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Mexico’s Olmecs were the first great civilization in Mesoamerica, in cultural flowering at the same time as ancient Egypt. Subsequent empires, including the Maya and the Aztecs, left behind magnificent architecture, roads, written language, calendars, astronomy, and artistic achievements that continue to awe visitors today. For all the gains we’ve made in understanding these cultures, their ruins remain powerfully mysterious and enchanting.

Mexico Archeology

Chichén Itzá

One of the most important, most studied, and most reconstructed Mayan sites, Chichén Itzá is a huge complex (covering some 2.5 square miles) that makes an even bigger impression. Though often crowded, it’s absolutely worth seeing. The city was at its height from the seventh to ninth centuries (and was abandoned in the late 13th century) and is particularly renowned for its pyramid, El Castillo; ball park; Temple of the Warriors; and El Caracol (the snail), a round building believed to have served as an observatory.

Midway between Mérida and Cancún off Hwy. 180, Yucatán, 011-52-999-930-3762,
Tags: editor pick | things to do | history | ruins | archeology


Palenque is arguably Mexico’s most magnificent ruin. Rising out of the jungle in the foothills of the Sierra Madres, the site is most famous for the discovery in 1952 of the tomb of King Pakal, which was found hidden in the Temple of Inscriptions. Palenque was a powerful Maya city-state which achieved rare heights of artistic beauty between the seventh and ninth centuries AD, and because it’s far from major cities and beach resorts, it’s never as crowded as other ruins.

Off Hwy 199, 7 km west from Palenque town, Chiapas, Information Booth, 011-52-916-345-0356,
Tags: outdoors | history | archeology


Considered as beautiful and artistically advanced as Palenque, this city in the Puuc region has unusual features, including the Temple of the Magician, a pyramid with rounded edges rising from a rectangular base. The stone carvings and decorations are far more intricate than those of its contemporary and sometime ally, Chichén Itzá.

Off Hwy 261, 78 kilometers south of Mérida,
Tags: outdoors | history | archeology

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