Visit the Mayan ruins and the Mexican Riviera

Located just an hour and a half from Cancun, the Riviera Maya area, sometimes referred to as the Mexican Riviera has a large number of all-inclusive resorts and is close to the archeological sites operated by the Instituto Nacional de Archeological such as Tulum on the coast, Chichen Itza, Coba located some distance inland and many Cenotes.

Mayan ruins and the Mexican Riviera | Outside Suburbia

Barceló Maya Palace in Riviera Maya

On our first of the many visits to Mexico, we stayed at the Barceló Maya Palace in Riviera Maya and visited the Mayan Ruins.  Barcelo was a very kid-friendly property from the swimming pools to kids’ activities to food choices.  The kids had a blast! The Riviera Maya is a tourism and resort district in Mexico. It straddles the coastal Highway 307 along the Caribbean coastline of the state of Quintana Roo, located on the eastern portion of the Yucatán Peninsula. This district starts at the city of Playa del Carmen and ends at the village of Tulum.

See this Road trip Guide to Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico if you want to explore beyond Cancun.

Hmm, what is my next move.. let me see if I can carry it first!
Breakfast with a view

You can expect excellent service at the Premium Level Barceló Resort, the suites are well-appointed and you will have access to the 6 select restaurants serving specialty cuisine. While the kids are in the kids club you can also check out some of the excellent luxury treatments at the Spa.  The resort has 3 swimming pools including shallow areas for kids and fun slides, waterfalls and castles in the pool.  There are plenty of loungers around the pool from where you can enjoy the sun, sipping on a cocktail.

Sun is on my face!

One mickey mouse please.. which is really just soda with lemon slices for mickey ears!


Chichen Itza Tour

We did a day trip to Chichen Itza which is the 2nd most visited archeological site in Mexico.  The Kukulkan Pyramid known as El Castillo is square-based stepped pyramid 75 feet tall, it is one of the seven new wonders of the world.


Kukulkan Pyramid was built for astronomical purposes. A fascinating fact about the pyramid is that during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3 pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway.  This causes 7 isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent roughly 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. Is that just amazing!

A huge serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway in Chichen Itza
A huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway in Chichen Itza

El Caracol, which translates to “spiral-shaped,” or, “snail,” is named after the winding staircase that rounds the interior of the central tower. The Observatory of Chichen Itza is one of the world’s oldest observatories.  El Caracol’s viewing tower rises above the lush jungle, so ancient astronomers could have viewed the stars in 360 degrees, tracking solstices, equinoxes, and eclipses. They seem to be designed specifically to track the appearance and disappearance of Venus in the night sky which helped the Mayans measure longer intervals of the Earth’s orbit.  

El Caracol, the Observatory at the Chichen Itza
El Caracol, the Observatory at the Chichen Itza

Within eyeshot of the famous pyramid El Castillo, El Caracol is easy to visit and not to be missed when visiting the Mayan Ruins, a Mexican tourist attraction near the Mexican Riviera.

The Mayan Ruins at Tulum

Tulum is the site of a Pre-Columbian Maya walled city serving as a major port for Cobá. The ruins are situated on 12-meter (39 ft) tall cliffs, along the east coast of the Yucatán Peninsula on the Caribbean Sea. Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Maya, it was at its height between the 13th and 15th centuries and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico.

God of Winds Temple from the north

The architecture of this walled city is similar to that of Chicken Itza.  Tulum was protected on one side by steep sea cliffs and on the other side by the 16 ft walls with watch towers.  There are three major structures of interest at the Tulum site. El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending God are the three most famous buildings.

Tulum ruins Mexico | Outside Suburbia
Tulum beach
Great Palace

Temple of the Frescos was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. Niched figurines of the Maya ‘diving god’ or Venus deity decorate the façade of the temple. This ‘diving god’ is also depicted in the Temple of the Diving God in the central precinct of the site. Above the entrance in the western wall, a stucco figure of the ‘diving god’ is still preserved, giving the temple its name.

Temple of the Frescos

The Castillo was built on a previous building that was colonnaded and had a beam and mortar roof. The lintels in the upper rooms have serpent motifs carved into them. The construction of the Castillo appears to have taken place in stages. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes.

Pyramid El Castillo(Image by Wikipedia)

We also did a day trip into Playa del Carmen city to have some authentic tacos and stroll along 5th Avenue stores and watch the Mayan women weave crafts.


We rarely go to the same place twice since our bucket list is endless, but we made it to Mexico 3 times so far.  The convenience of getting there and the amazing white beaches are the biggest draws for the kids.  They love walking up to the endless buffet for snacks after frolicking on the beach… sipping virgin cocktails at the swim-up bar and all the water activities.

Popular tours to visit the Mayan Ruins

If you are heading to Riviera Maya near Cancun, Stay at the Barcelo Maya Palace. Apart from visiting the Mayan ruins in Tulum and Chichen Itza, plan to visit a few Cenotes, eco-theme parks like Xcaret and Xel-Ha.

See: The BEST all-inclusive resorts in Mexico

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What is your favorite beach destination? Have you been to see the 7 wonders of the world?


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8 thoughts on “Visit the Mayan ruins and the Mexican Riviera”

  1. How fun! During college I learned about all of those locations in my many art history classes. I would love to be able to see them in person 🙂 Looks like a wonderful trip and so great you were able to share that experience with your children!

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