The Riviera Maya is Mexico’s most popular area for tourists. It has an extension of 140km and runs along the Caribbean coastline of Quintana Roo. The area is home to hundreds of years of history and culture from Mesoamerican civilisation in the Petén Basin.
Apart from enjoying Playa del Carmen’s shopping areas, adventures in Cancun, and the beautiful resorts and nightlife in Tulum, we also recommend soaking up some culture, history and archaeology to really get a feel for the Yucatan Peninsula.
There are many archaeological sites to see and discover, but we’ve prepared a list of the most symbolic ones, where you’ll feel as if you’ve travelled back in time to experience firsthand how the Mayans interacted with their nature surroundings.
1. Chichen Itza.
The pre-Columbian city of Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Wonders of the World. The archaeological site is located in the Tinúm Municipality in the Yucatan State and was the most important Mayan ceremonial centre in the region.
It was built in a Toltec architectural style and the Kukulkan god, a Mayan representation of the Toltecs’ chief deity, Quetzalcoatl, sits on top of the site.
Coba is a pre-Columbian Mayan archaeological site between Tulum and Playa del Carmen in Quintana Roo. There’s no consensus on the literal translation of the site’s name, although some believe it to mean “moss water”, or “water humidity”.
It’s believed to have been one of the largest and most controlled cities in northern Quintana Roo and in certain parts of Yucatan. Coba was well connected with other areas and had important agreements in the centre of the countryand also in Guatemala.
3. El Tajín.
El Tajín, or the “city of thunder”, is an archaeological site close to the city of Papantla, which is said to have been the capital of the Totonac empire and housed several ballcourts and pyramids.
This sizeable pre-Columbian city lay between the Cazones and Tecolutla rivers and was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its great testimony to the excellent functioning of ancient cultures in Mexico and their outstanding architectural skills.
This archaeological site is located between the border of Mexico and Belize and was first inhabited around 200 AD. It’s a little more than 60km from Chetumal and is considered a regional centre and stopping point on trade routes between the Yucatan Peninsula and other Mayan cities in Central America.
The Mascarones (Temple of the Masks) is one of the most emblematic in the area, and the red paint used to decorate the large masks carved in wood can still be seen by visitors today.
And a little trivia to finish up. It appears that the Spanish name does not derive from Mayan but from the English Cohune Ridge where cohune palm was grown in the past.