Rating Mexico’s Pyramids (Archaeological Sites) Best to Worst

I’ve visited 6 of Mexico’s popular archaeological sites on my travels – and each was very different. These are: Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Mayapan, Palenque, Monte Alban and Teotihuacan.

Most of these are Mayan ruins. Except Monte Alban which was built by the Zapotec people. And Teotihuacan, which nobody has figured out who built it yet.

Here’s how I’d rank them against each other – in my own, personal opinion.

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Least to Most Favourite: Archaeological Sites in Mexico

6th Place: Chichen Itza (Valladolid, Yucatan)

The large stone pyramid at Chichen Itza with its stepped sides perfectly facing each point of a compass. The sky is blue with wispy clouds

It’s not that Chichen Itza is bad. But by becoming a Wonder of the World – and 1 of just 7 at that – it attracts absolutely huge visitor numbers.

My start to this famous site didn’t start off great. I fell foul of the no food rule and had to eat my lunch before entering, despite being at the gates for the 8 am opening time to avoid the crowds! Don’t be like me.

Then I also had to stomach the entrance fee – one that’s substantially higher than similar sites across the country thanks to its status as a World Wonder.

When I finally did make it inside, there were almost as many vendors as visitors in the first couple of hours. And that’s not because there’s so few visitors!

Every path between ruins was flanked with stalls selling the same ornaments, clothing and souvenirs. And this isn’t anything against the locals who are clearly making the most of the 10,000 people coming each day. But it does make it feel more like a theme park than a historical site.

Was the main pyramid – known as El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulcan – impressive? Yes, but it is heavily restored. While it’s cool to know what it would have looked like 1000 years ago, it does take away from the authenticity a bit.

That said, Chichen Itza still has cultural importance. And it’s easy to appreciate just how advanced the Mayans were with their calculations and understanding of the world in building the city. The site is huge and there’s plenty of smaller ruins to see.

Am I glad I went? Yes. Would I go again? Probably not.

A small building at chichen itza with design on the stone on the outside with Mayan patterns. An open doorway leads into the darkness inside
A small pyramid temple at Chichen Itza. Weeds grow through the steps that lead up to the top and a tree hangs over the top of the frame

5th Place: Uxmal (Merida, Yucatan)

The main pyramid at Uxmal rising high above the tree tops against a grey, rainy sky.

I really liked Uxmal when I visited but it kind of just got eclipsed by better sites as I visited more.

If you’ve not visited any/many archaeological sites, then this will be more impressive than if you’re on your 3rd/4th or more.

I liked that it wasn’t overly restored and it wasn’t very busy. In fact, not many people we met in Mexico had heard of it, so definitely a good option if you’re looking for somewhere a little more off the beaten path.

The downsides are its remote location and poor public transport links. After discovering the next bus back to Merida wasn’t for 2 hours, I ended up hitchhiking and flagging down a passing car.

That was the easy part. Baring in mind, I’d barely been in Mexico 3 weeks at this point, my Spanish was about the level of a 2-year-old child. Nevertheless, thanks to a more modern world wonder – the internet – I did manage to communicate where I needed to go and got back safely!

Seeing the ruins of Uxmal through the trees with stone fall and piles of rocks visible.
Intricate detailing on the stone buildings at Uxmal Archaeological Site in Mexico. Stone steps lead up to a beige-coloured stone building in ruins with the detailing on top

4th Place: Palenque (Chiapas)

A side view of the main pyramid at Palenque. The steps at the front lead steeply up multiple levels to reach the temple at the top. Thick trees grow all around.

I wanted to love Palenque, but I just… didn’t. Overall, I’d say it’s more impressive than the Mayan ruins in the Yucatan Peninsula – but I ended up much preferring Tikal across the border in Guatemala, which is similar.

But that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time at Palenque Ruins. Although the amount of bites I got during a relatively short visit did make me question that in the hours after!

As you enter and see the towering temples surrounded by overgrown jungle, it’s easy to feel as if you are the one discovering this lost city for the first time. One hidden away in rural Chiapas, where far fewer visitors reach compared with Oaxaca, Mexico City and the Yucatan Peninsula.

Not that hidden though, as this archaeological site is easy to get to on public transport from Palenque town. Or you can take a tour that combines the ruins with some of the best waterfalls around at very good value.

A white house-like building in the Palenque Ruins in Mexico. It is surrounded by overgrown trees that hang down and give a mystical feel
The ruins of Palenque surrounded by dense jungle and vivid green trees. Steps lead up to a building that is structurally intact on the first level with substantial disrepair on the level above

3rd Place: Mayapan (Merida, Yucatan)

Looking up at the main Mayapan pyramid. The first few steps are well restored and the remaining 75% to the top are in ruins

Probably the least well-known of all these Mexico archaeological sites. Mayapan is smaller and attracts few visitors – but that’s what makes it special.

It’s a steep but short climb to the top of the main pyramid where you can look out over the tree canopy far into the distance. As well as having a bird’s eye view of the surrounding ruins.

As a smaller site, I didn’t feel constrained by endless rules (like not being allowed to take sandwiches into Chichen Itza) or like I was under a watchful eye the whole time. Instead, I felt like I could explore every nook, cranny and corner with a peaceful bliss.

Mayapan is a reminder that bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Looking down on the Mayapan Archaelogical Site in Mexico from the top of the main pyramid - thick forest surrounds the edges of the ruins
The ruins of Mayapan viewed from the ground - the main pyramid is in the background partially obscured by stairs in disrepair leading up to a higher level

2nd Place: Teotihuacán (Mexico City)

5 hot air balloons fly over the teotihuacan pyramid with the photo taken from another hot air balloon above them all. The light is low with sunrise happening. The pyramid is large and has four levels with a small flat ledge separating each

Ok, so this one is a bit of a sly entry because I didn’t technically visit the archaeological site. But I did fly (very closely) over it on a hot air balloon ride, so I’m counting it!

It. Was. Magical. Seeing the majestic pyramids at sunrise with the golden glow and countless balloons in the sky was simply remarkable. And honestly, I think this is the absolute best way to see the Teotihuacán ruins.

The temples are huge – even from above – so I can only imagine how imposing they must be from the ground. Here, you really do feel like you’re walking in ancient times.

This experience did mean I had to get up at 4 am on my birthday but it was so worth it. As was the little cake I got in a nearby restaurant when we stopped for breakfast that was part of the trip.

16 hot air balloons floating in the sky over the teotihuacan pyramids near Mexico City. The sky is blue with a sunrise glow and the hills rise up from the flat land in the foreground
Looking down on the teotihuacan ruins from a hot air balloon, the large pyramid appears golden under the glow of sunrise.

Inspired to take a hot air balloon ride over Teotihuacán? It was one of the best things I did in Mexico so I couldn’t recommend it more…

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1st Place: Monte Alban (Oaxaca City, Oaxaca)

The ruins of Monte Alban with the mountains of Oaxaca in the backdrop.

Coming in top of the pile is the spectacular Monte Alban Archaeological Zone. This place just blew me away!

Not only is the site enormous, it’s all located on the top of the hill. So not only do you get stunning views of Oaxaca City and the surrounding mountains, but you also get to wonder how the Zapotecs got all this stone up here.

My favourite part was the Main Plaza – a flattened area home to numerous important structures. It’s flanked on either side by the North and South Platforms that provide great viewpoints and make you feel like you’re on the shoulders of history.

There’s so much to learn about this unique site – it predates Chichen Itza by 1000+ years – and getting an expert tour guide will really enrich your experience. You’ll get to know not just the history but also the ecosystem and geography.

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Looking across the main plaza of Monte Alban Archaeological site towards the south platform.
The main plaza of Monte Alban - a large, flat, grassy area surrounded by ruins of different buildings and a large ruin in the middle.

Discover More of Mexico…

OAXACA: Getting from Oaxaca to Puerto Escondido (Transport Options)

CHIAPAS: Chiapas Waterfalls: 12 INCREDIBLE Cascadas You Have to Visit

MEXICO: 22 Stunning Mexico Waterfalls Worth Visiting

YUCATAN: Mérida to Holbox (All Transport Options)

CHIAPAS: San Cristóbal de las Casas to Palenque (3 Best Ways)