8 Best Mayan Pyramids in Mexico

Top 7 most famous Mayan pyramids in Yucatan, Mexico

Mexico is the country that preserves the largest number of ancient ruins, many of which are the subject of constant archaeological research to reveal to us, hidden for centuries under the dense blanket of dense jungle. The provinces of Chiapas, Yucatan and Quintana Roo are known for their archaeological areas with the ruins of Mayan cities open to tourists.

We present a ranking of Mayan ruins that we believe are the most interesting in Mexico and recommended to visit while in the country.

Palenque

Located in the rainforest of Chiapas province, near the Usumasinta River, the ruins of Palenque impress with their size and the magnificence of the surviving structures. Over 15 square kilometers, more than a thousand structures have been found so far. The archaeological area includes the “Temple of the Sun”, the “Temple of the Cross”, the “Temple of the Inscriptions”, the ruins of the palace and many other buildings, especially the “Temple of the Inscriptions”, where a sarcophagus buried one of the greatest rulers of Palenque – Pacal was found. The bas-reliefs on the walls of the palace and the decoration of the ball field are striking. Palenque is considered the most beautiful and impressive open-air museum in Mexico. Whether it is ancient symbols or examples of Mayan art, the ruins of Palenque will surely give you an insight into the development of the Mayan civilization.

Driving to the archaeological site is easy: you can take a bus to the modern city of Palenque and from there take another bus to the archaeological site in 10 minutes. Or take an excursion offered by your tour operator, which may be a little more expensive, but certainly more comfortable.

Yaxchilan

The Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan are located a 4-hour drive from Palenque, on the Guatemalan border in the heart of the jungle, on the banks of the Usumasinta River. Yaxchilan is a truly inexhaustible treasure trove of a vast array of Mayan architecture and writing, much of which is on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. Yaxchilan was considered one of the most influential cities of the Pachan kingdom and rivaled in influence Palenque.

Journey to Yaxchilan will impress all lovers of ancient history – walls painted with hieroglyphs depicting important events of the kingdom, altars and steles, ancient temples will not leave anyone indifferent. And the untouched nature surrounding the ruins, with an incredible number of birds, reptiles and howler monkeys creates a backdrop that is breathtaking.

How to get there: First by bus, then a half-hour boat ride along the Usumasinta River that divides Mexico and Guatemala to the Yaxchilan archaeological site.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza attracts travelers from all over the world as one of the largest archaeological parks in the Yucatan Peninsula with the famous pyramid of Kukulcan, recognized as one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. The complex is located on an area of 2.5 square kilometers and is visited daily by about 10,000 tourists, mostly from the nearby seaside resort of Cancun.

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The most famous structure is the Kukulkan pyramid, 24 meters high with 365 steps on four sides. Unfortunately, the ascent to the pyramid is closed. But you will have time to see: the Red House, the Deer House, the monastery and its annexes, the church, the Akab Zib, the Temple with three lintels and the Pali House, a huge ball field and a deep ritual well cenote, which was used for sacrifices to the rain god Tlaloc.

How to get there: 195 km from Cancun on a good road, travel time about 2 hours.

Bonampak

Located in Chiapas, the former Mayan city of Bonampak is popular for its preserved frescoes and the Temple of Paintings. The frescoes are recognized as the best found in the Mayan world and for their sake we suggest visiting this archaeological site, although it will seem small compared to Yaxchilan.

How to get there: when traveling to Yaxchilan, usually all tours capture a visit to Bonampak. We would not recommend getting there on your own, unless you take local Indians who know their roads well.

Coba is the second most visited ruins of the ancient Mayan city in Quintana Roo (after Tulum). The city’s main pyramid, 42 meters high, is still accessible and if you want to enjoy climbing the pyramid under the scorching tropical sun, it’s worth the trip!

Nevertheless, the main vast area of the Koba archaeological site is immersed in jungle, through which you can walk from one structure to another or use tourist trains or rented bicycles. On this long walk you can see not only the picturesque ruins, but also admire the beautiful cenotes and the lush vegetation around them.

How to get there: From the resorts of Cancun and Riviera Maya excursions are offered, often combining visits to Coba and Tulum. The distance is 173 km. There are also shuttle buses from Cancun and Playa del Carmen bus stations.

Tulum

Tulum is known as the only Mayan city built on the shores of the Caribbean Sea. It is also the only Mayan city walled. The Maya did not usually fortify their city-states or build fortifications. The wall was built at the end of the city as a defensive measure against the attacks of nomadic peoples from the north, very common at that time.

Here you can explore not only the Temple of Frescos and the El Castillo pyramid covered with elegant stone carvings, but also enjoy magnificent views of the ruins of the city against the background of the calm turquoise waters of the Caribbean Sea.This archaeological area is the first most visited tourist area in Quintana Roo province and the third in the whole country after Chichen Itza and Teotihuacan. Therefore, we recommend visiting it in the first hours after opening.

How to get there: Tulum is 180 km from Cancun and only 60 km from Playa del Carmen, the “capital” of the Mayan Riviera. From the airport of Cancun there are ADO buses three times a day to Tulum city, and from there you can take a cab to the archeological area, a trip of two hours. From the resort town of Playa del Carmen to Tulum can be reached by bus or collectivo (local shuttle bus) in an hour.

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USHMAL

The ruins of the once enormous Mayan city of Ushmal are characterized by magnificent architecture and are on par with those of Chichen Itza and Tikal. This archaeological site is relatively close to Chichen Itza and the city of Merida. The complex is spread over an area of 150 hectares.

It is interesting to look at the unconventional design of the Maga pyramid, the Monastery Square, the Great Pyramid and the Pigeonhole. The Ushmalaye ruins are characterized by a distinctive ornamental finish compared to the rest of the Mayan ruins. Well-preserved columns, intricate ornamental patterns, bird and animal figurines, and decorative elements can be seen everywhere. From the top of the Great Pyramid there is a panoramic view of Ushmal and the lush jungle that hugs it.

How to get there: From Merida to Ushmal you can take a bus leaving from the central bus station. Travel time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. The bus stops right next to the entrance to the complex.

The Mayan Pyramids in Mexico

Ancient civilizations still excite the minds of scientists and ordinary people around the world. Even with the modern development of technology, some of the secrets of the ancient peoples remain unsolved. The Mayan pyramids are breathtaking at first sight, and today we will talk about these grandiose structures.

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Traces of an Ancient Civilization

When tourists visit the cities of ancient civilizations, they are amazed at the technology they used. The ancient city of Teotihuacan included 1,000 residential complexes as well as several pyramid temples. The city was built, prospered for a time, and then was abandoned. It existed long before the Aztecs came to the area. The name “Teotihuacan” translates as “the divine place,” as the Aztecs called it when they came to the area. Today the reserve is considered the most visited in Mexico.

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The rise and fall of the great Mayan civilization

Strange as it may seem, the civilization came to its heyday in lightning steps, and just as quickly fell into disrepair.

The flowering of the city

The rapid development of the city began around the 1st century B.C. In 450 B.C. it was in its most active phase of development and construction. At its peak the city had 125,000 inhabitants. The area of the settlement was 23 sq. km. Thanks to the obsidian trade it managed to gain political and economic supremacy at that time. This material was used to make weapons, jewelry, and tools, since the Maya at that time did not yet know how to smelt iron.

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The fall of the city

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In 700 AD the city fell into decline and was destroyed by the invaders. Its population was very reduced to the point that all the inhabitants could live in an area of 1 km square. It is assumed that the decline of the settlement was influenced by natural factors, such as drought. Because of the lack of food people began to move to the east, the city was burned almost completely. Huge pyramids over time began to overgrow with vegetation and fell into disrepair.

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The decline of the flourishing city was as rapid as its heyday. After 800 years, Teotihuacan was again revered as a culturally sacred place. After the death of the civilization that inhabited the ancient settlement, the process of fragmentation between cultures and the seclusion of different peoples began in Central America. Also during this period, small states such as the Toltecs and Aztecs began to emerge. These peoples fought the Conquistadors, the invaders from Europe. In 1519, the Aztecs were defeated by the Spaniards, and in 1521 the fragmentation of the peoples in Central America was completely eradicated.

After conducting a number of studies, scholars have concluded that the Europeans defeated the Aztecs were helped by their belief in the legend of the god Quetzalcoatl. The god looked like a serpent with feathers, and sometimes he could take the form of a man with swarthy but not black skin and a beard. He was supposed to revive the culture and science of the people and came by boat from the East. Perhaps it was the Spaniards who the Aztecs mistook for heavenly messengers and hoped they would help them, but it turned out the other way around.

Where are the Mayan pyramids?

Basically all the pyramids are located in Mexico on the Yucatan Peninsula. There are quite a lot of them, some are already hidden under the ground, others have become thickets of dense vegetation. Almost all of the pyramids are layered. This means that the main pyramid was built first, and then several more structures were built on top of it over time.

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Mexican pyramids were created not only by the Maya people, but also by others. You can find some of them that have a double structure, that is, over an older structure was created a new one, and thus there was an overlap of one culture with another.

History of the ancient city

Historically, scientists divide the development of the Mayan settlement into several stages:

  • 100 BC. – Proto-Teotihuacan, the emergence of the city. There were 2 small villages in the valley of Mexico City with a population of about 5 thousand people.
  • 0 BC. – 150 AD. – Teotihuacan I, beginning of construction of the Alley of the Dead. Erected the Pyramid of the Sun.
  • 150 B.C. – 300 A.D. – Teotihuacan II, a protective wall was built for the city.
  • 300 A.D. – 600 AD – Teotihuacan III, a period of prosperity of the ancient civilization. Population – 85,000 – 200,000 people.
  • A.D. 650. – 750 A.D. – Teotihuacan IV, the decline of the state, its disappearance.
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All important events and celebrations in the settlement were held in the palaces and temples located in its northern part, to be more exact in front of the Pyramid of the Moon. These structures included the palace of Quetzaotkoatl, the Palace of the Butterfly, the Temple of the Feathered Conce, and the Palace of the Jaguars. The artistry of the Teotihuacans can be seen everywhere: it is reflected in the magnificent paintings and stone carvings that adorn the walls of the palaces and temple complexes.

Most famous Mayan pyramids

Mexico has the largest number of ancient pyramid ruins. Excavations and various studies are often carried out in their territory. During the excavations it is possible to uncover the secrets of the ancient peoples, which were hidden under a thick layer of soil and dense thickets. The largest number of ruins of Mayan cities is located in the provinces of Chiapas, Yucatan and Quintana-Ru. It is to these places that many tourists from all over the world come.

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PALENKE

The ruins are located in the province of Chiapas, next to the Usumasinta River. They are striking because many buildings are perfectly preserved to this day. In an area of 15 square kilometers more than 1 thousand structures were discovered. The area on which the excavations include such sites: The area where the excavations are done includes the following sites: the “Temple of the Sun”, the “Temple of the Cross”, the “Temple of the Inscriptions”, the ruins of a palace and many other buildings. The “Temple of the Inscriptions” is of particular importance as it contains the burial of the great ruler Pacal. The bas-reliefs on the walls of the palace are made at a high level, also striking is the decoration of the ball field. Palenque is considered the most beautiful open-air museum in the country. By the scale of construction you can judge the degree of development of the Mayan people.

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YASCHILAN

The ruins of this complex are located four hours from Palenque near the Guatemalan border on the banks of the Usumasinta River. It is an endless source of Native American architecture, culture and writing. A huge portion of the archaeological finds are on display at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City, the capital of Mexico City. In ancient times it was the most influential city in the territory of the Pachan Kingdom and was constantly in competition with Palenque. If you are a lover of history and beautiful places, then you must visit this pyramid. Its walls are decorated with hieroglyphs that depict all the important events of the kingdom. The altars, stelae and temples will impress you. Complementing all this is the wilderness with its rich animal and bird life.

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CHICHIN-ITSAKA

Probably the most famous place in Mexico. It is the largest archaeological park on the Yucatan Peninsula. The most famous pyramid on the territory of the complex is called Kukulcan, and in 2007 it was listed as one of the Seven Wonders of the World. The complex covers an area of 2.5 square kilometers, each day it is visited by about 10 thousand tourists. The main mass of people come from the resort town of Cancun.

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Illustration for Ancient Mayan pyramids: mysterious symbols of Mexico, facts and legends

The height of the pyramid Kukulkan is twenty-four meters. On each side of the top are 365 steps. Tourists unfortunately are not allowed to climb to the top. Besides the main pyramid it is also worth visiting the Red House, the Deer House, the monastery and its annexes, the church, the Akab Dzib, the Temple with three lintels and the House of Pali, a huge ball field.

Mysteries and Legends of the Mayan Pyramids

There are many legends and superstitions surrounding the Mayan pyramids. They are also shrouded in mysterious and mystical events. One such event is the biannual appearance of a “crawling” snake on the steps. Exactly on the day of the autumn and spring equinoxes, people can observe the unusual phenomenon. At 5 p.m., a huge shadow of a snake begins to appear on the stairs; as the sun descends, the snake begins to move down the stairs. This phenomenon can be observed for 3 hours. It was possible to achieve such a play of light only with a tremendous knowledge of astronomy and topography.

Illustration for Ancient Mayan pyramids: mysterious symbols of Mexico, facts and legends

The most famous legend that concerns the Mayan pyramids is the legend of the Pyramid of Dwarf. It is located in the ancient city of Ushmal and reaches a height of thirty-five meters. According to the legend, the pyramid appeared overnight and was built by a dwarf. The legend says that not far from the city lived a woman who somehow accidentally found a snake egg and took it for herself. From it eventually emerged a child who could foretell the future. One day the child struck a wooden tunkle and said that when its sound spread to the whole state, then the ruler would lose his power and strength, and he himself would gain the throne.

Illustration for Ancient Mayan pyramids: mysterious symbols of Mexico, facts and legends

These rumors reached the king, and he ordered him to bring the dwarf to him. The soothsayer had to pass many difficult tests, and one of them was to build a palace in one night. This task was perfectly accomplished. While passing the second test, the ruler died, and the dwarf took over and began to rule the country.

How to get to the City of the Gods

It’s easy to do. Get to Mexico City, look for the northern bus terminal, Terminal Central de Autobuses del Norte, which is the Autobuses del Norte subway station. Look for the ticket office marked “Autobuses Teothuacan” (turn left at the entrance and walk to the end of the hall). Buy your ticket and you are ready to go on your trip, which will last about one hour.

Be sure to visit the cradle of ancient civilization, and get a lot of impressions and a lot of positive emotions.

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