12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Mayan sites to visit on your next trip

In Mexico and Central America

Discover a little more about the most important archaeological sites of the ancient Mayan civilization. Visiting Mayan cities is an enriching experience, you learn about our past and the origins of the culture we have today. Think no more! Investigate, pack your bags and travel through Mayan lands.

 

12.- Dzibilchaltún

  • Location: Yucatán, Mexico

Dzibilchaltún is one of the hidden gems in Yucatán. It’s a Mayan settlement that had occupation from the Late Preclassic to the Late Postclassic, for this reason, it became one of the largest cities on the northern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula.

 

dzibichaltun- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Graeme Churchard

 

Its main temple is that of the Seven Dolls, it is also known as Temple of the Sun, a square structure that was the focal point of the city. Dzibilchaltún is very popular among travelers thanks to the phenomenon that occurs twice a year, in the equinoxes of spring and autumn, when the dawning sun is visible through one window and out of another, work from the incredible mathematical knowledge of the Maya.

 

11.- Kohunlich

  • Location: Quintana Roo, Mexico

Despite not being currently the most popular Mayan city, it used to be of great importance. The first occupation of Kohunlich is located in the Late Preclassic, stage in which low platforms were built around the Plaza Ya’ax Ná, buildings that in the Early Classic were covered by monumental buildings. During this period, the impressive Temple of the Masks was erected, decorated with eight figures on masonry frames, of which only five are preserved.

 

Kohunlich- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by KBmeow

 

Visiting this settlement is a fascinating cultural experience as you can see very varied architectural ensembles, you can also learn about different aspects of the daily and ceremonial life of the ancient Mayans. Kohunlich is one of the few Mayan cities that shows its own style, both in architecture and in the iconography and production of ceramics.

 

Read The Most Majestic Pre-Hispanic Temples Of Mexico

 

10.- Yaxhá

  • Location: Petén, Guatemala.

Yaxhá was one of the neighboring cities of Tikal, in the northeast of Petén. Its monumental importance is based on the presence of large platforms, roads, avenues and more than 500 buildings. This Mayan city was, at its time of splendor, an ally of Tikal and enemy of Naranjo, from where it was attacked and destroyed several times until its decline, at the end of the Late Classic Period.

 

Yaxhá- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by World Travel Blog

 

Yaxhá is known for its production of ceramic objects for ceremonial and domestic uses. There are vessels with glyphs that relate the ritual use they had and the name of the craftsman who produced them. Contributions that have allowed us to learn a lot about how the ancient Mayans lived.

 

9.- Calakmul

  • Location: Campeche, Mexico.

Calakmul was discovered at the beginning of the 30’s of the last century, but it was not until the 80’s that the investigations allowed to find out the essence of this city as one of the most important of the Classic Maya along with Tikal and Palenque.

calakmul- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Pavel Kirillov

 

The hieroglyphic studies tell us a history of wars between Calakmul and Tikal for almost a century of history, which speaks of the political rivalry of these essential Mayan cities. A characteristic that stands out above other settlements is that in Calakmul they had different urban planning, with ceremonial plazas and residential complexes. It is also the site where a more significant number of stelae have been found in the Mayan area, many of them from the Late Preclassic period.

 

 

8.- Copán

  • Location: Copán, Honduras

In the city of Copán, a World Heritage Site of UNESCO, the ancient Mayans built pyramids as symbols of mountains, squares as lakes and portals as caves. The inhabitants of Copan sculpted the images of the reigning dynasty on stone columns, that’s why it is known as “Forest of Kings.”

 

Copán- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Martijn.Munneke

 

It is worth visiting this beautiful city since the remains of Copán are considered the best preserved in the Mayan world. The quality and detail of the stone carving have no equivalent in any other archaeological site in the world.

 

7.- Ek’ Balam

  • Location: Yucatán, Mexico.

The beautiful Mayan city Ek-Balam had its maximum development during the Late Classic / Terminal, and possibly it was the seat of the kingdom of “Tlaloc.” The first known king of Ek ‘Balam is Ukit Kan Let Tok (the father of the four flint fronts) who was the builder of most of the palace we now know as Acropolis; a temple that is allowed to climb and explore its surroundings, an experience that is very worthwhile for travelers.

ek-balam- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by cpliler

 

Ek Balam has more than 40 buildings and is distinguished by decorative details in some structures and stelae. Within the main buildings, you will find are Oval Palace, White House of Reading and the North Plaza.

 

Read 3 Archaeological Sites Near Cancun You Must Visit

 

6.- Palenque

  • Location: Chiapas, Mexico.

This archaeological site is one of the leading attractions for travelers visiting Chiapas. Its name comes from the neighboring community founded in the late sixteenth century: Santo Domingo de Palenque, hence its name meaning “Estacada” or “Palisade,” which refers to a wooden fence that surrounds the site to protect it.

Palenque is one of the few Mayan archaeological sites that has a museum at its entrance, where you can observe objects related to art, religion, ritual practices, politics and daily life of the ancient Mayas.

 

palenque- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Ronald Woan

The ancient city of Palenque was along with Tikal and Calakmul, one of the most influential cities of the Classic Maya, home of one of the most notable dynasties to which Pakal belongs, whose tomb was discovered in 1952 by the archaeologist Alberto Ruz L’Huillier.

 

5.-Tulum

  • Location: Quintana Roo, Mexico.

Before being called Tulum, this paradisiacal site was known as “Zamá,” which in Maya means “morning” or “dawn.” The name of Tulum translates as “wall” in allusion to the wall that is preserved here.

Tulum is the most emblematic archaeological site in the coast of Quintana Roo, due to its privileged location and the excellent conservation of its buildings and mural paintings. It has a wall that delimits the site by its north, south and west sides since the eastern sector faces the Caribbean Sea.

 

tulum- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Michel

 

The main temple of Tulum is the Castle, it is the tallest and has three entrances decorated with columns in the form of snakes and two zoomorphic masks at the corners. In front of the Castle, there is a significant platform that is believed to be used for dances and to the southwest is the Temple of the Initial Series, where the earliest date documented in Tulum was found: 564 AD.

 

Read: Visit Coba And Tulum: Everything Needed For Your Trip

 

4.- Cobá

  • Location: Quintana Roo, Mexico.

The ancient Mayan city of Cobá was developed near five lakes that were a fundamental factor for its development and subsistence. The town was communicated sacbés, extensively raised stone paths, which can still be observed when visiting this Mayan archaeological site. The longest of them with 100 km., Arrives at the site of Yaxuná, very close to Chichén Itzá.

 

coba- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Mark, Vicki, Ellaura, and Mason

 

When visiting Cobá, there are two things you can’t miss. The first is to climb to the top of the Nohoch Mul pyramid and admire the panoramic view of the Mayan jungle. The second is to look closely at the stelae that were found here. In the inscriptions of Stela 1, you can read the date December 12, 2012, which represents the beginning of a new account in the Mayan calendar.

 

3.- Tikal

  • Location: Petén, Guatemala.

Tikal is the home of the highest Mayan pyramid known to date. Temple IV of the Bicephalous Serpent with over 213 feet height. This temple is surpassed only by “La Danta,” north of Guatemala in El Mirador (still under excavation work).

 

tikal- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by diego.aviles

Tikal was one of the most important cities in the Mayan culture, came to house 60,000+ people who lived under the direction of 33 rulers for approximately 800 years. It is one of the few Mayan cities that survived the collapse of the Preclassic Period to flourish in the Classic.

 

2.- Uxmal

  • Location: Yucatán, Mexico.

Only by seeing photographs of the beautiful Mayan city Uxmal you know that it was an important place in the Mayan culture. It is undoubtedly the most representative settlement of the architecture of the Puuc Region. In this, the facades are decorated with masks of Chac, the God of Rain, frets, panels with hieroglyphics and high crestings. Among the most representative buildings is the Pyramid of the Adivino, the Quadrangle of the Nuns and the House of the Doves.

 

uxmal- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Franx’

 

Something that differentiated the lifestyle of the inhabitants of Uxmal from the other Mayans was the lack of permanent water sources to their surroundings. For this reason, they felt the need to build Chultunes or water tanks to take advantage of rainwater. Adaptations were also made to the land depressions that formed the aguadas.

 

Read: Mayan Architecture In Yucatán

 

1.- Chichén Itzá

  • Location: Yucatán, Mexico.

Finally, the pre-Hispanic city Chichén Itzá, which was the most outstanding capital of the Maya area, at the end of the Classic period and the beginnings of the Postclassic period. Currently, this ancient Mayan city is the most popular in Mexico and one of the New Wonders of the World, so it is definitely a must-see during your visit.

Its name refers to the Sacred Cenote, the great natural well that the inhabitants of the region considered one of the main entrances to the underworld, home of the gods, such as the rain. Also, the name of the site alludes to the Itza, powerful mythical-historical lords of the city during the time of its growth and apogee.

 

chichen itza- 12 Most Important Archaeological Sites of the Mayan World

Photo by Kurt Bauschardt

 

At present, thousands of travelers visit Chichén Itzá at the spring and autumn equinoxes, as you can see how a snake descends from the Castle, the main pyramid of Chichen Itza. Other important buildings in this city are the Observatory, also known as the Caracol, the Temple of the Warriors, the Ball Game complex, among others.

 

Read: My First Time In A Wonder Of The New World – Chichen Itza

 

Now you know what Mayan archaeological sites to visit. What else would you like to know about this millenary culture?

 

Source: INAH 

Deborah Iruegas

Writer, editor & photographer seeking inspiration in nature and music.