Route of the Maya

May 29, 2024
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Belize, Guatemala, Latin America, Mexico

The Latin Routes team takes you through the sites of the mystical Maya empire

The Maya civilisation was one of the most influential Mesoamerican cultures, and their territory spanned present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. The Mayas had the only known fully developed written language in pre-Columbian America and constructed fascinating stepped pyramids and palaces built for Maya rulers.

Though the Maya southern lowlands declined around the 9th century and were abandoned for reasons still debated among scholars, the Northern Maya cities continued to flourish until the Spanish conquest in 1520. Their legacy remains strong in the cultural heritage of Belize, Guatemala, and Mexico, where Maya roots and influence can be admired in these regions’ architecture, art, and traditions.

Many of our travel experts were lucky enough to have visited this incredible part of the world, taking in centuries of history and taking on big climbs to the top of ancient temples to get a view of the gods! In this blog, we take you on a trip through some of the main archaeological sites along the Maya route.

The misty glow of Tikal, Guatemala
The misty sunrise glow of Tikal, Guatemala

Maya Mexico

Mexico’s Maya territory once stretched from the modern-day state of Chiapas in the southwest to Quintana Roo’s border with Belize in the southeast, comprising multiple key Maya cities.

Alex on a day visit to Chichen Itza
Alex on a day visit to Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza

Located in the Yucatán Peninsula, the famous Chichen Itza was a major Maya city and a centre of political, religious, and economic activity. It’s famous for its impressive pyramid, El Castillo (The Castle), or ‘Kukulkan’. Our marketing executive Lewis enjoyed a night tour of Chichen Itza, which promises an exciting show full of history and beautiful light effects.

Lewis commented: “Projected onto the Pyramid of Kukulkan, the 30-minute light and sound show is a great spectacle to witness how impressive the Maya civilisation really was”.

A collage of the evening displays Lewis enjoyed at Chichen Itza
A collage of the evening displays Lewis enjoyed at Chichen Itza


Located in the Puuc region of Yucatán, Uxmal features well-preserved buildings with elaborate facades.

Our product executive Hannah visited this site, saying: “ Seeing Uxmal Maya pyramid was a real highlight. We went late in the afternoon, and there was hardly anyone else there. We stood in front of the pyramid and clapped, the echo sounded like the call of a blue quetzal! We also experienced a traditional Maya house where we had a cookery lesson, including grinding spices for the recado blanco rub and slow cooking chicken in a pib, and making a pumpkin seed and tomato dip called sikilpac. It was also really nice to interact with the family too.”

Hannah enjoying the delights of Uxmal
Hannah enjoying the delights of Uxmal


In the verdant state of Chiapas, Palenque is known for its stunning architecture and intricate carvings, particularly in the Temple of the Inscriptions. Lewis visited the site and said: “I loved taking in the green and rolling hills of Chiapas on the way to Palenque, and from the moment you arrive, you realise these forest-shrouded temples were built on a very impressive scale.”

Lewis' view of the site of Palenque
Lewis’ view of the site of Palenque


Buried deep in the state of Campeche, Calakmul was one of the most powerful Maya cities, rivaling Tikal in its influence during the Classic Period.

Lewis also visited this site and shared his take on it: “Calakmul really brings out your inner Indiana Jones! It feels more remote and untouched than other popular Maya sites, and the jungle stretches as far as the eye can see at the top of some of the huge temples we climbed. Taking in the panoramic vistas, I was joined by dragonflies buzzing all around me to add to the sense of awe and adventure in this ancient wonderland“.

Maya Belize

The Maya civilisation flourished in Belize from around 2000 BCE to the 16th century CE, with major Maya sites in Belize including Cahal Pech, Caracol, Xunantunich, Altun Ha, and Lamanai. This Belizean Maya area was an important trading centre and had connections with other Maya cities throughout the region. The tallest structure in the country, ‘Canaa’ in Caracol, has a height of 141 feet. Here are some of the best Maya sites to visit during your stay in Belize.


The name “Xunantunich” means “Stone Woman” in the Yucatec Maya language, named after a local legend of a ghostly apparition of a woman seen at the site. The site includes six plazas surrounded by more than 25 temples and palaces. Xunantunich is notable for its well-preserved friezes and stelae, which depict rulers and deities and provide valuable historical and iconographic information.

Cat's photo of the detailed carvings
Cat’s photo of the detailed carvings

Our senior product manager Cat visited this site and said: “Xunantunich is an incredible Maya archaeological site that draws very few crowds, so it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. The stone structures are so impressive and provide incredible views of the surrounding jungle as well as being a great viewpoint to observe howler monkeys, toucans and other wildlife around the complex.”

Cat loving life in Xunantunich
Cat loving life in Xunantunich

Cahal Pech

Cahal Pech is an ancient Maya archaeological site located in the Cayo District of Belize. The site is situated near the town of San Ignacio, atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Mopan and Macal rivers. Cahal Pech is one of the oldest Maya sites in Belize, with evidence of habitation dating back to around 1200 BCE during the Middle Preclassic period.

Our travel specialist Alex visited Cahal Pech and commented: “A short 20-minute walk out of the centre of San Ignacio is the Cahal Pech Maya complex which is less visited than nearby Xunantunich but almost just as impressive with the towering ruins hidden in the dense jungle. You can climb them too! I went for sunset and was practically the only one there. It is an amazing place to feel the immensity of the great Maya civilisation.

Alex's view of the Cahal Pech site
Alex’s view of the Cahal Pech site


Lamanai is one of the most fascinating and well-preserved Maya archaeological sites in Belize, known for its rich history, impressive structures, and scenic location. “Lamanai” means “Submerged Crocodile” in the Maya language, reflecting the site’s proximity to the New River Lagoon and the significance of crocodiles in Maya culture. It was continuously occupied for over 3,000 years, from around 1500 BCE to 1680 CE, making it one of the longest-occupied Maya sites.

Lamani carvings
Lamani carvings

Maya Guatemala

Guatemala was at the heart of the ancient Maya civilisation, and has the highest concentration of Maya ruins in the world. Major Maya sites in Guatemala include Tikal, El Mirador, Quiriguá, and Uaxactun.
Tikal, one of the most iconic Maya cities, was the epicentre of Maya culture and power. It flourished during the Classic Period (200-900 CE) and played a significant role in the Maya world. Read on to find out more.

Views of Tikal from a height
Views of Tikal from a height


Tikal is one of the most iconic and extensively studied Maya archaeological sites, located in the Petén Basin region of northern Guatemala. Known for its monumental architecture, rich history, and significance in the ancient Maya civilisation, Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a major tourist attraction. The tallest structure at Tikal is Temple IV, standing about 230 feet tall, offering stunning views of the surrounding rainforest and other temple tops.

Lewis captures the view looking up at Tikal's major temple
Lewis captures the view looking up at Tikal’s major temple

Alex also visited Tikal and said: “For me, Tikal is by far the most impressive of the Mayan ruins in the whole of Central America. Hidden in the jungle among the howler monkeys and amazing birdlife, you feel like you’re discovering the temples for the first time. I would highly recommend the Tikal sunset tour where not only do you experience one of the most amazing sunsets, but also get to hear the jungle’s wildlife come alive at night.”

Alex at the site of Tikal
Alex at the site of Tikal


Uaxactun is an ancient Maya city located in the Petén Basin region of northern Guatemala, within the modern-day department of Petén. It is one of the oldest known Maya archaeological sites, with a history that spans several millennia. Once rivaling Tikal, it also contains the oldest astronomical observatory in Mesoamerica. The complex includes a set of pyramids and other structures aligned to mark solstices and equinoxes, indicating advanced knowledge of astronomy among the Maya.


El Mirador

El Mirador is often described as a “super city” of the Preclassic period, with its peak around 300 BCE to 150 CE. The city covers an area of about 16 square kilometers and features some of the largest pyramid structures in the Maya world. It has the largest cluster of buildings on any Maya site, and standing tall alongside El Tigre, is the biggest pyramid of the Maya, La Danta, which stands about 236 feet high, making it one of the tallest pyramids in the world by total volume.

Massive Maya temple at El Mirador, Peten
Massive Maya temple at El Mirador, Peten


Located in the Izabal Department of southeastern Guatemala, Quirigua is a major testimony to the Maya civilisation, with outstanding monuments and stelae carved in sandstone. Stela E, for example, stands at over 10 meters (35 feet) high and is one of the tallest stone monuments in the Americas.

Views of the Stela in Quirigua
Views of the Stela in Quirigua


Honduras is home to significant Maya archaeological sites, with Copán being the most renowned.


Described by some as the “Paris of the Maya world”, Copán was a major Classic period Maya city, flourishing from the 5th to 9th centuries CE. It served as the political and cultural center of the Copán Valley and had extensive influence over the surrounding regions. It served as the political and cultural center of the Copán Valley and had extensive influence over the surrounding regions. Key structures include the Acropolis, the Hieroglyphic Stairway, the Ball Court, and several pyramids and temples. This monumental stairway contains the longest known Maya inscription, with over 2,000 glyphs detailing the history of the Copán dynasty.

Steps of Copán
Steps of Copán

Ready to book your trip to Mexico, Belize or Guatemala? Get in touch with one of our specialists today on 020 3820 0885, or complete the enquiry form to get in touch.


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