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Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures

My wife and I have a shared fascination with ancient civilizations. Like a lot of people out there, my interests were limited to the ones that I knew about as a school boy. Fortunately, a chance encounter with Swiss archeologist and researcher Erich von Däniken, and reading one of his best-sellers  Chariots of the Gods gave me idea about that there were more advanced ancient civilizations out there than those situated in the Mediterranean world, with an excellent example being the Maya of Mesoamerica.

Who Were the Mayans?

For those who are unfamiliar with the Maya, they are a collection of indigenous peoples who live in southern Mexico as well as some of the other countries situated in the region. In total, the Maya peoples numbered 7 million as of 2000, but it is important to note that they are divided up into a wide range of groups with a wide range of practices. For example, some of them are integral parts of the majority cultures of their home countries, whereas others still live in a manner very similar in some ways to those of their ancient ancestors, as shown by the fact that the Mayan languages remain the primary languages for a lot of people out there.


Interesting to admit that some of traditions dating back centuries still kept alive.

Danza de los Voladores

The Danza de los Voladores, or the Dance of the Flyers once practiced by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador as a way to connect with their gods.

One man, known as the caporal, stands in the middle on a small, wooden platform playing the flute and drum. There is nothing to support him. There are no safety nets to catch him. One misstep and he falls to his death.
The other four participants are positioned around him. Suspended by ropes, they launch themselves from the top of the pole, twisting like acrobats. Like birds soaring through the air, they spiral majestically 13 times as they descend to the bottom of the pole.


Regardless, while the Maya peoples of the present time are rather interesting in their own right, we were more interested in the ruins that still remain from the Preclassic, Classic, and Postclassic periods of Maya civilization, which suggest cities that were impressive by any standard of measurement. Given that the Maya peoples were building cities as far back as 750 BC, it should come as no surprise to learn that the Maya civilization had mastered a number of complicated arts and sciences, with examples ranging from the meticulous recording of astronomical movements that were used for astrological purposes in much the same manner as the ancient Babylonians to the sophisticated mathematics that were needed to erect monumental structures capable of withstanding the ravages of time.

Unfortunately, the Maya peoples suffered a significant fall that caused them to abandon a number of the great cities raised up in the Classic period for reasons that are still mysterious to us, but even now, the ruins of those settlements serve as testament to their capabilities in those times.

What are some Mayan ruins in Yucatan Peninsula you should check out?

Chichen Itza

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures At the heart of the city lies the step pyramid known as El Castillo (Spanish for the “castle”).

For proof, look no further than Chichen Itza, which is believed to have been home to a wide range of cultures because of the different architectural styles that can still be found therein. Even though it has been weathered by time, the city still remains so impressive that people told us that it might have served as inspiration for the Tollan that popped up in the mythology of later Mesoamerican peoples.

With its soaring stepped pyramids and columned arcades, visiting Chichen Itza is a breathtaking experience.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures El Castillo, or the Temple of Kukulcan, is 98 feet tall and has 365 steps.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure at pre-Columbian Maya civilization site of Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza’s location is believed to have been chosen because of the two large lagoons nearby, which supplied the city with water. However, they also served another purpose: Cenote Sagrado, the larger of the two, doubled as a site of sacrifice. Young women, offered up to the Mayan rain-god, Chaac, were thrown into the waters and drowned. The cenote still offers up evidence of its grisly past in the form of jewellery, rings and the bones of the sacrificed. Despite its grim associations, Cenote Sagrado is a very popular attraction, particularly when the heat of the midday sun makes standing out in the open a chore.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures Cenote Sagrado

Travel Tips: If you like to spend more time enjoying ancient ruins better to book a hotel just next to the archeological park. We stayed in Mayaland Hotel which is located just beside the Chicken Itza ruins and there is a private entrance too to the park. In 1923, Mayaland was the first Hotel built in Chichén Itzá, making it the first resort within an ancient site in the world, it was built and operated by its original owners and their descendants. 

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures We enjoyed staying here: lush landscaping, multiple uncrowded pools, great affordable food at their one very nice restaurant.

Coba

However, while Chichen Itza was a fascinating look at what the Maya civilization was capable of, it was far from being the sole site that we examined with interest. One other example was Coba, which boasted an outstanding collection of engraved and sculpted stonework as well as a modern village that made it very easy to compare the ancient Maya with their descendants.

Coba still has a number of big structures covered with the growth of the jungle, making it a wild place that truly triggers your imagination. Now archaeologists are convinced that in time it will prove to be one of the largest Mayan excavations on the Yucatan Peninsula.  More than 5,000 mounds have yet to be uncovered!

Travel Tips: It is still today a less visited site then Tulum or Chichen Itza so chances are you are going to have less people and more ruins to see (for example there are 3,287 people a day that visit Tulum ruins compared to 1,016 people a day that visit Coba ruins).

Since the ruins are spread out in the jungle, there are bikes for rent to speed your way. Most people choose this option. They are affordable (50 pesos) and with a large selection of them, you should find one that fits you. If you want a tricycle taxi to drive you around, these can be rented as well(about 125 pesos and hour+tip, 200 peso beyond one hour.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures You can see tarantulas often crossing the road in the jungle surrounding Coba ruins

Tulum

Meanwhile, there was also Tulum, which stood out by being one of the best-preserved Maya sites that can be found on the coast rather than deeper inland.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures The main building is a large stone structure called El Castillo (castle), perched on a rocky cliff above the white sand beach and turquoise sea.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures Ruins of Tulum: Iguanas were everywhere!

The greatest attraction at the Tulum Ruins is its location. Built on a bluff facing the rising sun, this ruin site is the only Maya settlement located on the beaches of the Caribbean.

The first inhabitants of Tulum named their city Zamá, meaning “Place of the Dawning Sun,” as it was among the first places in the Maya kingdom to receive sunlight each day.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures The legendary Tulum ruins are among the most visited sites in all of Mexico.

Use your visit to the Tulum Ruins as a way to further investigate the beaches and pueblo of Tulum. The town and beach are both wonderful day trips to the area, unless you have decided to stay in one of the beachfront hotels.

Travel Tips: Tulum has some of the best beaches in the Riviera Maya! This is what attracts so many people to this place. The beaches are a more natural looking and it is less built up near the beach than some other locations. There are both small beach clubs and small hotels with access as well as a few public access points.

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures A rare mix of beach, archeology and village, Tulum is a romantic getaway like no other.

Summed up, the Maya were extraordinary people with a fascinating culture, serving as an excellent reminder that the world boasts plenty of sightseeing opportunities that are just waiting to be found by those with the interest.

Photography © Gurcan Sarisoy

featured image © Andrea Schaffer

Discovering Mexico: Magnificent Mayan Treasures
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