The civilization that was thriving and at it’s apex during the classic period from about 300 to 900 A.D. left magnificent temples that had been buried beneath the jungle that took over when the people abandoned them. Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens, on their explorations through this jungle in the late 1830s, opened the door for the great archeological finds of the 20th century.
Story & Photos by Susanna Starr
In the nineteen seventies, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico was just becoming accessible to the foreign traveler. Roads from Mexico City led to the Spanish colonial city of Merida, once known as Mayab, a major center of the Maya. Some even ventured as far as the magnificent stretch of beach that would later become the thriving tourist destination of Cancun. A small airport would be built, allowing even more people the opportunity to discover for themselves some of the mystery of the ancient Maya.
In spite of the increased travel to this area, with many of the archeological sites becoming well known and well documented, there is still an air of mystery concerning the ancient Maya civilization. Although many of the sites in the northern part of the peninsula, such as Coba, Tulum and Chichen Itza have been visited by a multitude of curious travelers, the southern part of the Yucatan is just opening to travel. The Rio Bec area, with sites such as Chiccana, Becan and Xpujil, has joined the rank of Mayan destinations. Calakmul is now considered to have been one of the most major sites in the ancient Maya world and a new site, not yet open to the public, is purported to rival even it.
To walk in the footsteps of what has been called a “lost civilization” is awe inspiring, but this is still just the beginning of our understanding of the legacy of this mysterious ancient culture.
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Susanna Starr is a travel journalist, photographer and author based in Taos, New Mexico, Laguna Bacalar and Oaxaca, Mexico. See more at her website.