The folklore, legends and rituals that surround the ancient Mayan civilisation are wildly mystifying and intriguing. Indigenous to parts of Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras, Mayans had prolific beliefs regarding life cycles, the cosmos and higher powers. What’s left of their culture can be explored and discovered at a variety of different sites scattered throughout the region.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most iconic sites out of all of the Mayan ruins, Chichen Itza receives more than 1.5 million visitors each year. Renowned for being one of the largest cities of this ancient time, its name translates to ‘At the mouth of the well of Itza’. Though explorers can spend an entire day gazing and snapping Instagram-worthy pictures of these ruins, there are some structures that stand out above the rest, such as the Kukulcan Pyramid, which, at 24 meters high, was recently voted one of the seven wonders of the world.
More discreet and harder to reach than Chichen Itza, a day at the Cobá ruins feels more like an Indiana Jones-style adventure through the jungle. Lush greenery creates a beautiful frame around this ancient city. Cobá is most notable for having the largest amount of sacbes (white roads) of any ancient Mayan site; these pathways can be trailed and followed from the main pyramid to small villages where ancient Mayans used to lay their heads at night. The opportunity to walk, bike, or be driven around these protected sites makes it the perfect day-trip from Cancun.
A day filled with archaeological visits, history and artefacts can’t quite compete with the stunning white sand beaches that line the Caribbean Sea. But what happens when the ruins actually sit along these picturesque landscapes? Tulum’s archaeological site offers quite a different experience for sightseers in the region as this ancient city was once a seaport for trading jade and turquoise. With an abundance of theories and myths that surround certain structures, exploring these ruins is an alluring option for all inquisitive travellers.
Xelha holds a breadth of history for the Mayan people. Archaeologists have traced the importance of these ruins back to the Mayans’ belief in the spiritual goddess of fertility. Xelha was used as a port to reach other sites where rituals were performed. The stories of what happened here are moving, but what’s also notable is the surrounding land; with cenotes (sinkholes) and a nearby eco-park, a visit to this area could easily turn into an all-day excursion.