David Moss, YOU Travel Whangarei's Adventure Consultant, is taking us with him on his trip through Las Vegas, Mexico and Cuba. Here is his latest adventure to the pyramids of Central America.
Pyramids are not just for Egyptians!
The ancient Mayans were prolific builders, and the Aztecs that followed them added to their works. The legacy that they left is is still awe inspiring today.
In all of Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, and Belize), there are over 50 great Pyramids (30 of these are in Mexico), with many many smaller structures surrounding each of them. And these are just the ones that have been discovered - as recent as May 2017, another Aztec pyramid was discovered under downtown Mexico City!
The great Mayan and Aztec pyramids tended to be places of worship to various gods, like the Sun or Moon god. The slightly smaller buildings were the centres of governance, the the smaller ones still, shops or the residences of wealthy people.
Our journey took us to three of the major archeological sites in central and southern Mexico.
Just an hour northeast of Mexico City is the Teotihuacan (pronounced Ta-o-te-hwa-can) complex. As you drive up the road to the entrance, you pass the 5km long "Avenue of the Dead" (so named by the Aztecs because of the mounds that run down its sides they thought were Mayan tombs).
From the entrance of the site, two edifices immediately catch your attention. The enormous Temple of the Sun half a kilometre away to your left, and the smaller, but more detailed Temple of the Moon half a kilometre away to your right.
We struck out across the dry expanse to our left and the great Sun Temple loomed larger and larger into our view.
From the bottom of the steep steps, we climbed the 75 metres to the top, puffing and sweating in the 30 degree heat.
From the pinnacle, the view across the valley was breathtaking. For 180 degrees from left to right we scanned the length of the Avenue of the Dead and the many ruins of houses and buildings that lined it. Our view ended at the glorious Moon temple surrounded by lesser monuments. It was well worth the climb!
(Click here for more information on Teotihuacan)
Our next pyramid adventure started from the Yucatan City of Merida. Eighty kilometres south is the exquisite site of Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-mawl). This is a site that is slightly off the main tourist track.
As we wandered through the gates to a park like space, the first thing we saw was the impressive "Pyramid of the Magician". In pristine condition, it has a grand flight of stairs, at the top of which the Mayan magic man would have held sway over his disciples.
Further on was the grand Governors Palace with many buildings around a central courtyard. My favorite was the great pyramid of Uxmal. The building itself was ordinary, if it were not for the massive set of steps leading to the top. 72 steps, with the lowest one being 75 metres wide. From the top was a magical view. An ocean of green jungle with the grey stone tops of the surrounding ancient ruins proudly breaking through the foliage.
(Click here for more information on Uxmal)
Our final temple tour was to the most famous of them all.
We left Merida at 8am and headed two hours east on a highway cut through scrub and bush, passing numerous small townships dotted along the way.
When we got to our destination, I was surprised to see so many people. Queues lining up at multiple booths to get tickets. We had prebooked our tour, (which came with fast-track tickets), so we sailed past the waiting masses. Through the modern visitors centre we went, past the restaurant, through the turn styles, and we were finally on the gravelled path into the national park. Past the stalls of squawking hawkers, then finally out into a large field where we were met with a stunning sight.
Recorded as one of the Seven Great Wonders of the Modern World, the main pyramid of Chichen Itza (pronounced Chi Chen eat-sa) is an outstanding example of Mayan architecture. A perfect pyramid. With its grand staircase and enclosed alter at the top, it shone as the intermittent sunlight hit its smoothly polished rock.
As impressive as it was, I was disappointed. In the off season (the time that we were visiting), 3,000 - 5,000 tourists visit the site in a day. In the high season it will be more like 10,000. Yet throngs of gaudily clothed tourists infested the site, so it was almost impossible to get a photo without including some precious pouting teen taking a selfie!
At the rear of the site, through the trees was another set of ruins that had not been completely restored, including the temple of astronomers, the equivalent to a modern day observatory. It is amazing to think of the technology that these civilisations had developed!
(Click here for more information on Chichen Itsa)
My conclusion. All three are treasures of the ancient world that you must see. But my advice. Go from south to north. Chichen Itza first, Uxmal second, then ending with the great pyramid of the Sun in Mexico City. That will give you the best Mesoamerica pyramid experience.