Pre-Columbian Sites

If you’re looking to explore Pre-Columbian sites and want to find the best places to view Pre- Columbian history then you can explore our interactive map above or navigate further by using the links below.

There’s a great selection of Pre-Columbian historic sites and ruins and you can plan some fantastic things to see on your trips. Once you’ve explored the list of Pre-Columbian sites and selected those you wish to visit you can use our itinerary planner tool to plan your trip and then print off a free pocket guidebook. This indispensible holiday guide will help you make the most of your time exploring Pre-Columbian ruins.

Our database of historic sites is growing all the time, but we may not cover them all. Remember, if you know of other Pre-Columbian sites, remains or ruins, you can always add them to Trip Historic now by visiting our upload page.

Pre-Columbian: Site Index

Photo by jnissa (cc)

Aguateca

Aguateca was an important Maya capital city in Guatemala which was dramatically destroyed.

DID YOU KNOW?

Aguateca is an important and well-excavated ancient Maya ceremonial site in Guatemala’s Peten Region.

Thought to have been one of the two capitals of the Maya Dynasty in the region – together with Dos Pilas – from around 700 AD, Aguateca was a vital stronghold, especially given its elevated position. In fact, in the eighth century, Dos Pilas was abandoned and its people sheltered at Aguateca.

When found, many of the structures at Aguateca had been burnt down and it is believed that the city was abandoned in approximately 800 AD, probably following an enemy attack.

Photo by Václav Synáček (cc)

Cahuachi

Cahuachi is an ancient site of the Nazca civilization in Peru.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cahuachi is believed to have been a pilgrimage site of the Nazca people. Still an active archeological site, Cahuachi is dominated by several adobe pyramids made of sand and clay as well as having a graveyard.

Little is known about Cahuachi, but as it overlooked the Nazca Lines, it is thought to have been a ceremonial site. Another site at Cahuachi is known as Estaquería, which archeologists believed was used for mummification purposes. A general Nazca tour which includes Cahuachi and other sites takes approximately 3 hours.

Photo by liberalmind1012 (cc)

Calixtlahuaca

Calixtlahuaca is an Aztec archaeological site near Toluca in Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Calixtlahuaca near Toluca in Mexico is a well-preserved Aztec archaeological site which was once a thriving city originally home to the Matlatzinca people – the people of the Toluca Valley. The Calixtlahuaca site has a series of fascinating and impressive structures, not least of which are its vast pyramid-like temples.

Photo by Ted and Jen (cc)

Casa de Colon

Casa de Colon is a museum of the history of the Canary Islands, particularly as relates to Christopher Columbus and the Americas. It exhibits collections ranging from pre-Columbian pieces to items that belonged to Columbus himself.

DID YOU KNOW?

Casa de Colon (Columbus House) is a museum of the history of the Canary Islands, particularly as relates to Christopher Columbus and the Americas. Whilst the current Casa de Colon dates to the eighteenth century, its predecessor was once the seat of the governors of Gran Canaria and a said stopping off point for the explorer Christopher Columbus in 1492, hence its name.

Today, Casa de Colon exhibits collections ranging from pre-Columbian pieces to items that belonged to Columbus including navigational tools. It also looks at the period he spent in the Canary Islands.

Photo by Chixoy (cc)

Ceibal

Ceibal is an ancient Maya settlement site in northern Guatemala.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ceibal or “El Seibal” in El Peten in Guatemala was an ancient Maya settlement probably mostly constructed and inhabited in the Preclassic Period and which is now represented by a set of ruins. Most archaeologists think it was abandoned in the late classic period and then inhabited again at a later date.

Amongst the things to see at Ceibal are a ball court, several stelae (carved stones) which are renowned for being dated fairly late for the Maya civilisation and a few remaining structures such as an impressive round temple. It is quite a large site, although it has comparatively fewer attractions than others in the area.

Cerro Patapo

Cerro Patapo was the site of a city of the Wari civilisation only discovered in 2008.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cerro Patapo is an archaeological site near Chiclayo in Peru which houses the remains of a city of the Wari Empire. This empire, which ruled much of the Andes, had a presence in Peru from approximately 600 AD to 1100 AD.

Only discovered in 2008, Cerro Patapo was a vitally important find, creating a chronological connection between the Wari and the preceding Moche Empire, which existed from 100 AD to 600 AD.

The Wari city at Cerro Patapo stretches for approximately three miles and is believed to have been the site of human sacrifices. Amongst the finds at Cerro Patapo, archaeologists found the remains of a woman as well as ceramic pieces and clothing.

Photo by roger4336 (cc)

Chacchoben

Chacchoben is a Maya site in Mexico housing some impressive pyramid temples.

DID YOU KNOW?

Chacchoben is a Maya site in Mexico housing some impressive pyramid temples.

The exact history of Chacchoben is unclear. Most sources date its pyramids to around 700AD (some say 300AD), although the Mayas are said to have been present at Chacchoben long before this, perhaps as early as 200BC.

Chacchoben is quite a popular tourist site, with several tour companies operating here.

Photo by sancho_panza (cc)

Chauchilla Cemetery

Chauchilla Cemetery is a fascinating ancient burial ground with Peru’s largest display of mummified bodies in their original graves.

DID YOU KNOW?

Chauchilla Cemetery is an ancient Nazca burial ground in the town of Nazca, Peru. Relatively unknown, particularly when compared to the world famous Nazca Lines, Chauchilla Cemetery dates back to 1000 AD and is one of the most open displays of mummified bodies.

Chauchilla Cemetery has been severely looted over the centuries, as a result of which many of the graves are open displaying incredibly well preserved Nazca corpses in the original cloth in which they were laid to rest. All of the corpses face east in accordance with the Nazca culture and they are all in the sitting position. This site features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Peru.

Photo by Historvius

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is a site made up of two impressive and well preserved cities, built by the Mayas and then captured by the Toltecs.

DID YOU KNOW?

Stunningly well-preserved and imposingly beautiful, Chichen Itza is one of Mexico’s most impressive historical sites.

A UNESCO World Heritage site based in the forests of the Yucatan Peninsula, Chichen Itza is actually made up of two cities built by two peoples, the Mayas and the Toltecs.

The site is made up of several surviving buildings including a circular observatory known as El Caracol, the Warriors’ Temple and El Castillo. Accounts vary as to the date of the first settlement at Chichen Itza, placing it between the 6th and 9th century AD when the Mayas built the original city including “The Building of the Nuns” and a church.

Chichen Itza was conquered by the Toltec King of Tula in the 10th century AD, accounting for the fusion in Maya and Toltec influences.

Chichen Itza also features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by tyo. (cc)

Ciudad Perdida

Ciudad Perdida is a remote ancient city in Colombia which dates to the 8th century AD and now operates as archaeological park.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ciudad Perdida, meaning “lost city”, is a remote and spectacular ancient city in Colombia which now operates as archaeological park.

Thought to date to at least the 8th century AD, Ciudad Perdida was one of a number of settlements built by the Tayrona Indians, who inhabited the area now known as Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Located high in the mountains, it is unclear exactly how long the site was inhabited for, though it’s believed Ciudad Perdida was abandoned after the Spanish conquest.

In 1975 the site was discovered by looters who began collecting artefacts from the area. This in turn led to archaeologists exploring the region and Ciudad Perdida was uncovered. While work has been done to restore this ancient city, it is still dangerously threatened by erosion and tourism.

Today, the site has been excavated and cleared to reveal a number of raised stone and earth platforms built atop high mountain peaks. The structures include the ruins of houses, paths, staircases, storehouses, canals and communal areas as well as remains thought to have a ceremonial purpose.

While it is true that Ciudad Perdida ranks among the more difficult historic sites to visit – involving an organised multi-day trek through difficult terrain – the location and views to be found here are astonishing.

In the past the area has seen difficulties and it is important to check for official advice from your government before visiting.

Photo by joyosity (cc)

Cobá

Cobá is an important and vast archaeological Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Cobá in Quintana Roo in Mexico houses the remains of a once vast city that developed in around 632 AD and peaked between 800 and 1100 AD. Whilst it is thought that Cobá originally spanned a massive 60 square kilometres, the current archaeological site has yet to uncover all its remains. What can be viewed is spread into four sections, named Grupo Cobá, Chumuc Mul, Macanxoc and Nohoch Mul.

Grupo Cobá contains a large holy pyramid called the Temple of the Church, translated as “La Iglesia”. Nearby, along a worn path is a playing field used to play ball games, signposted as “juego de pelota”.

The most impressive site at Cobá is its Great Pyramid, also known as the Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Rising to a height of 138 feet, the Great Pyramid is the second tallest of all Maya pyramids in the region after Estructura II at Calakmul. Climbing the steep stairs of this pyramid can be daunting, but the views are great.

Photo by Adalberto.H.Vega (cc)

Copan

Copan in Honduras was an important Maya city, the impressive ruins of which are UNESCO listed.

DID YOU KNOW?

Copan (spelt Copán), near the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a major Maya settlement which was probably the most influential city in the south eastern area occupied by this civilisation.

Copan is thought to have been inhabited as early as 2000 BC, despite the fact that there is sparse evidence to this effect. It was certainly at its peak between 300 AD and 900 AD.

In the eighth century AD, Copan experienced a significant military defeat when its leader was beheaded by the rulers of the city of Quirigua in what is now Guatemala. It was abandoned in the tenth century, probably due to the land becoming unsuitable for crop growing.

The cultural, social and ceremonial significance of Copan has been confirmed by UNESCO, who listed it as a World Heritage site in 1980. Amongst other things, UNESCO cites the fact that Copan was the site of great advances in astronomy and mathematics.

Today, visitors to Copan can see its many incredible structures, which also rank highly amongst the reasons for its UNESCO status. Containing five main plazas, an acropolis, numerous temples, terraces, pyramids and dwellings, one cannot fail to be impressed by Copan. Incredible glyphs adorn its staircases, structures, temples and altars, with depictions of animals and human faces.

There is a nearby sculpture museum which explores the Maya culture and artwork.

Photo by vaticanus (cc)

Dos Pilas

Dos Pilas was a major Maya city which succumbed to the ravages of warfare.

DID YOU KNOW?

Dos Pilas in northern Guatemala was an ancient capital city of the Maya civilisation. Twinned with nearby Aguateca, its powerful dynasty is thought to have derived from that of Tikal and to have thrived in the seventh and eighth centuries AD. However, it was famously abandoned in the late eighth century amidst savage warfare and its important citizens are believed to have fled to Aguateca.

Today, Dos Pilas contains a reasonable set of ruins including a staircase which has carvings chronicling important historical events of the time, several pyramids, temples and a central plaza.

Photo by GOC53 (cc)

Dzibilchaltun

Dzibilchaltun in Mexico is an archaeological site housing the ruins of a Maya settlement.

DID YOU KNOW?

Dzibilchaltun in Yucatan, Mexico is one of the earliest of the series of Maya settlements along the Puuc Route - a trail of the Maya sites in the Puuc region in Yucatan.

Thought to have been inhabited from around 500 BC, Dzibilchaltun – which is translated as “the site of stone writing” - is not as big as its counterpart, Uxmal, but does house several interesting buildings. In fact, in its heyday, Dzibilchaltun may have been vast and have even rivalled Uxmal in terms of its size, although comparatively little is left now.

One of the main sites at Dzibilchaltun is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. This holy building is also known as the Temple of the Sun, as it is perfectly located for viewing the equinox – this was almost certainly purposefully achieved by design and demonstrates the advanced nature of the Maya understanding of astronomy.

One great aspect which Dzibilchaltun has and which other Maya sites do not is its natural pool or “Cenote”. Excavations of this pool have uncovered many archaeological finds, but today it is most well-known for being a popular swimming venue.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) (cc)

Ek Balam

Ek Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins.

DID YOU KNOW?

Ek Balam or Ek’ Balam is a Maya site on the Yucatan Peninsula with some impressive ruins. Translated either as Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar, Ek Balam is surrounded by a low, stone wall, an unusual feature in Mayan cities. Within this area are several restored pyramids and large temples as well as a ball court.

Ek Balam also features five sacbe, white roads or causeways, leading from the central area. El Torre, the tower, is one of the largest of Mayan buildings. The site’s vast main pyramid rises to a height of almost 100 feet, making it a remarkable example of Maya engineering.

Photo by Veronique Debord (cc)

El Brujo

El Brujo is an early Chimu archaeological site in Peru.

DID YOU KNOW?

El Brujo in Peru was a Moche (early Chimu) settlement inhabited between 100 and 700 AD. Now an archaeological site, the main features of El Brjuo are its three “huacas” or sacred pyramid temples.

The best preserved of El Brujo’s trio of temples, thought to have been sites of ceremonial significance, is Huaca Cao Viejo (also known as Huaca Blanca) . It is adorned with dramatic, colourful friezes showing various scenes ranging from everyday activities such as fishing to depictions of violence and particularly of human sacrifice. These friezes have led archaeologists to believe that El Brjuo was probably the site of the torture and execution of prisoners.

In 2004, archaeologists found the mummified hand of a woman thought to have been a leader of the Moche, a particularly interesting find given that the Moche were a male-dominated society. The advantage of El Brujo is that it is quieter than other, more popular archaeological sites in Peru.

Photo by Ixtla (cc)

El Tajin

El Tajin in Mexico was a city of the Totonac people and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.

DID YOU KNOW?

El Tajin in the state of Veracruz in Mexico is an impressive archaeological site which originally formed the capital city of the Totonac state. In fact, the name “Tajin” refers to the Totonac deity of thunder, lighting and rain. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is open to the public, although much of it is yet to be excavated.

El Tajin was founded following the abandonment of the city of Teotihuacan. Built and inhabited from 800AD to 1200 AD, El Tajin was a thriving city of major ceremonial importance, a fact illustrated by the numerous Mesoamerican pyramids and other ceremonial structures still seen there today.

Despite the fact that it is thought to have been greatly damaged and subsequently abandoned following an attack by the Chichimecs in the thirteenth century, much of El Tajin is extremely well-preserved offering a great many things to see. Amongst the most famous attractions at El Tajin is the Pyramid of the Niches, an incredibly impressive six-stepped pyramid which would once have been crowned with a temple. Stone reliefs and friezes around the site offer an insight into the lives of those who lived in El Tajin.

A particular pastime for which the city was renowned in its time was ball games, as depicted in numerous reliefs. In an ominous twist, the reliefs also seem to show that these ball games were related to human sacrifices which took place at El Tajin.

El Tajin has an interesting, albeit small museum with explanations in English, Spanish and also – fittingly – in the Totonac language. A visit to the whole site lasts around 2 hours.

Guatemala National Archaeology and Etymology Museum

The Guatemala National Archaeology and Etymology Museum has a comprehensive Maya exhibit.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Guatemala National Archaeology and Etymology Museum or “Museo Nacional de Etnología y Arqueología” in Guatemala City is dedicated to exploring the country’s history, particularly that of the Maya civilisation.

The National Archaeology and Etymology Museum has an impressive Maya collection ranging from dioramas of ancient cities to pottery, masks and jewellery – especially in the signature Maya stone of jade – using these artefacts and pieces to chronicle the Maya culture from the Pre-Classic period to the Classic and Post-Classic.

A fascinating way to learn about Maya culture, the only real downside of the museum is its lack of English information boards.

Photo by geoced (cc)

Inca Trail

The Inca Trail is a famous hiking route which winds through Inca sites in Peru including Machu Picchu.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Inca Trail is a famous route in Peru which allows hikers to follow in the footsteps of the Inca people. The main site along the Inca Trail is Machu Picchu, the magnificent ruins of an Inca city dating back to the fifteenth century and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, the Inca Trail includes many other great Inca sites along its typically four day route, including Patallacta, which was a religious site as well as the home of Inca soldiers, Runkuracay, the “inaccessible town” of Sayacmarca with its maze of houses and water channels, Phuyupatamarca and Sun Gate.

Also along the trail is Wiñaywayna, another beautiful Inca site close to Machu Picchu. The Inca Trail also includes a breathtaking tour of the natural wonders of Peru, but it involves quite difficult treks and hikers need to be in good, if not peak, physical condition, particularly for the longer trails.

The Inca Trail is featured as one of our Top 10 Vistor Attractions in Peru.

Photo by robertoliebig (cc)

Kabah

The ruins of Kabah are those of a Maya settlement in Yucatan, Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kabah was a Maya settlement and is now an archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan state. Inhabited from the third century BC and, like nearby Uxmal, abandoned in circa 1200 AD, Kabah was mostly constructed from the seventh century and added to in the ninth century.

It is thought that Kabah was linked to the site of Uxmal – indeed the two are connected by a road - and, whilst it does not boast the grandeur of this larger settlement, Kabah’s ruins are interesting in their own right.

One of Kabah’s most impressive sites is its Temple of the Masks, so called for its many depictions of the rain g-d, Chaac, who is also a central figure in Uxmal. Note that it is best to ask before considering climbing any of the monuments as many of the sites may not be walked on.

Photo by morrissey (cc)

Kuelap

Kuelap is an imposing 9th century fortress, once the stronghold of the Chachapoyas people.

DID YOU KNOW?

Kuelap is an imposing 9th century fortress, once the stronghold of the Chachapoyas people, a tribe who lived in the region until shortly before the Spanish conquest.

Looming some 3,000 metres above sea level, Kuelap is an impressive site, with limestone walls surrounding a settlement of around 450 stone houses. It was once home to up to 3,000 people, and many of the structures still include their thatched roofs along with intricate carvings.

The fortress itself contains the remains of an ancient tower, guard posts and eight metre high walls containing fortified entranceways.

Kuelap is now open to the public, although its remote location makes it difficult to visit. This site features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions of Peru.

Photo by Olivier Bruchez (cc)

Labna

Labna is a Maya site in Yucatan State in Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Labna is one of a series of former Maya settlements in Mexico’s Yucatan region and part of what is known as the Puuc Trail.

Like the city of Uxmal, with which it is linked, Labna’s structures, such as its palace and its archway, are beautifully ornate. However, unlike its counterpart, Labna is quite small and most people visit it as part as an overall tour of the sites in the area.

Photo by szeke (cc)

Machu Picchu

Machu Picchu is one of the world’s best preserved Inca sites, located in Peru and protected by UNESCO.

DID YOU KNOW?

Machu Picchu is an extraordinary ancient stone city along the Inca Trail in Peru and forms one of the most famous historical sites in the world.

Believed to have been constructed by the Inca Yupanqui people sometime during the mid-fifteenth century, the ruins of Machu Picchu sit high atop a granite mountain. The high standard of engineering and construction employed by the Incas, such as the fact that each stone on the site fits together seamlessly, accounts for Machu Picchu’s incredible state of preservation.

Machu Picchu was actually only discovered in 1911 by an American historian and much of its history remains a mystery. Past speculation has included theories such as that Machu Picchu was a mostly female city and that it was built as a last attempt by the Incas to preserve their culture. The former of these theories was due to the fact that, of the hundred skeletons found in Machu Picchu’s fifty burial sites, 80% were initially believed to be female, although this has since been disproven.

Machu Picchu is thought to have had a population of at least five hundred thousand people and, with its incredibly ornate stonework and architecture, is widely considered to have been an important ceremonial site. Some of Machu Picchu’s most impressive structures include the semi-circular Temple of the Sun, the Temple of the Three Windows, the mausoleum and the upper cemetery.

Machu Picchu’s agricultural section, with its terraces and granaries, is also an important aspect of the site demonstrating the advanced agricultural methods employed by the Inca people. The main Machu Picchu city is surrounded by other sites forming the Inca Trail and some of which take some serious hiking, but are well worth it. It’s also a good idea to stop at the Museo de Sitio Manuel Chávez Ballón at the base of the mountain. This site features as one of our Top 10 Tourist Attractions in Peru.

Photo by gripso_banana_prune (cc)

Mexico National Museum of Anthropology

The Mexico National Museum of Anthropology is one of the world’s best renowned museums of pre-Hispanic history.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Mexico National Museum of Anthropology is a world renowned museum with a large array of archaeological and ethnographic exhibitions, mostly relating to the pre-Hispanic era.

The Museum of Anthropology takes visitors through Mexico’s historic cultures, including the Toltecs, the Maya and the Aztecs.

Some of the National Museum of Anthropology’s most famous exhibits include the jade mask of Zapotec Bat God and the Piedra del Sol or Aztec sun stone excavated from Zocalo. It also holds original pieces found in Chichen Itza.

The museum is quite large and too much to take in during the course of a single visit, but it is well organized, allowing history enthusiasts to explore it according to eras. Guided tours also offer a great way to explore the museum and are offered in Spanish, English and French, Tuesday to Saturday from 9:30 to 17:30.

Photo by eduardo.robles (cc)

Mitla

Mitla was a Zapotec religious centre later taken over by the Mixtecs in Oaxaca, Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Mitla was a Zapotec and later a Mixtec settlement in what is now the modern town of San Pablo Villa de Mitla in Oaxaca in Mexico.

Thought to have first been inhabited by the Zapotecs in around 600 BC, Mitla evolved into an important ceremonial centre. It was later taken over by the Mixtecs in approximately 1000 AD and was still a thriving city at the time the Spanish arrived.

Mitla’s archaeological ruins are dotted around the modern town and divided into five units. The Church Group, which is the one pinpointed on the map, is near the main entrance to the site and close to the sixteenth century Church of San Pedro. This is one of the better excavated parts of Mitla.

Beyond this group of sites are four others, namely the Adobe Group, the Arroyo Group, the South Group and the Columns group. The Columns Group is often called the Palace group for its series of palace buildings.

One of the most impressive aspects of Mitla is the way in which its structures are decorated. Each adorned with elaborate carvings, these works of art distinguish Mitla from other Zapotec and Mixtec sites. It is also unusual that most of the carvings at Mitla are abstract rather than of people or animals.

There is a small museum at Mitla which exhibits several finds from the site.

Photo by RussBowling (cc)

Monte Alban

Monte Alban is a remarkable UNESCO listed pre-Columbian site in Mexico.

DID YOU KNOW?

Monte Alban in Oaxaca in Mexico is an impressive ancient site created by an incredible feat which involved carving a flat space out of a mountain rising to an elevation of over 1,600 feet above the valley below it.

Monte Alban was inhabited for approximately 1,500 years by a succession of civilisations, including the Olmecs, Zapotecs and Mixtecs and, at its peak, had a population of around 25,000 people.

The earliest inhabitants of Monte Alban were the Olmecs, who are credited with the over 140 carved stones known as the monument of Los Danzantes, depicting mutilated figures. There has been much debate over what these figures represent. ‘Los Danzantes’ means dancers, but it has since been posited that these were actually war prisoners.

However, whilst Olmec contributions remain, most of the structures found at Monte Alban today were built by the Zapotecs, who are thought to have arrived between 800 BC and 500 BC. Construction continued over the centuries and was later influenced by the culture of Teotihuacan.

Monte Alban is characterised by over 2,200 terraces as well as numerous pyramid structures, large staircases, ornate palaces, elaborate tombs and even a ball court known as Juego de Pelota, mostly arranged on its “Grand Plaza”. The ball court is very well-preserved, made up of two facing stepped platforms with the playing field in the centre. The ball games played were ritualistic and often ended in the death of the losers.

In approximately 800 AD, the Zapotecs were threatened by the Mixtecs and fortified Monte Alban before being driven out. The Mixtecs took over the site and, in around 1400 AD, started burying their leaders in the Zapotec tombs. Whilst many of these ornately decorated tombs were looted, vast riches were found in one particular tomb – Tomb 7 – which can now been seen at Museo Regional de Oaxaca. Some tombs are open to visitors, although this is sporadic.

Today, Monte Alban is a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small on-site museum showing some of the finds from excavations of Monte Alban. Monte Alban features as one of our Top Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Museo Popol Vuh

Museo Popol Vuh in Guateala City has an extensive collection of ancient, particularly Maya, pieces.

DID YOU KNOW?

Museo Popol Vuh is a museum of history and archaeology in Guatemala City, particularly concentrating on the Pre-Columbian era in Guatemala.

It has an extensive collection of art from this era, especially Maya art such as sculptures. Museo Popol Vuh is famed for its funerary objects, particularly urns.

Museo Popol Vuh has pieces from around the country, the oldest being a clovis projection point dating back to 9000 BC. Beyond the ancient world, Museo Popol Vuh has a colonial section and a twentieth century exhibit.

Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya

Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya is an archaeological museum related to the ancient Maya settlement of Copan.

DID YOU KNOW?

Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya translated (Regional Archaeological Maya Museum) in Copan Ruinas explores the history of the Maya civilisation and particularly looks at the nearby settlement of Copan.

Exhibiting finds from the archaeological excavations of Copan, such as stelae, jade, pottery and even a tomb, Museo Regional de Arqueología Maya offers a good insight into the Maya culture and is fascinating to see, particularly in the context of also visiting Copan.

Museo Regional de Oaxaca

Museo Regional de Oaxaca houses many of the pre-Columbian finds from nearby Monte Alban.

DID YOU KNOW?

Museo Regional de Oaxaca - sometimes known as the Museum of Oaxacan Culture - is this Mexican city’s main museum, chronicling the history of the state of Oaxaca (the state and the city have the same name). However, the main exhibit at Museo Regional de Oaxaca is its collection of finds from Monte Alban.

Monte Alban is a nearby archaeological area and one of Mexico’s most impressive pre-Columbian historic sites. The collection at Museo Regional de Oaxaca is made up of the incredible finds from Monte Alban’s Tomb 7.

Tomb 7 was a Zapotec burial site later used by the Mixtecs to bury their leaders. When it was excavated in the early thirties, archaeologists found tens of corpses together with a wealth of beautiful jewellery, all of which is now displayed at Museo Regional de Oaxaca. English audio guides are available for a fee.

Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón

Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is the museum of the famous Machu Picchu site.

DID YOU KNOW?

Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is a museum at the foot of the mountain which houses the world famous Inca city of Machu Picchu.

Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is dedicated to exploring the Inca civilisation and houses an expansive collection of artefacts found at Machu Picchu including household items, artwork and religious objects.

Some of the most interesting objects at the Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón are the construction materials and tools, which form one of seven of the museum’s sections.

Museum Manuel Chavez Ballón is a good place to stop off before or after a tour of Machu Picchu.

Nazca Lines

The Nazca Lines are ancient earth drawings in Peru and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

DID YOU KNOW?

The Nazca Lines are a series of large shapes embedded in the earth known as “geoglyphs” in Peru’s Nazca Desert.

Spread over 450 square kilometres of the Pampa Colorada region in between the towns of Nazca and Palpa, the origin of the Nazca Lines is a subject of much debate, but they are believed to have been created by the Nazca Civilisation between 500 BC and 500 AD.

Amongst these enigmatic shapes is a monkey, two human beings one of which is known as the “astronaut”, a hummingbird, a spider and a tree.

Most people view the Nazca Lines from the air by booking a flight for approximately 50 minutes, but for those who want to keep their feet on the ground, go to the Pan American Highway observation tower for a view of three of the drawings.

The Nazca Lines are featured as one of our top Visitor Attractions in Peru.

Photo by Historvius

Palenque

Palenque in Mexico is a UNESCO listed Maya archaeological site of a city which thrived between 500 and 700 AD.

DID YOU KNOW?

Palenque in Mexico is an important Maya archaeological site located just outside the modern city by the same name. It is thought that Palenque was first inhabited in around 100BC and excavations have uncovered writings about a king who ruled there in the fifth century AD, however the city was attacked several times by the inhabitants of neighbouring cities.

Pakal the Great
It was from the seventh century AD that Palenque began to develop once more under the rule of Pakal the Great (sometimes spelt “Pacal”). During his reign between 615 and 683 AD, Pakal built many of Palenque’s most impressive structures and they are often considered to be some of the most important pieces of Maya architecture. Pakal’s works were continued by his son, Kan B’alam.

Abandonment of Palenque
In approximately 711 AD, Palenque was attacked once more and, by 900 AD it was deserted. Having been discovered in the sixteenth century, Palenque is now a popular tourist destination and a UNESCO World Heritage site. It has a small, but interesting museum, exhibiting finds from the excavation of Palenque and giving an overview of its history.

Sites
Some of the most fascinating sites in Palenque include Pakal’s tomb, known as the Temple of the Inscriptions or “Templo de las Inscripciones”, the Palace (El Palacio) and several other temples, such as the Temple of the Sun (Los Templo del Sol) and the Temple of the Cross (Los Templo de la Cruz). Many of these temples centre off Palenque’s central plaza, a marvel in its own right as it was built over the river, requiring advanced engineering mechanisms.

Each of the structures in Palenque is ornate and lavishly decorated, bearing inscriptions chronicling the history of the city, which was probably the capital of the region. In fact, Palenque has the honour of having one of the best Maya inscriptions ever found, located in the Temple of the Inscriptions and telling the story of Palenque.

Palenque  features as one of our Top Ten Mexican Tourist Attractions.

Piramide de Cuicuilco

Cuicuilco is a Mesoamerican archeological site in Mexico City, believed to have been a large, ceremonial city that existed prior to the foundation of Teotihuacan.

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Cuicuilco is an ancient archeological site and museum next to Mexico City’s Lake Texcoco which includes the striking Piramide de Cuicuilco.

Dating back to the Mesoamerican era perhaps as far as 800 BC, Cuicuilco is thought to be one of Mexico’s oldest sites. At its peak, Cuicuilco is believed to have had a population of between 20,000 and 40,000 people.

Cuicuilco is comprised of numerous ruins, including a 23 metre high, five-level, circular pyramid (the Piramide de Cuicuilco) thought to be of religious and cosmic significance. Whilst originally built as a farming community, Cuicuilco later developed into a ceremonial city, maybe even the predecessor of Teotihuacan, as evidenced by its relatively well-preserved remains, which include both residential and religious structures.

The ruins of an old water drainage system are also present, demonstrating the relative sophistication of Cuicuilco’s inhabitants.

Cuicuilco was finally abandoned sometime between 150 and 200 AD, after the eruption of the nearby Xitle volcano. Some archaeologists think that the residents of Cuicuilco and other surrounding areas all later moved to Teotihuacan.

Quirigua Archaeological Park

Quirigua Archaeological Park is a former Maya settlement and is now a small, yet important UNESCO listed site in Guatemala.

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Quirigua Archaeological Park in Izabel, Guatemala is an historic site housing the remains of a Maya settlement.

Whilst thought to have been inhabited from 200 AD, most of the structures at Quirigua date back to the mid-sixth century AD and include numerous carved stone objects and structures, such as an acropolis and a pyramid temple, centred on three main plazas.

Quirigua was an initially relatively small city and certainly smaller than its counterpart Copan in what is now Honduras. However, in the eighth century the ruler of Quirigua, Cauac Sky (723–784 AD) was determined to be independent and achieved this when he captured the leader of Copan. Quirigua was thereby autonomous and the capital of its state and, with plentiful resources such as obsidian and jade, was a prosperous society.

One aspect for which Quirigua is famed is for its collection of stelae, each elaborately carved and one of which, at 36 feet high, is the tallest one of its kind in the world (although only two thirds of it protrudes above ground). Quirigua’s artwork also includes a series of pictures of human-animal hybrids known as “zoomorphs”.

The city was abandoned in around the tenth century, although the reason for this remains a mystery.

Quirigua Archaeological Park is smaller and arguably less flashy or tourist-appropriate than sites such as Copan or Tikal, but it is of great historical importance. In 1981, Quirigua achieved UNESCO World Heritage status.

Sayil

Sayil in Mexico houses the ruins of a small Maya settlement built in the Puuc style.

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Sayil in Yucatan in Mexico is a small archaeological site of Maya ruins built in the traditional Puuc style.

Quieter than the larger sites in the area such as Uxmal, Sayil offers a good place to see Maya structures such as its impressive palace and El Mirador temple, although there is less to see here than at some of the more famous sites.

Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor was a holy temple in the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, now modern day Mexico City.

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Templo Mayor was a temple in the capital city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, in what is now Mexico City.

In fact, much of Mexico City was built over Tenochtitlan, but some original sites remain, including the Great Temple, known as Templo Mayor, which was the most important building in the city.

Temple Mayor was built by the people of Tenochtitlan as a shrine to the deities Huitzilopochtli and Tlaloc. Tenochtitlan was originally established in around 325 AD and was a thriving city with around 200,000 people until 1521, when it was conquered by the Spanish.

Templo Mayor is now a popular tourist site, with a museum filled with Aztec artefacts uncovered during the excavation. Overall the Templo Mayor and its museum offer a great insight in the pre-Hispanic era in Mexico.

Tenochtitlan

Tenochtitlan was the Aztec capital, established in 1325AD and destroyed by the Spanish in the 16th century.

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Tenochtitlan in Mexico was established on an island in Lake Texcoco in 1325 AD as the capital city of the Aztecs and, in its final and most prosperous days, was ruled by Motecuhzoma II, also known as Montezuma.

At its peak, Tenochtitlan was a thriving and imposing city with around 200,000 inhabitants. It was characterised by its enormous pyramids and clear street grids, dividing Tenochtitlan into four zones.

In 1519 AD, during Montezuma’s rule, Spanish invaders led by Hernán Cortés arrived in Tenochtitlan and by 1521 the city was conquered. Much of Tenochtitlan was subsequently razed to the ground, leaving little behind.

Today, remnants of Tenochtitlan are hard to find as they have been consumed by the development of modern Mexico City. Those Tenochtitlan sites which have been excavated, including five temples of which Templo Mayor is one, are protected on UNESCO’s World Heritage list, however there is no single Aztec site to visit.

One of the most popular Tenochtitlan sites is Xochimilco. This is more of a beautiful park rather than an archaeological ruin, but features waterways that ran from the Aztec era as well as some Chinampas (flower gardens) from that time. Alternatively, see the Templo Mayor entry for a more traditional site.

Photo by Darij & Ana (cc)

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is a well preserved ancient Mesoamerican city near Mexico City.

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Teotihuacan was a holy Mesoamerican city built in around 400 BC in what is now Mexico and forms one of the country’s oldest archeological sites.

Whilst the founders of Teotihuacan have never been definitively identified, it is thought that the city was inhabited by the Toltecs and was also an important Aztec site.

Literally translated as the place “where gods are created”, Teotihuacan was clearly a city of significant religious importance to its inhabitants, as illustrated by the wealth of monuments at the site.

Characterised by looming stepped pyramids, indeed one of the most impressive aspects of Teotihuacan is the sheer size of these monuments, including the Pyramid of the Sun, which measures 225 by 222 metres at its base, rising 75 metres high.

Incredibly well-preserved, despite a fire which tore through Teotihuacan in the 7th century, Teotihuacan is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

However, it is not just Teotihuacan’s religious monuments which make it such an important and popular site. In fact, it is estimated that these make up a mere 10% of the total excavated site and the rest includes castles, such as the Palace of Quetzalcoatl and the Palace of the Citadel, residential buildings and communal buildings.

Visitors to Teotihuacan can maneuver their way through the city via its original streets, such as Avenue of the Dead, which divided the city into quarters, although take note that the site is absolutely enormous.

Today, Teotihuacan is one of the most popular tourist sites in Mexico and includes numerous museums, including the Museo del Sitio, just south of the Pyramid of the Sun where visitors can see various artefacts from the site. It also features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

The Moche Temples

The Moche Temples are two ancient adobe pyramid temples in Peru.

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The Moche Temples in Peru are made up of Huaca del Sol y la Luna, translated as the Temples of the Sun and the Moon.

Moche was a pre-Inca civilisation which preceded that of the Chimu and is sometimes thought of as early Chimu. It dates from around 100 to 900 AD and the Moche Temples are thought to have been built in 500 AD.

The Moche Temples are located in northern Peru and, like many Moche sites, are adorned with various colourful friezes of different shapes and ominous figures. They were built of adobe bricks and would have been constructed over the course of many years, each generation adding further levels.

While Huaca del Sol is the smaller of the two Moche Temples, it is better preserved than Huaca de la Luna.

Photo by Historvius

Tikal

Tikal in Guatemala was a major Maya site of great ceremonial importance. Its well-preserved ruins are listed by UNESCO.

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Tikal National Park near Flores in Guatemala houses one of the world’s most famous and impressive Maya sites, known as Tikal. In fact, Tikal was a major ceremonial site in the Maya culture, with many temples and pyramids built there between 300 BC and 100BC and then further expansion taking place from 600 AD to 800 AD.

In addition to its ceremonial significance, Tikal was a thriving settlement, a political hub and almost certainly the capital of its region. Tikal has been linked with the Maya city of Teotihuacan in modern Mexico, with which it is believed that it interacted.

Today, visitors to Tikal are greeted with a wealth of well-preserved monuments, palaces, structures and temples. This UNESCO World Heritage site actually has a staggering 3,000 or so ancient structures mostly dating back to between 600 BC and 900 AD, six of which are fully uncovered. Amongst these are five magnificent pyramids, some of them being crowned with temples and the largest one being an impressive 213 feet tall.

Note the sacrificial altars, such as that at the Temple of the Masks, and also try out the acoustics, which were designed so that people could be heard from the tops of the temples down to the bottom of the pyramids.

Main image by Hector Garcia (cc).

Tulum

Tulum is a cliff-top Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region with some interesting and quite well preserved ruins.

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Tulum is a Maya site in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region dating back to between the 13th and 16th centuries. At its peak, Tulum was quite a thriving walled city.

Whilst relatively modest in comparison to, say Chichen Itza, Tulum does feature some interesting and quite well preserved ruins, including its castle, city walls and temples. One of the highlights at Tulum is its Temple of the Frescoes, with some original frescoes inside it. However, the real beauty of Tulum is its shimmering beachside location.

Tulum features as one of our Top Ten Tourist Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by fortes (cc)

Winaywayna

Winaywayna is an Inca site in Peru near Machu Picchu.

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Winaywayna or Winay Wayna, literally translated as “forever young”, is an Inca site along the Inca Trail close to the famous ruins of Machu Picchu. Winaywayna is yet another great example of Inca civillisation and is made up of two levels containing a network of houses, fountains and agricultural terraces.

Whilst it forms part of the Inca Trail, tourists can also see Winaywayna as part of a standalone trip to Machu Picchu, the hike usually takes around three and half hours.

Photo by Herr_Bert (cc)

Xcaret

Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.

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Xcaret houses the ruins of a Maya city which reached its peak in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Located in Mexico’s Quintana Roo region, Xcaret was then known as Ppole and is said to have been of great ceremonial importance, as evidenced by its wealth of temples, homes and monuments.

The Xcaret ruins are actually part of a much larger eco and amusement park, with a range of activities.

Photo by archer10 (Dennis) (cc)

Xlapak

Xlapak is a small archaeological site in Mexico’s Yucatan region.

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Xlapak is one of the smaller of the archaeological sites along the Puuc Trail in the Yucatan State in Mexico, a trail of Maya sites in the hilly part of this otherwise flat state.

The main structure at Xlapak is a small palace which is adorned with carvings of the rain god, Chaac.

Xochicalco

Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico and a World Heritage site.

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Xochicalco is an important pre-Columbian site in Mexico, listed by UNESCO for its well-preserved ruins dating from an important period in Mesoamerican history.

At Xochicalco’s peak between 650AD and 900AD - during the Epiclassic period - the Mesoamerican world was in great flux, with places like Tikal, Teotihuacan and Palenque being broken up. As such, this city’s ruins are seen to represent the coming together of several cultures.

Xochicalco’s impressive hierarchy of ruins includes a ball court, a palace, temples, monuments and homes, all carefully arranged amid terraces, plazas and ramps to great effect.

Xochicalco features as one of our Top Ten Visitor Attractions in Mexico.

Photo by maximalideal (cc)

Yagul

Yagul was a fortified Zapotec settlement in Oaxaca in Mexico.

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Yagul is an archaeological site in Mexico’s Oaxaca region inhabited by the Pre-Columbian civilisation of the Zapotecs, although the exact time of their first occupation of this area is unknown (sometime between 500 and 100 BC). Yagul was still in use at the time of the Spanish Conquest.

Somewhat dwarfed by the grandeur of nearby Monte Alban, Yagul is smaller and has undergone less excavation than its famous counterpart yet it does have a series of interesting monuments. Amongst other things, Yagul has a ball court, similar to the one seen at Monte Alban and at other Zapotec sites and a large labyrinth of a palace, thought to have been built for its leaders.

It is clear from the remaining parts of its fortress wall that Yagul was heavily defended, helped by its position atop a hill. Lower down the hill, visitors can see what was once its central plaza, surrounded by several palaces and temples. Also in this section is a site known as the Triple Tomb or “Tumba Triple”, one of many tombs found in Yagul. Visitors can ask to view the Triple Tomb, as long as escorted by one of the guards.

Yagul is often overlooked by tourists, but is worth seeing if only for the peaceful nature of its setting which makes viewing its sites a calmer experience than many in the region.

Photo by clandestino_20 (cc)

Yalape

Built around 1100 AD, Yalape contain the ruins of an ancient Chachapoyan city. Though largely overgrown, it contains the remains of a huge urban settlement.

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Yalape in Peru was an ancient Chachapoyan city and the second largest such settlement after Kuelap.

Probably built around 1100 AD, Yalape was a large urban centre and contained a host of residential areas spread out over at least four hectares. The site was later abandoned along with other major Chachapoyan cities.

Today the site is largely overgrown but certain elements remain, including low walls and the stone circular foundations of houses and communal buildings which were built in the typical style of the Chachapoyas. Yalape also contains the ruins of the original irrigation system and a number of stone friezes similar to those found at Kuelap.

This article about Yalape is a stub and is in line for expansion by our editorial team. You can help expand this information by adding comments below.

Photo by Walter Rodriguez (cc)

Yaxha

Yaxha is an impressive ancient Maya site in Guatemala’s Peten region.

DID YOU KNOW?

Yaxha in Guatemala’s Peten region is an ancient Maya site containing several incredible pyramids as well as other structures such as ball courts and also carved stelae.

From its vast size – it’s not much smaller than Tikal – and its many monuments, it appears that Yaxha was an important settlement for the Maya people, although little is known about its origins.

Main image by Walter Rodriguez (cc).