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Mexico's top archaeological sites
Mexico’s rich history is etched into its archaeological offering. The country’s ancient temple complexes, lost kingdoms and forgotten cities are all a fitting testament to the sophisticated civilisations of its past. We’ve handpicked the best of Mexico’s archaeological sites; marked by great empires, pioneering discovery and extraordinary architectural merit.
With over 29,000 archaeological sites rediscovered to date, Mexico is a brilliant destination for any history lover. Trace the rise and fall of one of Mexico’s greatest civilisations as you walk through one of the empires they called home. Considered national treasures, Mexico's ancient cities and precincts are bound to be the highlight of any visit.
The once thriving city of Chichén Itzá is Mexico’s most famed ancient site. Declared as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007, this well preserved city was once the focal point of the entire Maya civilisation. The pièce de résistance of the complex is El Castillo, an impressive pyramid structure, boasting no less than 365 stairs to the top. Incredibly, on the spring and autumn equinox, a shadow descends on the pyramid, appearing snake like as it slithers towards the base of the staircase. Whilst this phenomenon attracts visitors from across the world, the complex is a joy to discover on any other day of the year too. Arrive early to beat the crowds and enjoy Chichén Itzá all to yourself.
Deep in the jungle and shrouded in mystery, the setting of the Maya temple of Coba is the stuff of Indiana Jones. Once a thriving metropolis, Coba once rivalled Chichén Itzá in size and prominence. It was famed for its sophisticated network of elevated paved roads, or sacbeob, that connected the main temples to smaller ceremonial sites and neighbouring Maya villages. Coba’s intricate archaeological sites and stone causeways are a spectacular example of the architectural prowess of the Maya people.
Tucked away in the heart of the Chiapas region, the setting of the mighty Palenque ruins is as breathtaking as the complex itself. Home to howler monkeys and parrots, Palenque is a fantastic spot for wildlife aficionados as well history buffs. Its significance is rooted in its structure, a feat of architectural inventiveness and a detailed epigraphic record of past civilisations.
The fantastic archaeological zone of Teotihuacan is enveloped in an impressive mountainous setting in the Valle de Mexico and was once the country’s most significant pre-Hispanic empire. The famed Avenue of the Dead, a monumental thoroughfare once lined with the former palaces of Teotihuacan’s elite including the awe inspiring Piramide del Sol, the world’s third largest pyramid, is at the heart of this sprawling site. Modern Mexico City is built atop the ruins that once formed part of the Aztec empire’s principal city; a testament to their technological advancement and expansive ruling power.
Lording over a rugged stretch of coastline, Tulum is perhaps Mexico’s most picturesque Maya site. Overlooking the sugar white sands and turquoise waters of Mexico's Caribbean coast, Tulum is unsurprisingly one of Mexico’s most sought after spots. With a history dating back as far as the 13th Century, Tulum was originally built as a watchtower and an important centre of worship for the society. Visiting this Maya site allows you to enjoy the mystery of this ancient culture, without missing a day on the beach.
Pronounced ooshmal, the lost city of Uxmal is made up of an impressive set of ruins which rank among the top Maya archaeological sites in the world. Situated to the south of Merida, on the Yucatan Peninsula, Uxmal dates back as far as 700AD and was once home to no less than 25,000 people. There, you really feel as if you are stepping back in time, taking in its extraordinary temples as well as learning about the part it has played in astronomical discovery through its symbolic motifs and sculptures.