One of the main draws of Central America is its abundance of Mayan ruins, which fascinate and baffle travellers and historians alike. Imbued with ancient mystery, each archaeological site takes us one step closer to understanding how the Mayans lived and yet, still, so much remains undiscovered. With ruins scattered throughout the entire region, some much more impressive than others, here’s our top 5 picks, so you don’t spend your entire vacation traipsing through hundreds of different sites.
Chichen Itza, Mexico
The first and most obvious site to visit is Chichen Itza. While this collection of ruins is often dubbed “too touristy”, if you time your visit well you can avoid the large crowds and have a much more peaceful experience. There is no denying that these magnificent temples are well worth the time and effort it takes to get there. It is also highly recommended that you get a tour guide if you come here as they will supply you with all kinds of interesting facts and legends about the various structures. They will also take you to the main temple and make you clap, a popular activity because the sound of the clap reverberates off the walls of the temple and produces a weird twang in the process.
What is the one thing that beats exploring a set of ancient ruins? Topping you adventure and tan up by the beach … obviously! The Tulum Ruins are set along the coast of the Caribbean Sea, meaning that when the Mexican heat gets too much for you, you can fling your clothes off and throw yourself into the cool(ish) water. The ruins themselves aren’t the largest you will witness but they are still great to wander through and if you keep your eyes peeled you will almost definitely see some iguanas lounging around in the sun.
From Flores, Tikal is just over an hour’s drive, making this colourful Guatemalan town the perfect base for exploring the nearby ruins. Brimming with wildlife, including the gray fox, various different types of monkey and the slightly less majestic and significantly more terrifying tarantula, this site is one of the larger and more diverse of all the Mayan hotspots in the region. Most choose to time their visit in order to witness either the sunrise or the sunset from the top of the tallest temple, which looks out over an endless expanse of stunning, lush jungle. Tikal was also the filming location for a scene from one of the Star Wars movies.
Slightly off the beaten path but well worth the detour, these ruins are situated in Honduras, just over the border from Guatemala. Given their location, they are often skipped by travellers, making them the perfect destination for anyone looking to explore some Mayan ruins without lots of other travellers about. One unique feature of these ruins is the plethora of wild parrots that fly overhead and live in the surrounding jungle. These temples also have some pretty exciting underground tunnels that are definitely worth exploring.
Nestled within the thick Mexican jungle are the ruins of Palenque, protected within the boundaries of a national park, which was deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1987. Like the other sites mentioned, Palenque holds the key to unlocking many of the secrets surrounding ancient Mayan culture, however, unlike the other sites, it is estimated that only a mere 10% of what Palenque holds has actually been unearthed.
If any of these sites on our top five have made up your mind of where to go in Central America, feel free to have a browse of our group tours. Or if you think we have missed out any essential archaeological wonders, please let us know in the comment section below.