Teaching our kids about the world they live in, and giving them the opportunity to actively explore that world as much as possible, is immensely important to us. As we travel, we try really hard to seek out opportunities to teach the kids about the history, culture, and nature of the places we visit. Not to say that we don’t enjoy flashy tourist spots, but we try to balance those activities with cultural experiences and off the beaten path adventures whenever we can.
While visiting Cancun with our children recently, we knew that exploring some of the ancient Mayan ruins would be a historical adventure not to be missed. After speaking with some other travelers, however, our minds were swayed. While they said the ruins in Chichen Itza and Tulum were incredible, they also spoke of long bus rides, giant crowds, and few places to escape the hot Mexico sun. We were very torn after hearing this – while we were eager to explore the ruins, we also knew that the excessive crowds and oppressive heat would not make for a pleasant travel experience with the little ones.
After some internet searching, Jeff serendipitously discovered El Rey. Nestled in the heart of Cancun’s hotel district lies Las Ruinas del Rey, the archeological remains of a once prosperous ancient Mayan city. Known by some as the playground of the ancient Mayans, the site includes several plazas outlined by buildings and platforms; in total, there are over 40 different stone structures in this ancient fishing village. While highly deteriorated, some of the walls are still adorned with ancient paintings. The highlight of the ruins are two small temples, which are believed to have been used as watchtowers and lighthouses. El Rey means “The King”, and the ruins were given this name after a sculpture was found on site, believed to be that of a Mayan king. The Mayans are believed to have inhabited El Rey from 300 BC until 1550 AD, before the city was abandoned after the arrival of the Spanish settlers. The site itself was left to be taken over by the wilderness; it was not discovered until developers cut through the jungle with machetes, and discovered the city buried underneath. Thankfully, the site was preserved, and remains quietly hidden among the hustle and bustle of the busy hotel zone. There is a strong sense of wildness here, and you can see the mangroves slowly creeping forward, as if to embrace the ancient city in their leaves once again.
For a very small fee, we were able to hop a bus to the ruins. The bus picked us up right outside our hotel, and it only took a few minutes to get there. For us, this was much better than braving the long bus trip to the other larger ruin sites. Another huge bonus was the fact that we had the ruins all to ourselves; instead of the crowds of Tulum and Chichen Itza , El Rey was essentially abandoned. Because of this, we were able to take our time and really explore the ruins, which was fantastic. Even though the site is located in close proximity to a busy street, the ruins remain surprisingly quiet and tranquil; the place seems a peaceful paradise, with the early morning Cancun sun bathing the buildings in a soft glow.
Unlike Tulum and Chichen Itza , you are also able to climb on the ruins, which the kids (and us!) enjoyed. The little ones looked so tiny atop the tumbling stone towers.
The kids also had fun checking out the new inhabitants of El Rey. Large colonies of iguanas have essentially taken over the ruins, and can be seen running around and perched atop the various stone structures. The iguanas add a unique beauty to the site, making the long abandoned city seem alive once again. We had read about the iguanas, and had the kids bring them a few apples from the breakfast buffet; they have become very accustomed to human interactions, and eagerly look to you for snacks.
We really enjoyed our morning exploring El Rey. The juxtaposition between the ancient ruins and the modern hotels in the distance provides ample opportunities to reflect back on how much our world has changed; as you climb to top of the ancient ruins, it is hard to imagine the modern world that is just a few steps away. Our quiet morning gave us a small taste of the history of the ancient Mayans, without the long line up and crowds. El Rey is certainly not as grand as some of the other ruins in the area, but they are impressive nonetheless; they make for a great and accessible introduction to Mayan civilization for the younger set. Mayan history is fascinating, even when visiting a small site like El Rey.
El Rey is open to tourists between 8am and 5pm.
What to Bring:
-Your camera! Between the ancient ruins and the friendly iguanas, there are ample photo opportunities to be had here.
-Water and Sunscreen. It can get quite warm, so be sure to bring these important essentials.
-Iguana treats! These guys will eagerly devour almost any snacks you have on hand, (we will admit that they may have eaten a few of the fruit loops Cooper brought along to snack on) but remember that they are wild animals, and try to bring them things that are actually healthy for them to eat – they loved the apples we brought.
-Bug Spray. While we did not find the bugs to be a problem, we have heard from others that the mosquitos can sometimes be quite prevalent.
El Rey, Blvd Kukulcan KM 17, Zona Hotelera Cancun
Have you visited El Ray? We would love to hear about your experiences! Let us know in the comments below!
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