Easter Island is an isolated Polynesian island located in the southeastern Pacific Ocean. Politically, Easter Island is a special territory of Chile. Easter Island is famous for the almost 900 stone statues, called moai, that are in the shape of human heads and simple bodies. These moai statues were created by the Rapanui people hundreds of years ago. It is believed that the Rapanui people’s numbers dwindled due to the overexploitation of their tiny, isolated island. Others claim diseases from Europe are to blame for the decline. The island’s name was given in 1722 by a Dutch explorer, who landed on the island on Easter Sunday. The Polynesian name for the island is Rapa Nui, meaning “Big Rapa” in reference to a similar looking Polynesian island called Rapa. Today, Easter Island is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and destination for history loving tourists.
Chichen Itza is an ancient Mayan site located on the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico. These famous pre-Columbian ruins signify the rich history of the ancient Mayan civilization. Chichen Itza was likely built around 600 BCE, making the ruins roughly 2600 years old today. The large ruin complex contains many stone buildings, including temples, pyramids, and platforms, as well as various statues and caves. Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is the second most visited archeological site in Mexico. A visit to the site is a popular day drip from nearby Cancún.
The Anasazi Pueblo People were an ancient culture of Native Americans who were believed to have lived as long ago as the 12 century BCE. These ancient peoples are known for the impressive pueblo homes, made of mud, stone, or carved into canyon walls, which are today called the Anasazi Ruins. These ruins can be found at many sites in the American Southwest, including Mesa Verde National Park, Canyon de Chelly National Monument, Dark Canyon Wilderness, and other sites predominately located in the states of Colorado, Arizona, and Utah. All of these ruins are sacred places and should be treated with respect when visited.
The Great Wall of China runs from Shanhaiguan in the east, to Lop Nur in the west, spanning 8,851.8 km (5,500.3 miles) of Northern China. It was arguably the longest running work in progress in history. Construction of the Great Wall began in the 5th century BCE, with rebuilding and maintenance efforts continuing into the 16th century CE. Today, the Great Wall of China is a must see destination for visitors to China. Many of it’s popular sections are well maintained. In some areas, tourists can climb the wall and then opt for a zip-line ride back down. The Great Wall of China is, of course, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Peru is home to one of the most visited ancient ruins today, Machu Picchu. Literally meaning “Old Mountain”, Machu Picchu is a pre-Columbian Inca site that was built around 1400 CE. Today it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sees around half a million visitors each year. In January 2010 Machu Piccu was in the news worldwide when heavy rains washed away access roads to the site, trapping over 2,000 tourists and 2,000 locals who then had to be evacuated. Machu Piccu reopened to the public on April 1st, 2010. Most visitors to Machu Piccu stay in the nearby town of Cusco where all manner of accommodation can be found.
Built between 802 CE and 1220 CE, the stunning Angkor Wat temple complex includes hundreds of temples stretching over an area of 400 square kilometers (249 square miles). The most popular temples are Angkor Wat, Bayon, and Ta Phrom (setting of the Angelina Jolie Tomb Raider movie). Recommended activites include exploring the temples, watching the sunrise at Angkor Wat, watching the sunset at one of the west-facing temples, and for those more adventurous types: getting in a hot air balloon or a helicopter for a breathtaking view of Angkor Wat from above. Visitors to the temples are required to buy a 1 day ($20), 3 day ($40), or 7 day ($60) temple pass. In the last decade Angkor Wat has exploded onto the tourist scene. 15 years ago the nearby town of Siem Reap had only 1 hotel, now there are hundreds.
On the edges of Cairo, Egypt lie the three ancient Pyramids of Giza. The largest of the three, the Great Pyramid of Giza (also known as the Pyramid of Khufu, or Pyramid of Cheops) is the only surviving monument of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. For over 3,800 years the Great Pyramid of Giza was the tallest structure in the world. It was built over a period of 20 years starting in 2551 BCE from over 2.3 million limestone blocks, and its original purpose was to be the tomb of Egyptian pharaoh Khufu. The two smaller pyramids are the Pyramid of Khafre (or Chephren), and the Pyramid of Menkaure. The alignment of the three pyramids is very similar to that of the constellation Orion. The Great Sphinx is also nearby. Visitors to the pyramids can choose from a variety of accommodations in Cairo.
The ancient Mayan city of Tikal, located in present-day Guatemala, has structures that date as far back as 400 BCE, though most of the structures were built in the Late Classic Period (600 – 900 CE). One of the largest urban centers of the pre-Colombian Mayan civilization, the city was at its peak at around 700 CE. Tikal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and the ruins include five large pyramid temples, a large palace, small pyramids, tombs, and numerous other buildings with a grand total of 3,000 structures. The University of Pennsylvania and the government of Guatemala have contributed to the restorations done on the site in recent years. Travelers can find a variety of accommodations in the nearby cities of Flores and Guatemala City. Fans of the original Star Wars films may know Tikal as the “Massassi Outpost on the fourth moon of Yavin” from Episode IV: A New Hope.