Exploring the Past in Mexico

Mexico, part of the Mesoamerican cultural area, is well known for the spectacular pyramids and other monumental ceremonial centres of the Olmecs, Mayans and Aztecs. These dominant sites should not be allowed to overshadow the amazing rock art traditions of older hunting and gathering communities, which can be visited at various locations around the country.

Must See Archaeology Sites in Mexico

Southern view of the stepped pyramid in Acanceh, Mexico.


Modern-day Acanceh is built on top of an ancient Mayan city that reached its height during the Early Classic period. Although much remains un-excavated, the ancient city's stepped pyramid and Palace of the Stuccoes have been conserved, are open to the public and are well worth a visit.

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Mayan paintings depicting musicians at Bonampak, Mexico.


Despite being smaller and less monumental than many other Mayan urban centres, Bonampak is known for its Temple of the Murals. The extremely well preserved paintings depict daily life and the ritual activities of the royal court, and offer a unique insight into Classic Mayan society.

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The Temple of Kukulcan in the centre of the Mayan city of Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Chichén Itzá

Attracting 1.2 million tourists every year, Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. Once a great centre of Maya civilisation, it now survives as a series of monumental platforms, temples, and a grand ballcourt. It was conquered by the Spanish in 1534 AD.

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A Mayan Ball Court at Cobá, Mexico.


The ruined Mayan city of Coba can be visited in the jungles of southeastern Mexico, where several large temple pyramids and a series of ceremonial trackways remain visible. Although local Maya communities never forgot about the crumbling city, it only came to the attention of archaeologists in the 1920s.

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The distinctive Temple Redondo at Mayapan, Mexico.


The ruins of Mayapán represent the remnants of one of the greatest Mayan cities, with over 4,000 structures contained within the city walls. Among them impressive temples, palaces and an observatory. The city was abandoned in the 15th century, and has been researched by archaeologists since the 1930s.

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The Mayan Temple of the Inscriptions at Palenque, Mexico.


Although smaller than many of the other great Mayan cities, Palenque stands out for its well preserved ruins. Monumental stone temples and palaces, with many fine carvings and architectural features, have fascinated travellers since the 18th century. It became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1987.

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The ruined structure known as Los Murcielagos at the Mayan site of San Gervasio, Mexico.

San Gervasio

Known by the Mayans as Tantun Cazumil, this site was a centre of pilgrimage for worshippers of a goddess associated with fertility and the moon. Although lacking the monumentality of other Mayan sites, San Gervasio was an important ritual centre. Now in a state park populated by an iguana colony.

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Looking down the Avenue of the Dead at Teotihuacan, Mexico.


The "Place where the gods were made" was not only one of the largest pre-Hispanic cities in Mesoamerica, but also one of the largest urban centres anywhere in the ancient world. Known for the vast size and number of its monuments, including the Temple of Quetzalcoatl and the Pyramids of the Sun and the Moon.

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Ruins of the Temple Pyramid known as El Castillo at Tulum, Mexico.


With picturesque views overlooking the Caribbean Sea, the cliff-side ruins of impressive temples were once part of a port. Decimated following the Spanish conquest, archaeological investigation and conservation in the 20th century have turned this site into one of Mexico's foremost tourist attractions.

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A view across the Mayan city of Uxmal, Mexico.


One of the great cities of the Mayan civilisation, Uxmal was the capital of a powerful city-state in Mesoamerica's Late Classic era. The site is within walking distance of three hotels and a small museum, where visitors can see well-preserved palaces, temples and ceremonial track-ways.

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Must See Museums in Mexico

One of many displays of pre-Hispanic artefacts in the National Museum of Anthropology, Mexico City.

National Museum of Anthropology

Opened in 1964, the Museo Nacional de Antropología contains the archaeological and anthropological collections of from Mexico's pre-Hispanic times. These include artefacts and objects from all the major Mesoamerican sites in Mexico, including the Aztec Stone of the Sun and the giant stone heads of the Olmec.

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The opulent Neoclassical interior of the National Museum of Art, Mexico City.

National Museum of Art

Founded in 1982 the Museo Nacional de Arte is situated in the heart of Mexico City. It now occupies a neoclassical building that was once the Palace of Communications. The museum houses a large collection of art showcasing the history of Mexican art from the 16th to the mid 20th century.

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An aerial view of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from the Torre Latinoamericana, Mexico City.

Palace of Fine Arts

The Palacio de Bellas Artes was built to commemorate the Mexican War of Independence in 1910, but only completed in 1934. The interior decor is primarily Art Deco, while the striking exterior is Neoclassical and Art Nouveau. The palace is one of Mexico City's leading cultural centres.

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Photograph credits

Acanceh - HJPD; Bonampak - Stephen McCluskey; Cobá - Laslovarga; San Gervasio - Puchku

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