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Landmarks and Sites to See in Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean

Mayan ruins and towering cathedrals are just a small sampling of Cancun's impressive landmarks

Photo credit: © Alexander Garaev |

From ancient Mayan ruins to breath-taking cathedrals, the landmarks of Cancun provide an excellent and educational sightseeing opportunity for any vacationer.

Travelers are often interested in absorbing the culture of their vacation destination. Cancun has a rich heritage and lively culture that attracts visitors from around the globe. While there is a variety of different ways to interact with the historical aspects of this popular region, the best way to get a true taste of Cancun’s past and present is by visiting landmarks.


The abundance of historical homes, landmarks and other attractions throughout Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean make the necessity of visiting a museum during your time in the region almost unnecessary.  Even so, it can be easier to tour a cultural center filled with information than pack your days filed with trips to historic homes and monuments.  If you're short on time, a trip to any of the museums in Quintina Roo is a great way to learn more about the area in which you are visiting.

Find which museums are located near your lodgings below.

Name Phone Location
Cedam Museum -- The vicinity of La Gloria
Museo Arqueológico de Cancún (998) 883-0305 7.1 mi. (11.5 km) South of Isla Mujeres
San Roque Museum -- Valladolid

A Glimpse into the Past

Some of the most popular and well-known attractions in Mexico are the impressive ruins left behind by the extinct Mayan civilization. The famed Mayan people were masters of architecture and built countless temples and community centers that still remain partially intact for visitors to enjoy. With so many different sites to explore, one could easily dedicate an entire vacation to investigating all that the Mayans left behind.

A considerable distance outside of Cancun, vacationers will find the ancient Mayan city of Coba, which is located in Quintana Roo. This phenomenal destination boats the remains of a Mayan civilization that resided between two large bodies of water. Restored roadways, towering temples and more will keep visitors captivated as they explore the area. Many guests find that booking a guided tour through Coba is the best way to fully appreciate everything the area has to offer. These tours often include a trip toTulum or a visit to a nearby natural attraction.

One of the most renowned Mayan destinations is the Chichen Itza temple group. A huge selection of Mayan architecture can be visited here, and many structures have been restored to preserve their historical importance. The focal point of Chichen Itza is the El Castillo temple, which houses a smaller temple within, as well as a hidden throne room. Visitors are also welcome to explore the area’s other temples, great ball court, bathhouse, marketplace structure, numerous platforms and the Cenote Sagrado, which served as the site of sacrificial ceremonies. Travelers with interests in archeology or history should definitely consider a trip to Chichen Itza for an unforgettable immersion into Mayan culture.

At the Ruinas del Rey, visitors will find a smaller archeological site of Mayan artifacts. Open daily, this destination features two plazas, which is unique in a society that typically only featured a single plaza per city. The site also houses a large pyramid that may have served as a burial ground for Mayan royalty. This location is of particular interest because it has been identified as a place where the Mayans engaged in their famous astronomical practices. The Ruinas del Rey is easily accessed near Cancun’s Hotel Zone, making it a practical excursion for travelers staying nearby.

Another notable location of Mayan ruins is the ancient lighthouse and temple at Yamil Lu’um, which is located on the Park Royal Cancun property which is situated directly on the beachfront. Additionally, visitors may decide to venture towards the Centro Ceremonial Kohunlich. This Mayan ceremonial site features the Sun Temple, where guests can view historical wall carvings. Both locations boast complimentary admission for all visitors.

The Mayan Riviera combines the ancient traditions of the Mayans with modern advances to create a contemporary district of hotels, restaurants and more. Many of the resort developers in this area have modeled their properties to mimic Mayan architecture and culture. The Mayan Riviera is a true testament to Cancun’s dedication to preserving and celebrating their ancient roots.

Religious Landmarks

Both religious and non-religious travelers are often intrigued by the strong historical presence and architectural wonder of religious buildings. The most influential churches in the Cancun area are the Iglesia de Cristo Rey, the Puerta del Cielo and the Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen.

The Iglesia de Cristo Rey is centrally located and popular for its beautiful façade. At the Puetra del Cielo, guests are invited to visit a Presbyterian church frequented by locals. The Iglesia de Nuestra Senora del Carmen is of particular notice because it is entirely dedicated to Cancun’s patron saint, the Virgin del Carmen. Travelers flock to this church to view its astonishing interior and ornate décor. Those interested in attending a mass are welcome to partake in any of the churches’ frequent service

Even more attractions that touch on the history of Cancun and the Mexican Caribbean are listed on the chart that follows.

Historical Sites
Name Phone Location
Akab-Dzib -- Chichen Itza
Ball Court -- 31.5 mi. (50.7 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
Casa del Cenote at Tulum Mayan Ruins -- 2.1 mi. (3.4 km) East of Tulum
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins -- 33.8 mi. (54.3 km) North of Chetumal
Chichen Itza -- Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza Ball Court -- Chichen Itza
Chichen Viejo (Old Chichen) -- 0.6 mi. (1.0 km) South of Chichen Itza
Church (La Iglesia) -- Chichen Itza
Coba Ball Courts -- 25.8 mi. (41.6 km) Northwest of Tulum
Coba Ruins -- 25.9 mi. (41.7 km) Northwest of Tulum
Colonnades -- Chichen Itza
Ek Balam Ruins -- 31.5 mi. (50.8 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
Ekab Maya Ruin -- 2.5 mi. (4.0 km) Southeast of Isla Mujeres
El Castillo -- Chichen Itza
El Meco Mayan Ruins -- 4.8 mi. (7.6 km) Northeast of Cancun
House Of The Cenote -- 2.1 mi. (3.4 km) East of Tulum
House Of The Chultun -- 2.0 mi. (3.2 km) East of Tulum
House Of The Columns -- 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
House Of The Deer -- Chichen Itza
Iglesia de Cristo Rey (998) 881-2745 Downtown Cancun
Isla Mujeres Cemetery -- 2.1 mi. (3.5 km) Northwest of Isla Mujeres
La Rafaelita -- Valladolid
Lookout Tower -- 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Main Entrance To Tulum Ruins -- 2.1 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Muyil Mayan Ruin -- 13.5 mi. (21.7 km) South West of Tulum
Nohoch Mul -- 25.8 mi. (41.4 km) Northwest of Tulum
Nunnery -- Chichen Itza
Observatory (El Caracol) -- Chichen Itza
Old Market District -- Villa Morelos
Ossuary -- Chichen Itza
Oval Palace -- 31.5 mi. (50.7 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
Pintura -- 25.7 mi. (41.4 km) Northwest of Tulum
Plattform Of The Skulls (Tzompantli) -- Chichen Itza
Puetra del Cielo 52-98-842-862 2.2 mi. (3.6 km) South West of Playa del Carmen
Red House -- Chichen Itza
Ruinas del Rey (998) 883-2080 8.9 mi. (14.3 km) Southeast of Cancun
San Bernardino Monastery -- Valladolid
Sian Ka'an Arch (Entrance To Biosphere) (984) 141-4245 5.8 mi. (9.4 km) South of Tulum
Stacked Stones -- Chichen Itza
Steam Bath -- Chichen Itza
Stelae -- 31.5 mi. (50.7 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
Temple of the Church -- 26.0 mi. (41.9 km) Northwest of Tulum
Temple Of The Descending God -- 2.1 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Temple Of The Initial Series (Temple Of The Stellae) -- 2.1 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Temple Of The Pinturas -- 2.0 mi. (3.2 km) East of Tulum
Temple Of The Sea -- 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Temple Of The Warriors -- Chichen Itza
Temple Of The Wind -- 2.1 mi. (3.4 km) East of Tulum
The Acropolis -- 31.6 mi. (50.8 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
The Grand Palace -- 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
The Macanxoc Group -- 25.4 mi. (40.9 km) Northwest of Tulum
The Sacred Cenote -- 0.5 mi. (0.8 km) North of Chichen Itza
Tulum Maya Ruins (987) 882-0972 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) East of Tulum
Tulum Outer Wall -- 2.0 mi. (3.2 km) East of Tulum
Twin Pyramids -- 31.5 mi. (50.7 km) East-Northeast of Chichen Itza
Xaibe Temple -- 25.8 mi. (41.4 km) Northwest of Tulum
Xcaret Maya Ruins (998) 881-2400 1.4 mi. (2.3 km) South West of Playa del Carmen
Xel Ha Ruins (998) 883-3143 6.4 mi. (10.2 km) South-Southwest of Akumal
Xlapak Mayan Ruin -- 11.9 mi. (19.2 km) South West of Tulum
Yamil Lu'um Mayan Ruin -- 7.5 mi. (12.0 km) Southeast of Cancun

A tour of lighthouses can show visitors the huge impact that residing so close to the Caribbean Sea has had on this region of Mexico.  Find these lighthouses listed here.

Name Location Island
El Faro Lighthouse Downtown Playa del Carmen --
Leaning Lighthouse Puerto Morelos --
Lighthouse 2.1 mi. (3.3 km) Northwest of Isla Mujeres Isla Mujeres
Punta Allen Lighthouse 29.8 mi. (48.0 km) South of Tulum --
Punta Sur Lighthouse 2.3 mi. (3.8 km) Southeast of Isla Mujeres Isla Mujeres
Tulum Lighthouse 2.0 mi. (3.2 km) East of Tulum --
Name Location
Fisherman's Statue 2.1 mi. (3.4 km) Northwest of Isla Mujeres
Ixchel Goddess Statue 2.0 mi. (3.3 km) North-Northwest of Isla Mujeres

Absorb the Local Culture

For a more modern approach to Cancun’s landmarks, many visitors will enjoy spending a day at El Centro. This often overlooked downtown area is home to many of Cancun’s top markets, eateries and shopping areas, making it a great choice for anyone seeking insight to Cancun’s urban scene. Travelers won’t be able to miss El Centro’s biggest landmark, an enormous sculpture made of seashells and starfish. Located on the main street of Avenida Tulum, this structure is even more impressive when it is illuminated at night.

Alternatively, those seeking a thrill may consider heading to the Plaza de Toros to watch an authentic bullfight. This is an exhibition of Mexican tradition, and the event begins with a show of folk dancing, as well as a performance by Mexican cowboys. It is highly advised to remember that bullfighting is not for everyone, especially families traveling with younger children

From historical Mayan architecture to bustling bullfighting rings, the landmarks of Cancun boast an eclectic mix of cultural influences. Whether you’re a history buff or religiously inclined, the various attractions featured in Cancun are sure to leave you yearning for more. With so many different sites to be explored, you’ll find yourself wishing you could extend your vacation to make time for more adventure.


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