Take a look at a highway map of the Yucatán peninsula, and you'll see a broad swath of nothingness from the Caribbean to the Gulf of Mexico - a seeming no man's land marked only by state and national borders and traversed by one road that links the Mexican cities of Chetumal and Escarcega and the few smaller towns in-between. This remote jungle was once a vast network of shrines, villages, stone roads, and man-made canals that was a beehive of trade, agriculture, politics, and war for hundreds of years before it ever saw a European. But the cities and temples were inexplicably abandoned around 900 AD, and the civilization disintegrated. Trees and vines grew atop ball courts and pyramids until vast cities like Calakmul and Copán were subsumed into oversized hummocks.
Now, more and more of these hummocks are revealing their buried treasure as archaeologists unearth previously unseen sites and structures. These newly rediscovered pre-Columbian ruins inspired Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico, which all boast a share in this heartland of the Classic Maya period, to promote tourism to sites hitherto unexplored by the tourist horde. While visitors had long climbed the Pyramid of the Sun at Chichén Itzá, few outside the local villagers knew the twin pyramids and seven score stelae of Calakmul, for example. Tourism officials figured that if 8.8 million people already visited Mexico's well-known ruins annually, then improving roads, attracting new hotels, supporting new archaeological digs, and promoting the "new" sites would attract even more people.
But progress is slow in the jungle. Roads that cut through the rainforest in the dry months are apt to be swallowed by vegetation when the rains come, as they do each May through February. Archaeologists who dig for buried treasure can only move so much earth in a dry season's time. So it is only now that many treasures of Mayan architecture are fully accessible and fit for public view.