The Mayan Ruins of Chichén Itzá
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The Mayan civilisation flourished in parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, leaving behind well-preserved ruins and immense pyramids that allow expert guides to paint vivid pictures of life in ancient times.
The most renowned Mayan archaeological site in Central America is Chichén Itzá on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula, an ancient city built around the immense El Castillo pyramid and other important structures, such as the Temple of the Warriors, the Caracol staircase and the observatory. Nearby is one of the areas most beautiful undergound cenotes, a collapsed limestone cave that was once a sacred source of water and route to the underworld in Mayan times. Today visitors can bathe in the crystal-clear water of many of these sinkholes.
Close-by is the noted former Mayan town of Uxmal, ensconced in deep jungle. The ruins show a very different architectural style to its more famous counterpart, this time built it the distinctive Puuc style. They are amongst the most impressive remains and clearly demonstrate the importance of astronomy and social divides in the Mayan society.
One of the most eye-catching sites on the peninsula is the former seaport of Tulum, where the remains overlook a beautiful white sand beach on the Caribbean coast. There are many other lesser-visited and off-the-beaten-track ruins on the Yucatán Peninsula, these include Chicanná, Becán and Calakmul which can be visited together from the colonial city of Campeche. In the neighbouring state of Chiapas is Palenque, where you can appreciate both the scale and intricate detail of Mayan architecture.
Guatemala's biggest and best Mayan site is the 4th century citadel Tikal. Visits here allow you to admire and scale the soaring pyramids which poke-out above the dense jungle canopy and marvel at some of the most impressive structures on the continent. The site is also home to an abundance of birds and small mammals. The country's other noted Mayan remains include Aguateca and El Ceibal, located close together slightly south of Tikal and Quirigua, close to the border with Honduras. Just over said border is Copán, once one of the most important Mayan centres. It can be visited on a full day excursion from Guatemala.
The best Mayan ruins in Belize are found in the Lamanai Archaeological Reserve. There are also some interesting Mayan remains in the Chaa Creek region, including ancient Mayan ceremonial caves and the nearby sites at Xunantunich, Cahal Pech and El Pilar.
See below for more on each destination and for a selection of tours that will take you to the best Mayan ruins in Central America.
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