Regardless of whether or not you are passionate about archeology and history, visiting the sites of the ancient Mayan civilizations is one of the things every person should do in this lifetime. Planning a trip to the ancient ruins of a civilization that has managed to flourish when Europe was struggling in the Dark Ages is a safe guarantee that your vacation will be anything but boring. Without further ado, here is a list of the must-see Mayan sites to visit in Central America and Mexico.
1. Chichen Itza
Located in Mexico, Chichen Itza has the most dramatic and intriguing sights as well as the largest known cities ever built by this sophisticated ancient culture. Perhaps the most impressive thing about this site is the fact that it incorporates a plethora of architectural styles indicating the diverse populations that inhabited the city. If you are planning to go to Chichen Itza, then two of the places that should not miss from your itinerary are Cenoto Segrado and the Temple of the Warriors.
Tikal is by far the largest Mayan site, incorporating approximately 3,000 structures and it is located in Guatemala. The impressive structures discovered so far are stunning and give an overall sensation of stepping into another world. Maybe this is why Tikal was chosen as the movie set for Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto. Given the size of Tikal, tourists are highly advised to purchase the map – normally found at the entrance – and not wander around without a compass. The most impressive sights of Tikal are the five pyramids and the Temple of the Two-Headed Snake.
3. Cahal Pech
Cahal Pech is the most astonishing Mayan site located in the small country Belize. The most impressive thing about this site is its actual location: Cahal Pech is built on a hill overlooking two important Belizean cities, namely Santa Elena and San Ignacio. It is necessary to mention that even though the site only includes a little over 30 structures so far, the panoramic view of the surroundings and the two acres of Cahal Pech are definitely worth the trouble.
4. Altun Ha
Altun Ha is mostly famous among the other Mayan sites because of the abundance of animals and plants you can see there. While this Belizean site is rather hard to reach, the wildlife surrounding it, the 200 species of birds recorded and the large crocodiles living in the Mayan built reservoirs will surely impress you. The most significant sight in Altun Ha is the Jade Head. The Jade Head is the largest object carved by the Mayan from this material and that represents one of their key gods, Kinich Ahua (the sun god).
Palenque is the second must-see Mayan site located in Mexico. Built in what is now a very dense jungle forest, the site impresses with its fine and sophisticated architecture and the abundance of information about the Mayan knowledge and history. One thing is for sure, Palenque will definitely spark up anyone’s imagination, considering that it is in the middle of the jungle and only 10% of it has been uncovered so far. Despite the fact that there are still a lot of things to be discovered, Palenque includes several amazing sights you should visit (E.G. the tomb of King Pakal, Temple of the Foliated Cross, Temple of the Inscriptions).
The Mexican site of Kabah does not impressive through it size, but rather by the most astounding palace built by the Maya. Bearing the marks of the Puuc architectural style, the palace is unique because it is fully covered in various masks depicting the Mayan rain god, Chac. The Palace of the Masks is just a hint of the majesty and level of civilization that the Mayans manage to reach.
Several miles away from Kahal, Uxmal is one of the Mayan spots where you can admire the unique Puuc architecture. It is necessary to mention that Uxmal and Kabah are directly linked together through a raised pedestrian walkway that the Mayan used for ceremonial purposes and dubbed a sacbe. In regards to the unique Puuc architecture, you should know that it is associated with the rich intellectual and artistic facets of the Mayan culture.
Lubaatun or the Place of the Fallen Stones is another Belizean sight that should not miss from your itinerary. Unlike the other Mayan sites located in Belize, Lubaatun impresses through a distinctive desing and unusual style. While there is surely a lot to see here, the most intriguing things about this site are the pyramids. Despite the fact that their tops is long gone, the Lubaantun pyramids remain a mystery due to their innovative construction: the stones are practically laid one on top of the other and still stick together very well, even though the Mayas did not use mortar or other binding materials.
This particular Mayan site located in Belize has an interesting story behind it. Most commonly known as the Stone Women, the site is said to be inhabited by the ghost of a woman who is dressed in pure white robes and who has scary flame-like reddish eyes. The woman typically appears in front of the principal sight in Xunantunish, the infamous El Castillo and after climbing the stairs, she disappears behind the walls. In addition to the excitement around this mysterious apparition, it is necessary to mention that the site also provides its visitors an unforgettable view of the Mopan River.
Caracol was discovered rather recently in the thick jungle of Belize, more precisely in 1938. However, it is the largest Mayan city on the territory of Belize and does not only contain very interesting and mysterious structures, but a large collection of Mayan art as well. Even though archeologists have yet to uncover its mysteries, so far Caracol is famous for the largest tomb ever built by the Mayas, which surprisingly only had one inhabitant, a woman. Another must-see sight at Caracol is Caana, one of the most sophisticated complexes built in the Southern regions of the Mayan Empire.