Top Ten Archaeological Ruins

North & South America: The Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

When you cross the Rio Usumacinta into Yucatan, you are crossing into the realm of the Maya. Heirs to a glorious and often violent history, the Maya of today inhabit the same lands as their ancestors a millennium ago. Yucatan has surprising diversity: archaeological sites galore, colonial cities, seaside resorts, and quiet coastlines populated mostly by tropical birds. The two most famous archaeological sites in Mexico are Palenque and Chichen Itza. Beloved by many who declare it to be the most beautiful Maya ruin, Palenque sits proudly in Palenque National Park in the state of Chiapas. Set against a hill, the city was built so that it was visible for hundreds of miles as one ventured through the rainforest from the coast. Despite its visibility, Cortes passed within 30 miles of the city and never knew it was there. Only 34 of the 500 buildings have been excavated, and as you explore the ruins keep in mind that the entire city was painted in red—quite a difference from the washed-out grey facades that exist today. The Temple of Inscriptions is perhaps the most interesting pyramid at Palenque and it is definitely the largest. Ascend the 69 steep steps to the top, both for a magnificent vista of Palenque and surrounding jungle. The Temple of the Sun dates from 642 AD and has one of the best-preserved roof combs of any Maya site. Chichen Itza is the best known, best restored, and arguably the most impressive Maya ruin. El Castillo is a time temple within the ancient city that sheds light on the Maya astronomical system. It was built in 800 AD, just before a Toltec invasion. An impressive 78 feet tall, the temple was actually a huge solar calendar. Other sites to explore on your archaeological journey through the Yucatan are Uxmal and Tulum in Quintana Roo, although the ruins here are not as fine as those at Chichen or Palenque.


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