Generally when people think of Cancun, certain things come to mind: white sand beaches, the turquoise Caribbean Sea, the unparalleled nightlife, MTV Spring Break. And it's true that all of these things can be found in the world's most popular vacation destination.
However, for those looking for a little more in between cocktails and late nights (ending in early mornings) at the disco, Cancun also offers rich, ancient history. The Yucatan Peninsula – the region in which Cancun is located – was, and actually still is, home to the Mayan civilization.
Museo Maya de Cancun is home to some 350 artifacts — Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse
A visit to the archaeological sites of Chichen Itza, Tulum, Coba or Uxmal is a great way to learn about the Maya, but many visitors don't realize that Mayan history is also available in Cancun's Hotel Zone.
First stop, Museo Maya de Cancun, located at kilometer 16.5 on Boulevard Kukulcan, directly across the street from Captain's Cove restaurant.
This museum is home to some 350 artifacts, many in surprisingly good condition and all excavated from the Cancun area.
The 14,000-year-old skeletal remains of La Mujer de las Palmas ("The Woman of the Palms") is a must-see. Her remains were found in a cenote in Tulum in 2002, and she is located in the first exhibition room in front of a hologram projection of ancient Mayans working in a cave.
These Catrinas at Museo Maya de Cancun were created by local students — Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse
The museum often features temporary exhibitions, most recently, one of Catrinas – an icon of the Dia de Los Muertos ("Day of the Dead") holiday – and the other called El Hombre Temprano en México ("The Early Man in Mexico").
There is even an archaeological site right on the grounds of the museum. San Miguelito is considered to have been an important pre-Hispanic settlement and trade route stop, and it was inhabited until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s. Here, you'll find a small pyramid and the remains of what is believed to have been a house and temples.
The entrance fee for the Museo Maya de Cancun is 59 pesos per person.
Museo Maya de Cancun is located at kilometer 16.5, across the street from Captain's Cove restaurant — Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse
The Mayans knew good real estate when they saw it, which is why you can even find archaeological sites in the Hotel Zone.
El Rey, located just down the street from the Iberostar Cancun near Playa Delfines/El Mirador, is thought to have been at its peak during the Post-Classical period (1250 to 1630 A.D.). The entrance fee for El Rey is just a few dollars.
The island of Cancun is mostly flat, but at its highest point, guests of the Westin Lagunamar will find Mayan ruins right on the grounds.
Yamil Lu’um is a site that consists of two small temples that were likely used as watchtowers and lighthouses some 500 to 700 years ago.
If you don't have time for a day trip to Chichen Itza, discover the Mayan civilization in Cancun's Hotel Zone.
Did you know there were Mayan ruins in Cancun's Hotel Zone? — Photo courtesy of Kristin Busse