We often think of Mexico as the exciting home of white sand beaches, crystal clear water, street tacos and bottomless margaritas (partly because it is), but beyond all that is a country filled with a history of sophisticated civilisations that date back thousands of years.
The ruins left behind offer some of the most interesting insights into ancient cultures that the world has to offer. Here are five that we think need to be visited.
At just 40 km from Mexico City, Teotihuacan is not only one of Mexico’s most convenient temple complexes to visit but its ruins are some of the world’s most fascinating. Features like the Temple of the Sun and its enormous central road, the Street of the Dead, can’t fail to impress.
At its peak, between 100 B.C. and 650 A.D., the ancient city covered 21 square kilometres and served as home to the Maya, Mixtec and Zapotec people, but its original builders remain unknown. What is known however is that the city was the largest in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s. We think that’s a decent enough reason for a visit.
After arriving in Mexico City we recommend joining an organised tour to take the quick drive up to Teotihuacan.
Chichen Itza has arguably become Mexico’s most recognisable ancient city. This one-time home to the Mayan people at the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula flourished from 750 to 1200 A.D. and has provided archaeologists with an incredible amount of insight into the intelligence of their civilisation.
The city’s main feature and most iconic temple, El Castillo, has revealed a great deal about the sophistication of Mayan astronomy. Its 365 steps to the top account for each day of the year and the temple’s main staircases cast a spectacular shadow of a serpent twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes.
At just under 200 kilometres from Cancun, Chichen Itza is easily reached in around two hours by car or bus.
Chichen Itza’s neighbour to the east is another Mayan masterpiece, which dates back to 700 A.D. and like El Castillo shows design features centered around astronomical occurrences like the rising and setting of Venus.
Uxmal’s main feature, the Pyramid of the Magician, rises up over 30 metres and is decorated with sculptures of Chaac, the god of rain, whom the Maya worshiped and depicted heavily throughout all of their temples.
Uxmal is less than 100 kilometres south of Merida and can be reached in under an hour. It is also possible to visit the site from Cancun providing you don’t mind a four-hour journey.
OK, Tikal is actually in Guatemala but being that it’s so close to the border and is such an impressive sight we had to give it a place on this list. Plus, Guatemala is also excellent to visit!
Tikal’s biggest allure is that it’s located in the middle of a massive, dense jungle made up of more than 57,000 hectares of trees and wetlands that eventually extend into neighbouring Belize and Mexico. Its ruins are some of the most fascinating in the world, featuring palaces, temples, ceremonial spaces, squares, roads and more dating back to the 6th century A.D.
Getting to Tikal may require a bit of effort, but we assure you it’s worth it. Because of its northern location, it’s best to fly into Belize City in neighbouring Belize and take a guided bus tour from there.
One of the highlights of the Chiapas region, Palenque is a Mayan site known for having some of the most beautifully preserved architectural remains in all of Mexico. The site differs to the other ancient cities in that its central feature is a palace rather than a pyramid, built on several levels and accentuated by a four-story tower at its centre.
Palenque was also one of the most densely built cities. Of the 1,400 buildings discovered only about 10% of them have been thoroughly explored meaning there could be a lot of surprises waiting to come out!
The most convenient way to get to Palenque is to take a domestic flight from Cancun to Villahermosa. From there, the ruins can be reached in two hours by car.