Samuel Turner

When you think of Mexico, what initially sparks in your mind? Tacos with guacamole and sour cream no doubt, probably followed closely by tequila and the infamous sombrero. 

But do you think of Mexico when you hear of ancient pyramids tucked away deep in the jungle? What about pilgrimage cities once laden with jewels and treasures, hidden from the Spanish conquistadors? Or even pre-Hispanic stone structures dotted along the turquoise coastlines of the Yucatan? All of these and more have been the history of Mexico for centuries, and are still here today for you to investigate and explore.

The Mayan Ruins of Tulum

Mayan Ruins of Tulum

In the quiet city of Tulum on the Yucatan Peninsula lies one of the most beautiful Mayan structures left to the ages. Along the coastline are relics of a forgotten time, ranging from temples and observatories to houses and military outposts. The most captivating is El Castillo which sits quaintly above the cliff edge looking out over the Carribean Ocean, an equally strategic and beautiful location.

For the Mayans, Tulum served as a port city trading turquoise, jade and obsidian to the other parts of the empire and beyond. Today, the beautiful archaeological site stands in relatively good condition and even features its own private beach. The winding staircase leads down to one of the most amazing beaches you will ever see and if you take the time to swim around the cliffs that jut out you are treated to a breathtaking view of El Castillo.

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

An important historical, cultural and religious site, the city of Chichen Itza was left relatively intact compared to other Mayan structures when it was found by the Spanish in the 1500s. The huge complex includes a ball court, observatories, a sacred cenote used for ritual sacrifice, universities and the most iconic structure there – El Castillo (or The Castle). The pyramid commands the attention of everyone around it, built with thousands of tons of perfectly cut stone, mind-boggling symmetry and stunning acoustics too.

The Mayan pyramid is adorned with astronomical symbology: 365 steps for the days of the year, 52 panels for each year in the Mayan century and 18 terraces for the months in the religious year. The most impressive feat of the pyramid however is its ability to cast the shadow of their one true God, Quetzalcoatl the feathered serpent. On the two most important days of the year for the Maya, the winter and summer solstice, the shadows cast from the pyramid’s corners create the spectacle. The shadow creates the illusion of Quetzalcoatl snaking its way down the pyramid, a seemingly unbelievable and incredibly complex feat. The main pyramid actually is built upon another of the same design, built in accordance with Mayan beliefs that every fifty-two years a cycle of life finishes, requiring re-birth or redesign. Inside this building a jaguar statue was found, laden with precious emeralds of immeasurable value (note: at the time of this article was being written, archaeologists found another pyramid inside the second!). The Maya fought passionately to protect it when the Spanish attempted to take the city multiple times. The Spanish ransacked the city of its jewels, gold and many precious artefacts.   

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan

Teotihuacan is a monolithic city of pyramids, some fifty kilometres from the heart of Mexico City. This jaw-dropping city is one of the lesser known ruins in Mexico which is befuddling given its incredible size and contents. This city was built almost 2000 years ago and was the sixth largest city in the world during its golden age. With the main Pyramid of the Sun dominating the landscape, its smaller counterparts hug the Avenue of the Dead, making a glorious runway leading to the main relic. Used more than likely for ceremonial sacrifice, the Pyramid of the Sun invokes an eerie feeling upon climbing the steep and partially deteriorated stairs to the top. The solidity, preservation and structure of the pyramid is testament to the skills and quality of the stone masonry of the time. The city was abandoned by its initial inhabitants, historians theorising either due to civil revolt against the higher aristocracy, famine and drought, or a combination of both.

So if you’re ever in Mexico, please drink all the tequila you want, munch down all the burritos you can and doze off on the relaxing beaches. But do yourself a favour and delve into the rich history of the pre-Hispanic people, walk amongst their ruins, appreciate their incredible architectural feats and revel in the some of the most beautiful hidden gems of Mesoamerica.

 

Samuel Turner is an Australian journalist with a passion for adventure, travel and food. Follow him on Instagram @turnernator and Facebook Samuel Turner

The views, opinions and positions expressed by the author and those providing comments are theirs alone, and are meant as travel inspiration only. They do not reflect the opinions of Cover-More Insurance. You should always read the PDS available from your travel insurance provider to understand the limits, exclusions and conditions of your policy and to ensure any activities you undertake are covered by your policy.