When we think of Mexico we picture a vibrant, lively country full of foods and recipes sure to send you into gastronomical bliss. But what about the fabled ancient Mexico? The one with crumbling cities and ruins that showcase the country’s most pre-Columbian moments? These national treasures of jungle-covered temples, pyramids and palaces have amazed millions since the Spanish arrived in 1519.
Here’s a look at some Mexico’s must-see ancient cities that you visit today.
What makes some of Mexico’s ancient cities all the more mysterious and head-scratching are their locations. In order to reach the archaeological site of Yaxchilan, you must go by way of boat. Located on the banks of the river Usumacinta in Chiapas, the once ancient city adds mystery with its jungle-covered structures. As you roam the small number of accessible buildings like the Great Acropolis, Small Acropolis and Great Plaza, you can envision Yaxchilan in its heyday from 800 to AD 1000 as one of the most important classic Maya cities in the Usumacinta region.
Settled around 30 miles from Mexico City, Teotihuacan proudly stands as one of the first great cities of the Western Hemisphere. It reached its peak between 100 BC and AD 650. Its origins are a bit of a mystery however as the city was built and abandoned more than 1,000 years before the arrival of the Aztecs. Easily Mexico’s most visited archaeological site, the complex features a central pyramid known as the Pyramid of the Sun. As the largest structure in the ancient city, it was probably constructed around 100 AD. It remains the third highest pyramid in the world.
Settled around 30 miles from the Guatemalan border, Calakmul thanks its location for the lack of crowds. If you make the trek out here, you can roam an ancient city that once housed over 50,000 people without having to elbow other tourists. While made up of 7,000 structures, most are covered in jungle. What you can see are the site’s famous twin pyramids, the largest and tallest known pyramids in the Yucatán. While many structures are still being excavated at Calakmul, the joy for visitors is that you can climb many of the pyramids and palaces for soaring views.
Perched 400 meters on a hill in the Puuc region of Mexico, roughly 60 kilometers south of Merida, Uxmal ranks among the top Maya archaeological sites. The ruins show off the peak of late Maya art and architecture. Home to 25,000 inhabitants, Uxmal boasts ornate stone mosaics, soaring arches and detailed cornices. Founded in AD 700, the layout of the buildings is also significant for its shows an extensive knowledge of astronomy.
If it’s ancient ruins in Mexico you want, you can’t pass over famous Chichén Itzá. The most well-known and restored of the Yucatán Maya sites, Chichén Itzá was once one of the greatest Mayan centers of the Yucatán peninsula. The sophisticated urban center thrived from AD 750 to 1200. It reveals a great deal about the Maya vision of the universe. Its most recognized site and the one you won’t want to miss is El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan. The impressive step pyramid features 365 steps for each day of the year.
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