18 Must-Read Books About the Maya: For Novices and Nerds

by | Dec 8, 2023 | Belize, Books, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico

Planning a trip to Mexico, Belize, Guatemala, or Honduras and want to visit the temples and pyramids of the ancient Maya?

Or are you just a history and archaeology nerd like me and you want to know more about this fascinating ancient civilization?

Here is a list of 18 books about the Maya. These books are ideal for those who know nothing about the Maya as well as those who want to geek out and go deeper into this fascinating civilization.

WARNING: Reading about the Maya can be addicting!

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Who are the Maya?

Before opening my first book about the Maya, my knowledge of them was nearly a blank slate. I’d heard of Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Tikal, but I wasn’t even sure if those places belonged to the Aztecs or the Maya.

I had also assumed the Maya were a lot like other empires—one King that ruled over all the Mayan people. In reality, there were as many as 60 kingdoms or city-states. Each kingdom organized itself into alliances under either Tikal (Guatemala) or Calakmul (Campeche, Mexico). The different factions would battle each other for land and the control of resources and trade routes but also to capture prisoners that they would then sacrifice to their gods. Tikal and Calakmul would also use their allies to fight proxy wars against their enemies (Quirigua is a PERFECT example).

The history of the Maya is very complicated but also fascinating. It wasn’t until I had read a few books on them that I finally felt like I had a handle on their civilization.

Which Books to Start with?

If you’re a total novice when it comes to the Maya, I recommend getting a good overview of them by starting with either The Maya: A Very Short Introduction or Maya Civilization. Both are short and simple, but also engrossing.

THEN move on to Michael Coe and Stephen Houston’s The Maya. This is sort of the bible of books on the Maya. BUT it can be dry. A more interesting read would be Linda Schele’s A Forest of Kings. However, that one is a bit out of date as it was published in 1990.

After you tackle Coe’s and/or Shele’s books, you might want to go into more detail on different aspects of the Maya.

For travel guides to the archaeological sites, there are 2 Approach Guides: Maya Ruins in Mexico and Maya Ruins of Tikal and Copan.

Finally, those who love travel books won’t be disappointed with Jungle of Stone and the 2 Incidents of Travel books.

1. The Maya: A Very Short Introduction

By Matthew Restall and Amara Solari (2020)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“There was never a single, unified Maya state or empire, but always numerous, evolving ethnic groups speaking distinct Mayan language.”

The Maya: A Very Short Introduction is one of two books I recommend for those who know nothing or very little about the Maya. For me, it was my second book. The first one, Michael Coe’s The Maya, left me confused. Then I read the first line (and the above quote) of this book and I finally got it! I was able to make sense of the relationship between Tikal, Palenque, and Calakmul.

Besides the usual chapters on the different periods of Maya history (pre-classic, classic, and post-classic), you’ll get 3 additional brilliant chapters on the art and architecture of the Maya, a description of the food, family life, city life, and the ball games, and the current situation of the Maya.

Don’t expect an in-depth history of the Maya. The authors don’t tell you which kingdoms were allies and which ones were enemies. It also only mentions a few of the rulers and only briefly at that. If you want to know more about allies and rivalries and lots of dirt on the various rulers, you’ll have to read A Forest of Kings or Chronicles of Maya Kings and Queens.

My advice: If you know nothing about the Maya, start here! For people with some background knowledge, try A Forest of Kings or The Maya.

2. Maya Civilization: A History from Beginning to End (Mesoamerican History)

By An Hourly History (2020)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“On many occasions, in a systematic and organized way, your people have been misunderstood and excluded from society. Some have considered your values, culture, and traditions to be inferior. Others, intoxicated by power, money and market trends, have stolen your lands or contaminated them. How said this is. How worthwhile it would be for each of us to examine our conscience and learn to say, ‘Forgive me!’” – (According to the press, this is what Pope Francis said to the Maya during his visit to San Cristobal Da Las Casas in 2011)

The worst thing I can say about Maya Civilization is that it’s too darn short! According to Amazon, its print version is only 39 pages. But then again, it’s written by “An Hourly History” so supposedly you can finish it in an hour.

This is one of two books that I recommend reading first for people who know nothing about the Maya. It’s an easy and engaging read–not dry at all.

The book explains how the different kingdoms were aligned, why the kingdoms were constantly going to war with each other, and what the purposes of human sacrifice were.

Published in 2020, it’s probably got the most up-to-date info on the Maya you can find in book format. The last chapter discusses the archaeological discoveries up to 2016.

The other thing I like about it is that as a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, I didn’t need to pay for it. You can get this book free as well by signing up for a FREE month trial of Kindle Unlimited.

3. The Maya (Tenth Edition)

By Michel Coe and Stephen Houston (2022)

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars – the first time I read it; 5 out of 5 stars – the second time I read it

“All the Mesoamerican Indians shared a number of traits which were more or less peculiar to them and absent or rare elsewhere in the New World: hieroglyphic writing, books of fig-bark paper or deerskin that were folded like screens, a complex calendar, knowledge of the movements of the planets (especially Venus) against the dynamic background of the stars, a game played with a rubber ball in a special court, highly specialized markets, human sacrifice by head or heart removal, an emphasis upon self-sacrifice by blood drawn from the ears, tongue, or penis, and highly complex, pantheistic religion which included nature divinities as well as deities emblematic of royal descent.”

I love this book.

But this book and I did not always have such a good relationship.

The first time I read it, I hated it.

The Maya was the very first book I read on the Maya, and I nearly died of boredom and confusion. For starters, I didn’t have enough background knowledge of the Maya to understand it. Second, it focuses more on the archaeological discoveries than the history and anthropology of the Mayan civilization.

I do like the book now after I’ve read many other books about the Maya and after I’ve visited over 20 Mayan ruins in Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador.

Plus, it’s written by one of the premier experts in the field of Maya, Michael Coe, and it’s one of the most recently published books about the Maya, which is important because loads have been discovered about them in the last 10 to 20 years.

The book is also a great reference book. Every time I visit a new ruin, I open up Coe’s book to see what he has to say about it.

My advice: Read this book ONLY after you have some background on the Maya.

4. Aztec and Maya: An Illustrated History

By Charles Phillips and David Jones (2019)

My Rating: Not Read Yet

I have not had a chance to read Aztec and Maya yet. It’s not available as an ebook and as a digital nomad, I can’t carry around books.

However, the reviews on Amazon and Good Reads have been overwhelmingly positive. Reviewers have said that it’s “wonderful,” “informative,” “fantastically well illustrated,” and “a good value for money.”

I assume that it’s a fantastic first book to read on the Maya. The photos probably help you understand the history of the Maya more easily than a book without illustrations. Even without reading it, I’m going to recommend it as a good start to understanding the Maya and in preparation for your trip to Mexico or Central America.

The book includes both Mayan and Aztec civilizations. Combining both in one book lets you see the relationship between the two groups and helps you understand the timeline of history. This is fantastic, especially for those who are traveling to Mexico and for those who want to delve deeper into the ancient history of Mesoamerica.

Also, I bet the book makes for a great Christmas gift!

If you have Aztec and the Maya, let me know what you think.

5. A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya

By David Friedel and Linda Schele (1990)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“These silent monuments hold the names and deeds of kings and nobles, and accounts of how they and their people strove for prosperity and a place in history. That history was obscured until recently, but those ancient kings now speak again through our new understanding of the words they wrote. It is the decipherment of this writing system that has given us a window into the Maya world. This book is about history as they wrote it and the world as they saw it.”

A Forest of Kings is not the most up-to-date book on the Maya (published in 1990).

However, I absolutely LOVED it.

Linda Schele and David Freidel make a topic that could easily be dry and boring instead be exciting and engrossing!

It’s got information about everything: history, anthropology, and archaeology. You get to learn about the different rulers, their order of succession, their alliances and rivals, their wars, their beliefs and customs like blood-letting and ball-playing, and much more.

The authors go into lots of detail about each subject–more than I’ve read in other books on the Maya. Except for the first couple of chapters, each chapter focuses on one kingdom (Palenque, Tikal, Yaxchilan, Copan, etc.) and one theme (primogeniture, collapse, divine kings). For example, in the chapter on Yaxchilan, the authors explain the history and archaeology of the site but also focus on the complexity of primogeniture and the problems rulers have in legitimizing their rule.

My advice: I wouldn’t start with A Forest of Kings, though. I tried reading this book years ago and gave up after only a few pages. The second time I attempted it (and easily finished it) I had already visited 10 Maya ruins and read many other books about the Maya.

I only wish there was a more current edition of this book.

6. The Blood of Kings: Dynasty and Ritual in Maya Art

By Linda Schele and Mary Ann Miller (1986)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

The Blood of Kings is probably the most beautiful book you can find on the Maya. It’s full of over 150 colored photos (with detailed descriptions and explanations) of the most important works of art and architecture of the Maya. I only wish it were more compact so that I could have taken it with me while I traveled through Mexico and Central America.

Written by Linda Schele, the same author as A Forest of Kings, the book is based on an exhibition of Maya art at the Kimball Art Museum in Texas. Each chapter represents a particular theme of the exhibition.

Chapter 1 – dress and accouterments of the royal people

Chapter 2 – a ruler’s ascension to the throne

Chapter 3 –daily life and rituals of the royal court (the murals of Bonampak)

Chapter 4 – the ritual of bloodletting and vision quests

Chapter 5 – warfare and captive sacrifice

The book examines what the different features, symbols, and pictures on the stelae, sculptures, reliefs, pottery, temples, and pyramids tell us about the Maya. For example, chapter 4 describes the famous stelae from Yaxchilan (near Palenque) and what they teach us about bloodletting, and chapter 5 looks at what the famous murals of Bonampak (near Palenque) tell us about warfare and human sacrifice. You learn about the way Maya dressed and did their hair by studying the different sculptures and stela.

My advice: If you’re trying to decide between The Blood of Kings and A Forest of Kings, I prefer the latter.

7. Maya History

By Tatiana Proskouriakoff, Barbara Page, and Rosemary Joyce (2011)

My Rating: Have Not Rated Yet

Maya History is a book that I recently came across (December 2023) when I was looking to update this list of books on the Maya. The title intrigued me, so I contemplated buying it. However, after reading some sample pages, it turned out to be not what I was looking for.

I wanted an old-fashioned history book on the Maya that wasn’t so archaeologically focused as so many others are—Michael Coe’s The Maya or Linda Schele’s A Forest of Kings.

Sadly, it turned out to be even more focused on the ruins rather than on historical figures and events than Coe’s and Shele’s books.

Just from the little I’ve read, it was even more difficult to read than Michael Coe’s book. If you’re a novice, I’d skip Maya History—it’s too dry and boring and goes too much into the archaeology, which isn’t a bad thing but I wanted more history than it was giving me.

Maya History is short as well (200 pages), so it probably lacks depth.  

The other reason I would choose Coe’s book over this one is that the former was updated in 2022 and this one was published in 2011.

8. Breaking the Maya Code (Third Edition)

By Michael Coe (2012)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Breaking the Maya Code is not just about how the Maya code was deciphered but it’s also a fun, gossipy book about the ins and outs of the archaeology world. The backstabbers, the bullies, the geniuses, the misfits, and the bleeding hearts. Coe spares nothing and nobody. He is not afraid to call out people who have bullied, belittled, and led the field on the wrong track.

I found all the archaeologists, linguists, and amateurs who broke the code and who didn’t to be as fascinating as most people find rock and movie stars to be.

For those interested in linguistics, this is a great book to read.

My advice: If you’ve already read some of the more introductory books on the Maya and want to explore the history of Maya archaeology, then I do recommend Breaking the Maya Code. However, you won’t learn much about the culture and history of the Maya.

9. Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, Second Edition

By Simon Martin and Nikolai Grube (2008)

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

After my tour guide at Calakmul recommended the Chronicle of the Maya Kings and Queens, I looked for it for 6 months in Mexico and Guatemala (there’s no online version)! Then I found a copy in a bookstore in Antigua just before I left for Tikal in Flores.

To be honest, it turned out to not be the most scintillating book. It’s not for the casual Maya reader. It’s more for those who REALLY (and I mean REALLY!) want to nerd out on this ancient civilization even more.

The book covers the history of the rulers of eleven classic Maya sites in Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, and Honduras. These are Tikal, Dos Pilas, Naranjo, Caracol, Calakmul, Yaxchilan, Piedras Negars, Palenque, Tonina, Copan, and Quirigua. You’ll learn about the different alliances and wars fought between the different kingdoms. Who was allied with Tikal? Who was allied with Calakmul? Who were Palenque’s enemies?

I must confess that I haven’t read the whole book. I tried, but like I said it’s dry. Instead, before visiting a particular archaeological ruin like Caracol in Belize, Copan in Honduras, and Quirigua in Guatemala, I’d read the chapter for that site.

The book has loads of fantastic photos, maps, and timelines.

My Advice: If you want to nerd out on the Maya, get the book!

10. An Illustrated Dictionary of the Gods and Symbols of Ancient Mexico and the Maya

By Mary Ellen Miller and Karl Taube (1997)

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“Sharing a constellation of beliefs and practices, highly developed civilizations among different cultures and ethnic groups first rose in Mesoamerica around 1000 BC and then thrived off and on for 3000 years. What makes them all part of a Mesoamerican tradition are such things as use of the unusual 260-day calendar, a rubber ballgame played in an alley defined by two parallel structures, and use of cement made by burning limestone or shells, as well as many more subtle patterns of life and belief. Mesoamericans never saw themselves as a unity, and indeed, no single dominant culture ever imposed unity on them, but they were interested in each other, in their various pasts, and even, in some cases, in leaving a record for the future.”

Just what the title of the book says, this is an actual dictionary of the mythology, religion, symbols, objects, and politics of the Olmecs, Zapotecs of Oaxaca, Maya, Teotihuacanos, Mixtecs of Oaxaca, Toltecs, and Aztecs. Topics include everything from acrobats to bloodletting to calendars to names of Gods. You’ll find alongside the entries many useful illustrations. There’s also a chapter on the history and religious beliefs of the different ancient civilizations.

At the beginning of the dictionary is a list of words and concepts that are defined. Everything is ordered alphabetically. You’ll find out what the symbolism of religious rituals (cannibalism and human sacrifice), animals, natural phenomena, and places are. There’s a good section explaining the different calendars and the different lords and gods of night and day.

I particularly liked the entries that explain the different gods and how they are represented on the different monuments around Mexico.

An Illustrated Dictionary is a great book if you seriously want to study the Maya or if you’re doing an extensive trip to the archaeological sites of Mexico and Central America. It’s not a book to read from front to back so much as to look through it when you come across a concept or god that you want a clear and succinct explanation for. I often looked at it AFTER I visited an ancient ruin for a clearer explanation of something the tour guide said.

My Advice: Useful book for those who want to explore the Maya in depth and when visiting their ruins.

11. Maya Cosmos: Three Thousand Years on the Shaman’s Path

By David Freidel, Linda Schele, and Joy Parker (1993)

My Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

Have you ever started reading a book expecting it to be about one thing only for it to turn out to be about something else?

That’s how I felt about Maya Cosmos. I thought it was going to help me make sense of the Maya religion and help explain all the Maya gods to me. I wanted to know the difference between Chaak, Itzamna, and Kukulcan.

It’s not about that AT ALL. Instead, it’s really about the relationship between the Maya religion and astronomy.

The book is also filled with personal stories of Schele and Friedel’s travels throughout Chiapas, the Yucatan, and Guatemala to various Maya ruins and villages and how they came up with their theories tying the Milky Way to Maya beliefs.

I have to admit that I didn’t finish Maya Cosmos. It wasn’t what I was looking for.

My Advice: Only if you’re fascinated with archaeoastronomy.

12. The Popol Vuh

Translated: Michael Bazzett (2018)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“The original book exists

It was written long ago

but those who read and ponder it

have hidden their faces”

The Popol Vuh is like the Maya Bible. It includes the creation story and myths of the K’iche Maya, one of the people who live in the area around Lake Atitlan and Chichicastenango in Guatemala.

The original book was written in K’iche and was kept hidden from the Spanish for centuries until it was revealed to Dominican Friar Francisco Ximenez in the 1700s. Ximenez then translated it into Spanish.

This version of the Popol Vuh is incredibly important to understanding the beliefs and customs of the Maya as it is pretty much the only surviving document written by the Maya before the Spanish conquest. The rest were destroyed by the Spanish church and government.

Here’s what else you’ll find in the book:

  • Part 1 – The preamble and then the story of how the Gods attempt to create humans only to have everyone washed away in a flood
  • Part 2 – The story of the Seven Macaw and his two sons
  • Part 3 – The story of the hero twins and their visit to Xibalba (the underworld)
  • Part 4 – The story of the creation of humans

For those traveling to any of the Maya archaeological sites in Central America like Palenque, Copan, or El Mirador, this is a good book to read because it explains who the gods and humans are that you find on the ruins’ carvings and statues.

Although the rest of the books on this list retell the same stories from the Popul Vuh, I found that after reading this book, I had a more complete and deeper understanding of these important myths than if I had relied only on secondary sources.

My Advice: Definitely, take the plunge and read this short book.

13. Jungle of Stone: The Extraordinary Journey of John L. Stephens and Frederick Catherwood, and the Discovery of the Lost Civilization of the Maya

By William Carlsen (2016)

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“Que bonito es el mundo;

Lastima es que yo me muera.”

“How beautiful is the world;

It’s a pity that I must die.”

I absolutely loved, loved, loved Jungle of Stone. Perhaps too many loves. Still if you love adventure, travel, and history, this book has all that.

It’s such a fun, riveting, eye-opening, and well-written biography describing the life of the explorers and archaeologists John Stephens and Frederick Catherwood. These two are about as close as you can get to two real-live Indiana Jones. The two explorers are credited with bringing the ancient Maya ruins to the attention of the United States and Europe.

The book tells the life story of writer/lawyer/amateur archaeologist John Stephens and architect/amateur archaeologist Frederick Catherwood.

From 1838 to 1839, they traveled all over Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan. They were one of the first people to visit the Maya ruins of Copan and Quirigua. They then made their way to Palenque and then up to the Yucatan to the ruins of Uxmal.

On their second trip to Mexico, they explored the ruins of the Yucatan peninsula in depth.

Stephens wrote two best sellers about their adventures. Both books included Catherwood’s drawings of the ruins. Their adventures sparked curiosity in the ancient ruins of Mesoamerica.

I’ve read the original books by Stephens and Catherwood (Incidents of Travel), which I review next on this list. William Carlsen’s book is much easier and more fun to read than the ones Stephens wrote. Carlsen also paints a much more favorable picture of Stephens than how he comes off in his own book.  

My Advice: If you’re trying to decide which one to read first: Carlsen’s or Stephens’, I’d recommend Jungle of Stone. But if you’re a true travel book aficionado, then by all means, take the plunge and go for the original.

14. Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan

By John L Stephens

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“I was beginning a journey in a new country; it was my duty to conform to the customs of the people; to be prepared for the worst, and submit with resignation to whatever might befall me.”

Incidents of Travel is THE original travel book written by Stephens and illustrated by Catherwood about their journey in 1838 and 1839 through Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Chiapas, and the Yucatan and their “discoveries” of the Maya ruins of Copan, Quirigua, Palenque, and Uxmal.

It’s a fascinating and historically important book, but it’s not easy to read. Stephens is surely no Hemingway. The sentences are long and overly complicated so you need to do linguistic gymnastics to decode them. I don’t know if his writing represents the style of that period or if he’s just a bad writer. Many times, I had no idea what he was talking about.

Another thing that made it difficult to read is that he doesn’t tell you where he’s headed as he sets out from one place to another. You don’t find out until he gets to the next destination.

Stephens also likes to climb volcanoes and there are A LOT of volcanoes in Central America. He climbs one volcano and then another and another and another. And every volcano and view that he encounters is the best and most beautiful he’s ever seen. It gets to be quite repetitive after a while.

I’m still glad that I read the original. Carlsen paints a very nice picture of Stephens in his book Jungle of Stone. However, when you read Stephens’ views of the Maya and Black people in his own words, he comes across as quite racist by twenty-first standards. Historically, this is interesting as it’s proof of what even the most enlightened person thought back then. But it didn’t make me like the man very much.

My Advice: If you’re a real Maya or history nerd or a lover of travel books, I recommend reading it. If you don’t want to struggle through pages of often boring and incomprehensible prose, just read Jungle of Stone instead.

15. Incidents of Travel in Yucatan

By John L. Stephens,

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

“While the manners and customs of the Indians have undergone an immense change, while their cities have been destroyed, their religion dishonoured, their princes swept away, and their whole government modified by foreign laws, no experiment has been made upon their currency.”

Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan is about Stephens and Catherwood’s second trip to the region in 1841. This time they just traveled around the Yucatan Peninsula and focused mainly on exploring archaeological ruins. There are also some observant descriptions of life in Merida, Valladolid, and various villages.

From a historical perspective, Stephens and Catherwood’s trip couldn’t have come at a better time. The Yucatan was trying to decide whether they really wanted to become independent from Mexico. It was also a few years before The Caste War broke out in the Yucatan (the war in which the Maya revolted against the Mexican government).

The most fascinating and important part of the book for me wasn’t the description of the ancient ruins but of the people of the Yucatan. Stephens is quite blunt in his observations of how the Maya were treated at that time. It’s one thing to read about the mistreatment of the Maya by the Europeans and Americans in a history book written in the twenty-first century, but it’s even more eye-opening reading it from an observer and participant at that time.

Stephens must have gotten some advice on his writing after publishing his first book because his second one is much improved. The writing is crisper and less wordy. You also know where he’s headed each time that he leaves one ancient Maya site on his way to another.

My Advice: I’d read this book only after reading his first one on Central America, Chiapas, and the Yucatan.

16. Tikal and Uxmal: The History and Legacy of the Mayan Capitals of the Classic Era

By Charles Rivers Editors, 2016

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Uxmal is one of the most beautiful Maya sites in Mexico. For many months after I visited it while living in Merida, I’d been looking for more info on the history of the ruins. Finally, I found what I was looking for with this book.

The good thing is that Tikal and Uxmal is free if you have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited. If you don’t have one, you can still get a free trial for one month.

The book is about both Uxmal and Tikal, but they’re covered in different ways. With Tikal, the focus is on its history and less on the different pyramids and temples. You’ll learn about the various rulers, Tikal’s enemies and allies, and their relationship with Teotihuacan.

With Uxmal, there is more information on its temples and pyramids. But you also get a section on Uxmal’s history and a section on what daily life was like for the Maya at that time.  

My Advice: I highly recommend it to those who are visiting Tikal or Uxmal. It’s short, so if you can try getting it with a Kindle Unlimited subscription.  

Check out my travel guide for Tikal here. It includes info on how to see the Tikal ruins at sunrise and sunset as well as what other ruins to visit while in the area.

17. Maya Ruins of Tikal & Copan

By David Raezer and Jennifer Raezer Approach Guides (2022)

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

I bought Maya Ruins of Tikal & Copan before visiting Copan in Honduras as I thought it would be a good substitute for a tour guide (they charge US$30). Did it do the job for Copan?

The book covers 3 sites: Tikal, Copan, and Quirigua. The first part of the book is a bit of general background on the Maya’s belief system. Since I’ve read so many other books on the Maya, the information was nothing new.  

The next section on Maya sculpture and stelae, however, was pretty useful. It taught me what the different symbols and features on the stelae and temples meant.

In the section on Tikal, you don’t get any history. You do get a guide to the different structures including some background and an explanation of their different features. I didn’t use the book when I visited Tikal. Instead, I had joined a tour but after a while, I found the guide to be horrible and just left and walked around on my own. I wished I had at least had a book like this when I was there.

When I was at Copan, I found it to be helpful at times, explaining the meaning behind some of the temples and stelae. However, at other times, I’d be looking at some structures or some carvings, but I could find nothing about it in the guidebook. That was frustrating!

Unfortunately, I didn’t have this book when I visited Quirigua. It probably would have helped since I toured the site without a guide and the descriptions of the different stelae were too brief. To appreciate Quirigua and have a meaningful experience there, you need to understand what the different features of the stelae and zoomorphs represent. I actually used the book while I was looking at my photos of my trip to Quirigua.

My Advice: I have mixed feelings about this book. It was helpful to a point but it needs a lot of improvement in the Copan section.

Check out my travel guide for Tikal here. It includes info on how to see the Tikal ruins at sunrise and sunset as well as what other ruins to visit while in the area.

18. Maya Ruins of Mexico: Travel Guide to Chichen Itza, Tulum, Teotihuacan, Palenque, and More (2022)

By David Raezar and Jennifer Raezer, Approach Guides (2022)

Maya Ruins of Mexico covers only 5 Maya sites (Bonampak, Chichen Itza, Palenque, Yaxchilan, and Tulum) and 3 non-Maya sites (La Venta, Teotihuacan, and Tula).

I didn’t use it while I was in Mexico so I can’t say if it’s any good. I’ve used Approach Guidebooks for the Maya sites in Guatemala, Honduras, and Cambodia in the past, and the books are good but not great.

They’re a bit dry so reading them beforehand was boring.

I found them most useful when I would take them with me to the sites. I’d look at a temple or sculpture, open the book to that page, and read the explanation of what I was looking at. The books usually explain what the specific features of a temple or stelae are. You generally go away with a more meaningful experience than if you had no guide.

Final Thoughts

So that’s it for some of the best books about the Maya. The more you read about the Maya the more you’ll enjoy your travels to the different Maya ruins around Mexico and Central America.

My 3 favorite books about the Maya are…

If you’ve read any of these books, tell me what you think. If you know of any other book about the Maya, tell me about them in the Comment Section below.

Thank you!

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15 books about the Maya
chichen itza


  1. I love this list. Was looking for books to read on Belize and Tikal/Maya for an upcoming trip. Love linking my reading to travel locations. Thanks for the recs!

    • You’re welcome!

  2. Thanks for a great and comprehensive review. I already have several of the books on your list, but can now prioritize how I read them! Thanks again!


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About The Bamboo Traveler!

Welcome to The Bamboo Traveler, a travel blog dedicated to helping those travelers who want to dig deeply into the history, heritage, and culture of a place. Whether it’s through the pages of your passport or the pages of a book, I’ll help you travel the world and uncover the history, culture, food, architecture, and natural beauty of some of the world’s most fascinating places.


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