Start your adventures in the Maya world with a trip to Mérida: the capital of Yucatán and the cultural capital of the entire peninsula. You’ll visit a factory in a run-down hacienda where they’re reviving the industry that made the Yucatán so rich more than 100 years ago; explore the mega-mansions lining Merida’s Paseo de Mont; and go shopping for the perfect hammock and guayabera shirt.
2: Chichén Itzá
First, travel to Izamal, the “yellow city” named after the Maya sky god. Here, you’ll tour the city’s rich history—including a hike up a pyramid as high as a 10-story building and a walk through the Convent of St. Anthony of Padua, designed as a Christian teaching tool for the Maya. Then, venture on to Chichén Itzá, where you’ll get up close and personal with magnificent achievements of Maya architecture, including an observatory, a ceremonial ball court, and a sacred cenote.
3: Ek’ Balam
Join Dr. Barnhart for a trip to two of his favorite places in the Yucatán: Valladolid and Ek’ Balam. The first is a city established on the foundations of a Maya city called Zací and offers travelers a chance to see a traditional agave distillery and an all-female troop of competitive horseback riders. The second is the well-preserved ruins of what was once a Maya capital, and it’s where you’ll witness fantastic stucco facades and reenactors demonstrating musical instruments and the Maya ball game.
More fun in the Maya world awaits in this fascinating episode where you’ll accompany Dr. Barnhart as he writes his name in Maya hieroglyphs, talks to howler monkeys, plunges into a geological cathedral, and more. It’s all part of his journey to Tihosuco, home to perhaps the largest episode in world history of an oppressed people fighting for their independence. Sites you’ll visit include the Cenote Suytun, Punta Laguna National Park, the Caste War Museum, and the Iglesia de Santo Niño Jesus.
Around 1250, Mayapán replaced Chichén Itzá as the new capital of the Yucatán—and one founded on a league of representational government. In this episode, you’ll get a chance to explore the rich history and culture of the site and its surrounding region. Learn about the infamous destruction of sacred Maya codices during public acts of faith held by the Spanish friar Diego de Landa, sample delicious dishes of grilled pork and ground pumpkin seeds, and spend some time looking over the shoulder of a ceramic artist working to keep Maya artistic traditions alive in the 21st century through reproductions of ancient pottery.
Discover what makes Uxmal such a marvel of Maya urban planning. Dr. Barnhart walks you through archaeological features, including the Pyramid of the Dwarf, the Palace of the Governors, and the Nunnery Quadrangle. Plus, spend some time exploring the Loltún Caves: a site that was once used for religious meditation and rituals, and where you’ll find handprints dating back 10,000 years. Cap off your adventure with a sampling of hot chocolate—made the traditional Maya way.
Your first stop in this episode is Kabáh, the second-largest ruin featuring the Puuc architectural style, where you’ll find over 200 faces of Chaac the rain god and a rare example of literate public art. Next, visit Bécal, famous for producing some of the best jipijapas (or, as tourists call them, panama hats) in the Yucatán. Finally, take a trip to the Celestún biosphere, a wetland reserve spanning some 150,000 acres that’s famous for the thousands of flamingos that flock there.
Labná, the last of the ancient sites you’ll hit on this trip, is an architectural wonder crowned by the three buildings everyone comes here to see: the Palacio, the El Mirador pyramid, and the Labná Arch. After decoding the cultural messages in these famous works, travel back to Mérida, where your journey began. Here, you’ll follow Dr. Barnhart through the Gran Museo del Mundo Maya, watch him sample modern takes on traditional Maya cuisine at a boutique hotel and spa, and catch an evening revival of a Maya ball game in Mérida’s central square.
In my own experience as an explorer, it's almost always the case that the locals knew where lost places were all along. The discoverer is just the first person to ask the right questions.
About Edwin Barnhart
Dr. Edwin Barnhart is director of the Maya Exploration Center. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin and has over 20 years of experience in North, Central, and South America as an archaeologist, explorer, and instructor. In 1994, Professor Barnhart discovered the ancient city of Maax Na (Spider-Monkey House), a major center of the Classic Maya period in northwestern Belize. In 1998 he was invited by the Mexican government to direct the Palenque Mapping Project, a three-year effort to survey and map the unknown sections of Palenque's ruins. The resultant map has been celebrated as one of the most detailed and accurate ever made of a Maya ruin. In 2003, he became the director of Maya Exploration Center, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the study of ancient Maya civilization. The center leads study-abroad courses for college students and tours for the general public in the ruins of the ancient Americas, among its other research and educational activities. Professor Barnhart has taught archaeology and anthropology at Southwest Texas State University, and currently teaches University of Texas travel courses for college professors on ancient Andean and Mesoamerican astronomy, mathematics, and culture. Over the last 10 years, he has appeared multiple times on the History Channel, the Discovery Channel, and Japanese NHK Public Television. He has published over a dozen papers and given presentations at eight international conferences.