Collected by Maggie Fuller, AFAR Staff
Back before they were called the Americas, North and South America played host to great civilizations: from the Pueblo cultures to the Mayas and Aztecs to the Incas. These cultures thrived during different periods from 2600 BC until the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century. These cultures overcame the challenges of nature with an ease that still sometimes eludes us, and created scientific systems that we don’t fully understand today.
Collinsville, IL, USA
This 2,200-acre historic site was formerly the city of Cahokia. It’s the largest archaeological site related to the Mississippian culture and one of the largest earthen constructions in the Americas north of Mexico. Cahokia was inhabited from...
Fort MacLeod, AB T0L 0Z0, Canada
From a distance, Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump looks like any other Canadian Rockies foothill area, but closer inspection reveals a UNESCO World Heritage site that holds 6,000 years of First Nations (native peoples') history beneath its grassy...
Mesa Verde, CO, USA
For anyone who believes that truly historic architecture doesn’t exist in the states, Mesa Verde National Park will make you think again. Still standing in the park are cliff dwellings built in AD 600 by the ancestral Pueblo people who once...
1100 W Ruins Dr, Coolidge, AZ 85128, USA
Don't go looking for Casa Grande, the national monument of pre-Columbian ruins, in Casa Grande, the sprawling exurb of a town about halfway between Phoenix and Tucson. You have to drive about 20 miles away to the small town of Coolidge to find the...
55800 San Juan Teotihuacán, State of Mexico, Mexico
While it's not in Mexico City proper, the sacred pre-Hispanic city of Teotihuacan is close enough–about 30 miles– for an easy day trip if you're interested in architecture, archaeology, and indigenous history. The site's primary...
Xochicalco is a fascinating archaeological site located a few hours south of Mexico City in the state of Morelos. The site came to prominence after the fall of Teotihuacan and may have played a part in Teotihuacan's demise by blocking valuable...
Of the many ruins I've visited in Mexico, those of Calakmul have been by far the best. Why? Because this site is largely still covered in jungle. Not many tourists visit the ruins here either. Located only 22 miles from the Guatemalan border in...
Rent a car and get out on the highways and byways of the Yucatan Peninsula to discover the Maya Kingdom that still exists beyond Cancun's resorts and Chichen Itza's overrun ruins. Maya towns with charming colonial centers and empty ruins dot the...
Carretera Merida-Campeche Km. 78, 97890 Uxmal, Yuc., Mexico
Overshadowed by its larger and more well-known cousins, Palenque and Chichén-Itzá, Uxmal ("Oosh-mahl") is the ruins of an ancient Maya city located near present-day Campeche. In its heyday, Uxmal was one of the largest cities of the Yucatan...
Deep in the Guatemalan jungle lies the lost Maya city of Tikal. A stronghold of the ancient Maya world between 200 and 900 C.E., Tikal continues to fascinate. Be sure to arrange a sunrise tour, which allows you to watch the jungle wake up from the...
Quiriguá, Los Amates, Guatemala
The massive stone stelae located at the Maya site named Quirigua impress not solely by their size, but by the intricately carved glyphs and depictions of kings and gods on display as well. The site is an easy stop for those traveling between the...
Carretera Ignacio Bernal S/N, San Pedro Ixtlahuaca, Oaxaca, Oax., Mexico
Monte Alban is a large pre-Columbian archaeological site in the Santa Cruz Xoxocotlan Municipality in the southern Mexican state of Oaxaca. Besides being one of the earliest cities of Mesoamerica, Monte Albán’s importance stems also from its role...
Copán Department, Honduras
The hieroglyphic staircase at the ancient Maya site of Copan tells the story of the Copan dynasty in its entirety and is the longest inscribed Maya text ever discovered. I'm certain the sacrificial victims who were forced up these stairs to have...
Hanga Roa, Easter Island, Valparaiso Region, Chile
I think this is the most mysterious place I have ever been. It is just crazy that no one truly knows who built these or why. Having been to Peru, I could definitely see the Inca influence on the base under the Moai. But I have also been to...
Vereda El Purutal, San Agustín, Huila, Colombia
St. Agustín is a village of stone beings. Beings, not statues, as the locals like to say. The Double Me, with two heads. The Midwife, with a child hanging from her hands. The Eagle, A Snake Biting, the Shaman with headdress, and Children are...
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