Cancun is one of the most fulfilling destinations for a relaxing beach holiday, its baking climate and thriving tourist industry perfect ingredients for a week or two of lounging on the sand or by the hotel pool. Holidaymakers from the world-over use sites such as Travelbag to sit back and enjoy the sand, sea and sun.
However, with all these glorious opportunities to unwind, the chance to explore the fascinating history of the city can often be overlooked. Cancun was once home to the Maya empire, an ancient civilization at its peak around the 6th century AD, but beginning a rapid and mysterious decline in the 9th. All that now remain of these pre-Columbian communities are breathtaking ruins – tantalizing insights into the everyday lives of those who once lived there.
With scores of these fascinating archaic sites scattered across the landscape around Cancun, a visit to the Mayan ruins makes for a captivating and humbling experience for any traveller.
Below are just a few of the sites near the city that we feel really shouldn’t be missed:
Its name, meaning “the king”, stems from the discovery of a huge and intricately carved head of a statue that was uncovered when the site was originally excavated. Though the head now takes pride of place in the city’s Archeology Museum, the ruins themselves still retain a haunting sense of wonder, the numerous structures and jutting pillars once forming the central hub of a thriving fishing community. Located in close proximity to a numerous Cancun resorts, this site is a great solution to those who want to experience a taste of Mayan history without spending too long travelling.
Home to one of the most symbolic structures in Mayan archeology, the Kukulkan Pyramid, or “El Castillo”, Chichen Itza is often hailed as one of the most stunning ruined sites in Mexico. The famous pyramid was used as an astronomical instrument, its steps totaling three-hundred and sixty-five, to correspond with the number of days in a year. Despite being situated about two hours drive from Cancun, this most famous of archeological sites is certainly worth taking the time to visit. Evidence of a busy urban community still exists, including numerous wells and ball courts.
A scenic stretch of road along the coast leads travellers to Xcaret, a hypnotically beautiful site on the Mexican Caribbean coastline. Home to a family friendly archeological theme park which contains a number of ruins, the surrounding jungle, nearby beaches and educational activities make Xcaret the perfect destination for families who wish to learn a little more about Mayan culture.
Another coastal site, Tulum stands proud on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean Sea. Its previous name, Zama, meant “dawn”; the walled city was built to face the sunrise. Today, many of its structures still stand tall, including its great palace and the virtually complete “Temple of the Frescos”, named for its façade which is beautifully decorated with images of the Mayan diving god.
Around six thousand structures make up the ruined city of Coba, many of them left as they were discovered with no reconstructive work. Sheltered by the jungle, visitors are welcome to climb the enormous stepped pyramid that towers over the rest of the site. Ancient roads radiate from Coba, revealing the extent of its once exceptionally successful trading status and unmasking a truly human element to the city.
Disclaimer: This post is sponsored by Travelbag.