When it comes to Central American archaeological sites, the Mayan’s seem to have built nearly everything. Even though the powerful Aztec of Mexico built equally impressive structures, the Mayan cities and ruins are often better preserved and as such, attract more visitors. In part this is because the Mayan empire was already in decline when the Spanish arrived and their abandoned cities were hidden away in the jungles vs. the Aztec whose cities were often plundered and built over. Below we have listed four of our favorite archaeological sites spread from Mexico down to Honduras.
Located in southern Mexico, this once grand Mayan city was swallowed by the jungle for many years. Since being rediscovered and preserved, the site has given archaeologists great insight into Mayan architecture, sculpture, and art. It attracts thousands of tourists each year and though smaller than some of the other sites on our list, it has some of the best examples of Mayan architecture.
When visiting Palenque, pay special attention to all the city’s detailed carvings. From the walls to the roofs, countless carvings tell the stories of the ancient Mayan from their religious traditions to their ancestral history. The Palace and Temple of Inscriptions are especially filled with great examples of Mayan glyphs and artistic carvings. While you can visit a couple dozen buildings, it is estimated that hundreds still remain hidden away in the surrounding jungle, waiting to be excavated.
It is easy to see why Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. Not only is the city a grand example of Mayan architecture but it is also located near the popular resort areas of Cancun and Riviera Maya. An estimated 1.2 million tourist visit every year it was even voted one of the new 7 Wonders of the World.
From an archaeological perspective, Chichen Itza is quite unique. It is thought that the city might have had the most diverse population in the Maya world, making it the cultural melting pot of the region. This is most apparent in the architecture which shows signs of being influenced by central Mexico and the Puuc styles of the northern Maya lowlands.
When it comes to ancient Mayan power, Tikal was at the center of it all. Once one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Mayan empire, Tikal today is one of the largest Mayan archaeological sites. The site is located in Guatemala, in the protected Tikal National Park and holds recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Tikal was a political, economic, and military power for a huge region of the Mayan world. The city’s power is apparent as you walk around the site and see all of its grand palaces and temples. As one of the most excavated and restored Mayan archaeological sites, it has become a popular destination for tourists.
Another grand Mayan capital, Copán was located on the very southern edge of the Mayan empire and is part of modern day Honduras. The site shows the power of the kingdom through many large pyramids, monuments, and temples.
Before being excavated and preserved in the last century, the site had sustained a great deal of damage as the result of the Copán River gradually changing course and bring down large sections of the city in the process.Of particular interest at Copán are the series of portrait stelae that represent the various rulers of the powerful city state.