From Guatemala to Honduras to Mexico, Musement takes a look at nine of the most magnificent Mayan ruins.
Whether you have the spirit of an Indiana Jones-type archeologist or you love learning about ancient cultures, Mayan civilization is the perfect excuse to explore the south of Mexico and part of Central America.
The first Mayan cities, characterized by monumental architecture that includes splendid temples, emerged around 750 AC. Luckily, the range of ruins of this marvelous civilization found in southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize Honduras, and El Salvador is spectacular. Large cities, magnificent temples and tall stone pyramids surrounded by lush vegetation make these Mayan ruins some of the most spectacular archeological remains of the ancient world.
Today we are going to nine of the best Mayan ruins, the majority of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
1. Chichén Itzá, Mexico
The star of all Mayan ruins is Chichén Itzá, and it is found in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. It is believed to have been a city or an important ceremonial center. Chichen Itza means “at the edge of the Itza’s well,” which refers to Sacred Cenote, a natural well that the Mayans considered the entrance to the underworld where the goddesses of rain reside. The main monument, the Temple of Kukuclan, was named one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World following a popular vote in 2007. It is surrounded by various marvelous temples that served different purposes. Take your time while exploring this unique and spectacular place.
2. Tikal, Guatemala
Located in the region of Peten in Guatemala, Tikal is one of the most significant Mayan ruins. It was the capital of one of the most powerful kingdoms of the time, and its ruins are a testament to such importance. The old city has been partially restored. Around its Great Plaza, you can visit temples of more than 225 feet tall and stupendous royal palaces as well as other smaller palaces and pyramids.
3. Palenque, Mexico
In the Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque is another of the most important Mayan sites. Elevated above the tropical forest, the architectural complex is one of the most spectacular. It’s believed that only 2% of the old city has been explored, which offers an idea of the size and historical importance of Palenque. The main structures are the Temple of the Inscriptions, the palace, the aqueduct and the set of annexes to the temples.
4. Copan, Honduras
In the west of Honduras, very close to the border with Guatemala, Copan is the most important Mayan site in Honduras. Like any Mayan city, Copan is made up of various sets of architectural structures with great archeological value. The main part is the Acropolis, which was the royal complex of Copan. In addition to its structures, Copan is known for its valuable Mayan stelae with portraits as well as a vast playing field for the Mesoamerican ball game.
5. Uxmal, Mexico
The ancient city of Uxmal is another of the main Mayan ruins in Mexico’s Yucatan. Uxmal stands out for the large size of its structures as well as for its decoration. The main structure, the Pyramid of the Magician, is 115 feet tall with a 175.5-foot wide base. Comprised of five different structures, the pyramid is so steep that walking up it is like climbing a mountain.
6. Xunantunich and Caracol, Belize
About 80 miles to the west of Belize City is the Mayan city of Xunantunich. Its name, which means “stone woman,” is in reference to a ghost spotted by locals at the end of the 19th century. The site occupies an extensive space and is made up of an architectural complex that consists of six plazas surrounded by about 25 temples and palaces. The stucco reliefs are formidable. Only 25 miles to the south you will find another of Belize’s Mayan marvels—the ruins of Caracol—whose temple is the tallest in Belize, reaching 131 feet.
7. Calakmul, Mexico
In the south of Mexico, right next to the Guatemala border, the Mayan site of Calakmul measures a total of 27 square miles and has more than 6,000 structures, many of which stand out spectacularly amongst the dense jungle. Calakmul is made up of five large complexes organized around the Great Plaza.
8. Zaculeu, Guatemala
Located in the western highlands of Guatemala, Zaculeu was the capital of the Mayan kingdom of Mam. The archeological complex contains 43 structures, the majority of which are pyramids and temples, that surround a total of eight plazas. There is also a field for playing the Mesoamerican ball game.
9. Tulum, Mexico
Although it cannot boast the size of other Mayan cities, Tulum was an important walled city on the Caribbean coast of Mexico. For its location on the Riviera Maya, Tulum, which means “wall” in Mayan, is one of the area’s main tourist attractions. Its main structures are the Temple of the Descending God and the Temple of the Frescoes, whose internal walls shine with beautiful illustrations in blue and grey tones.