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Coastal Maya Sites along the Maya Riviera

Maya Sites Along the Coast of Yucatan and Quintana Roo


The coast of the Yucatan peninsula played an important economic, political and communication role in ancient Maya history, especially in the Postclassic period. Evidence of this importance are the numerous Maya ruins that dot the famous Maya Riviera Coast of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, facing the Caribbean sea. 

Here is a possible itinerary, from North to South, when visiting the Riviera Maya to get to know some of them.

El Meco

El Meco is a small site just on the outskirt of the modern city of Cancun. It was an important commercial center during the Postclassic period. It bears architectural similarities to Chichen Itza, especially for its serpent-like motifs along the balustrades of its major building, Structure 1, called - with no surprise - El Castillo.  This building is located in the central plaza, an area surrounded by a series of religious, administrative, and residential buildings.

El Rey

The archeological zone of El Rey  lies within the urban area of Cancun. Situated in a strategic position between the Caribbean Sea and the Nichupté Lagoon, El Rey played an  important role in maritime trade during the Postclassic period. The site core is organized around  two plazas and some of the residential buildings contain fragments of mural paintings.


The trade center of Xcaret was located in a favorable location, on a protected small bay facing the Caribbean sea. The settlement was probably first occupied during the Early Classic, but the bulk of the now visible constructions dates to the Late Postclassic period, when Xcaret was an important node of the system of sites along the eastern coast of Quintana Roo. The site includes several architectural complexes, a series of low walls enclosing religious, residential and garden areas, as well as an early Colonial chapel.

Cozumel Island

The beautiful Cozumel island features different archeological zones: San Gervasio, San Miguel, La Palma, El Castillo Real, El Caracol, El Cedral and Buena Vista. The island prospered thanks to the commercial network along the coast of the Yucatan peninsula and the Caribbean sea as well as for housing a famous shrine dedicated to the Maya goddess Ixchel.


Xelha was one on the most important Maya cities on the coast. Its development spanned from the Late Preclassic to the Postclassic period, when it became an important trade port. Along with the sites of Tulum and Tancha, Xelha represents one of the best-preserved example of Postclassic architecture in the region.  Major architectural groups to visit include: the Lothrop Group, the Building of the Pillars, the Group of the Jaguars. Some of these, like the Building of the Birds, still has vestiges of mural paintings.


Tancah is a Postclassic site near Tulum. Evidence suggests that the site was first occupied during the Preclassic period, but it developed during the Classic and Postclassic periods. Tancah exhibits one of the best preserved examples of Postclassic style architecture along with remains of mural paintings in one of its buildings.


Tulum is probably the most famous Maya site on the coast the Yucatan peninsula. During the Late Postclassic period, Tulum was one of the most important cities of the Maya area, controlling much of the trade traffic along the coast of Quintana Roo. The site is located on a high cliff facing the Caribbean sea, and it is surrounded on the three other sides by a wall which has several entries and two control towers. Within the enclosed area there are several buildings and internal precincts. Some of the most important buildings are: El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, the House of the Columns, the House of Halach Uinich, the Templo del Dio Descendente (Temple of the Descending God), and the Temple of the Wind God.


The site of Muyil is not on the coast, but is connected to the sea through a series of inland lagoons, lakes and waterways. The site was inhabited since the Preclassic but grew in importance at the end of the Classic period and in the Postclassic, first under the control of Chinikihá and later under Mayapan. The main structures of Muyil are two temple-pyramids, called Castillo and Templo 8, located in the main plaza. This main plaza is located to the coastal lagoon through a stone causeway around 400 mt. long.

Other Sites Along the Eastern Coast of Quintana Roo are:

  • Ekab
  • El Garrafon (Isla Mujeres)
  • Calica (Rancho Ina)
  • Paamul
  • Xaac
  • Punta Piedra

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