The 10 Best Archeological Sites in Mexico to Visit
Mexico is full of archaeological sites, but which ones are the best? If you love Mexican culture and its fascinating history, this is a question worth asking.
Have you ever wondered why Mexico has so many extraordinary archeological sites? It’s because the central and southern regions of Mexico were part of Mesoamerica.
In Mesoamerica, the geographic and climatic conditions favored the flourishing of a diversity of indigenous cultures that left behind the remnants of their cities and ceremonial centers, which are now the famous archaeological sites in Mexico.
Read this post to find out how Mexico came to host such a wide array of civilizations in its territory and discover the top 10 archaeological sites in Mexico!
A Diversity of Pre-Columbian Cultures in Mexico
It started about 3,000 years ago (although some researchers put the number up to 4,000) with the Mother Culture of all the Mesoamericans civilizations: the Olmecs. The Olmec civilization was based in the modern Mexican state of Tabasco and left some giant heads as proof of their existence.
From that point on, advanced civilizations in Mexico flourished one after the other for thousands of years in impressive and almost uninterrupted fashion. The list is long, but some of the most important cultures include the Teotihuacan, Maya, Totonac, Purépecha, Zapotec, Mixtec, Huastec, Toltec, and Aztec.
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Top 10 Archaeological Sites in Mexico
If you are a history and archaeology enthusiast looking at archaeological sites in Mexico on the map, you’ll find that there are quite a lot. For that reason, I’ve put together this list of the 10 best archaeological sites in Mexico.
1. Chichen Itza
Without a doubt the most famous of the archaeological sites in Yucatan Mexico, Chichen Itza is the best preserved and most impressive ancient Mayan city in Mexican territory. It is one of the 7 Wonders of the Modern World, and UNESCO has declared it a World Heritage site.
Chichen Itza is in the southeastern Mexican state of Quintana Roo and receives nearly 2 million visitors every year. Its most famous building is the Temple of Kukulkan, where every solstice a feathered serpent appears on its structure in an impressive reminder of the Mayans highly advanced civilization.
Among the archaeological sites in or near Mexico City, Teotihuacán is the most important one. Located in the State of Mexico, just an hour drive from Mexico’s capital, Teotihuacán was the main ceremonial center of its time and its name translates as “the place where gods were created.”
Teotihuacán was America’s first metropolis that at its height in the 6th century had 200,000 inhabitants. This Mexican archaeological site is well preserved and includes the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon, as well as the Avenue of the Dead.
3. Templo Mayor
The Templo Mayor (Main Temple) is located at the heart of Mexico City’s downtown, and its significance is enormous. It was the Aztecs’ main religious building when the Spanish conquistadors arrived. They destroyed it and built their cathedral on top of its ruins.
The place is chaotic and messy as it’s still under excavation works, but it has an outstanding on-site museum with an impressive collection of Aztec relics.
Another of the most famous Mayan archaeological sites in Mexico, Cobá is in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo near Tulum. Its main pyramid is still open to visitors who happily climb its 130 steps.
Cobá is home to the largest network of sacbes (white roads) in the Mayan world. Sacbes are white stone causeways that worked as pavement in ancient Mayan cities.
5. Monte Albán
Monte Albán is in the southwestern state of Oaxaca, and it’s one of the most important archaeological sites in Mexico. The mountains around this Zapotec city provide it with a mystical atmosphere.
Researchers believe that the city’s original name may have been Danibaan which means “sacred mountain.” Monte Albán features well-preserved buildings and a juego de pelota (ball game) court.
Located in the central Mexican state of Hidalgo, Tula was the capital of the famed Toltec Empire from AD 850 to 1150. It’s known for its giant sculptures of Toltec warriors known as Atlantes.
Another Mayan archaeological site, Palenque is in the middle of the jungle in the southern state of Chiapas. This is one of the best well-preserved ancient Mayan cities, as it features a wide diversity of buildings of impressive beauty and architecture.
Palenque is a UNESCO World Heritage site. Scientists have recorded as many as 1,400 buildings in the area. It was a powerful Mayan city around 500 A.D. The sculpted reliefs inside temples and palaces offer “a unique testimony to the mythology and the rites of the Mayas.”
Tulum is the only major archaeological site in Mexico on the coast. Nowadays, Tulum is one of the main tourist attractions in the southeastern state of Quintana Roo. However, at its height in the 14th and 15th centuries, it was a fortress city the Mayans used as an important spot on land and sea trade routes.
If you visit Tulum, snap a photograph with the Pyramid El Castillo (The Castle) and the Caribbean Sea in the background.
9. El Tajín
This archeological site is in the central Mexican state of Veracruz and is famous for being different. Archaeologists haven’t identified the identity of the lost civilization that founded El Tajín, which flourished during the 11th century.
The architecture of El Tajín is quite unique and its main building is the Pyramid of the Niches, a structure like none other in the country. The pyramid has 365 stone niches, which suggests that the whole building was a kind of astronomical calendar.
Even if it isn’t one of the most famous archaeological sites in Mexico, Cholula’s place on this list is well-deserved. Located in the central state of Puebla, Cholula was a religious city dedicated to the god Quetzalcoatl in pre-Columbian Mexico. Today, the city has a lot of Catholic churches, as the Spanish conquistadors built a church on top of every indigenous temple.
Cholula is home to the largest pyramid by volume in the world, surpassing even the Great Pyramid of Egypt. Nobody knew it for centuries, as the pyramid hid below a church and lush vegetation that made it look like a mountain.
Visit Archaeological Sites in Mexico and Practice Your Spanish
Mexico is a country with an extraordinarily rich history and a wide diversity of archeological sites. Visiting these ancient cities is like looking through a window to the past, as you can visualize in your mind how the Mayans and Aztecs lived their everyday life.
One of the main benefits of learning Spanish is that it makes it easier to travel to Spanish-speaking countries like Mexico. Speaking in Spanish with the locals allows you to better understand their culture and make the most of your trip.
Sign up for a free trial class to practice your Spanish before your trip to Mexico. Our certified, native-speaking teachers from Guatemala teach over 24,000 actively enrolled students every month. Homeschool Spanish Academy offers flexible scheduling and tailored Spanish packages.
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