Journey through time and explore the Mayan treasures of the Yucatán, mysterious ruined cities that are the legacy of one of the most advanced civilizations ever to flourish in the Americas. Temple builders, intrepid seafarers, gifted artists, stargazers, scientists and scribes, the ancient Maya forged a network of city-states throughout southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, western Honduras and El Salvador during their Golden Age (A.D. 200 – 900).
From lowly house mounds to temples, palaces and pyramids, thousands of archaeological sites dot the limestone landscape of the Yucatan. While the majority of these ancient settlements still lie under a mantle of jungle or scrubland, awaiting exploration, those that have been restored are truly awe-inspiring. Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the Seven New Wonders of the World heads the list of Mayan must-see sites in the Yucatan. No less beautiful and also on the UNESCO World Heritage list are Uxmal and the chain of lesser sites known as the Puuc Route (Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna). Archaeological sites in the Mexican Caribbean include the cliff top citadel of Tulum, Xel-Ha, the temples of Pole in Xcaret, Tankah, the jungle city of Coba, and Muyil in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, and then there are El Rey and Xaman-Ha, which are actually in Cancun Hotel Zone and Playa del Carmen, respectively. Ek Balam, Mayapan, Oxkintok and Dzibilchaltun are some of the other popular sites in the Yucatán and why stop here? If you plan to travel further afield and explore the wider Maya World, start in southern Quintana Roo with Chacchoben, Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanche-Kinichná and Chakanbakan. From there you can continue on to southern Campeche and Xpuhil, Becan, Chicanna and another World Heritage Site and regional superpower Calakmul. An alternative is to head across the border into Belize en route to Tikal in the Peten region of Guatemala.
If you decide to continue your trip in southeast Mexico, Balamku and Edzna are also worth a visit in Campeche. In the lowland Gulf coast state of Tabasco, the archaeological site of Comalcalco is noteworthy because it was built with fired clay bricks, unlike other Mayan cities which used stone, it is the westernmost site found to date and is currently making the headlines in the archaeological press due to the discovery of an ancient burial ground. Other Mayan archaeological sites in Tabasco include Pomona and Reforma. Continue your journey into the state of Chiapas, also famous for its Mayan treasures. The white city of Palenque lies in the jungle-clad foothills of the Chiapanecan mountains and was home to a dynasty of powerful lords who waged war against the rival state of Tonina. Two sculptures of captive warriors recently found at Tonina bear witness to their bitter strife. Deep in the heart of the Lacandon rain forest, in the Usmacinta River Basin, lie the legendary temples of Yaxchilan and the site of Bonampak, famous for its murals.
Periods of Mayan History
2000 B.C. – A.D. 250 Maya Pre-Classic
A.D. 250 – 900 Maya Classic
A.D. 900 – 1520 Maya Post-Classic
1517 Spanish expedition led by Francisco Hernández de Córdoba discovers the Yucatán Peninsula.
1518 Second Spanish expedition led by Juan de Grijalva.
1519 Hernán Cortés lands on Cozumel.
1521 Spanish Conquest of Mexico
1526 – 1544 Francisco de Montejo conquers the Yucatán
1697 Fall of Tayasal in northern Guatemala, the last Mayan city.