Mayan & Aztec Ruins in Mexico

Mayan & Aztec Ruins in Mexico
The Mayan and Aztec ruins are not just archaeological sites. They're also tourist destinations for those not averse to a little jungle hiking and pyramid climbing. Some ruins are better excavated than others, and some remain largely reclaimed by jungle. All of the ruins can be explored with or without a guide, and tourists are encouraged to walk, climb and explore. Though most of the more popular ruins are in the Yucatan peninsula, several sites are near Mexico City.


Located south of Ciudad del Carmen in the Mexican state of Chiapas, Palenque is smaller than some other ruins but known for its examples of Mayan sculpture, architecture and carving. The Palace, a series of adjacent buildings, contains many sculptures and carvings. The Temple of Inscriptions houses the second longest Mayan glyph, which records about 180 years of the city's existence. Also present is a series of temples known as the Temple of the Cross group. One of the most studied archaeological sites in Mexico, Palenque attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Chichen Itza

In the center of the Yucatan peninsula, the ruins at Chichen Itza reflect several periods of Mayan history, culture and building styles. Chichen Itza is home to the Temple of the Warriors and the Great Ball Court. It was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. About 2.5 miles west of the ruins is a series of caves called Balankanche, which can be toured for both their natural beauty as well as their role in Mayan culture as a ceremonial site.


Teotihuacan, about 25 miles northeast of Mexico City, was once the largest city in pre-Columbus America. Today it offers several large pyramids, residential complexes and well-preserved murals. The city's origin is uncertain and it pre-dates other Aztec sites by several centuries. The name of the city means "birthplace of the gods" in Nahuatl. Even after the city's collapse in the seventh or eighth century, it remained an icon in Aztec mythology. Due to the sheer size of the site, it has not been fully excavated.


Considered second only to Palenque for architectural achievement, the unique buildings at Uxmal, in the center of the Yucatan, continues to draw tourists every year. These include a step pyramid, a ball court and a palace. The ruins at this site are well-preserved, which makes them a particularly strong draw for tourists even though the location requires a bit of a drive from many tourist enclaves on the Yucatan. Uxmal, which means "built three times" in Mayan, provides an excellent view of the Puuc style of Maya architecture.


Travelers who want to go deep into the Mexican jungle will want to visit Calakmul, near the Guatemalan border. The area has been set aside as a tropical forest reserve. The largest structure at the site is the great step pyramid, the tallest in the Mayan world. There are over 6,000 other structures as well as impressive carved stone slabs, murals and ceramics. Still mostly claimed by the jungle, its not rare to find bands of monkey or parrots in the ruins at Calakmul.

Article Written By Joseph Nicholson

Joseph Nicholson is an independent analyst whose publishing achievements include a cover feature for "Futures Magazine" and a recurring column in the monthly newsletter of a private mint. He received a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Florida and is currently attending law school in San Francisco.

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