The Maya civilization is known as one of the big three Pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas - the other two being the Azetics and the Incas in addition to many other smaller civilizations. The Mayan civilization spanned the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, all of Belize and Guatemala, and western parts of Honduras and El Salvador. The Mayans are known for the most sophisticated and developed writing system in the Americans before the European arrival. There were also developed in art, mathematics, architecture, and more.
The pyramids they left behind are awe-inspiring and draw visitors from far and wide. An eager tourist will also check out the Mayan caves as they were also very important to them as conduits to the underworld and the associated gods.
'Maya' is a term used to describe a variety of peoples in the same region with similar cultures. They were never united, nor did they have a common sense of unity. About 28 Mayan languages survive today.
Mayan Ruins In Mexico
Mayan ruins in Mexico include some of the most famous ruins and a large part of the territory that the Mayans occupied. They are clustered in and around the Mayan Peninsula. Some of the ruins here include some of the most famous of Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza and Tulum. Some of these cities were abandoned long before European arrival around the year 900 AD for reasons that are still being debated.
Perhaps the most famous ruins of the Mayan world are those of Chichen Itza. It has been named as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World and is one of the symbols of Mexico.
- Size: One Of The Largest Mayan Cities
- Where: Yucatan Peninsula
- Date: From 5th Century to The 10 Century
- Highlight: El Castillo - Massive Mathametically Designed Step Pyramid With 365 Steps For Each Day Of The Year
Coba is a must-see but it has not had the same touristic acclaim as its neighbors like Chichen Itza and Tulum. Today it is located deep in the jungle and until the 1970s it was not open to the public because of difficulty getting to it.
- Size: One Of The Largest Mayan Cities
- Excavation: Only A Small Amount
- How To Get Around: Rent Bicycles On-Site
- Advantage: One Of The Last Mexican Pyramids Tourists Can Still Climb
Tulum is one of the most famous Mayan ruins in the Yucatan and is one of the coastal Mayan sites.
- Popularity: Over Two Million Visitors Annually
- Heyday: Around The 13th Century
- Tip: Bring A Bathing Suit To Jump In The Sea
Mayan Ruins In Belize
Belize may be a less popular destination than Yucatan in Mexico, but it is thought of by some as toping its neighbor with the number and a variety of sites. There are more than 600 sites in Belize alone (so this article is not exhaustive)!
Caracol is massive spanning an area larger than the modern Belize City and was once one of the largest cities on earth. Today it is inside the tropical Chiquibul Forest and is a total must-see in Belize
- Peak Population: Around 140,000
- Abandoned: Around The Year 900
- Number Of Structures: More Than 35,000 Known And Counting
- Chief Highlight: Canna, Aka the Sky Palace, 143 Feet High And The Tallest Building In Belize
- Other Highlights: Alters, Ball Courts, Hieroglyphics, Astronomic Observatory
- Tip: Hire A Guide To Bring Caracol To Life
Lamanai is one of those rewarding sites that are very difficult to get to. To get here you need to take a boat 26 miles up the New River - and so it doubles up as a scenic tour as well.
- Size: One Of The Largest In Belize
- Highlights: High Temple, New River Lagoon, Jaguar Temple, Mask Temple
Mayan Ruins In Guatemala
Don't forget about Guatemala! The Mayan civilization spanned the entirety of this Central American country. And so it is also rich in Mayan ruins, many of them less known.
Tikal is the most spectacular of the many ruins in Guatemala and some pre-Mayan structures have been found to stretch back to the 4th century BC. Tikal is nestled in amongst the Central American rainforests and had its heyday from around 200 to 900 AD. This city once dominated its region.
- Peak Population: Around 100,000
- Conservation Status: UNESCO Listed (Part of The Tikal National Park Listed For Biodiversity Alone)
- Highlights: Temple of the Grand Jaguar, Temple of the Masks, And The Central Acropolis
Ruins Of El Salvador And Hondorus
Both El Salvador and Honduras host ruins in parts of their countries forming the boundary of the Mayan civilization. Some of the more prominent sites to see in El Salvador are Casa Blanca, Cihuatan, El Tazumal, San Andres, and Joya de Ceren. There are of course many more sites than these in El Salvador, they are, however, not as impressive as those in Belize and Guatemala.
Honduras also hosts a good many ruins in its lands. The most famous of these is the UNESCO-listed ruins of Copan Ruins in western Honduras. The Copan Ruins have been dubbed the Paris of the Mayan world and are one of the most important sites of the Mayan civilization.
- Abandoned: 9th Century AD
- Highlight: The Plaza of the Hieroglyphic Staircase
- Glyphs: More Than 1,250 Individual Glyphs - The Longest Known Mayan Inscription
In short, the Mayan civilization spanned many hundreds of years and did not correspond to modern borders. Some of the ruins are touristic some are not. But they are indeed numerous. And don't forget to check out the Mayan caves!