The prehispanic culture of the region is one of the most studied civilizations in Mesoamerica. Their advances in architecture, astronomy, medicine, and math are well renowned. The ancient inhabitants' legacy has inspired many historical investigations to comprehend their way of living and why they left the majestic cities.

Development Area

This culture spread through an extensive surface in Mesoamerica. There are archaeological sites in the Mexican states of Yucatan, Campeche, Quintana Roo, Chiapas, and Tabasco. Also, they occupied the whole territories of Guatemala and Belize in Central America and parts of Honduras and El Salvador.

The first ancient cities

The first prehispanic cities appeared in the Soconusco region (in the Mexican state of Chiapas and Guatemala) around 2,000 BC. El Mirador and Tikal arose in Guatemala, while in Mexico emerged Calakmul, which was in constant struggle with Tikal for supremacy over the region.

The splendor era

During the Classic period, there was an outstanding architectural, cultural, and artistic boom. At this time, great prehispanic cities emerged, like Cobá, whose proximity to the port of Xel-Há made it a significant commercial point. Chichén Itzá developed as a mighty city with vast influence over the nearby villages. At the end of this era, Tulum was founded and took advantage of its location to grow as a merchant port. The splendor periods of Comalcalco, Palenque, and Yaxchilán, among others, are also remarkable. Visit the main archaeological sites at Riviera Maya with Xcaret Expeditions!

The decline of the civilization

One of the mysteries that persist is the reason for its decay. Until now, no definitive theory exists to prove the reason for the decline. Many theories talk about acute periods of drought, migration, or wars. However, scholars agree that upon the arrival of the Spaniards, they had already left most of the cities.

The Ballgame importance

The ballgame was a fundamental religious ritual among the ancient cultures. The sacred book of the Popol Vuh tells how the twins Hunab Kú and Ixbalanqué, after several attempts, managed to defeat the lords of the underworld, Xibalbá, in a match.

Scientific breakthroughs

Ancient inhabitants had significant scientific advances in architecture, with examples such as the light and shadows event during the equinox or acoustic phenomenons in places like Chichén Itzá. In the astronomy field, their calendars are precise. There are also relevant math contributions with a vigesimal system and the general use of zero beyond representing absence.

Prehispanic gods

Ancient deities were present in all aspects of life. The main ones were Hunab Ku, the father of the gods; Itzamna, the god of the sun and wisdom; and Chaac, the god of rain. Another relevant divine figure is Kukulcan, the god of the wind who descends as the Feathered Serpent at each equinox at Chichén Itzá. Ixchel is the goddess of the moon, fertility, and water, and the Sacred Journey recreates an ancient ritual departing from Xcaret every year.

The cenotes in their culture

The cenotes are part of underground river systems and emerge when the limestone erodes, especially in the Yucatan Peninsula. The ancient cultures used them as a freshwater source for the crops. They also had a religious meaning as an entrance to the underworld, called Xibalbá.


The prehispanic culture of the region had an outstanding architectural development, most of it linked to religious aspects and according to the movement of the stars in the sky. Also, there is an influence of other prehispanic cultures from Central Mexico, as seen in several buildings and temples. Eight archaeological sites are a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, and half are in Mexico: Palenque, Calakmul, Uxmal, and Chichén Itzá.

Prehispanic art

The ancient people had diverse artistic expressions. They also developed pottery and mural paintings, just as seen at the Temple of the Frescoes in Tulum. There are also essential works in relief lintels, the steles found at Cobá, and the famous Kohunlich stucco masks.

Merchant routes

The ancient inhabitants established many commercial routes. First, they exchanged goods between cities through the Sacbeob or white roads and later by sea. Some historians know them as the 'Phoenicians from America' since their merchant routes reached distant places, such as the Mexican State of Tabasco in the Gulf of Mexico or Central America.