Latin America's ancient civilisations: Incas
Our series focusing on the ancient civilisations of Latin America continues with the vast Inca empire and the heritage th…Read More
The well-preserved archaeological sites of ancient Pre-Columbian civilisations have allowed experts to piece together what life was like in Latin America, all those centuries ago. When overlaid by the sweeping cultural and architectural changes brought forth by European colonisers in the 16th century, this blend provides a platform on which our expert local guides can lead you on a panoramic journey through history, which spans millennia.
Better yet, most ruins are found in extraordinary landscapes; Andean mountains, tropical jungle, Caribbean beaches or vast desert and are accessed from nearby cities in which we can experience modern local life and discover which ancient traditions and customs continue to thrive today.
We start our series of articles about the most preeminent ancient cultures and civilisations from Latin America with the mighty Mayans of Central America.
Where: The Mesoamerican Maya empire stretched across Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and into the neighbouring states of Chiapas and Tabasco, down into Guatemala, Honduras and Belize. Their cities were usually set within deep jungle, many within reach of a nearby cenote (a limestone sinkhole that was a natural source of rainwater). At its peak, the empire was thought to be some 13 million strong.
When: The empire spanned over 3,000 years, from 1800 BC to the 16th century AD. It reached its zenith, known as the Classical Period, between 250 and 900 AD, though continued strong in Mexico until the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in the 1500s.
Key figures: The Maya empire revolved around a pantheon of deities; a huge variety of gods and goddesses which encompassed the sun, rain, war and the underworld, through to more obscure themes such as bees, fishermen and even suicide and homosexuality. The civilisation was run by a series of godlike kings, who built immense temples and pyramids to demonstrate their unquestionable power.
Characteristics: As well as constructing some of the most impressive and sophisticated ancient structures in Latin America, the Mayans were renowned for their advance knowledge in other areas, including mathematics, art, writing and cosmology. They also are credited with developing a complex 365 day calendar system and various ritual ball games. The empire grew from an agricultural base and this provided the backbone for its expansion, with many workers tending the land surrounding the biggest cities.
Heritage: The might of the Mayan empire is best evidenced in their stone cities, which were built deep in rainforest around towering pyramids, vast ball courts and magnificent temples, many of which have survived the test of time (and the best efforts of the conquistadors to demolish them). The most well-known and impressive of these are Chichen Itza and Uxmal in Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula and Palenque in the state of Chiapas. Outside of Mexico, Tikal and Ceibal in Guatemala, Lamanai in Belize and Copan in Honduras are the most renowned. However, there are many other smaller and lesser-visited Mayan archaeological sites, particularly in Campeche in the Yucatan and in the south of Guatemala. The hilltop ruins of Tulum overlook an idyllic beach on Mexico's Riviera Maya.
Many sites are close to sacred underground cenotes and visitors can bathe in a number of these. Within the sites it is possible to appreciate not just the scale of the structures, but also their elaborate and intricate decoration and relive, through an expert guide, what life would have been like as part of the ancient Mayan society. Around 70 dialects of Mayan languages are thought to still be spoken in Central America.
Downfall: The sharp decline of the Mayan empire in the eighth to tenth century is a source of enduring mystery, as huge cities begun to be abandoned and gradually swallowed up by the jungle. War, drought, over-population and even climate change have all been mooted as possible causes or contributory factors. The definitive end to the empire can be traced to the arrival of Spanish invaders in the sixteenth century, bringing to an end the thriving cities of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and a few others.
Suggested tour: Visit Mexico and Guatemala's biggest Mayan sites on our 15 night Pacal tour, from £4,346 per person.
Chichen Itza, Uxmal, Palenque & Tulum in Mexico
14 Nights from £4,711 €4,753 $5,124
The wealth of producing sisal is visible in the opulent country Haciendas, now converted into small luxury hotels for you to experience. Visit massive Mayan pyramids and exten…
14 Nights from £4,711 €4,753 $5,124Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Fly to Cancun
Day 2-4 - Hacienda San Jose, Merida
Day 5 - Transport to Hacienda Temozon, visit Uxmal, continue to Campeche
Day 6-7 - At leisure in Campeche
Day 8 - Transport to Merida
Day 9 - At leisure in Merida
Day 10 - Chichén Itzá
Day 11-14 - At leisure at your beach resort
Day 15 - Flight back home
Ninos Mayas Tour
13 Nights from £2,429 €2,014 $2,157
Experience the achievements of the ancient civilisation of the Mayas who built fortress cities with huge pyramids and were pioneers in the observation of the universe. After t…
14 Nights from £2,430 €2,016 $2,159
Explore the austere and palatial pyramids of ancient Mayan civilisations, discover colonial cities, isolated Haciendas and unwind on beaches lapped by the turquoise clear ocea…
10 Nights from £1,562 €974 $1,030
Explore the Aztec remnants of the past, stepping back in time at Calakmul for the pyramids of mighty civilisations, small villages, the walled city of Campeche and colonial Me…
Day 1 - Departure from UK
Day 2 - Tulum
Day 3 - Kohunlich
Day 4 - Chicanná & Calakmul
Day 5 - Campeche
Day 6 - Edzná
Day 7 - Labná, Kabah and Uxmal
Day 8 - Oxkutzcab
Day 9 - Merida
Day 10 - Chichén Itzá
Day 11 - Depart to UK
15 Nights from £4,346 €4,315 $4,649
Visit Mayan villages, colourful weavers and the massive pyramids built by powerful civilisations that mysteriously abandoned their cities to the encoaching jungle.
15 Nights from £4,346 €4,315 $4,649Full Itinerary Contact Specialist
Day 1 - Flight to Mexico Cty
Day 2 - Flight to Vlahermosa and visit Agua Azul
Day 3 - Palenque and flight to Merida
Day 4 - Uxmal
Day 5 - Chichén Itzá
Day 6 - Cancún
Days 7-8 - Tikal
Day 9 - Ceibal
Day 10-12 - Aguateca & Antigua
Day 13 - Indian market
Day 14 - Lake Atitlán
Day 15 - Market at Solola
Day 16 - Return to UK