Mexico is known for its white sandy beaches and mouth-watering cuisine – but, that just scratches the surface of what Mexico has to offer. With this in mind, here are some of the most breathtaking historical sites that are a must-see when vacationing in Mexico.
Mexico is littered with a plethora of historical ruins, where grand Mayan cities once stood. Perhaps the most famous of all is the UNESCO World Heritage site, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, which has been coined one of the new wonders of the world. Chichén Itzá is around six square miles in size, which was the foundation for hundreds of dwellings throughout the Maya and Maya-Toltec periods.
At the heart of Chichén Itzá is the Kukulcán Pyramid – or Temple of Kukulcán – which stands at a daunting 75 feet tall. This pyramid was built for sacrifices, but also situated so that at the bi-annual equinoxes, the sun lines up with the pyramid to project the appearance of a serpent slithering along the stone steps.
South American Maya and Aztec pyramids such as these have long since inspired not only international tourism, but also a wide range of media, from cartoons like The Road to El Dorado, to fun online slot machine games like Toltec Blocks, Jane Hunter and the Mask of Montezuma, Aztec Bonanza, John Hunter and the Mayan Gods, Temple Tumble, and Mayan Mystery, and game and movie franchises like Lara Croft Tomb Raider.
In addition to films and games, if you are an avid comic book fan, you might recognise the name Kukulcán from the most recent Black Panther movie and Marvel comic books. The character is based on the Mesoamerican deity of the same name, a feathered serpent who the Yucatec Maya people worshipped centuries ago – remember that astrological serpent design from before? Similar deities can be found throughout South American history, such as Quetzalcóatl, Gucumatz, and Ehecatl.
Nearby Chichén Itzá is the popular tourist destination of Tulum. Known for its coastal resorts, it might surprise you to find that Tulum is perhaps the best-preserved Maya historical site in Mexico. The city of Tulum is said to be one of the last cities built and inhabited by the Maya. Once a walled city and major port, it is said to have been built somewhere between 1200 and 1450 AD.
You can still see the ruins of the ancient wall peeking through the grass that adorns the modern city. Its original Maya name, Zamá, means the City of Dawn, as it faces the sun as it rises above the magnificent walls and temples. Must-sees include the cliffside El Castillo, the Temple of the Frescoes, and the Temple of the Descending (or Diving) God.
Other nearby sites
For those looking for ruins that are less well-trodden by tourists, little north of the city, you can find the Cobá ruins, where you can climb the 120 white steps to the top of the temple, which marked the beating heart of Cobá’s city life.
A short drive south of the city, instead, and you’ll find the Muyil ruins within the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve, which boasts one of the best preserved Maya canal systems on the planet.
And there you have it, just a few historical sites in Mexico that are a worthy addition to anyone’s bucket list. All situated within two or three hours of Cancun, they can make exciting day trips even for those enjoying a relaxing beach holiday.