If you mentioned pyramids, ancient temples and sacred ruins to anyone, they are likely to mention Egypt, Rome and South America as places to see. However you don’t need to join the crowds at Giza and dodge the pick pockets in the Forum or to see spectacular ancient ruins.
Mexico has a proud and ancient cultural history that has left its mark on the people and on the landscape. Mexico has been blessed with an abundance of temples and pyramids that have survived to the present day that rival anything in Europe.
The Uxmal complex covers over 150 acres and was built during the late-Classical Mayan period. Built in a style known as Puuc architecture, Uxmal is considered one of the finest examples of this style know for its distinctive elaborate stoneworks.
The highlight of any visit to Uxmal is the fancifully named Pyramid of the Magician. This 35m high, smooth-sided pyramid was so-named due to the legend of a magical dwarf who hatched from an egg and built the structure in the same day. Be sure to also visit the Governor’s Palace, a three-story high 97m long façade of intricately carved mosaics including 103 stone masks of Chac, the Mayan rain god.
Set in the dense jungle, Paleque rivals Uxmal for the quality of the carvings, architecture and sculpture on display. Palenque thrived in the 7th century as an important religious and ceremonial centre. Despite serious damage done to the site when Spaniards rediscovered it in the 18th century in search of gold, the site is tremendously impressive, doubly so since its estimated two-thirds of it is still hidden by the jungle.
The tomb of King Pakal is located deep underneath the Temple of Inscriptions, believed to be the only temple built to be used as a tomb. Across the way is the surprisingly-oriental looking Palace itself with its four towers and many fine sculptures and bas-relief carvings. The equally impressive Temples of the Cross group of step-pyramids feature stunningly carved inner chambers.
Tips for tourists
While most of the sights described above as well regulated and maintained, you will be visiting some out of the way places. As such, be sure to carry any medication you might need in an emergency, wear sturdy walking shoes and a hat, take plenty of fluids and be aware of any loose or unstable rocks. Archaeological sites in South America are not as visitor-friendly as they are in Europe and elsewhere so a little extra caution is advisable. Generally speaking, make sure your travel insuranceis up to date and keep your wits about you and you should be fine.
Palenque and Uxmal are only two of the dozen or so ancient Mayan ruins that Mexico is rightly proud of. The Yucantan peninsula has several other sites, Chichen Itza, Coba and Tulum not too mention Tikal and Copan in other parts of the country. Mexico is truly an oft-overlooked gem for those interested in the ancient world. So grab your boots, book your flights and insurance policy and hit the road!