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Unearthing Treasures: 12 Ancient Temples and Ruins Across Asia and the Americas

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Embark on an extraordinary journey that explores the history of time and civilizations. This comprehensive travel guide invites you to explore the ancient temples and ruins of Asia and the Americas, where history and legends come alive. Each destination offers a unique glimpse into the past, from the majestic Angkor Wat in Cambodia to the enigmatic ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru. Uncover the mysteries of ancient cultures, marvel at architectural brilliance, and immerse yourself in the rich heritage these sites embody.

1. Angkor Wat, Cambodia

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Mirco Gabriel

Angkor Wat, a jewel in Cambodia’s historical crown, is a monumental tribute to the Khmer Empire’s architectural prowess. This sprawling temple complex, originally constructed as a Hindu temple for the god Vishnu, gradually transformed into a Buddhist site.

As you traverse its vast grounds, you’ll be impressed by the intricate bas-reliefs and the majestic central towers that symbolize Mount Meru, the home of the gods. The temple’s symmetry and design reflect a cosmic order and dedication to perfection. Explore Angkor Wat to admire its aesthetic beauty and experience the spiritual and historical significance that resonates through its ancient stones.

Insider’s Tip: For a unique perspective, visit during sunrise or sunset when the play of light casts a mystical aura over the temple. Stay at the beautiful Shinta Mani Angkor

When To Travel: The best time to visit is from November to February, when the weather is cooler and drier.

How To Get There: Fly into Siem Reap International Airport and take a short drive to reach Angkor Wat.

2. Machu Picchu, Peru

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Anton_Ivanov

Machu Picchu, perched high in the Andes Mountains of Peru, remains one of the most iconic symbols of the Inca civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage site, often shrouded in mist, offers a stunning blend of natural beauty and architectural genius. The precise stone constructions, terraced fields, and astronomical alignments demonstrate the Incas’ sophisticated understanding of engineering and astronomy.

Exploring Machu Picchu involves navigating its many temples, plazas, and dwellings, each telling a story of its past inhabitants. The site offers a glimpse into Incan life and breathtaking views of the mountainous landscape.

Insider’s Tip: Consider hiking the Inca Trail for a complete experience leading up to Machu Picchu.

When To Travel: May to September is the dry season, offering clearer views and more comfortable hiking conditions.

How To Get There: Travel to Cusco and then take a train to Aguas Calientes, followed by a bus ride to Machu Picchu.

3. The Great Wall of China

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / zhu difeng

The Great Wall of China, a symbol of ancient Chinese engineering, stretches over rugged mountains and desolate deserts. This immense fortification, originally built to protect against invasions, showcases China’s historical resilience and strategic ingenuity. Walking along the Great Wall, notably the well-preserved sections like Mutianyu or Badaling, you will feel a connection to the past, imagining the lives of the soldiers who once guarded this vast empire. The spectacular panoramic views from atop the wall showcase China’s diverse landscapes. The Great Wall is not just a physical barrier but a symbol of China’s cultural and historical richness.

Insider’s Tip: Visit the less crowded Jinshanling section for a more serene experience and excellent photo opportunities.

When To Travel: Spring (April to May) and autumn (September to October) offer pleasant weather and fewer tourists.

How To Get There: The Great Wall is accessible from Beijing, with various sections within a 1 to 2-hour drive.

4. Tikal, Guatemala

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Leonid Andronov

Nestled in the heart of the Guatemalan jungle, Tikal is one of the largest and most impressive archaeological sites of the ancient Maya civilization. This UNESCO World Heritage site is known for its towering pyramids, sprawling plazas, and intricate stelae that depict the history and culture of the Maya.

As you wander through the dense rainforest, you’ll stumble upon hidden ruins and experience the site’s profound mystery. The sounds of howler monkeys and the sight of exotic birds add a sense of magic to this ancient city. Climbing the Temple of the Great Jaguar provides a breathtaking view of the jungle canopy punctuated by the tops of other temples.

Insider’s Tip: Stay overnight in nearby Flores to experience Tikal at sunrise, a truly magical moment.

When To Travel: The dry season from November to April offers more comfortable exploring conditions.

How To Get There: Fly into Flores and then take a bus or arrange a tour to Tikal.

5. Borobudur, Indonesia

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Muzairi Mustapa

Borobudur, in central Java, Indonesia, is the world’s largest Buddhist temple and an architectural masterpiece. This 9th-century temple is adorned with thousands of intricate relief panels and hundreds of Buddha statues, each telling a part of the Buddhist doctrine. The temple’s design, resembling a mandala, symbolizes Buddhist cosmology and the path to enlightenment.

Walking around the temple’s multiple levels and circumambulating its stupas is a spiritual journey and an exploration of Buddhist art and philosophy. The serene and mystical atmosphere of Borobudur is heightened at dawn when the rising sun bathes the temple in a golden hue.

Insider’s Tip: Visit during the Waisak festival for a unique cultural experience as monks gather for a special ceremony.

When To Travel: The dry season from April to October is the best time to visit.

How To Get There: Fly to Yogyakarta or Solo and then drive to Borobudur.

6. Petra, Jordan

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Aleksandra Kossowska

Petra, the rose-red city carved into the cliffs of southern Jordan, is an archaeological marvel. This ancient Nabatean city, dating back to around 300 BC, is renowned for its rock-cut architecture and water conduit system. As you walk through the Siq, a narrow gorge leading to Petra, the dramatic view of the Al-Khazneh (The Treasury) unfolds—a truly spellbinding moment.

Exploring Petra goes beyond the iconic Treasury; it includes visiting royal tombs, ancient temples, and Roman-style theatres. The colors and formations of the rock, alongside the remnants of this once-thriving trade center, provide a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the Nabateans.

Insider’s Tip: Plan to spend at least two days in Petra to fully appreciate its vastness and the less-visited sites.

When To Travel: Spring (March to May) and autumn (September to November) offer comfortable temperatures for exploration.

How To Get There: Fly to Amman and then drive or take a bus to Petra, which is about a 3-hour journey.

7. Teotihuacan, Mexico

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Alexandra Lande

Teotihuacan, just outside of Mexico City, was once one of the largest cities in the ancient world, flourishing from the 1st to the 7th centuries AD. The site is famous for its massive pyramids, the Pyramid of the Sun and the Pyramid of the Moon, which align with celestial events. Strolling along the Avenue of the Dead, you’ll be captivated by the scale and grandeur of this ancient metropolis.

The murals scattered throughout the site depict various aspects of Teotihuacan life, offering a glimpse into its inhabitants’ beliefs and everyday activities. Climbing the pyramids provides a panoramic view of the surrounding plains and a deeper appreciation of this monumental city’s historical significance.

Insider’s Tip: Visit early in the morning to avoid crowds and the midday heat.

When To Travel: The dry and cooler months from November to April are ideal for visiting.

How To Get There: Teotihuacan is easily accessible by bus or car from Mexico City, about an hour’s drive away.

8. Bagan, Myanmar

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Tanongsak Sangthong

Bagan, set on the banks of the Irrawaddy River in Myanmar, is an ancient city that rivals the splendors of Angkor Wat and Machu Picchu. From the 9th to the 13th centuries, Bagan was the capital of the Pagan Kingdom, during which over 10,000 Buddhist temples, pagodas, and monasteries were constructed.

About 2,200 of these structures still stand today, offering an awe-inspiring sight. The experience of exploring Bagan is surreal, with countless spires reaching towards the sky and intricate frescoes adorning the interiors of the temples. A hot air balloon ride at sunrise offers a breathtaking bird’s-eye view of this archaeological wonder, revealing the scale and beauty of Bagan.

Insider’s Tip: Rent an e-bike for an easy and environmentally friendly way to explore the vast temple plains.

When To Travel: The cooler, dry season between November and February is the best time to visit.

How To Get There: Fly to Nyaung U Airport, the closest airport to Bagan, and then take a short drive to the temple area.

9. Chichen Itza, Mexico

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / rui vale sousa

Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage site located in the Yucatan Peninsula, is one of the most famous and well-preserved relics of the Mayan civilization. This ancient city, thriving from the 7th to the 10th century, showcases a blend of Mayan and Toltec architectures. The iconic El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcan) dominates the landscape with its precise geometric design and alignment with astronomical events.

Strolling through the site, you will discover the Great Ball Court, the Temple of the Warriors, and the haunting Cenote Sagrado. The site’s engineering sophistication and the Mayans’ astronomical knowledge are evident at every turn, making Chichen Itza a must-visit for anyone interested in ancient cultures.

Insider’s Tip: Attend the equinox festivals to witness the shadow serpent descend El Castillo.

When To Travel: November to March offers cooler temperatures and less humidity.

How To Get There: Chichen Itza is accessible by car or bus from Cancun or Merida.

10. Ayutthaya, Thailand

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / Avigator Fortuner

Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Siam, is a site steeped in history and architectural beauty. Located just north of Bangkok, Ayutthaya was a thriving trade and political center from the 14th to the 18th centuries. Today, its ruins provide a fascinating glimpse into Thailand’s past, with towering prangs (reliquary towers) and Buddhist monasteries.

Exploring Ayutthaya, you’ll encounter headless Buddha statues, remnants of royal palaces, and temples that bear the marks of historical conflicts. The site’s blend of architectural styles reflects the diverse influences that have shaped Thai culture, making it a captivating destination for history buffs and cultural enthusiasts.

Insider’s Tip: Rent a bike to navigate between the widespread historical sites.

When To Travel: The cooler season from November to February is ideal for exploration.

How To Get There: Ayutthaya is easily accessible from Bangkok by train, bus, or car.

11. Hampi, India

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Image Credit: Shutterstock /

Hampi, a UNESCO World Heritage site in Karnataka, India, was once the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire. Today, it’s renowned for its extensive ruins that feature many temples, palaces, and market streets. Hampi’s unique landscape, dotted with giant boulders and banana plantations, adds to the site’s mystical charm.

The Virupaksha Temple and Vittala Temple, with their intricate carvings and architecture, are highlights of this ancient city. Hampi showcases Hindu temple architecture where history feels alive in the ruins and the stories they hold.

Insider’s Tip: Explore the ruins on a coracle boat ride on the Tungabhadra River for a unique perspective.

When To Travel: The cooler months from October to March are the best time to visit.

How To Get There: The nearest major city is Hospet, which is accessible by train or bus and is followed by a short drive to Hampi.

12. Tulum, Mexico

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Image Credit: Shutterstock / xabi_kls

Tulum, set against the backdrop of the Caribbean Sea on the Yucatan Peninsula, offers a unique combination of tropical beauty and archaeological significance. This pre-Columbian Maya walled city flourished in the 13th to 15th centuries and is famous for its clifftop Castillo. Exploring Tulum, you’ll find well-preserved temples and frescos that depict various aspects of Maya culture.

The juxtaposition of ancient ruins with turquoise waters and white sand beaches makes Tulum not just a historical site but also a visually stunning experience. The Temple of the Frescoes, depicting the Maya underworld, and the Temple of the Descending God are key highlights. Tulum’s serene setting and mystical ruins offer a tranquil yet enlightening glimpse into the Maya civilization.

Insider’s Tip: Visit early in the morning to enjoy the site in relative solitude before the crowds arrive.

When To Travel: The best time to visit Tulum is between November and December when the weather is pleasant and the tourist crowds are thinner.

How To Get There: Tulum is easily reachable by car or bus from Cancun, which has an international airport.

The Bottom Line

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Image Credit: Pexels / ming chow

As you conclude your exploration of ancient temples and ruins across Asia and the Americas, consider the valuable insights gained about past civilizations. The enduring architecture and historical records encountered at each site have deepened your understanding of ancient cultures and their achievements.

This journey has reinforced the importance of continuous learning and respect for global cultural diversity. These experiences, linking you directly to history, have enhanced your appreciation of the complex tapestry of human heritage and the varied narratives that shape our world.

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The post Unearthing Treasures: 12 Ancient Temples and Ruins Across Asia and the Americas republished on Passing Thru with permission from The Green Voyage.

Featured Image Credit: Shutterstock / frantic00.

For transparency, this content was partly developed with AI assistance and carefully curated by an experienced editor to be informative and ensure accuracy.

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