It’s hard to imagine a city can get lost in time, isn’t it? However, once thriving and home to unique ancient cultures, some of the world’s greatest cities are no more. Be it from human rule or natural disaster, the cities on this list might be in ruins, but they’re still among the most beautiful in the world.
If you’re interested in time travel, this is about as close as you’ll get! Nothing beats the beauty and the history you’ll uncover when exploring lost and ruined remains. Use this blog as your guide to the ancient cities of the Americas, while in the next blog – “Ancient Cities of the World, part 2: Europe and Beyond”, we’ll continue the journey across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
Machu Picchu, Peru
Perhaps the most well known of all ancient cities, Machu Picchu (or “Old Peak”) is one of the best preserved Inca sites in modern Peru – and quite the tourist hotspot. Designated as a World Heritage Site in 1983, Machu Picchu has been described as “a masterpiece of architecture and a unique testimony to the Inca civilization”.
More than 5000 people visit the site daily during the peak season (June – September), with approximately 1 million visiting annually, so its safe to say you can expect crowds. And even more so on Sundays when it’s free for those who live in the nearby Cusco province.
There are plenty of options for travelling to and from Machu Picchu – and getting around once you’re there too – from trains and buses to hiking solo to the citadel or taking a guided tour to Machu Picchu peak or Huayna Picchu peak! And don’t forget to stop by the entrance gates to collect a unique stamp in your passport!
The Mayan Ruins, Copan, Honduras
Another UNESCO World Heritage Site, Copan was listed in 1980 in recognition of its cultural, social and ceremonial significance. Visiting Copan – in Honduras’ west (about 60km from the border of Guatemala) – is relatively easy. Getting to the ruins is a short 1km walk east from the Central Park of Copan Ruinas. Or if you’re in the mood for kicking back and relaxing on the journey, you can travel by moto-taxi or tuk-tuk for as little as $1
The ruins span more than 24 square kilometers and feature some pretty impressive, well-preserved and incredibly detailed structures, complete with stone parrot heads and intricate monkey sculptures. You might like to keep your eyes peeled for the real wildlife too – you’re likely to cross paths with large parrots, macaws, monkeys and perhaps even a sloth or two!
Open 7 days a week from 8am, it’s best to visit early in the morning before the hot Honduran temperatures peak!
Mesa Verde, Colorado
700 years in the making, Southwest Colorado’s Mesa Verde was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1978, in recognition of its exceptional archaeological relevance.
Mesa Verde National Park is famous for the more than 600 cliff dwellings made by the ancestral Pueblo people scattered throughout. The alcoves within the canyon walls became home to the dwellings of the Pueblo people in around 1150, built from sandstone, wood and mortar underneath the overhang of the canyon ridges.
If you’re planning to visit Mesa Verde’s cliff dwellings, you’re best to make a day trip of it. With multiple sites located around the park, make your way around by car, stopping at designated viewing areas – including Balcony House, Cliff Palace (one of the most impressive sites – with ancient homes only accessible by ladder), Long House, Spruce Tree House and Step House.
Don’t forget to stop in at the visitor center at the park entrance for more information on the history of the site and to book your tours (with some cliff dwellings only accessible by ranger-guided tour).
Chichén Itzá, Mexico
Ranked alongside Machu Picchu as one of the most famous of the world’s ancient cities, Chichen Itza is perhaps the most popular site to visit in Mexico.
Interestingly, Chichen Itza actually consists of two cities, built by two ancient peoples – the Mayas and the Toltecs. Incredibly well preserved, the site is home to the Kukulkan Pyramid, known as El Castillo (the castle), which in 2007 was named one of the new Seven Wonders of the World!
Bring your walking shoes and be prepared to get up early for this one if you’re hoping to avoid the heat and the crowds!
Often referred to as the crown jewel of Guatemala, Tikal is home to six towering temples, which still to this day dominate the jungle they’re surrounded by. Rising more than 44m, many of the temples have been uncovered and partially restored. But what makes this site truly unique is the thick, lush rainforest canopy above. Keep an eye out for monkeys swinging above, or foxes, turkeys and other wildlife wandering around the ruins of this ancient city.
While you can visit Tikal on a day trip from nearby Flores, if you’re hoping to avoid peak time and see the site in the early morning or late afternoon, you can also stay overnight at the campsite.
Of course, if you’re thinking about visiting any of the ancient cities of the world, or even if you’re just looking for a little more information, we’d be delighted to chat! You can always give us a call on (02) 6041 5577, call into the office at 601 Dean Street, Albury or book an appointment via the form below with one of our expert travel agents today.