The Maya migrated to Yucatán in 2500 BC and constructed their intricate and sacred pyramids, palaces, and plazas between 300 and 900 BC. Placement and design of the Maya’s most well-known creations are more than they first appear as they play with light, shadows, and numbers and tell stories of the Mayan gods. Today, these brilliant structures still stand strong, providing travelers a glimpse of ancient Mayan culture.
Many of Yucatán’s important archaeological locations are designated UNESCO World Heritage sites, including the well-known Mayan cities of Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, which were built to contain a ceremonial center with pyramid temples, courts for a ritualistic Mesoamerican ballgame, and compounds for the elite. The creation of these sites involved craft specialization and Neolithic technology to incorporate art forms like paintings and sculptures. More often than not, these centers also had a connection with the sun, given the star’s important role in Mayan culture with the equinoxes and solstices holding key dates in the calendar for corn cultivation.
Temple of Kukulkan is the most recognizable structure within Chichén Itzá, one of the greatest Mayan centers of Yucatán. “Kukulkan,” the name of a Mayan snake deity, means “Feathered Serpent.” Travelers can see why the pyramid is so aptly named during the spring and fall equinoxes when the shadow cast by the angle of the sun on the edges of the pyramid steps creates the illusion of a massive serpent descending the pyramid. Adding to the pyramid’s complexity, this sacred structure demonstrates the accuracy and importance of Mayan astronomy. The temple has 365 steps — one for each day of the year – with the temple’s four sides each having 91 steps and the top platform representing the 365th step.
Pyramid of the Magician is the tallest structure within Uxmal, one of the few archaeological sites that visitors can still climb and is located a little more off the beaten path. According to ancient legend, the pyramid was built in one night by Itzamna, the Mayan god of magic. Archaeologists say the structure actually appears to have been built in five phases and is situated so its western stairway faces the setting sun at the summer solstice. The Pyramid of the Magician is one of the most distinctive Mayan structures because of its rounded sides, steep slope, and unusual elliptical base. Climb a few of the nearby structures during the summer solstice and take in sweeping views of forest landscape and other ancient structures like la Gran Pirámide (Grand Pyramid) and Casa de las Tortugas (House of the Turtles).
El Torre is one of the largest Mayan structures in the state of Yucatán and is the most striking feature within the Ek Balam (Black Jaguar) archaeological site. Its dimensions amaze archaeologists as it measures more than 500 ft. long, 200 ft. wide and 100 ft. high. The massive tower is home to some of the most decorative and intricate design motifs visible in the region, featuring full figure, highly detailed statues, paintings, and murals that decorate the tomb of Ek Balam’s powerful ruler Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok. Ek Balam has an astounding 45 structures surrounded by two concentric stone walls linking almost all of the other central buildings. Like most of the Mayan sites, there is a link to astronomy. Inside the walls, roads stem off the center in the four cardinal directions, an architectural allusion to the idea of a “four-part cosmos”.
Visiting these archeological sites and others throughout Mexico is easier than ever with the newly launched AeroMayan Pass. Aeromar now offers three versions of the AeroMayan Pass to make it easier for visitors to explore Mundo Maya (the Mayan World) of Southern Mexico, specifically the distinctive Mayan cities located in Cancún, Mérida, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tuxtla, Villahermosa and others. Packages are available in quantities of five (US$425), 10 (US$800), or 15 (US$1,125) flight segments, with prices inclusive of taxes and fees. Travelers can design their own itinerary and can schedule travel up to 24 hours before flight times, subject to availability of seats with no additional charges when booking. These packages are valid for stays from seven to 45 days from first day of use. For more information, visit www.aeromar.com.mx/aeromayanpass.
For additional ways to visit Yucatán or to view a full list of tour packages, visit www.gotoyucatan.com/tour-packages
Photo: Hacienda Temozon - Yucatan, Mexico