Secrets of the eternal cities of the Maya

What will never be shown to ordinary tourists at the ruins of ancient Mayan cities

Maya left behind a lot of mysteries that are still hidden in their grandiose constructions and encrypted in hundreds of hieroglyphs. Not all of the structures of the ancient Indians are fully explored today. Every year archaeologists and researchers use state-of-the-art instruments to try to unravel the mysteries behind the walls of Mayan temple complexes or rest in the depths of their sacred cenotes and caves.

We at ADME have studied all the modern data about the ancient civilization and uncovered the secrets of centuries-old Mayan ruins that ordinary tourists will not be shown by tour guides.

1. Pyramid of Kukulcana, Chichen Itza

This famous pyramid was first captured on film in 1880, almost completely hidden by the jungle. Kukulkana consisted of 9 platforms and 4 stairs, the total number of steps on which corresponded to the number of days of the year.

In days of autumn and spring equinoxes from 17 o’clock it is possible to observe the serpent’s crawling shadow on stones of a balustrade of a pyramid, and in March the shadow moves upwards, and in September – downwards. The illusion lasts for 3 hours and attracts thousands of tourists who come to see this unique phenomenon.

Another mystery of this construction of the ancient Maya is hiding inside. If you remove the top layer of stones, you can find a pyramid of smaller size, and in it – and the third, the smallest, with a secret room. And more recently, scientists have found an underground lake at a depth of 20 meters under the basement of the pyramid, which may be similar to one of the sacred cenotes of the Maya. Archaeologists speculate that the lake may erode the ground in the near future, causing the pyramid to collapse.

The pyramid also serves as a kind of resonator. When people climbed the stairs, there were sounds inside the structure, which resembled the cries of the sacred bird quetzal, which lives in the local forests and is revered by the Maya people. But after an accident in 2006 with a tourist who fell down the stairs, the pyramid was closed to the public. Today it can only be admired from the outside.

2. Balancanche Caves.

A place that is not usually part of the classic Chichen Itza itinerary, but is as mysterious as the pyramids, are the Balancanche Caves. They are located just 3 km from the Mayan temple complexes. The name translates as “throne of the Sacred Jaguar”, where ancient Indians conducted their religious rituals over 3 thousand years ago.

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In 1959 the Indian keeper of Chichen Itza Jose Humberto Gomez found a bricked-up passage in one of the branches of the cave. Behind it was a Mayan sanctuary that housed the Altar of the Jaguar and many ancient artifacts.

One of the most famous rooms in the cave is the World Tree Room. On the three-dimensional model you can see the entire grotto with a huge limestone column in the center, which symbolizes the Mayan tree – a kind of axis of the world, connecting the underground and heavenly worlds.

3. Ik Quil Cenote

On the way back from Chichen Itza the bus with the tourists usually stops at the sacred Mayan cenote Ik Quil, which the ancient Indians used as a place for sacrifices.

At a depth of 40 m archaeologists found human bones and jewelry of the ancient Maya, and today you can see dozens of quietly swimming tourists.

4. El Castillo Pyramid, Coba

If you can’t imagine your trip through Mayan ruins without climbing one of the dozens of pyramids and taking a spectacular shot, you should definitely enjoy yourself in the ancient city of Coba. There is a 42-meter pyramid, El Castillo, which can be climbed up 120 very steep steps to the top.

If you can make the ascent, you will see a magnificent panorama of the ancient Mayan city and be able to peek into a small ritual room with an altar, where the Indians once performed sacrifices.

5. The Ancient City of Tulum

The only Mayan city built on the shores of the Caribbean Sea, nestled on the 12-meter cliffs of the east coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. Tulum was formerly known as Sama, meaning “city of dawn.” Unlike other ancient Mayan cities, Tulum was surrounded by an impregnable wall that protected it from attacks by nomadic peoples from the north.

In addition to ancient monuments, tourists are attracted here many kilometers of snow-white beaches with clear turquoise water and great weather at any time of year.

6. The Pyramid of the Wizard, Ushmal

The dominant feature of the ancient town of Ushmal is the 40-meter high Pyramid of the Magician, another name for it is the “Midget’s Castle”. In fact, it is not one pyramid, but as many as 5, which were built on top of each other over several centuries. According to ancient Mayan legend, the pyramid was erected by the wizard Itzamna in just one night, and then became the ruler of these places.

7. Temple of Inscriptions, Palenque

The temple was built over the tomb of the former ruler of these places and is decorated inside with 617 hieroglyphs, some of which have not been deciphered to date. At the very top of the pyramid is a building with three rooms, one of which in 1949 was discovered hidden tunnel that leads to the tomb of Pacal with ancient relics and treasures.

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Tourists are not allowed inside the tomb, but an exact replica of the room has been recreated in Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology.

8. Mayan City Yaxchilan

The ruins of the city of Yaxchilan are located just 4 hours from Palenque, on the border with Guatemala, in the heart of the jungle. Until recently there were no roads within a 150 km radius of the city. It could only be reached by a small plane, but in 1990 the Mexican government built a road and made it easier for tourists to access this unique place. Here you can explore about 50 ancient buildings, see a collection of sculptures and try to decipher the mysterious hieroglyphs on them yourself.

9. Frescoes of Bonampak.

Another ancient city, which is located near Yashchilan, was accidentally discovered in 1946 by American photographer Giles Hill. “Bonampak” in Mayan means “painted wall,” which may have given the city its modern name. Today the place is known throughout the world for its ancient wall frescoes in one of the temples of the complex. They depict Mayan rulers, dancing people, musicians, military scenes, and acts of sacrifice.

10. Temple of the Great Jaguar, Tikal

The ancient Indian city was discovered in 1848, and the walled entrance to the tomb of one of Tikal’s rulers could not be found until 1962 at the Temple of the Great Jaguar. Archaeologists entered the tomb through the roof of the temple through a secret tunnel. There the researchers found jaguar skins, pearls, jewelry, including a necklace weighing 4 kg on the body of the ruler.

In celebration of the end of the world according to the Mayan calendar, descendants of the Indians held a fire ceremony in front of the temple in the main square of the city on December 21, 2012, which was attended by over 3,000 people.

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

One of the oldest civilizations on Earth never ceases to excite the minds and imagination of scientists and travelers around the world. The Maya left behind ruins of unique temples and ample evidence of their high awareness of such sciences as mathematics and astronomy. They were skilled urban planners, sculptors, farmers and engineers. And all this at a time when Europeans did not even think about such matters, a millennium before Christ and the first centuries after Christ! The reason for their decline and disappearance is still unknown…

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1. Chichen Itza, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Vacationers in the beach resorts of Yucatan don’t find it easy to get here because of the broken roads, but it’s still worth it. The ancient city of Chichen Itza is a feast for the eyes of tourists traveling around the world in search of mysteries of the past millennia! The main attraction of this place is the sanctuary of El Castillo, or the so-called Pyramid of Kukulcana. Each of its 4 sides has 91 steps, and if you add them together with the final platform from the top of the structure, goes exactly 365 levels. This number was chosen according to the famous Mayan calendar, so that every day out of 1 step.

2. Tulum, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

The scale and sophistication of these ruins may not compare to the other structures of the Mayan Empire, but this coastal site still captivates with its beauty and overpowering idyll. It was developed as a port at the end of the Mayan civilization, and today serves as a favorite beach for heat-loving iguanas and groups of tourists who book a tour to Tulum to diversify their beach life.

3. Palenque, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

European settlers first learned of the existence of this ancient complex in the late 18th century. In front of you are nothing less than limestone pyramids with many interconnected passages, tombs and temples. The discoverers at the time mistook Palenque for the remains of the legendary Atlantis, which according to myth was lost somewhere in the depths of the ocean. Here every now and then toucans fly over their heads, silver iguanas rustle underfoot, and the wind sings to the Red Queen, whose sarcophagus is hidden in the shadow of the stone chambers…

4. Uxmal, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Among the 32 World Heritage sites, there is another Mexican settlement with a pyramid of rare beauty, and that is Uxmal (sometimes said to be Ushmal). This place used to be a major capital in the west of the Yucatan, and it was home to about 25,000 residents. Analyzing the buildings in this town, built between 700 and 1000 B.C., one can safely judge the amazing knowledge of the Mayan civilization in the field of astronomy. The Pyramid of the Soothsayer, as the conquistadors nicknamed it, adorns the center of the site. The structure is richly decorated with symbolic motifs and is flanked by a sculpture of Chaca, god of rain, lightning and thunder. There are also the ceremonial sites of Kabah, Labna and Sayil, which are considered the most outstanding masterpieces of Mayan art and architecture.

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5. Tikal, Guatemala

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Tikal was one of the most powerful cities in Mayan history, and its heyday was from the first to about the ninth century AD. As one of its researchers Chris Moss writes, Tikal is the mother of Mayan cities and was the most majestic metropolis of its time. Its size leaves not the slightest doubt that while the Saxon peoples built wattle and daub houses and the Vikings furiously rowed their boats to distant shores, a highly developed civilization had long since flourished here, to the envy of Europeans.

6. Lamanai, Belize

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

The ruins of what was once a remarkable ceremonial center, known to be active for three millennia. Full archaeological excavations were not conducted until the 1970s, when scientists finally began working on the site. Among the most famous attractions in Lamanai is the Mask Temple, the Jaguar Temple, and the High Temple. Today tourists book boat tours and even hire overnight guides to spot rare wildlife.

7. Yaxchilan, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

An incredibly distinctive place, Yaxchilan is a few hours’ drive from the nearest hotel in southern Mexico and can only be reached by boat. Today, it is a thatched-roofed ruin adorning the shores of the Usumasinta River, which separates Mexico from Guatemala. The stone passages here alternate with emerald green meadows of vines with leaves the size of human beings hanging from them! The ancient structures seem to beckon the admiring traveler into the chambers of a real lost kingdom.

8. Topoxte, Guatemala

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

This island is the least known among the tourists and is located in the north of Guatemala, in the district of Petén. Administratively, Topokste falls under the municipality of Mayapan on the Yucatán Peninsula. The architecture of the local buildings suggests a close relationship with another Mayan city mentioned above, Tulum. It is obvious that both these sites belonged to one specific cultural community.

9. Calakmul, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Located in the tropical forests of the Tierras Bajasok, it was the main residence of the mighty Serpentine Kingdom, one of Tikal’s main political rivals. Above all, the very elaborate irrigation system of the once cultivated lands and the huge ceremonial pyramid in the center on the hill are striking. Both of these examples testify to the high level of civility of the Calakmul inhabitants. Jaguars, howler monkeys, and deer can be found on local forest trails.

10. Copan, Honduras

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Among other archaeological sites, Copan stands out for its enormous circular courtyard and its remarkable processional and ritual stelae, with bas-reliefs of great royal ancestors inscribed all over its surface. The golden age of Kopani came in the 5th to 9th centuries AD. Located on the westernmost edge of the Mayan settlements, this fortress is located away from the main tourist trails and in the mornings or in the off-season is completely deserted, which is very rare and lucky for a site of such stunning beauty and antiquity.

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11. bonampak, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

The architecture of these sites is not their strongest point if we compare Bonampak to Tikul or Chichen Itza. But this small settlement has pleased archaeologists with something else – with its decorative frescoes and murals found in some of the temples of the site.

12. Yaxha, Guatemala

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

This city reached the height of its prosperity sometime between the 3rd and 7th centuries AD, when it was the largest Mayan capital. Europeans discovered Yaxha rather late, in 1904, and to this day many of the buildings here remain underground. Nevertheless, it is still a very interesting object for excursions. By the way, howler monkeys, iguanas, toucans, gray foxes, coatis and long-tailed parrots like to walk around Yaksha.

13. Coba, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

A ceremonial site of rather large size. Coba is especially known for its elaborate network of 16 paved roads leading to neighboring villages, which have also long since become ruins. The longest trail stretches for 100 km and leads west to another ancient settlement, Yaxuna.

14. Quirigua, Guatemala

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Archaeological finds confirm the beginnings of settlements in this region since the 2nd century A.D., but the heyday of Quirigua was in the 8th century during the reign of Cauac Sky. Here you can admire the stone calendars, zoomorphs (giant boulders symbolizing animals) and ancient stelae. Against the backdrop of all this ancient beauty parrots fly, and the wind murmurs, humming the secrets of the millennia, told him by the priests of the Maya.

15. Ek Balam, Mexico

Top 15: The most fascinating and mysterious ruins of Mayan cities

Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan trading center. It is easy to walk around the whole complex in one day, but it will be a day full of unusual emotions from contact with the history of the ancient empire, which left here the ruins of the acropolis, labyrinths, the palace of the viceroy, the stadium, many sculptures of pagan gods and revered priests. For some unknown reason in the 8th century AD the city began to die out until it became one of Mexico’s feral landmarks. However, the same can be said of all Mayan sites and temples whose history of desolation is still a mystery.

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