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El Rey and El Meco Archaeological Zones in Mexico

Visit two of Cancun’s best archaeological sites.

The Ruins of El Rey

Located about 25 km from the city center, on the opposite side of Nichupte. It is one of the most interesting sites in Mexico. El Rey was inhabited at least as early as 900 B.C. All that remains of the once large settlement today are the ruins of 47 stone structures. On top of the tallest of these is a Mayan temple, and here is also the burial place of the most prominent people.

On the two main platforms are the ruins of ceremonial buildings (believed to be theirs) and the marketplace. Some of the stone walls are still decorated with original murals. Although these ancient murals have certainly faded with time, it is still possible to distinguish the figures of rulers and other influential members of Mayan society on them. People often buy sightseeing tours here.

The Atmosphere of El Rey

Although El Rey is not as large as some of the other Mayan cities in the area, it is quite atmospheric and offers tourists a great opportunity to begin to experience the wonderful world that was once here, but without the need for a long trip – as in the case of Chichen Itza or Tulum, for example. In addition, visiting the ruins is inexpensive and can be done in an hour or two.

Some of the stone walls are still decorated with original murals, and you can still distinguish the figures of the rulers on them.

Cancun is considered the gateway to the historic region of Mundo Maya (“Mayan World”). Archaeological research shows that the area around it has been one of the most densely populated Maya areas since at least 1800 B.C.

Like El Meco, El Rey is inhabited today by other “native inhabitants. A large colony of iguanas thrives here. The huge lizards are accustomed to the presence of humans and behave quite naturally and fearlessly. Bring some fruit to pamper them (archeological site guides feed the iguanas tortillas, but that’s not exactly what they need).

There is almost no shade at the archaeological site, so be careful and be sure to bring something on your head.

El Rey gets its name because of the ceremonial mask and skull found here. Supposedly they were used in the cult of the sun god.

Practical Information

Address: Zona Hotelera.

The ruins of El Rey are located in the center of the hotel district of Cancun, almost on the lagoon shore. They are adjacent to the Hilton Hotel’s golf course. The easiest way to get here is by bus or by renting a car to park near one of the hotels.

Hours of operation: 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission: 73 MXN.

The Ancient Mayan City of El Meco

This archaeological site is actually in Cancun, 8 km from the city center and almost directly on the coast. It is not the largest of such areas around Cancun, and it is not comparable with Chichen Itza, but it is very easy to get here. In addition, the tour of El Meco costs mere pennies compared to the cost of admission to other similar places.

El Meco was probably inhabited in the 3rd century and abandoned around the 11th century. There is no doubt that it was closely linked to Isla Mujeres as an influential port (just look at the coast map to see why). From the top, where the pyramid stands, you can take breathtaking photos. This point was the highest in the area and, therefore, could be used for observing arriving ships. The main structure of those that can be seen here today is the pyramid, which reaches 12.5 m in height. Before you make that claim, try sawing the blocks of stone yourself (I don’t know what you used) and dragging them up the mountain in the heat.

Castillo

The main structure in the area, the pyramid, is commonly referred to as a “castle” – the Castillo. What is noteworthy is that this pyramid is the only one in the Cancun area.

The ancient city of El Meco began as a fishing village. Around 600 B.C. the fishermen left and the settlement remained empty for almost 500 years. However, it was repopulated, becoming a bustling commercial center due to its proximity to the Caribbean coast. The locals were forced to leave it (as were many other former Mayan cities) after the arrival of the Spanish.

Tours of the archaeological sites of Maya El Meco are not included in the classic package. That is, to get here, in any case, you will have to. But the number of visitors here is much less than in other places.

If you like iguanas, you will love El Meco. There are many of them, as well as local birds.

El Meco has a total of 14 structures located between the shore and the wide lagoon. The main structure in the area, the pyramid, is traditionally referred to as a “castle” – “Castillo”. It is noteworthy that this pyramid is the only one in the Cancun area. There is a temple on top of it, and from there you have a magnificent view of the lagoon.

Climbing on the ruins is forbidden: it does not contribute to their preservation.

Archaeological Excavations

The excavations at El Meco began in 1997 and are still carried on today. At present, visitors can see the ancient temples and service buildings. However, much of the surrounding area has yet to be explored by archaeologists.

A big plus for tourists is that there are trees. You can rest, for example, in the shade of a sprawling fig tree that grows right inside the small temple.

Funny comparison: it is said that El Meco was the first attempt to create an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Access to the beach, restaurants, and the first souvenir store appeared here around 300 B.C.

Practical Information

Address: Carretera Puerto Juarez, Lopez Portillo.

To get to El Meco you must leave Cancun traveling northbound on Lopez Portillo street (also called the Puerto Juarez-Cancun highway). The town is located at kilometer 27 and the ruins can be seen directly from the road, on the left-hand side.

Opening hours: daily from 8:00 am to 4:00 pm.

Admission: 73 MXN.

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