Discover Mexico’s legendary past

Get to know the archaeological sites!

Archaeological sites represent the history of our ancestors and are an essential part of Mexico’s culture. They are places that preserve the millenary knowledge of ancient civilisations, surrounded by nature and hidden beauty.

We like them so much that we want everyone to know about them. Will you join me? Let’s get to know the most visited archaeological sites!

15. Xochicalco, Morelos

In the valley of Morelos lies a very enigmatic settlement, Xochicalco, which was a city built after the fall of Teotihuacán. Its name means “in the place of the house of flowers” in the Nahuatl language.

It was a place inhabited by different cultures, although its construction may show influences from Teotihuacán and the Maya culture. An example of this is the presence of the feathered serpents that adorn the place. 

xochicalco

The city was inhabited during the epiclassic period with a drainage system, water cisterns and even three ball game courts. They had a social system where people of lower social status lived on the lower floors and the higher floors for those of higher status, as well as temples and sacred places.

It has astronomical observatories that were made of stone, which were made with precision to coincide with the summer solstice. The builders had to pay attention to every detail as they were positioned on three limestone hills.

Location: Within the municipalities of Miacatlán and Temixco, in the western part of the state of Morelos, about 32 kilometres from the city of Cuernavaca.

Curious fact: They worshipped two gods, Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl. It has been discovered that its original name is Totolhuacalco, which means “place where birds are caught”.

14. Comalcalco, Tabasco

The municipality of Comalcalco is the cradle of chocolate, a very beautiful place where the secret of the Maya people is hidden. Comalcalco means “the house of the comal” in the Nahuatl language, it has a very interesting archaeological zone.

The materials with which it was built stand out, for example, the oyster shells and bricks are well-known in this enigmatic construction. It was the reason for the astonishment of a French explorer called Désiré Charnay in the year 1880. It was due to his writings that many specialists decided to discover the secrets of this place located in the middle of the jungle.

comalcalco

The site has a northern square, in which there are three altars that have not been explored, as well as the Great Acropolis in which we can find a temple, a palace, a sunken courtyard, and a crypt that can be accessed through one of the temples.

During Charnay’s expedition, a doctor and locals showed him many masks, vessels and bricks that were found in some sites and excavations in which detailed work was shown. He was able to see the similarity of them to those found in Palenque and Uxmal.

Location: On the northern part of Mexico, to the south with the municipalities of Cunduacán and Jalpa de Méndez, to the east with Paraíso and Jalpa de Méndez, to the west with the municipality of Cárdenas.

Curious fact: The original name of this place is Joy Chan, which translates as “rolled up sky”.

Discover: Cultura Activities

13. Cholula, Puebla

In the city of Puebla de Zaragoza, there is an archaeological zone that stands out for being built in a strategic place. A pre-Hispanic city called Cholula, which translates as “place of escape”.

The construction of this place belongs to the pre-classic period although it is known that it reached its peak until the classic period. Its structure has surpassed that of Teotihuacan or Cheops in Egypt since it has a 400-metre base on each side.

cholula

It has a great pyramid dedicated to the god of rain called Chicomenaquihuitl, who was worshipped by the Olmec Xicalanca, which is decorated with bright colors and is made of stucco. 

The structure also features two pre-Hispanic murals called “the mural of the drinkers” and “the mural of the grasshoppers”, placed on its mysterious tunnels. Can you imagine how they built those tunnels?

Near the site, there is a museum where you can find pieces found in this ancient city, as well as a small model of the site. 

Location: Seven kilometres west of Puebla de Zaragoza, capital of the Mexican state of Puebla. It is a federal zone located between the municipalities of San Pedro Cholula and San Andrés Cholula.

Curious fact: The great pyramid is called Tlachihualtepetl, which means “handmade hill“. The original name of this archaeological zone is Tollan-Cholollan-Tlachihualtepetl, which means “great city where the water falls in the place where the hill made of earth escapes”.

12. Calakmul, Campeche

From the beautiful city of Campeche, you will find a structure that will make you feel like an explorer surrounded by nature. This place has two structures that stand out in splendour among the jungle undergrowth. Pretty much as its name indicates, Calakmul, which means “two adjacent mounds”, in Mayan.

Researchers have mentioned that it belongs to the classic period, it has also been mentioned that its importance is similar to that of Palenque and Tikal; the latter being its rival for a long time. 

calakmul

Its structure is that of an urban city with unique temples, ceremonial centres and large residences. The grandeur of the precinct is proof of the political power of the people who lived there.

Proof of this is the 120 stelae that served as iconographies of the life of an individual found throughout the building. As well as the 6,000 structures among which we can find dwellings, ball games, palaces, and pyramids.

Location: The extreme southeast of the state of Campeche and a short distance from the border with Guatemala.

Curious fact: Some researchers mention that the original name of the place was “serpent’s head”.

11. Mitla, Oaxaca

Mitla is the second most important ceremonial centre in the state of Oaxaca, more specifically the Tlacolula Valley. It was inhabited after the fall of Monte Albán, the structures differ from the others due to the fretwork, which was built on the facades and lower walls with mosaics made of limestone rock.

There are five structures (south group, adobe group, stream group, column group and church group), which are very similar to each other and include a courtyard surrounded by stepped adobe foundations. How impressive!

mitla

The five structures were named for the one feature that differentiates them, the most preserved of which are called the church group and the column group. Although only the adobe group and south group were intended for ceremonial uses, the remaining three were organised palaces.

Location: The municipality of San Pablo Villa de Mitla, in the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Curious fact: The name Mictlán is of Nahuatl origin and means “place of the dead” or “underworld”. In Zapotec it’s called Lyobaa, which means “place of burials”, with the passing of time it became Mitlán in the Mexica language, with the arrival of the Spaniards it was transformed into Mitla.

10. Paquimé, Chihuahua

The archaeological site of Paquimé, located in the state of Chihuahua, is a unique structure built of adobe that can be seen through the rays of the sun.

It was part of the pueblo culture, which disappeared after the conquest without leaving many traces, inhabiting the southwestern part of the present-day United States and northern Mexico.

paquimé

It is known that it was a culture that adapted very well to the natural environment and had an economic structure, which is why it represents the most significant development in the Mexican area known as Oasisamerica.

Only half of the site has been excavated, of which we can mention that it has three houses. One is called the house of the ovens, which has nine rooms and two plazas. The house of the serpents, which has twenty-four rooms, three vestibules and three plazas. The house of the macaws, where 122 buried birds could be found and two ball games which are almost intact, as well as having steps. The ball games symbolise fertility and are therefore very important.

Location: Approximately 350 kilometres northwest of the city of Chihuahua and half a kilometre from the town of Casas Grandes.

Curious fact: Paquimé means in Opal “place of big houses”.

9. Bonampak, Chiapas

One of the most emblematic places of Chiapas is located in the Lacandon jungle, Bonampak, a place that was built during the classic period. Nowadays, it is more outstanding for its stone lintels and monuments than for its architecture.

It has a mural in good condition, showing the battles of its ruler Chan Muwan II, who had the military support of the neighbouring city of Yaxchilán, a fight that was won.

bonampak

The structures that you will find in this place are the Great Plaza and the Acropolis. In the first one you will find a stela that shows Chan Muwan dressed in his finery, while in the Acropolis we find three chambers containing murals of the battles and his process to reach triumph.

Throughout the place we can appreciate the vibrant colors that were made with cochineals, and plants extracting the color from them. The painters did a great job with it, being the mural of the musicians one of the most visited.

Location: In the heart of the Lacandon jungle.

Curious fact: Bonampak means “painted walls” in Mayan.

8. Monte Albán, Oaxaca

One of the most important cities in Mesoamerica is in the beautiful state of Oaxaca. Here, in Monte Albán, you can appreciate the influences of Teotihuacan due to its close relationship and the way of handling ceramics, painting and architecture. Besides, how not to mention the city’s relevance in the political, economic and religious areas. 

This Zapotec place, surrounded by mountains, stands out for the three sets that form the entire extension, they are called: Monte Albán, Atzompa and Gallo.

monte albán

Some of its buildings are:  La Gran Plaza, Juego de Pelota, System II, Los Danzantes, Building “J”, Central Buildings G.H.I., El Palacio, South Platform, amongst others. In one of the buildings called Danzantes, some Olmec influences can be seen in the features of the human figures found there. In the G.H.I. building, a jade mask for the bat god was found.

Precise astronomical calculations have been found, as well as almost intact offerings that have attracted the attention of many researchers.  

Location: 8 kilometres west of the city of Oaxaca de Juárez.

Curious fact: Its original name is unknown, although there are suggestions that it could be Danibaan or “Sacred Mountain”, “Hill of the Jaguar”, Danibéeje or “Hill of the Tiger”. Others mention that it could be the “white flowers on the hill”.

 7. Palenque, Chiapas

Palenque has been one of the cities of Chiapas that reached its peak during the classic period, as did Tikal and Calakmul due to its great imposition in political, economic and religious matters. All this due to the alliances and deals that it made to maintain the emblem glyph.

It is a site in the middle of a tropical climate characteristic of the jungles of Chiapas. Its Mayan inscriptions have been widely studied for being one of the earliest manifestations of writing in Mesoamerica with a logo-syllabic alphabet, and for its calendrical systems. How incredible!

palenque

The architectural details of the site are characterised by a large palace, which has many unique elements of Maya origin such as corridors, staggered foundations, underground murals and courtyards. In addition, it has temples called: Temple of the Inscriptions, Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Foliated Cross, and Temple of the Red Queen.

Each temple has its unique characteristics that make them very recognizable. The Temple of the Inscriptions functions as a burial chamber for Pakal II, ruler of Palenque. The Temple of the Cross has a cross-shaped plant sprouting from a ceiba tree, which many highlight its importance in the life of the Mayas.

In the Temple of the Foliated Cross, the same characteristics exist with the distinction that the plant in question is corn and has monuments that symbolise two high hierarchies. In the Temple of the Red Queen lay the remains of the wife of King Pakal.

Location: Near the city of Tuxtla Gutiérrez and San Cristóbal de las Casas.

Curious fact: The archaeological zone takes its name from a neighbouring place called Santo Domingo Palenque, which means “estacada” or “palisade”. Other names have also been used to refer to the ancient settlement: Na Chán “city of the serpents”, Ghochan “head or capital of the snakes”, Nacan, Ototiun “house of stone” and “sculpted serpent”, among others.

6. Tajín, Veracruz 

It’s the most important pre-Hispanic city of the State of Veracruz. This urban place belonging to the epiclassic period, is delimited by temples and slopes, decorated with mural paintings, and monuments.

It has a construction called “the pyramid of the niches” in which a total of 365 decorations were found, in which calendars about the cosmovision of the Mesoamericans can be studied.

tajín

The city of Tajín has 17 ball games, which have been investigated and interpreted as part of the need for entertainment and cultural diversity.

Location: Located in Papantla, it spans the basins of the Cazones and Tecolutla rivers from the Sierra Norte of Puebla.

Curious Fact: The name of the place means “City of Thunder” in Totonaca language. 

5. Uxmal, Yucatán 

An ancient city in the state of Yucatán, it was one of the northern Maya settlements. It is known that its construction began in the pre-classic period but it reached its splendour until the late classic period.

Among its main characteristics, we can highlight the horizontal palaces with square shapes decorated with mosaics that have been perfectly executed, which surprises many for their precision and beauty.

uxmal

In the area, you can see their devotion in the monuments, in which Chac, known as the rain god, was worshipped. Its most important buildings are the governor’s palace and the great pyramid.

Location: Southwest of Yucatán, in the Valley of Santa Elena. It is bounded to the north by the Sierrita de Ticul. It is located in the Puuc zone.

Fun Fact: The name Uxmal means “thrice built”.

 4. Cobá, Quintana Roo

The archaeological zone of Cobá is a settlement that allows us to explore part of the life of the Maya culture during the classic period. Here we can witness how they decided to live in a place with five lakes, which functioned as a water supply for their survival and development.

The structure of the whole place is connected by white roads called “sacbes”. When you arrive you will realise the magnitude of the largest structure it has, with 111 steps leading to the same place, the top of the pyramid.

cobá

Cobá was a quiet place in which its inhabitants only based their economy and life on agriculture and hunting, having small dwellings in the lake areas. With the passing of time, many new inhabitants arrived at the place and included small monuments and niches, incorporating themselves into the already existing constructions, until little by little everything was weakening until disappearing. 

This place is ideal for visiting cenotes, you can find many places around this magical place!

Curious fact: In the beginning, there were many doubts about the meaning of the name, it was concluded that the most accurate translation was that of “chopped water”.

Location: Southeast of Mexico, in the territory that is today the state of Quintana Roo, about ninety kilometres east of Chichén Itzá and about forty northwest of Tulum. When you reach the destination you will see a lake that bears the same name as the area.

3. Tulum, Quintana Roo

Tulum is a city located in the state of Quintana Roo and is currently one of the most popular tourist destinations and archaeological sites. It has an archaeological zone with the same name, a privileged place due to its location near the Caribbean Sea.

The conservation of its walls, buildings, and murals has attracted the attention of many travellers. Its structure is accompanied by five entrances and two towers to guard it. They date back to the classical period. Among its most important buildings are the castle, the temple of frescoes, and the palace. 

tulum

The temple of frescoes has murals depicting supernatural creatures belonging to the underworld. Other places you will find are the structures of the houses, each one named after its characteristic, such as “the house of the columns”, “the house of Halach Uinik” and “the house of the cenote”, in which you can see the importance of the hidden world of the cenotes.

A few metres from there you can find the temple of the god Kukulcán, known to be the god of the winds. 

Location: State of Quintana Roo, in the southeast of Mexico, on the coast of the Caribbean Sea.

Curious fact: Certain historical sources indicate that this place was called in the Mayan language “Zamá”, which means “morning” or “dawn”. The name Tulum, recently acquired, means “wall” or “palisade”, in allusion to the wall that is preserved here.

2. Chichén Itzá, Yucatán 

Chichén Itzá is one of the archaeological sites that can demonstrate the brilliance of the migratory movements of pre-Hispanic Mexico, as it preserves certain characteristics of both the Maya and central Mexico.

It is a very visited and investigated archaeological zone, due to the enigmas that it keeps. One of the characteristics that make it important is the natural phenomenon of lights and shadow that is created during the spring equinox where, in the pyramid denominated as The Castle, it can be observed the descent of a figure known as “the feathered serpent”.

Read :10 things you must know to better prepare your visit to Chichen-Itzá

chichen-itzá

The astronomical and architectural advances that the Mayas possessed have impressed the experts, aside from its territorial policy, organization and exploitation of resources that impresses the visitors.

In the whole enclosure one feels the aura of an enigma, the place has an observatory called “the snail”, a ball game, a temple of the thousand columns. 

One of the most significant findings was a sacred cenote in which sacrificial rites were performed with maidens and prisoners of war as offerings to the gods. This place seems to be bottomless. 

Curious fact: The name of this place means “the city at the edge of the well of the Itzaes”.

Location: East of Yucatán, on the road to Cancun.

1. Teotihuacán, Mexico State 

Mexico’s most visited archaeological sites is the legendary Teotihuacán, one of the largest urban centres in the world. Located in an area with many natural resources, it was able to play its splendor being one of the most influential cities in all aspects, economically, religiously, politically, commercially and culturally. 

It dates back to the pre-Hispanic classic period, it was established as the most complex Mesoamerican society. It is also worth mentioning that it was one of the most influential archaeological zones, in comparison to other cities such as Monte Albán and Tikal.

teotihuacan

Its importance in history is well-known even by our ancestors, since many Aztec rulers used to go to this place as they considered it sacred to celebrate rites and pray. Can you imagine?

The most emblematic places in the city are the pyramid of the Sun and the pyramid of the Moon; both had an important purpose. The first one represented birth and the second one was a place where skeletons and offerings could be found, that is why many believe that it symbolised death.

The dwellings of the site are called the causeway of the dead, which is approximately 40 metres wide and 4 km long. Wow, how incredible!

They also had a 40-hectare courtyard that was used for political and religious purposes. It looks like they lived a life of luxury, can you imagine having so much space?

As you continue walking you will find a palace called the palace of the Quetzal, where the high priests in charge of the most important rites lived. The murals of the enclosure are part of the decorations that have allowed us to perceive its importance in the culture. 

Continuing with the tour you will find the Temple of Quetzalcoatl in which 200 skeletons of warriors are buried in a ceremonial way. Mosaics and precious stones also adorn the place. If you wish to see murals accompanied by shells and feathers, don’t forget to visit the courtyard of the jaguars.

Curious fact: The name Teotihuacán means “place where the gods were made; city of the gods” in the Nahuatl language. 

Location: Northeast of the Valley of Mexico, in the municipalities of Teotihuacán and San Martín de las Pirámides.

The archaeological sites represent the life of our ancestors, their way of understanding the world around them and today, they continue to be important for the legacy of Mexico. Their traditions and customs continue to be told and impress many. Their constructions have changed with the passing of time, they have been restored and laws have been created in order not to damage them and to preserve them with the respect they deserve.

If you decide to visit them, we ask that you honour them for all the life they have housed and for how important they are in the heart of every Mexican. They are the root of the variety that exists in Mexico, without them, we lose our history and identity. 

Don’t forget to wear comfortable clothes and shoes on this great expedition through the archaeological sites of ancient Mexico.

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Read: How to get to Chichen-Itzá?