Mexico has been home to dozens of different tribes over the centuries, but none were quite like the Mayan tribe. The classic Mayan period is said to have lasted more than 700. Although the Mayan civilization had collapsed by 900 AD, they left what is now known as southern Mexico, with some of the most fascinating archeological wonders. There are dozens upon dozens of Mayan Pyramids scattered all across Mexico's southern states. If you're interested in Mayan history, here are some of the top pyramids that you should add to your bucket list.
Located in the state of Yucatan, Chichen Itza served as the capital of the Mayan empire for approximately 600 years. Dating back to the fifth century, it was once a hub of business and commerce. It spreads over an area of 2 sq miles and was the largest city in the Mayan empire. Home to one of the most famous pyramids in Mexico, Castillo de Kukulcán, Chichen Itza is one of the new 7 wonders of the world.
Castillo de Kukulcán also known as the Castillo pyramid is one of its kind, with seven terraces and four stairways that lead to the top. This pyramid is a testament to how deeply rooted the knowledge of astronomy was in the Mayan culture. A total of 365 steps lead to the top each of which represents a day of the year and twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes, you can see a shadow that looks like a feathered serpent traveling down the pyramid. This fascinating structure draws in thousands of tourists every day which means more often than not you will find Chichen Itza crowded. However most of the crowd leaves by 3 pm, so you can try going after that.
Located deep in the jungles of Chiapas, Palenque is one of the oldest cities of the Mayan empire, dating back to the 3rd century. Palenque is home to a number of pyramids, tombs, palaces, and temples, with the largest pyramid being the temple of Inscriptions. The temple of Inscriptions has helped historians understand the Mayan culture and history in a much deeper way with its sheer volume of Mayan glyphic inscriptions. This pyramid is the resting place of Lord Pakal, an important Mayan leader, and records almost two centuries worth of ancient history.
Palenque is also home to the Temple of Cross Complex which is made up of three smaller pyramids: the Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Cross, and the Temple of the Foliated Cross. The city was named a UNESCO world heritage site back in 1974 and is home to endless archaeological wonders, so it is best if you spare a whole day from your Mexico tour to explore everything that this ancient city has to offer.
Located in the Yucatán peninsula of southern Mexico, Calakmul was a major Mayan power hub for more than 1200 years. It is home to two of the largest pyramids in all of Mexico. Surrounded by tropical forests, this UNESCO world heritage site has over 950 mapped structures, a number of causeways, over a dozen reservoirs, and a massive network of canals. The site was hidden in the second-largest tropical forest in America for centuries before getting discovered just recently in 1993. The jungle is now used as the Calakmul bio reserve for preserving tropical birds.
A trip to Calakmul can be quite tough, which is why it gets less than 100 tourists a day. It is located off the beaten path, is only partially restored, given that it was discovered less than 30 years ago, and the last place you can get supplies like water and snacks from is around 40 km away. So you need to be prepared before you make your way into the Biosphere Reserve. However, If you don't like big crowds and want to have a more intimate experience, this is the place to be.
Located just outside the city of Merida, Uxmal was home to more than 20,000 people in its heyday. Uxmal got its name from its tallest structure, the Pyramid of Magician, which means “thrice built”. The Pyramid of Magician was built on top of existing pyramids and was built in three stages which gives the city its name. Uxmal is also home to Nun’s Quadrangle, the House of the Turtles, the Ball Court, and the Place of the Governor.
The city spans over an area of 150 acres and was declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1996. Ruta Puuc is a driving road that connects Uxmal to different Mayan cities. This is why Uxmal is very easy to travel to and gets a massive number of tourists every day. You can go to Merida first which lies on the way to Uxmal and take a bus from there or rent a car which is a much better option.
Situated to the north of Campeche state, Edzna is home to some of the most remarkable Mayan archaeological sites. Famous because of its main temple, Gran Acropolis, Edzna housed more than 25,000 people back in the day. The city saw its peak from 400 AD to 1000 and according to historians has a 1500-year-old history.
The city’s main temple of Gran Acropolis was built on a 40 m high platform and provides a 360-degree view of the surroundings from its top. The Great Pyramid of Edzna is also one of the defining features of this ancient city, which is a five-level structure that combines a pyramid with a palace.
Temple of the Masks is another important structure that was discovered in 1988. This religious structure represents two gods, the god of sunrise and the god of sunset with two masks at its base.
Edzna is at least a 5-hour-drive away from Cancun which is why it doesn't get too many visitors. This gives you the opportunity to explore its archeological structure before it becomes world famous and becomes overcrowded.