On our 5 months trip through Latin America we have visited a lot of Mayan sites. Here we summarize the most important things for you.
First we visited Copán in Honduras, in Guatemala the legendary Tikal and in Mexico we visited Palenque, Comalcalco, Chichen Itzá, Uxmal, Tulum and Calakmul. We also saw the Aztec city Teotihuacán. We also wanted to visit El Mirador in Guatemala during a five-day hike through the jungle but it literally fell in the water – like this we have something for the next trip 😉
Copán is located in the north of Honduras, close to the border of Guatemala. It was the first Mayan site we have visited. At the entrance red macaws greet you and accompany you down the long path to the site. At the end of the avenue the wood opens and you are standing right in the middle of an open field, almost in the city centre.
Copán is well known for the many well preserved statues of the kings who ruled this city. The heart of Copán is certainly the steep hieroglyphic staircase with 63 steps. In each stone hieroglyphs are carved in. You can also find two little well preserved pyramids and the ballgame field which you can find in every Mayan city. The large Pyramids and the Acropolis, the political centre of the city, are really impressive. It’s also nice to see how nature took back everything over the years! At the rear of the site you can see the houses of the upper class society. However, most of the residential buildings are not preserved anymore as they were built of wood or other degradable materials. Copán is very open and nice to walk through. It’s the perfect entry into the world of the Mayas.
Tikal is probably the most famous Mayan site. It’s about 65 square kilometres big and situated in the middle of the jungle. The best way to get there is by bus from the island Flores. A guided tour is recommended to see the most beautiful temples before you get tired of walking. Also to get to know more about the way the Mayas built their temples and their knowledge about the solar system is incredibly interesting. A guide will explain you everything very well and answer all your questions.
We recommend the morning tour which starts at 6 am but there is also the possibility to take part at a sunrise tour. You will get the opportunity to watch the sunrise from one of the largest temples from where you can overlook the whole jungle. Even if the weather is not perfect and the sun rises behind clouds, it’s an amazing start of the day. Watch and hear the jungle waking up is not something you experience every day. Watch out for snakes, we almost stepped on a Boa Constrictor as it looked like a long stick just lying on the ground 😉
Palenque is easy to reach from the equal named city Palenque. It was the first Mayan site we visited in Mexico and again we were surprised and fascinated how different the buildings of the different sites are. The buildings and temples of Palenque are wonderfully preserved and are probably the most beautiful of all Mayan sites we have visited. In contrast to Tikal it’s very open, the jungle just surrounds the whole site. All buildings and temples can be climbed up and walked in, which is really exciting! For Palenque you should calculate about 3 hours to explore everything at ease. After that you could chase the Misol-Ha waterfall!
Comalcalco is the most western of all Mayan sites. Compared to the others it’s very small. It’s beautifully situated and very well maintained. Because Comalcalco is far away from the typical tourist areas it’s not overloaded at all. Even if a bus arrives you can still get around the other visitors. The interesting thing here are the brick constructions. You can watch a large pyramid and some small buildings. Also a museum is directly connected to the site and worth a visit. We enjoyed it very much to sit on a hill in the lush green grass and overlooking the buildings and the jungle.
We have to say that the preserved buildings in Tulum are not the most impressive ones but the location is amazingly beautiful! Situated directly at the ocean with it’s own beach, Tulum is a really wonderful place. Tulum can be easily explored in the morning or afternoon, just make sure you don’t go in the biggest heat of the day and don’t forget your swimsuits! A dip in the ocean with direct view at the temples is special. If you’re particularly interested in the impressive Mayan buildings, Tulum is certainly not the first choice. But if you’re nearby then make sure to not miss this beauty of the Caribbean!
Chichen Itzá (Mexico)
This is the site where probably the most famous pyramid stands. It’s so impressive because it’s a beautiful pyramid built like we know it from Egypt – accessible from all sides. However it’s not allowed to climb up! Chichen itzá is incredibly touristic due to its popularity so we recommend to visit it in the early early morning. It’s well accessible from Meridá, a beautiful city where it’s definitely worth to spend a few days! There is not only the Pyramid to see in Chichen Itzá, the playground, a columnar hall and the astronomy tower are also very well preserved. There’s also a Cenote to see. If you take your time to explore it on your own you can escape the tourist streams. Many tours don’t give you enough time to walk around so make sure you get at least two to three hours or do it all on your own.
Uxmal is also very easy to reach from Meridá and if you would ask us to choose between Chichen Itzá and Uxmal we would definitely recommend Uxmal! Here the so called pyramid of the wizard is the most impressive building. It’s wonderfully preserved and very unique due to its oval form. This pyramid is the very first building you will walk by and it can be spotted from almost every place of the site. Also the so called nun’s square, the smaller pyramids, the playground and the palace on the highest peak are worth to see! We visited Uxmal in the late afternoon and didn’t have too many other visitors around. Climbing the temples and pyramids is so pleasant there and watching the sunset from the palace is also a great experience!
For us Calakmul was the most impressive Mayan site in Mexico. It’s not easy to reach as it is relatively unknown and off the beaten track. You need a car or other means of transport as it is 60 km away from the main road deep in the jungle. The closest town is called Xpujil and can be reached in about two hours, where we stayed overnight. If you liked Tikal you will also like Calakmul and if you cannot make it to Tikal then you will find something similar in Calakmul. Together with El Mirador and Tikal in Guatemala, Calakmul belongs to the largest Mayan sites ever discovered.
The highest pyramids are huge! As always the climb is very exhausting and you really have to take care because of the unevenness of the stairs. But once you have reached the top and you can overlook the top of the trees and discover the peaks of the other temples sticking out of the jungle, it is totally worth the climb! On a good clear day you can spot the top of the Temples of Tikal from the 45 metres high temple. Calakmul is not touristic at all which makes it so attractive to us. Make sure you take something to eat and a lot of time with you!
If you make it to Mexico City, and it’s absolutely worth seeing, don’t miss to visit Teotihuacán! The Aztec city is easy to reach by bus. The area is all open and easy to walk on your own. All pyramids and buildings are accessible and offer an amazing view over the whole surroundings as it’s an open area without many trees. The most famous buildings here are the pyramid of the sun and the smaller pyramid of the moon. With a height of 65 meters the Pyramid of the Sun is the third largest pyramid in the world. In Teotiguacán many sculptures are very well preserved and also residential buildings with preserved wall paintings can be visited. Take care about good sun protection and take enough water to drink as there’s hardly any shadow.
If you have any questions or tips about any of these historical sites or if you have visited other ones which we should definitely visit someday, please leave us a comment!