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Lara’s Travels: Maya Ruins of Southern Mexico (Part 1)

If you enjoyed exploring the Maya ruins of southern Mexico in Tomb Raider: Underworld, you might be interested to know that you can explore real Maya ruins from the comfort of your home by taking one of the virtual tours mentioned below. Whilst they are no substitute for the real thing, they’re a fantastic way to familiarize yourself with the major Maya sites of Mexico’s southern states if you can’t afford to travel there.

Let’s start by exploring two of the Maya sites of the Yucatán Peninsula: Chichén Itzá and Tulum.


Chichén Itzá:

Chichén Itzá is one of the best-known Maya cities and one of Mexico’s most visited archaeological sites, attracting over a million visitors every year. The city dates back to the Late Classic Period (600-900 AD) and it became a regional capital of the northern Maya lowlands sometime in the 10th century. The variety of architectural styles seen at Chichén Itzá suggests that the city may have been a centre of cultural diversity as a result of either the migration of or conquest by peoples from central Mexico.

There are numerous points of interest at Chichén Itzá. These include the Temple of Kukulkan (dedicated to Kukulkan, the Maya feathered serpent deity who is closely related to the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl), the El Caracol (“Snail”) observatory, the Temple of the Warriors, and the Great Ball Court, the largest of Chichén Itzá’s thirteen ballcourts. Maya ballgames were highly ritualistic and while the rules and symbolism of the game are not fully understood, it is thought that the two opposing teams represented the duality of night and day, life and death. Late Maya art and religious texts suggest that the losing team were decapitated after the game, a high price to pay for defeat.

Chichén Itzá is also home to the Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado), a “well of sacrifice” that played an important role in Maya ritual. The Maya believed that cenotes were entrances to the Underworld, or Xibalba (“The Place of Fear”), and human victims were occasionally thrown into these pits as sacrificial offerings to the rain god Chaac to appease the deity and pray for good rains and bountiful harvests. Archaeologists have recovered a wide variety of artefacts from the Sacred Cenote over the years, including weapons, idols, jewellery, and precious artefacts made of jade and gold. The latter suggest that the Sacred Cenote was a place of pilgrimage as none of these materials were native to the Yucatán, perhaps brought to Chichén Itzá by visitors from other parts of the Maya world. The bones of over a hundred individuals have been recovered from this watery grave and it’s thought that the majority of these “sacrificial offerings” were prepubescent boys. Anthropologists are not entirely sure why the Maya chose to sacrifice young boys but they mostly agree that human sacrifice was only carried out in times of dire need (e.g. severe drought, famine, natural disasters). This, of course, would be little consolation to the victims.

If you’d like to take a virtual tour of Chichén Itzá, click here (Google Maps), here (Look at Chichen Itza)here (360 Cities) or here (PataWalk).

El Caracol observatory at Chichén Itzá (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)



Tulum is a fortress and port on the eastern coast of the Yucatán Peninsula and is thought to be one of the last cities to be built and inhabited by the Maya. Its proximity to some of Mexico’s top beach resorts make it one of the most popular tourist attractions in the Yucatán and its relatively small size make it perfect for a quick visit. The main points of interest are the Castillo (“castle”), the Temple of the Frescoes, the Temple of the Descending God, and the God of Winds Temple which guards the entrance to the bay. As Tulum faces east towards the rising sun, it was also referred to as Zama, the “City of Dawn”, and archaeologists believe that the Temple of Frescoes was built as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun, though, strangely, little is known about Maya solar rituals.

A number of cenotes, or sinkholes, can be found around the archaeological site and are popular diving spots. One of the most sinister-sounding cenotes is Cenote Calavera, or “The Cenote of the Skull”, named after the human skull that can be found deep inside the underwater cave and nicknamed “The Temple of Doom” by the local tour guides. A visit to the “Temple of Doom” is certainly not something for the faint-hearted!

Virtual tours of the Tulum site can be found here (Google Maps),  here (360 Cities), here (PataWalk) and here (Recorridos Virtuales).

Templo del Dios Viento at Tulum (Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)


In the second part of Lara’s Travels: Maya Ruins of Southern Mexico, we will continue exploring the Maya world and visit the ancient cities of Calakmul and Dzibilchaltún.

NOTE: If you visit the Google Maps or 360 Cities sites, don’t be afraid to click on the arrows and “explore” your virtual surroundings.

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About Kelly M (328 Articles)
A Gibraltarian-born blogger, gamer, and archaeology enthusiast with a passion for languages, wildlife conservation, and East Asian cultures. Tweets under the username @TombRaiderArch.

1 Comment on Lara’s Travels: Maya Ruins of Southern Mexico (Part 1)

  1. Reblogged this on The Amateur Archaeologist.


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