and stops on the road by the archeological site. 

(There are several different bus stations in Merida but the Noreste station located on on Calle 67 between Calle 50 and 52.) Lineas Unidas del Sur also operate a bus from Merida to Telchaquillo every four hours which stops at the ruins.

You should note that confusingly, “Mayapan” is also the name of a village which is nowhere near the archeological site. When buying a ticket, tell the driver that you want to go to “ruinas de Mayapán” or “zona archeologica de Mayapán” so that they know that you want to head to the ruins and not the village. 

It is a good idea to pick up a Mexican SIM card during your time in Mexico so that you can stay connected. Use Google Maps to follow your route on the bus so that you can check you are going to the right place and see when your stop is approaching. 

Bus tickets to Mayapan cost 58 pesos each way. The bus also stops at Acanceh and Tecoh en route to/from the site. 

Getting to Mayapan with a taxi/private driver 

Uber works in Merida and is a popular way to get around. You may be able to find a driver to take you to the Mayapan ruins but honestly, from experience, I can say that most drivers are reluctant to drive so far out of the city. 

You may be able to make a deal with a local Uber or taxi driver to have them take you and then wait for you while you explore the site but you should expect to pay at least 700/800 pesos one way. Better still, ask around in Merida expat Facebook groups for recommendations on local drivers or have your hotel/Airbnb host organize a transfer with a trusted taxi firm. 

The entrance to the Grutas Tzabnah just outside Tecoh

Points of interest close to Mayapan

There are a couple of notable, off-the-beaten-path places to visit in the Yucatan that you might be interested in visiting while you are in the area in Mayapan. However, most of these places are pretty remote so they are only really accessible if you are renting a car or exploring with a driver. 

  • Grutas Tzabnah – A series of 13 different cave cenotes which you can tour with a local guide. Note that this activity is best reserved for adrenaline junkies and is not for the claustrophobic – You will be given a helmet, knee pads, and a head torch and you have to crawl through tunnels, swim, and climb up rope ladders to get from one cenote to another.

  • Tour the Hacienda Sotuta de Peon – This 19th century hacienda has been lovingly restored to its former glory and you can take a tour of the premises to understand what Yucatan haciendas were like during the henequen boom.

  • Cenote Noh Mozon – Opt to swim in the crystal-clear waters of this lesser-known cenote close to the remote village of Pixya. 
Mayapan ruins
The Mayapan ruins

Final thoughts on visiting the Mayapan ruins

Though small, the Mayapan ruins are well worth visiting and are very unique and well-preserved. If you enjoy learning about ancient history, it is very worth coming here to gain an understanding of how Mayapan fits into the wider history of the Ancient Mayan Empire, particularly in relation to their downfall. 

Do you have any further questions about visiting the site or planning a trip to the Yucatan in general? As I mentioned, I live here in Merida and I am always happy to help where I can.

Feel free to connect with me via email/social media or through the comments below and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. 

Safe travels and enjoy Mexico! Buen Viaje! Melissa xo

Melissa Douglas

Melissa Douglas is a British Travel Writer based in Merida, Mexico and the Editor-in-Chief of Mexico Travel Secrets. She has over seven years worth of experience in working in travel media and has travelled to 57 countries, mostly solo. Throughout her career, Melissa has produced written content for several high-profile publications across the globe - including Forbes Travel Guide, the Huffington Post, Rough Guides, and Matador Network.

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