The Aztec and Mayan civilizations were two distinct Mesoamerican cultures that developed independently from one another and reached their prominence in the 13th and 10th centuries respectively. Together, they left an indelible mark on the landscapes of Mexico and central America, building enormous cities that were unrivaled in other parts of the world during that period of time. What is left of these once great civilizations today are a number of ruins and countless artifacts that are testaments to their cultural significance. Given their importance and relevance in history, it isn’t any wonder why so many tourists each year flock to isolated locations throughout central America to visit these monuments of the two civilizations. Here’s our top 10 ancient Aztec and Mayan tourist attractions:
1) Chichen Itza
The Mayan site features the world-famous Temple of Kukulcan, a large 24 meter tall pyramid that dominates the landscape. The city itself is thought to have peaked during the 11th century, becoming a vital trading port in the region. Today, millions of visitors make the trek to the state of Yucatan in Mexico each year to see the amazing architectural legacy of this once vibrant culture.
This is an early Mayan city that came to prominence in the 7th century. Located in the modern state of Chiapas in Mexico, Palenque features some of the finest architecture, sculptures, and other ruins left over from this once-thriving civilization. The site’s palace and observation tower, as well as the many bas relief carvings make it a must for history lovers who are enamored with Mayan culture. The biggest attraction, however, is the Temple of Inscriptions, which is the largest stepped pyramid ever discovered in the region.
These ruins were once the capital city of the Aztec empire from the 14th century up until the Spanish conquest. The city at one time featured multiple aqueducts for bringing in water from nearby mountains, numerous marketplaces, and hundreds of buildings both for government and private functions. At its peak, it was the largest city in the Americas with a population of over 350,000 people. Today the ruins can be visited by tourists year round and are located in the central part of Mexico City. Although these ruins aren’t as well preserved as others on this list it’s still very special to find ruins of an ancient civilization in the middle of the world’s third most populous city.
Just northeast of Mexico City lies this site which is world famous for its pre-Columbian pyramids and other unique architectural structures. No one is sure who actually built the city or the ethnicity of the inhabitants, but the influence of the city on the Aztec Empire is well documented. The city reached its peak of influence during the 3rd and 4th centuries and once had an estimated population of 125,000 inhabitants.
This is a Mayan site located in the modern state of Quintana Roo in Mexico. While adjacent to a small, rural village of 1200 or so inhabitants, the good news is that the site can be reached by modern road. The site is quite large, having once been the home to an estimated 50,000 people, and features numerous temple pyramids and other structures. Experts believe the city reached its influence during the 6th century and dominated nearby cultures at that time.