Intro: Visit to the Maya World or Mundo Maya

Hundreds of ruined archaeological Maya sites lay shattered over the former Maya World. Remnants of what once was one of the World’s greatest civilizations – el Mundo Maya – and one by one worth a visit.

The Maya’s lived – and still live! – in the southern part of Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, parts of Honduras & El Salvador.

The former Maya World or Mundo Maya, with mayor sites to visit
The former Maya World or Mundo Maya, with the mayor cities

Most of the Maya sites are small, hidden, or … still not found. Others are world famous. Visited by thousands of visitors every year, if not millions. 

So far I have visited more then twenty Maya sites. And hoping to visit many more in the future. 

The “Old World” civilizations

Over the years, I have visited ruined cities in many different countries. Like for example the Greek & Roman remains you’ll find in most countries of Europe. The continent I was born on (To know a little more about me, click….. About Me!). 

Together with a few others we can call these the “Old World” civilizations. Known to men before the so called Discovery of the Americas, or the “New World”.

The “New World” civilizations

In the Americas – the continent I’m living on for almost 30 years now – there are also many old excavations. However, there are two areas on the continent that stand out.

First of all, there’s the former Inca territory. That is, the Western Andes region of South America, mainly Peru.

  • Besides many former Inca cities, you’ll find a lot of Pre-Inca sites in this region. Peru even houses the oldest civilization found on the continent so far
  • The civilization is named Caral and knew its heyday approximately from 3000 – 1800 B.C. A time period that corresponds with a blooming time for the Egyptians, but long before the Greeks & Romans.

Another region were you’ll find old remains of many different civilizations is Mesoamerica. An area that which covers today’s Mexico & large parts of Central America.

In the northern & central part of Mexico I visited famous sites like Teotihuacán, Tenochtitlán, Cholula, La Quemada, El Tajín and Monte Alban.

Photo of a visit to Teotihuacán, near Mexico City.. no part of the Mundo Maya, although connected.
One of the main attractions near Mexico City, the old city Teotihuacán. Visited by millions every year.
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A unique civilization – the Mundo Maya

For me though, nothing compares to the Maya civilization. The beauty of the former Maya cities. Mostly the Classic sites in the central part of the former Maya area. To name a few: Palenque, Copán, Tikal, Yaxchilán, Chichén Itzá, and Tulum.

Palenque, one of the most visited cities of the Mundo Maya
Palenque, Chiapas, Mexico

It’s really an honor every time I visit the Mundo Maya. It was even a greater honor to have lived & worked there for a couple of years (In Guatemala, between 2000 and 2003)

It’s an absolute pleasure to visit the former Maya cities. Although you’ll discover many similarities, there are as many differences between them as well. Every city obviously had & has its own vibe. 

What unites them though is their mysterious character. The amazement you’ll feel looking up at the sky-high temples, studying the artful monuments or trying to understand the thousands of hieroglyphs that hide old histories. 

Fortunately we know a lot about the Maya civilization by now. Enough to get a good idea of the Maya culture, their ideology, science, politics, economics and religion or worldview (Cosmovisión). 

An amazing world really, that in many ways still survives. Although mainly kept secret in the lives of the indigenous people of the region. Hidden in their culture because of the conquest, years of marginalization, discrimination, if not pure racism.

Streetview Sololá, central highlands of Guatemala. The Mundo Maya is still alive.
Streetview Sololá, near the Atitlán lake in Guatemala.

The Maya civilization is one of the richest  the earth has ever known. And although we’ve learned a lot by now – through the past and the present – we are still discovering more about the Mundo Maya on a daily basis.

Rediscovery of the Mundo Maya – John L. Stephens & Frederick Catherwood

Less than two hundred years ago we knew almost nothing of the American civilizations. Mainly because we weren’t told too much about them, but also because we couldn’t imagine the “New World” knew its own civilized past.

A past disconnected from the “Old World”. A world described in books, among others, like the Bible? No way!

Of course the people who were living around the lost cities knew better. Although for most of them these places were as big a mystery as they were for the first Westerners who came over to visit them.

There are several adventurous pioneers I can mention here, but the most important ones were two men. The New York lawyer & diplomat John Lloyd Stephens & the British architect/painter & draftsman Frederick Catherwood.

John L. Stephen, rediscovered the Mundo Maya
John L. Stephens
Drawing of Tulum, by Frederick Catherwood, one of the most known cities of the former Mundo Maya
On this painting by Catherwood, we see both men in front of a Maya temple of Tulum, taking measurements. Stephens, left seen from behind. Catherwood to the right. It’s the only picture we’ve got of Catherwood.
Frederick Catherwood, accompanied Stephens on a visit to the Mundo Maya
Frederick Catherwood

Stephens & Catherwood made two trips through the Maya region between 1839 and 1842. Visiting more than forty lost Maya sites. 

The world famous books of Stephens & Catherwood

They were amazed, but besides “greatness” they had no real idea of what they had found. They left us two beautiful 2 volumes book sets describing their journeys through Central America and the South of Mexico. Foremost their visits to & findings of the ruined Maya cities.

Stephens’ books and Catherwood’s drawings were so popular that they sold worldwide. With them came the first real attention for the Maya civilization outside the Maya region itself – mainly the Western world.

It was clear to them, from the moment they visited their first Maya city – Copán, Honduras – that America had it’s own civilized past. Using only their common sense – Archeology wasn’t a profession yet – they knew they had rediscovered something unique. 

Just to show how popular Stephens’ travel books were, they are still available (published by Dover). Wonderful reads really. Preferably before you visit the fascinating Mundo Maya.

First volume of the first Stephens' Incidents of Travel-travelogue about the Mundo Maya.
First volume of the first Stephens’ travelogue (Dover) about the Mundo Maya.


Cover of the first edition of Incidents of travel, the book written by John L. Stephens about his visit to the Mundo Maya
I myself bought an original set of the first volume set years ago (the first British edition).

My own Top #15 on Visited Maya Sites

Besides an overview of my personal Top #15 of best Mundo Maya ruins I’ve written individual posts on (about) all of them.

A Top list as a result of many journeys made through the Mundo Maya (mostly when living in Guatemala between 2000 &2003). Adventurous trips partially made in the footsteps of Stephens & Catherwood.

  • While some of the My Top #15 Maya sites were visited by them almost two centuries ago as well, others weren’t really known to them yet (like Tikal or Calakmul).  
Although Stephens probably heard some rumours about Tikal he never visited the site.

Every post includes a Short History of the Maya city, its Rediscovery. As well as Visitors Information: How to get there, What to expect, Where to Stay, Tours from surrounding Tourist Destinations, et cetera.

Overview of My Top #15 Maya sites

Click on their name to go to the respective post:

For an overview of all travel posts of my blog, go to: the Home Page.

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