Although many travelers are satisfied with visiting the more accessible and well-known Chichen Itza and Tikal, VirtualTourist members always strive for the more off-the-beaten path spots. With this in mind, the members and editors of VirtualTourist.com compiled a list of top five less crowded Mayan ruins.
It should be noted that Mayan ruins can only be found in Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and El Salvador.
Calakmal, Campeche, Mexico: One of the most important cities of Mayan civilization, Calakmul was once home to more than 50,000 inhabitants. Though the city’s timeline goes back as far as the Preclassic period (300 B.C. to A.D. 240), its golden age was in the Classic period (A.D. 250 to 900), when it served as Tikal’s main rival and battled for dominance of the central Mayan area.
Many visitors might focus on the 6,000 structures within the city, but it’s equally important to experience the surrounding Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which encompasses more than 292,594 acres of protected land and wildlife.
Yaxchilan, Mexico: Located on the Usumacinta River, Yaxchilan is a great example of the Usumacinta style that dominated the Classic Mayan of the Low Lands from A.D. 250 to 900, with architecture adorned in epigraphic inscriptions and extensive relief sculpture.
The city exhibits strategic planning, as it was built on a peninsula formed by a bend in the Usumacinta River. Even today, Yaxchilan can only be accessed by lancha (small boat) up the river. For those adventurous enough to make the trip, keep an eye out for the image of Bird Jaguar that can be found throughout the site, particularly on stelae standing over the plaza and on the staircase.
Ek Balam: Ek Balam, which means “black jaguar” in the Yucatec Maya language, is one of the few Mayan settlements that remained occupied until the arrival of the Spaniards.
While not the hardest site to get to (it’s in the Yucatan), it is under active restoration, so visitors can get a great overview of the entire archaeological process.
Lamanai, Orange Walk, Belize: Lamanai, the Mayan word for “submerged crocodile,” was aptly named. Not only do crocodiles appear in the site’s effigies and decorations, but you are likely to see crocodiles while trying to get there.
In order to reach the site, you must take a small boat up the winding New River through the tropical rainforest of central Belize.
Lamanai was one of the longest continuously occupied cities, starting in 500 B.C. to A.D 1675. or even later, probably due to its strategic location on the trade route of the New River.
Joya de Ceren, La Libertad Dept, El Salvador: Joya de Ceren is a Pre-Columbian site in El Salvador that preserves the daily life of the indigenous settlements before the Spanish conquest.
Often referred to as the “Pompeii of the Americas,” Joya de Ceren was buried under ashes of a violent volcanic eruption, therein preserving evidence of the lifestyle and activities of a Mesoamerican farming community around sixth century A.D. This site is still being excavated today.
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