While the area outside Cancun, Mexico, is a popular spot for vacationers to see Mayan ruins, the Central American countries of Guatemala and Honduras have spectacular ruins that shouldn't be missed.
The Mayan civilization ruled throughout Central America until the 10th century, when the various developments and communities slowly disappeared. Two main cities - Tikal and Copan - contain countless examples of the expansive Mayan culture.
Skip the typical cruise or resort trip and take advantage of Caribbean travel to explore Mayan ruins.
Tikal - Guatemala
The Mayan settlement Tikal is home to more than 24 major pyramids that were built between 60 B.C. and the 10th century when Mayan culture fizzled out. It also contains six temple pyramids that typically mark the burial places for rulers. Live Science explained how there are two of these temple pyramids in particular that have been linked to Mayan kings. One sits at 44 metres high and is dedicated to Jasaw Jaan K'awil, a king who led his people to an important victory against neighboring tribes. It's situated next to a smaller temple, just 38 metres high, which was likely built for his wife.
The Palace, or Central Acropolis, shows how rulers could look out onto the ball court from a viewing platform. Historians aren't sure exactly how the game was played or how scores were kept, but the courts were found in many ancient Mayan cities. There's also the North Acropolis, located north of the temple pyramids, that was a burial site for Tikal elite.
In July 2013, a group of archeologists led by a professor from Tulane University discovered a Mayan frieze in one of the pyramids near Guatemala City. Francisco Estrada-Belli is a National Geographic explorer who has been leading the Holmul Archeological Project in this region since 2000. According to the Institute of Maya Studies, the artwork was about 8 metres by 2 metres and included images of deities and rulers. The pyramid itself is more than 20 metres tall and was built during the seventh century.
The stucco frieze depicted three main characters who were adorned with jade and quetzal feathers. There was also a long inscription that wrapped around the base of the frieze. The Huffington Post explained how an epigraphist from Harvard University deciphered the 30-odd characters when the frieze was discovered.
"It's a great work of art that also gives us a lot of information on the role and significance of the building, which was the focus of our research," Estrada-Belli told The Huffington Post.
Copan - Honduras
Although European explorers documented the Copan ruins during the 1600s, exploration didn't begin until the 19th century. The city is named for a local chief named Copan Calel, who tried to lead his men against the Spanish settlers in 1530, according to Live Science. It was one of the most densely populated cities in Mayan history.
Copan is a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage site based on Outstanding Universal Value, the UNESCO site explained. The city's organization showed how it was the centre for politics, religion and culture within the Copan Valley. There's a main complex of ruins that contains secondary complexes, including several temples, plazas and altars. One of the five main plazas, Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, is home to the longest known Mayan inscription. When archeologists explored the acropolis in the southern area and the remaining public squares, they deduced that the city was rebuilt and reorganized in three developmental waves throughout a 400-year period.