The Maya were one of the greatest ancient civilizations in the world and their society consisted of hundreds of large, rich cities, spread throughout Central America, in what today are Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico, among others. Recently on Adept Expeditions we took you to the must-see Maya city of Uxmal in Yucatan and explored its unique structures and temples. In this edition we’d like to showcase other Mayan cities and how they are becoming popular travel destinations.
This mass appeal is due to their mystique and charm, which has been romanticized further in the media and popular culture through movies and games. This fascination with the ancient was rekindled thanks to films like Indiana Jones and games like Tomb Raider which featured exotic locations throughout Central America. Even on non-traditional entertainment platforms companies still use ancient civilizations to attract customers because of how they are such a big part of popular culture. Slingo has many games based on ancient civilizations like Amazing Aztecs, Azteca Gold and Mayan Legends. They continue to romanticize ancient civilizations and inspire more and more visitors to ancient sites every year.
Anciently known as Lakamha, Palenque is nestled in the mountains and surrounded by jungle in the state of Chiapas, Mexico. Regarded as the most impressive of Mexico’s ruins, even more so than Chichen Itza by many, the site dates back to 700 AD and is one of the best examples of Maya architecture in all of Mexico. With its iconic Mayan pyramids, Palenque is also one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. While smaller than other ruins, National Geographic claims researchers have drawn some of the most detailed information about Maya culture from Palenque, especially from the stunning hieroglyphics found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions.
Once a capital city during the time of the Maya, Tikal is a huge city located in the dense forests of northern Guatemala in the region of El Peten. In 1979 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the most naturally breathtaking ruins in Guatemala. Although there are six main temples on the site, archaeologists estimate that only 25% of the entire city is actually uncovered. Tikal was also popularized in pop culture when George Lucas used it as a backdrop in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope. The largest structure is Temple IV, so if you visit the site, make sure to climb to the top to enjoy the panoramic views of the jungle.
Tulum served as the primary port of the city of Coba and is unique in Mexico due to its beachfront ruins located on 39 ft high cliffs along the Yucatan Peninsula, overlooking stunning views of the Caribbean Sea. According to Intrepid Travel, the central structure, located on a cliff, served a lighthouse-like function that helped sailors navigate into the port. Some of the most impressive buildings to see are the Temple of the Frescoes and the Temple of the Descending God.
Tazumal, El Salvador
Located in the Santa Ana region of El Salvador, Tazumal showcases the sophisticated building methods and architecture of the Maya, with their large temples and drainage systems. While Tazumal’s structures aren’t entirely Maya, the builders were most likely influenced by Copan and the Toltecs, giving this city a unique architectural mix. One interesting fact about the site is that all the buildings in the complex face west and from the external appearance of two unexcavated mounts, Tazumal is also believed to have a ballcourt, where its residents used to play the ancient Mesoamerican game.