Take a step back in time and explore ancient Mayan ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Visit Mayapan, Chichen Itza, Xunantunich, Xel-Ha, Muyil, Tikal, Ek Balam and more.
Also known as the Banner of the Mayas, Mayapan is considered the last great Maya capital. The Pre-Columbian Maya site is south of the town of Telchaquillo, which is in Yucatán, Mexico. More than 4000 structures, most residences, are packed with the ancient city’s walls. Archeologists believe that Mayapan’s main temple is a smaller version of Chichen Itza’s Temple of Kukulkan.
Located in the Puuc Hills region of the Yucatán Peninsula, Labna is a ceremonial center located south of the Uxmal archaeological site. The Gateway Arch (pictured) is not an entryway into the city; it’s a passageway between public areas.
Chichen Itza is one of the largest Maya cities, and it is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. More than 1 million tourists visit the Mayan ruins every year. The Temple of Kukulkan (pictured) -- also referred to as El Castillo -- stands 98-feet tall with 9 square terraces, and it’s a big draw for crowds during the spring and fall equinoxes. As the sun sets, visitors crowd around the pyramid to see the shadows on the steps that resemble a snake.
In western Honduras, Copán -- another Maya archeological site -- was once the capital city of the Maya civilization from the 5th to 9th centuries AD. It was occupied for 2,000 years, and more recently, the Copán River was diverted to protect the site from damage.
Tikal, located in the Guatemala’s Peten Basin was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1979. It was the capital of a state that became one of the most powerful kingdoms of the Maya. It is part of the Tikal National Park.
Built in the Maya Classic Period, Ek Balam has a grand central pyramid, 2 large palaces and numerous other temples and buildings. At the height of its history, it was a large city, and the architecture dates back to the Late Classic period.
Belize’s Lamanai Mayan ruins are surrounded by the jungle’s thick vegetation. And in case you didn’t know, the word Lamanai comes from the Maya term “submerged crocodile” -- a nod to the reptiles that live along the banks of the New River.
Mexico’s Xel-Ha ruins, part of the Xel-Ha Lagoon Eco-Park, is located between 2 Maya archeological sites -- Akumal and Tulum. The lagoon was a popular trade port between towns along the coast and to Cozumel. Some structures still have painted hands and other drawings of the Maya.
Although rarely visited, the Muyil ruins is one of the earliest and longest inhabited ancient Maya sites, located south of Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. These ruins are found along a Caribbean trade route that was once accessible via a series of canals.
Just 80 miles of Belize City, Belize, Xunantunich sits on a ridge above the Mopan River, where visitors can clearly see Guatemala’s border. El Castillo (pictured) -- 130-feet tall -- is the second tallest structure in Belize, after the temple at Caracol.
In Quintana Roo, Mexico, Coba’s Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatán Peninsula. It is 12-stories tall and has 120 steps to the top, where you can get a panoramic view of the jungle and the tops of the other ruins in the area.
The Xlapak Palace (pictured) was located in a Maya ceremonial center in Yucatán, Mexico. The Palace is only 20-meters long adorned in typical, but stylish Mayan architecture style with columns, colonnades, geometrical figures and superimposed Mayan masks of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain.
Uxmal is the Maya word for “thrice-build,” which refers to the construction of the Pyramid of the Magician (pictured). The Maya would often build a new temple over an existing one, and in this case, 5 stages of construction were found. At its height, Uxmal was home to about 25,000 Maya.
In Izamal, Mexico, visitors come to see the magnificent Kinch Kakmo pyramid. Kinch Kakmo -- the Maya word for fire parrot -- was believed to descend to Earth to consume offerings made at the top of the pyramid.
Head to the Campeche, Mexico, to see the Becan Mayan ruins. Visitors can explore 20 major ruins, including a number of temple pyramids immersed in the jungle. Becan was a major city, occupied from 550 BC and abandoned around the 9th century AD.