This post is also available in: Dutch

Latest update: 8 July 2023

What if I told you that you don’t have to mingle with hundreds of tourists to admire beautiful Mayan ruins in Mexico? Would you believe me? You’d better! The relatively unknown Puuc Route (Ruta Puuc) is a relief for lovers of Mayan cities.

The Maya on the Puuc Route

Chichén Itzá, Ek’ Balam, Cobá and Tulum: all beautiful Mayan cities that you really should pay a visit when you are in the Yucatán region. Early birds are lucky and may find peace and space during their visit. But if you want to explore the site almost alone, Ruta Puuc is what you’re looking for. The Puuc Route is located about 80 kilometers from Mérida.

Puuc means hills. There are not many hills in Yucatán, but you will find them in the Puuc area. The ruins are beautifully hidden in the densely vegetated hills. You also use the word Puuc to describe the architecture of the Mayan ruins. Many geometric shapes are repeated over and over, and the masks with long noses are typical of the style. The masks represent the rain god of the Maya: Chac. The Mayan cities on the Ruta Puuc date between 600 and 1100 BC.

What is the Ruta Puuc?

Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route) is a route of about 40 kilometers along which you will find Mayan ruins and caves. Uxmal, Kabáh, Sayil, Xlapak, Labna and the Loltun Caves are on the Puuc Route. Some people also include the Ruinas de Mayapán. I recommend starting at Uxmal or the Loltun caves. You can only visit the caves with a guide, so you are bound to a time slot. Or start at Uxmal, because that is the most popular Mayan city and you will therefore meet a few more tourists there. Some more = tens, not hundreds. Don’t worry.

Ruta Puuc stop: Uxmal

The largest Maya city of the bunch is Uxmal, and also the most expensive (413 pesos). In its heyday, 25,000 people lived here. It is a large complex where you can easily spend a few hours. There are three different routes you can follow. The red route takes an hour, the black one and a half hours, and the green route takes two to three hours. In the evening there is a light and sound show. You do have to pay a little extra to see it.

Uxmal means built three times. And that’s pretty crazy because Uxmal has actually been rebuilt five times. However, the temples and ruins are still in pretty good condition. You used to be allowed to climb almost everywhere to enjoy the view. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case. So pay close attention to where climbing is and is not permitted.

If you want, you can explore Uxmal with a guide. If this is your first Mayan ruin to visit, I definitely recommend it. I saw Ek’Balam with a guide, and because of that, I understand better where I am and what I am looking at. The guides at the entrance of Uxmal charge 800 pesos. I didn’t ask, but I expect you can haggle.

Google Maps location

Ruta Puuc stop: Kabah

After Uxmal, 23 kilometers further on, Kabáh is the next stop on the Ruta Puuc. You can climb the Palace of the Masks (Palacio de los Mascarones). Those masks represent the rain god of the Maya: Chac. At the palace, you can find between 250 and 300 masks. Count them! 😉

Google Maps location

Ruta Puuc stop: Sayil

Sayil means the place of the ants, and it is best known for the Gran Palacio. It is beautifully situated in the jungle, so you have to walk a bit to reach it. Upon entering, at the cash register, where you pay 50 pesos, you will first find a small open-air museum. It’s not particularly impressive, but I feel obliged to the cashier to dwell on a few objects.

Google Maps location

Ruta Puuc ruïne: Xlapak

You get a little spoiled once you’ve seen a few Mayan cities. So Xlapak is a bit of a disappointment: it’s so tiny! Also, there is clearly even less money and effort put into restoring the temples. Xlapak is the only stop on the route that is free. I’m so unimpressed that I don’t even take a picture.

Google Maps location

Ruta Puuc stop: Labná

Once, about 1500 to 2500 people lived in Labná. Their four buildings have been restored and now stand proudly on the wide-open space (bring sunscreen and water!). Here too you pay 50 pesos entrance. I skipped Labná because I really wanted to go to a cenote.

Google Maps location

Ruta Puuc stop: Loltun Caves

You can only visit the Loltun caves under supervision. I understand that the tours only occur in the morning, but check with your hotel or hostel. A tour lasts about 1.5 hours. The Loltun caves are pretty large caves where you can also see wall drawings from the past. Bring your phone for the flashlight feature!

Google Maps location

Do the Ruta Puuc yourself?

You can do the Ruta Puuc with a tour from Mérida or just arrange it yourself. It’s an easy trip. Rent a car in Mérida (I chose Sunny Cars), download Google Maps on your phone, and drive to Uxmal or the caves. Only in Mérida, it is still fairly busy on the road, but the Puuc route itself is really very quiet, and the surroundings are so beautiful!

Driving Ruta Puuc: highway seen from the car

Cool ending: Santa Barbara cenotes

The distances between the different Mayan ruins are short. So, in theory, you can visit them all in one day. However, I was eager to end the day with a bit of refreshment, so I went to the cenotes of Santa Barbara. Santa Barbara is quite the opposite of a quiet day with hardly any tourists. Although it’s not a madhouse either.

For 150 pesos, you will pull over the site with a horse cart and a guide. We actually didn’t know that, and in hindsight, it may have been a reason not to go to Santa Barbara. I still feel a bit sad for the horse.

There are three different cenotes to swim in. My guide luckily speaks pretty good English. He is accommodating and knows a lot about the area. The cenotes are all impressive, and each is a little different. For example, one is like a cave, and another looks more like a crater.

Google Maps location

More Mexico inspiration?

blog overview Mexico
  • Accommodation. All-time favorite: Booking.com. Find hostels via Hostelworld.
  • Activities. You book the best tours and activities with GetYourGuide and Viator. You could also try WithLocals. ‘Free’ walking tours are available at GuruWalk. And for bike tours, try Baja Bikes.
  • Attractions and museums. Get a 5% discount on museums and attractions at Tiqets with the coupon code KIMOPREIS22.
  • Bus. Book bus trips in Mexico with Busbud or 12Go.
  • Car rental. My go-to car rental companies are EasyTerra and Sunny Cars as they have all-inclusive / worry-free offers. If you want more options, compare prices at Discover Cars.
  • Flights. Compare all your options! Definitely check out Momondo, Skyscanner, and Kiwi.
  • Money. Your debit and credit cards may not get accepted everywhere. You could opt for a Revolut card as an additional card when you travel. 
  • Package deals. Rather go on a catered trip? You have many options! For the Dutch, try ANWB vakanties, Tui or Sawadee, or maybe you can find a sweet deal at Vakantie Discounter or D-reizen?
  • SIM card. Beware of unexpectedly high calling and internet costs. Buy a local SIM card when you arrive, or arrange one online via Airalo.
  • Travel gear. Buy your gear at Bever or Decathlon, or simply at Bol.com.
  • Travel guides. I love the practical travel guides from Lonely Planet, buy them at Bol.com or Amazon.
  • Visum. Make sure you have the right documentation to travel to Mexico. iVisa can help you out.
  • Yoga retreat. Or: try a yoga retreat in Mexico!

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First published: September 2020. The article has been updated since.

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