Many people staying in Mexico, keen to see an ancient Mayan site will head straight for the famous Chichen Itza. While this is undoubtedly one of the most impressive of the Mayan remains in the country, it is also one of the most visited.
Large crowds can often detract from the experience of exploring a historical site, which is why it's well worth doing a bit of research before you jet off on your holiday to Mexico to see if you can make it to any of the lesser-known Mayan attractions.
Here we’ve done the research for you, so if you want to escape the crowds, consider one or two of the following to uncover some of the country's heritage without being surrounded by throngs of tourists:
- Admire the Jaguar Temple in Balamku
- Climb up Edzna’s five-level pyramid
- Gaze in awe at the Temple of Murals in Bonampak
Balamku is located in the Mexican state of Campeche and is a fantastic example of a Mayan city. What makes it particularly exciting to explore is the fact that it's still surrounded by thick jungle cover, so you really will feel a bit like Indiana Jones as you wander around the complex.
Its most impressive feature is the Jaguar Temple - a 53-foot-long structure that is beautifully decorated by engravings of jaguars, serpents and a saurian. The friezes depict Mayan beliefs relating to the underworld, Earth and the transition between the two.
Also in the Campeche region is Edzna - one of the most important archaeological sites in the Yucatan peninsula. This was once a thriving Mayan city with an estimated population of 70,000 people. Edzna is a large complex where you can see an array of buildings, including temples, an amphitheatre and a huge five-level pyramid.
If you climb to the top of this pyramid, you'll have outstanding views over the rest of the city and can get a good idea of its scale. While you're exploring here look out for the ball court and the city's complex canal system too.
Our final suggestion is Bonampak, an archaeological site that was first explored in 1946 - in fact, much of it has yet to be uncovered from the Lacandona Jungle that surrounds it. What makes Bonampak stand out is its Temple of Murals, where intricate paintings depicting battles line the walls.
As well as the amazing temple and its frescoes, you can also discover the acropolis, which is the only other building to have been extensively excavated.
These amazing places will fill you with awe and questions as they did with explorer and travel-writer John Lloyd Stephens in 1840 when recounting his explorations in Central America said:
"We sat down on the very edge of the wall, and strove in vain to penetrate the mystery by which we were surrounded. Who were the people that built this city? In the ruined cities of Egypt, even in the long-lost Petra, the stranger knows the story of the people whose vestiges are around him. America, say historians, was peopled by savages; but savages never reared these structures, savages never carved these stones. We asked the Indians who made them, and their dull answer was 'Quien sabe?' (Who knows?)"
If you enjoyed our brief guide to Mexico’s top lesser known Mayan attractions, don’t miss our next travel advice post, where we’ll be revealing Vietnam´s top natural attractions.