SITES IN THE YUCATAN PENINSULA
Along Mexico’s eastern shores, you’ll find a wealth of interesting archaeological ruins that date back to the Mayan era.
In this region you’ll experience ancient settlements in a range of breathtaking backdrops: From the Mayan era’s only beachfront city, Tulum, to sites in lush jungle settings like Chiapas’ Palenque.
Take a look at Cancun’s strip of chic, modern resorts and well-groomed beaches and it’s hard to believe that you’re just a drive away from some of the world’s most intriguing ancient structures. Of these, the closest archaeological zone is El Meco, less than four miles north. First opened to the public in 2001, this serenely beautiful site draws a crowd with its temple ruins, remains of several columns and a well-preserved pyramid in the style of the Postclassic period.
Centuries ago, Coba was one of the Mayan era’s most important cities for its political and commercial activities, not to mention one of the most populous. The city’s grandeur is not lost on modern visitors, who are greeted by an astounding 82-foot high temple standing in the midst of the Coba Group, a collection of urban structures. Even more impressive is the Nohoch Mul pyramid, one of the tallest constructions in Mayan history. Climb this nearly 140-foot-tall structure and you’ll be rewarded with magnificent views of the surrounding emerald canopy.
Perhaps the most oft-cited example of ancient Mexican architecture is Chichen Itza, which was recently named one of the “seven new wonders of the world.” Jaw-dropping jungles encompass extraordinary attractions like a castle with 365 steps known as the Pyramid of Kukulkan and Juego de Pelota, the largest ball court in Mesoamerica. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, it is the home of some of the pre-Hispanic era’s most distinguished structures. Private tours of this site also stop at local villages and colonial towns, allowing visitors to experience the warmth of Mexico’s locals along the way.
Built by a cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea and dotted with flourishing bougainvillea, Tulum is a small but truly enchanting site. This ancient settlement was once one of the most important in the region; today you’ll find the remains of temples, a castle and the house of the ruler, Halach Uinic (translated as the “True Man”). Walls surround three of its sides—making it the only walled city in the vicinity—while two watchtowers still stand on the site. It’s also the only archaeological site in the region that overlooks the coast, giving visitors easy access to Yucatan’s gorgeous white-sand beaches. One of the most popular archaeological sites among tourists, this site is recognized as a national park, and has been built up over the years to include tranquil lodgings and great restaurants serving authentic Mexican fare.
You can easily travel to Mexico’s southernmost state from Cancun or Mexico City. Within close proximity of a circuit of ruins known as the Ruta Puuc, or Puuc Route, this region is a key stop for those with an interest in the ancients.
Located in a flourishing rainforest in Palenque, the awe-inspiring structures pop against bountiful natural greenery. You’ll find an astonishing 500-plus constructions over an area of about ten square miles in this ancient city—however, most of the excavated structures are within a relatively contained space, making for easier touring of the site. If you’d like to extend your stay by the settlement, a nearby town is home to many family-run hotels and restaurants for a true taste of life in Mexico.
With a name that means “thrice built,” Uxmal is a late-classic Mayan site that dates back to around the 10th century A.D. or earlier. Situated over hilly terrain—“Puuc” means “hilly country”—this impressive settlement occupies nearly 150 acres and is surrounded by forests teeming with brightly-colored flowers. Here you’ll find the jaw-dropping Magician’s Pyramid. Though it is sometimes referred to as the Pyramid of the Dwarf, there’s nothing small about this 115-foot structure, the tallest in Uxmal. In addition to its sheer height, this pyramid is noteworthy for its unique style: With its rounded sides, steepness and painted plaster-covered exterior, it’s a standout among ancient Mexican architecture.
For more information, or to plan your next elite adventure, check out www.visitmexico.com