Peering into the Past: 7 Mayan Cities Lost to Time

01 JUL 2015
by: Adam | posted in: Adventure, Educational, Project Expedition | comments: 0
Buried in the thick undergrowth of Central America’s jungles lies a hint of what used to be. The Mayan Civilization once flourished across Central America, but especially in what we know today as Guatemala and Belize. To provide some perspective, modern day Belize has a population of around 370,000, but at the peak of Mayan Civilization, there were nearly 1 million people here! This makes Central America an awesome destination for those adventurous travelers who want to travel in time to a lost age of mystery and excitement in the jungle. Though the journey won’t always be easy, you can discover the magic of the ancient Mayans through these 7 sites that leave us echoes of their amazing civilization.



Tikal National Park is possibly the finest Mayan site in all of Central America. It is a giant historic region in the Guatemalan rainforest that covers over 220 square miles and thousands of ruined buildings, many of which stick up through the jungle canopy. The Mayan people settled in Tikal around 900 BC and made it into a giant, powerful city that ruled a large part of the region. This UNESCO World Heritage site lets us immerse ourselves in the Mayan culture and easily imagine what it must have been like to live here in its glory days. Among the treasures you must visit here is the iconic El Jaguar Temple. This stunning pyramid is regarded as the main structure in Tikal and is a place you will never forget seeing. Every day there are tourists from all over the planet who head to Tikal in order to climb up the pyramids and soak up the feeling of being in such a magical setting. It takes around an hour to get out here from Flores on a tour, with a well paved road running between the two places.



This was another of the great Mayan cities in what is now Guatemala, although it is perhaps less well known than Tikal these days. The incredible setting here is again deep inside the jungle, with more than 500 Mayan structures to be explored. The ruined city of Yaxhá overlooks the lake of the same name and was an important ceremonial center when in its splendor. Here, you will see temples, altars and a network of paths that connect the buildings and lead down to the lake. A walk round this city is great fun but is also hard work due to the jungle climate and the large number of steps. If you get the chance to see the sun set over Lake Yaxhá then you would be crazy not to do so. Whatever you do, don't forget to take your camera here with you for your most incredible selfie of the year. Good roads here lead you easily to the border and to other exciting Mayan sites nearby.



One of the finest adventurous destinations in all of Belize is the stunning ruined settlement of Lubaantán. This is now a laidback tourist attraction in an awesome jungle setting. It is best known for the famous crystal skull that some people claim was uncovered here, although this amazing discovery is still shrouded in mystery. Apart from that, it is well known for the ceramic objects such as charm stones found here. Lubaantán also has 3 courts that were used by the Mayans for playing their popular ball game on. It is possible to stand here and imagine how the locals played their favorite sport in this atmospheric city all those centuries ago. The mysterious air in this place is added to by its intriguing history, as it is said that it was completely abandoned not long after being built. Despite it being such a cool, remote feeling place, getting here isn't hard at all. You can get here from a base at Punta Gorda without any hassles.



Any city whose name translates as “submerged crocodile” has got to be worth a visit. Thankfully, a trip to Lamanai offers far more for adventurous tourists than just a cool name. This abandoned Mayan city in the north of Belize includes such fascinating structures as the Jaguar Temple, the Mask Temple and the High Temple. Not to be missed is the chance to climb up to the top of the High Temple for a view of the jungle that will take your breath away. Crocodiles, exotic birds and monkeys are among the types of wildlife you will see or hear in this part of Central America. This site isn't yet fully excavated, so it is one of the most thrilling Mayan cities, with a hint of danger and undiscovered treasures hanging over it. The most interesting way to arrive here is on a fairly long boat trip up the New River. Orange Walk Town is the best place for a base in this region but you can also get out here from Belize City on a tour.

El Ceibal

el ceibal

The majestic Mayan ruins at El Ceibal are among the most important archeological sites in Central America right now. As it is still being excavated, interesting details of the civilization that lived here are still being made on a regular basis. This astonishing tourist destination offers the chance to delve deep into Guatemala, with the site close to the Pasión River in dense tropical rainforest. You can live out your dreams of adventures and action in this incredible place while feeling far from the modern world. From Flores you can expect to travel an hour by bus and then an hour and a half by boat to get to this very special place.

Altun Ha

This Mayan site is close enough to the Caribbean Sea and to Belize City to make it highly accessible even on a short trip to Belize. It is also relatively small in size, making it simple to explore. Interestingly, this stunning ancient city was only investigated by archeologists from the 1960s onwards. Unlike many of the top Mayan sites here, it is set in a dry tropical zone. Among the things to look out for here is the amazing Sun God's Tomb, as this is where the body of a Mayan was found together with a large number of possessions. This is an easy trip for someone who wants to mix the pleasure of Belize City with some great times exploring the region's rich history. You can expect a trip from Belize City to Altun Ha to take an hour and a half or so.

El Mirador


If you want to get off the beaten track and see a part of Central America that few tourists get to experience then you should make a trip out to El Mirador in Guatemala. The remote setting here means that it is only the most adventurous visitors who get to set their eyes on this ruined city. If you decide to head out here you can expect the fun to start with getting here in the first place. Once you arrive you will see one of the biggest and oldest Mayan sites of all. In fact, some of the world's biggest pyramids can also be seen here. There are plans to make it more easily accessible for tourists, so catch it in its pure and completely unspoiled state while you can. You will want to visit this ancient city on a multi day trip, either trekking or traveling on horseback.


These ruins may be ancient, but age has been kind to them. The years spent hidden away in remote stretches of jungle have made these remnants of the great Mayan civilization some of the most unforgettable sights in Central America. Now's your chance to get out and explore what once was, as for the first time in a long time, these sites are right within our reach.

(Cover Photo Ref)
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