There are ancient structures in many parts of the world. But those in Mexico have a distinctive style found nowhere else. The Aztec and Mayan cultures were simply unlike anything that arose in Europe during the same period.
An hour outside Mexico City is one of the country’s foremost examples: Teotihuacan. The sixth-largest city in the world in 400 A.D., it was abandoned 300 years later, long before the Aztec civilization arose. No one knows why.
The site offers numerous buildings, including the Jaguar Palace and the Temple of the Plumed Conch Shells. The Pyramids of the Sun and Moon bear only the faintest resemblance to their Egyptian counterparts. Spend some time pondering the huge Aztec Calendar Stone and learn that ‘ancient’ doesn’t always mean ‘primitive’.
Mayan culture dominated much of the region we now know as Southern Mexico for centuries, centered around the Yucatan Peninsula. Among their many wonders, none stands out quite like the famed Chichen Itza. Over 1,500 years old, this civilization developed a 365-day calendar composed of 19 months. Visit the Group of a Thousand Columns and be amazed by their other accomplishments.
Located not far from Cancun, this ancient Mayan capital dates back to 500 A.D. The central feature is unquestionably the 365-step El Castillo pyramid. But the Temple of the Skulls – used as a platform for human sacrifices – and the Sacred Cenote, a pool where many of the bodies were deposited are no minor attractions either.
About 50 miles Southwest of Merida is the Mayan site of Uxmal, a true competitor to Chichen Itza for the finest ancient site Mexico has to offer. The Piramide del Adivino (Magician’s Pyramid) features a highly unusual oval base and rounded sides.
South of Uxmal lies the state of Campeche. Not usually considered one of Mexico’s foremost tourist destinations, once word of Edzna gets around it might well become one. Dating back to 600 B.C., the Great Acropolis features a five-level pyramid along with four smaller ones that look much like an ancient apartment complex on a hill.
If your vacation to Mexico happens to take you to Cozumel or elsewhere near the Yucatan coast, be sure to visit the Fortress of Tulum. This Mayan structure is perched on top of a cliff above the Caribbean and it would be difficult to say which is the more breathtaking sight.
Forty miles inland from Tulum lies the Mayan Riviera and the ancient city of Coba. Even today a very active excavation site, thick vegetation still covers many of the structures. But what there is to see is simply amazing. The pyramids here are of a very different design from other regions, demonstrating the diversity that comprised this ancient civilization.
Nothing quite compares, though, to the Palenque Ruins in Chiapas. Set amid greenery that has changed little since the Classic Mayan Period (400-700 A.D.), the site is alive with wild monkeys, colorful birds, and more. At the center, on a ridge of jungle-covered mountains, sits some of the most awe-inspiring architecture you’ll find anywhere in the world.
Mexico offers dozens of ancient ruins to see in an easy-to-reach location no matter where your vacation itinerary takes you. Put a pin on the map and you’re bound to find one close by.