23 ancient lost cities for your travel bucketlist

Covered in jungle, hidden on a remote island or in plain sight taken over by modern life. The world has ancient lost cities on every continent. History buffs like us love how the ancient city ruins give an insight in ancient life and adventurous travelers are drawn by the mysterious atmosphere. To uncover the most mythical city ruins all over the world open for visitors, we’ve asked the some of the world’s leading travel bloggers to help create the ultimate lost cities bucketlist.

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#1 Masada, ancient lost city in Israel

by Mario from Rest And Recuperation

If you are planning a visit to Israel, you will probably put on top of your list Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the other towns in the West Bank. And you are right, they are wonderful and full of history and culture. But trust me, add a stop to what is now a lost city: Masada.

Located on the northern tip of the Negev Desert, it was a fortress on top of a hill overlooking the Dead Sea and Jordan on the other shore.Used as a palace during the I century b.C., on 70 a.D. it was occupied by the Zealots who took refuge here after the fall of Jerusalem. The Romans sieged Masada and managed to conquer it only on 74 a.D., due to the difficulty to reach it. Indeed, the town was located on a very steep hill, which would not allow the Roman troops to reach it. Their engineers, though, built a ramp made of soil and stones, so that rams could reach the walls. All the Zealots committed suicide before the Romans entered the town.

Today only few buildings remain, including the ramp built to conquer it. The best experience is to climb it very early and watch the sunrise over the Dead Sea before exploring the ruins. To enjoy at its best the visit to Masada, be sure to sleep in the camping with free tents and mattresses on the west side. Bring some food and have a bbq on the provided grills under the desert sky, sleep some hours and then climb the ramp as the ancient conquerors did.

#2 Angkor, ancient lost city in Cambodia

by Emily from Wander-Lush

When it comes to lost cities, it doesn’t get any more iconic than Angkor. It may have been abandoned for nigh on 500 years, but it’s a hive of activity today, serving as both an important religious and cultural monument for Cambodians, and the country’s (possibly the region’s) most iconic tourist attraction.

Construction began at Angkor in the 9th century when it was established as a capital for the Khmer Empire. At its peak, it was the largest pre-industrial city on earth. After a long and prosperous period under Hindu monarchs including Jayavarman II, in the year 1351, Angkor came under Ayutthayan control. In 1431, local Khmer rebelled against their Siamese rulers. The citadel was ransacked, and Angkor was abandoned. It was all but lost to the jungle until 1907, when restorations led by French archaeologists commenced. Inscribed by UNESCO in 1992, work still continues to this day.

Many people mistakenly think that Angkor is just one temple. In fact, Angkor Archaeological Complex is a massive compound (the largest in the world) of temples and citadels. Angkor Wat is the most iconic. Ta Prohm, famously brought to life by Tomb Raider, Angkor Thom, Banteay Srei, and the further-flung Prasat Beng Mealea are highlights. You need at least 2-3 days to see a good cross-section, especially since everything is so spread out.

To make the most of your visit to Angkor, I highly recommend joining an organised tour or hiring a private guide. The only way to learn about (and therefore really appreciate) what you’re seeing is by having a knowledgeable local with you to provide narration and answer your questions. This is also a great way to support the local economy.

Lost city Angkor Wat in Cambodia by Emily Lush

#3 Jerash, off the beaten track highlight in Jordan

by us

Many people know Petra as the a bucketlist must-visit in Jordan, but Jordan has a second ancient lost city. Jerash is just as impressive as famous Petra. As one of the best Roman archeological sites in the world, it’s a must-visit on your Jordan itinerary.

The ancient Roman city of Jerash was built in a remote corner of the Roman empire, but it was one of the ten biggest cities of the entire empire. It had dozens of temples, two theatres, an enormous oval square, communal baths, long colonnaded streets, impressive arches, aquaducts, bridges and plazas. Much of that still remains today, making Jerash one of the most well-preserved Roman sites outside of Italy.

One of the most beautiful and must-see monuments in Jerash is the impressive arch close to the entrance, built to commemorate the visit of Roman emperor Hadrian. From the arch a paved street leads you to the immense oval square, surrounded with colonnades. Next to it are a theatre, beautiful temples and a colonnaded street leading to a second arch. Other must-sees are the second arch at the end of the colonnade, the second theatre in the same area and the temple area uphill next to the colonnaded street.

The entrance fee is included in the Jordan Pass, just like Petra and most other highlights of Jordan. The ancient city of Jerash is big, so make sure you have at least half a day for your visit. . Jerash is located in the north of Jordan. It’s just an 45 minute drive from the capital Amman, making it the perfect day trip from capital Amman. Add a stop at the nearby desert castle Aljoun to your road trip for splendid view all over Jordan and Israel.

#4 Uxmal, lost Mayan city in Mexico

by Anna from Would Be Traveller

Mexico, and the Yucatan peninsula in particular, is famed for its lost Aztec and Mayan cities, and one of the best is Uxmal. Pronounced oosh-mal, the city’s name means ‘built three times’ in Mayan, after the city’s main pyramid that was built on top of pre-existing structures. 

Uxmal used to be one of the most important cities in the Mayan period, with a population of 20,000 at its peak. The Mayans inhabited Uxmal between 600-900 AD, but the city was only abandoned in the 1500s during the Spanish conquest. 

You’ll need at least half a day to explore the site fully, as there is plenty to see. The central pyramid is the most impressive structure, but don’t miss the ball court, the nunnery, the temple of the turtles or the great pyramid, which offers fantastic views over the city and out into the jungle.

The city is most easily accessed by car, but many tourist companies offer day trips there too. The most popular place to stay nearby is Merida, around an hour’s drive away. Its cobbled back streets, Mexican culture and colonial architecture make it a must-visit for visitors to the area. When planning a visit, many people have a hard time deciding between Chichen Itza and Uxmal, but if you prefer exploring lost cities without huge crowds of tourists, Uxmal wins hands down.

Lost city Uxmal ruins in Mexico by Would Be Traveller

#5 Choquequirao, off the beaten track ruins in Peru

by Alya and Campbell from Stingy Nomads

Peru is an amazing country to explore for history lovers with many beautiful ruins left from the Inca Empire. Some lost cities such as Machu Picchu are worldly renown, some are yet to be discovered. The Choquequirao ruins are often called ‘the sister of Machu Picchu’. The name ‘choquequirao’ in the Quechua language means ‘cradle of gold ‘. The ruins and the surroundings are stunning. The great thing about Choquequirao is that there are very few people visiting it. There are no vendors, restaurants, hotels or shops nearby. Being there gives a feeling of exploring an ancient city lost in the jungles.

The lost city is located 180km from Cusco. Unlike Machu Picchu it can be accessed only on foot, there is no road that goes to the ruins. It takes 2 days to walk from the nearest road to the lost city following the Choquequirao trek. One needs at least 4 days to visit the ruins from Cusco. The trek starts in Cachora, a small town 160km from Cusco. It’s easy to get there by bus.

Choquequirao was discovered in 1710 by the explorer Juan Arias Diaz. The city was inhabited between the 15th and 16th centuries. It was abandoned in the middle of the 16th century for unknown reasons. It’s believed that Choquequirao played an important role during the Inca Empire in connecting the Amazon region with the capital city of Cusco.

The ruins have two parts; the Upper ruins with main buildings and the Lower ruins that mostly consist of agricultural terraces. Visitors can access both parts. The architecture style of Choquequirao has a lot in common with Machu Picchu. Visiting both lost cities on one trip is an enriching experience.

#6 Ciudad Perdida, lost jungle city in Colombia

by Deb from The Visa Project

While working as an EFL teacher in Colombia, I got the opportunity to visit a lot of places in Colombia. But I had never been as fascinated by any other place, as I have been with Ciudad Perdida. 

Deep in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta mountains, Ciudad Perdida is an ancient abandoned city that was built around 800 CE. Some 650 years before Machu Picchu in Peru. Constructed along a steep mountain ridge nearly a mile above sea level, it is believed to have been inhabited by up to 10000 people. Locally known by its indigenous name of Teyuna, it’s believed to have been the seat of power of the Tairona kingdom. It was abandoned in the 16th century around the time of the Spanish Conquest and was discovered in 1972. 

The dry season from December to March is the best time to visit. It’s only accessible by feet, which involves a challenging hike for four to six days. But it’s a breathtaking hike that takes you through ancient ruins, waterfalls, native villages, and a lot more. Note that you can only do this hike with an authorized tour company. You can’t go on your own. A tour can cost anywhere from $350 to $450, that would cover food, lodging, and transportation to El Mamey town when you would start the hike. You would need to sleep in hammocks with a few basic amenities in the jungle.

All things said the stunning landscapes, the sense of remoteness, and plazas disappearing into the jungle will stay with you long after you come back.

Lost cities bucketlist Ciudad Perdida in Colombia

#7 Calakmul, hidden jungle imperium in Mexico

by us

Mexico has many ancient Mayan cities, but Calakmul is unique for its size, remote jungle location and enormous pyramids. The lost city is located in the south of Mexico, in the Yucatán Peninsula close to the Guatemalan border. From the main road it is a two hour drive on a long road deep into the Mexican jungle. The road gets more bumpy and narrow the closer you get to the ancient lost city.

Calakmul was once the largest Mayan empire in what is today Mexico. The only city that Calakmul could match is in what is now Guatemala: the famous Tikal. Historians say Calakmul would have ruled this area for more than 1,000 years. And by this area I don’t just mean where you can visit the ruins now. The city is said to have had hundreds of monuments and covered tens of square kilometers. It was one of the largest cities in the world. 

The highlight of Calakmul is Estructura II, measuring 140 meters long and more than 50 meters high. It’s one of the largest Mayan pyramids and you are allowed to climb to the top. Make sure to arrive at Calakmul early in the morning to avoid the crowds and be the first one to reach the pyramid tops for a magnificent jungle view.

#8 Goreme, underground city in Cappadocia Turkey

by Jackson from Journey Era

The Goreme Open-Air Museum is one of the most popular attractions and historic sites in Cappadocia with an audio-tour guiding you through the ancient paintings, churches and cave houses from the settlement, which once existed here centuries ago. While it is an open-air museum now, this site was once a thriving Byzantine monastic settlement housing more than 20 monks and was a prominent pilgrimage sit in the 17th century. It was part of a cluster of Byzantine settlements throughout the Cappadocia region in Turkey.

The Goreme Open-Air Museum is very close to the city-center in Goreme, which is the most popular town in Cappadocia. It is possible to walk to the Goreme Open Air museum from the town-center and would take about 15-minutes and is a little bit uphill. Alternatively, many taxis can drop you there for just a few dollars as it is a short trip. 

  • The paintings in the Goreme Open-Air museum are brilliant, in great condition and really transport you back in time. 
  • The Goreme Open-Air museum has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984 and one was one of the first UNESCO sites in Turkey.
  • The route is quite short and you can visit the entire site in-depth in under 1.5 hours without too much walking, which is ideal if you are visiting in the hot Turkish summer.
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The Goreme Open-Air Museum is one of the more expensive attractions in Cappadocia at 40 Turkish Lyra for entry, which is about $8 USD.

#9 Ostia Antica, ancient Roman city in Italy

by Rhonda from Travel Yes Please

Just 25 km southwest of Rome are the remains of Ostia, an important port city for the Roman Empire. The town of Ostia came under the control of Rome around 400 BC and was eventually developed into a bustling seaport and thriving commercial centre. At its peak, Ostia was home to 100,000 residents. The city had apartment blocks, shopping arcades, warehouses, taverns, inns, temples, public baths, and a large theatre.

As the Roman Empire expanded, it became dependent on other ports and Ostia’s importance began to decline. Commercial activity gradually slowed until the collapse of the Roman Empire led to the port being abandoned and much of the population relocating. In the 9th century Ostia was completely deserted and later became buried in mud when the harbour silted up.

Today Ostia is a vast archaeological site known as Ostia Antica. Excavations that began in the 19th century have gone on to unearth an impressive amount of the ancient city. Visitors can wander the cobblestone streets and see remains of apartments, warehouses, and public baths. Especially impressive are the mosaic floors in the baths and the reconstructed theatre.

Besides the preserved ruins, tourists can also visit the Museo Ostiense to see some artifacts discovered during the excavation. The collection includes portraits of notable people from ancient Ostia, sculptures, and wall paintings.

Lost city Ostia Antica roman ruins in Italy

#10 Kuelap, hidden gem in Peru

by Steph from Worldly Adventurer

You might be tempted to head to Peru and spend all of your time in Cusco, where you can hike the Inca trail to Machu Picchu, but for an off-the-beaten-path experience like no other, add the north of the country into your itinerary. An hour and a half’s flight and four hours by car from Lima, Chachapoyas is a high-Andean market town which lies close to one of northern Peru’s most special treasures: Kuélap.

This stone fortress, which sits high up on limestone mountain and is surrounded by impregnable walls some 20 metres high in places, was built centuries earlier than Machu Picchu by the Chacapoya people, somewhere between 500 and 1400 AD.

As you tour the site, you can see the remains of around 500 hundred circular stone houses, which would have once contained their mummified dead in the floorboards beneath the dwelling, as well as stone runs for their favourite dish: cuy (guinea pig).

Known as the “Warriors of the Clouds” because of their predilection for high-altitude living and fierce temperament, the Chachapoya were eventually conquered by the Inca in the 15th century and, this mountaintop citadel lay undiscovered until 1843.

Nowadays, you can either arrange a tour to hike the gruelling, 10-kilometre trail up to the fortress or take the easy route: a 20-minute cable car leaving from Nuevo Tingo up to the site. You’ll want at least three hours to explore and it’s best to pay one of the tour guides at the entrance whose stories of the former inhabitants can really bring the ruins to life. 

Lost city Kuelap in Peru

#11 Petra, ancient rock city in Jordan

by Alexx from Finding Alexx

Petra in Jordan is arguably the most well-known and most recognised ancient city in the world, with incredibly well-preserved sandstone facades, cave dwellings and rocky paths ready for exploring. Archaeologists believe the Ancient City of Petra was built between the 2nd and 4th centuries BC, established as a key trade hub for nomadic Bedouin tribes which brought wealth to the area. After falling to the Roman Empire in 106AD Petra continued to flourish, until an earthquake in the 4th century destroyed buildings and infrastructure. Petra’s trade importance declined as sea routes became the norm, and in the 12th century the Ancient City of Petra’s location was lost, until Swiss explorer Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered it in 1812.

Many visitors are unaware that the city of Petra is actually huge, with 263 square kilometres of ancient buildings and caves. When you take into account the distance between the main sights (like the postcard-famous Treasury and the lesser known but equally grand Monastery, up a path of 840 steps), and the 30 minute to one hour walk from the entrance to reach the city via the Siq walkway, it’s best explored with two full days of your Jordan itinerary. Head there early on the second day to make the most of Petra without other visitors, and don’t miss a brilliant photo op a short walk up the cliff to the right of the Treasury. Nearby Wadi Musa is the tourist-friendly town with plenty of accommodation options and authentic eateries to fill you up after a long day of adventuring.

#12 Teotihuacan, lost city in Mexico

by Lorenza from When I Roam

The lost city of Teotihuacan is an incredible sight, just 40km outside of Mexico City. The word means the “place where gods were created”, and when you walk along its huge Avenue of the Dead, you can really imagine a time when Teotihuacan bloomed. 

The city was built around 400 B.C., reaching its peak in 400 A.D. when archeological estimates believe that 200,000 people of different ethnicities lived in its different barrios, or neighborhoods. No one really knows who built it, but evidence of Teotihuacan’s influence can be seen around Mesoamerica, in the art and architecture of other cities and cultures. Centuries later the Aztecs took over the abandoned city and returned it to its former glory. 

This incredible lost city requires a full day and lots of walking. Enter through Door 1 as it is the closest to the museum and learn more before exploring. From there go to the Temple of Quetzalcoatl, an incredible pyramid with feathered serpent sculptures. It’s one of my favorite. To get from the Ciudadela and Temple of Quetzalcoatl to the Pyramid of the Moon, you have to walk all of the Avenue of the Dead, a 40 meters wide and 2.4 km long street. During this long walk, close your eyes and imagine what the city used to be like. 

Don’t forget to go up the Pyramid of the Sun, and feel the breeze and sun on your face. Even though the Pyramid of the Moon is smaller, make your way to its top and admire all of Teotihuacan from here. 

lost city Teotihuacan ruins in Mexico

#13 Volubilis, ancient Roman city in Morroco

by us

In the vast Moroccan landscape close to the city of Meknes and surrounded by almond and olive trees, is the partly uncovered lost city of Volubilis. The city once thrived from the olive oil production and grew larger and larger under Roman rule. Just like Jerash in Jordan, Volubilis was one of the remote cities of the Roman empire. The archeological site famous for its beautiful well-preserved mosaic floors, but it might just be the unique location in Morocco that really makes the Roman city of Volubilis a must-visit.

Only about half of the Volubilis UNESCO site has been uncovered. We already mentioned the well-preserved mosaic floors which are absolutely stunning. The arch, basilica and temples are all interesting, but the floors of the houses and palaces are the true highlights. The House of Orpheus used to be a palace and now its dining room floor draws in visitors. It has a stunning mosaic dedicated to the mythical figure Orpheus, playing the lute surrounded by animals. The House of Venus shows two beautiful mosaics with gods and goddesses, but there are many more must-sees close to these former palaces.

The archeological site of Volubilis is located close to the more known cities Fez and especially Meknes, making it a great day trip from either one. Make sure to also visit the nearby village Moulay Idriss, a famous pilgrimage site in Morocco as the former home to a great-grandson of Prophet Mohammed and the founder of Morocco.

#14 Copan, ancient ruins in Honduras

by Vicky from Buddy The Traveling Monkey

While visiting Honduras, one of the places we recommend exploring is Copan Ruinas. These ruins were part of the great Mayan civilization which included the areas of eastern Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula, Belize, Guatemala, and western parts of El Salvador and Honduras. At its peak in the early 9th century, the city was home to about 20,000 people. It’s unclear why the city began to decline, but it was completely abandoned by about 1200.

The Copan Archaeological Park is about a 15-20 minute walk from town, so it’s easy to get to. The cost to enter is $15 and you can pay an additional $15 to enter the tunnels underneath the temples. You can also pay an additional $30 for a guide. We recommend planning to stay at least two hours. These Mayan ruins aren’t some of the biggest, but what makes these unique is the amount of detail on the carvings. They have been very well preserved and on some pieces you can still see red paint.

The Hieroglyphic Staircase is especially important because it is a record of the royal history of Copan. The staircase, which is almost 30 meters high and was completed around 755 CE, documents the rule of 16 kings, listing their names, births, deaths, and any important events that happened during their rule.

#15 Herculaneum, ancient city in southern Italy

by Melissa from High Heels & a Backpack

Most people have heard of Pompeii – the city that was destroyed by the 79AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius. However few people realize that Pompeii was not the only city that felt the wrath of the eruption. The ancient city of Herculaneum (Ercolano in Italian) was also destroyed. 

Herculaneum is a great place to visit on a day trip from Naples. It is an incredibly well-preserved Roman city – even better preserved than Pompeii. The eruption saw Herculaneum buried beneath 16 meters of ash and mud. These layers of soot meant that entire houses, furnishings, and personal items survived the destruction. 

Herculaneum’s scenic coastal location made it a popular resort getaway town for Roman nobles. Visiting the site provides travelers with a fascinating glimpse into what life was like for the Roman elite. 

Look out for the Terme Maschili – the remnants of old Roman baths, and the Fornici – the old port warehouses where the skeletons of 300 residents that tried to flee the eruption were found. 

Many of the houses in Herculaneum still contain beautiful frescoes, mosaics, and sculptures. However many artifacts have been taken to the Archaeological Museum in Naples. You can get to Herculaneum by taking the Circumvesuviana train from Napoli Centrale to Ercolano Scavi station. It is possible to see both Ercolano and Pompeii in a day if you so wish. You should allocate at least 2-3 hours for exploring each of the ruins. 

#16 Tikal, lost Mayan city in Guatemala

by Shobha from Just Go Places Blog

We went to Tikal in Guatemala on a day trip from San Ignacio in Belize with our family. The hardest part of the all-day tour from San Ignacio was the time-consuming immigration on the Belize-Guatemala border. But Tikal was all worth it.

The lost city of Tikal is very important to the Mayans and is a South American UNESCO world heritage site. Tikal used to be the capital of the most famous Mayan kingdom which reached its peak from 200-900 AD. There could have been as many as 100,000 people who lived in Tikal at its height.

Tikal eventually faced ruin because of the effects of overpopulation – deforestation and erosion. The lack of resources made people move elsewhere. Although the once-great city was lost, locals still knew about it. They led Europeans to its rediscovery in the mid-19th century. 

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Tikal is located in a Guatemalan national park which is mostly rain forest surrounding the ruins. The most famous Mayan landmark at Tikal is the pyramid of the two headed snake. There are many ruins that are not open to the public. Interestingly, there are 90 types of bat in Guatemala and you can find 60 types of them at the ruins of Tikal! We did a LOT of climbing of stairs. The stairs are steep and narrow. But you are rewarded at the top with views that were pretty spectacular — of both other pyramids as well as what seemed to be endless rainforest. Spielberg was so impressed with the otherworldliness of Tikal that he used it as a setting for a Star Wars movie. 

Lost city Mayan ruins Tikal in Guatemala UNESCO site

#17 Hampi, lost city in India

by Jitaditya from The Travelling Slacker

Hampi is a major name in India’s tourism circuit. However, the cheerful, touristy ambiance of Hampi hides a tragic story of destruction akin to those of Troy and Carthage.

The city of Hampi first came into prominence around 700 years ago as the Vijayanagar Empire grew in stature and expanded itself to cover most parts of the peninsula. For more than 200 years, it remained one of the most prominent cities in the world, an economic powerhouse praised by early European explorers.

However, it always had problems with several neighboring sultans. Finally, all its enemies formed a coalition during a time when Hampi had a not so efficient ruler. They defeated the army of Vijayanagar and then sacked the capital for several months and turned it into a necropolis.

Hampi rose again in the 20th century as a tourist hub. The architectural achievements of its founders were such that even after such destruction and centuries of neglect, many of those temples and palaces still remain standing and now dozens of hotels and restaurants make them come alive, just like the good old days.

Hampi can be reached with an overnight bus or train ride from Bangalore. It is also not far from Goa and this makes it very popular among western visitors too. 

Lost city Hampi in India

#18 Gangaikondacholapuram, mysterious city in India

by Meenakshi from Polkajunction

There is much more to India than the Taj Mahal. One unique architectural structure that’s simply outstanding is the Brihadeeswara temple at Gangaikondacholapuram in the south-Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The temple is one of the triads of the ‘Great Living Chola Temples’.

Gangaikondacholapuram was the capital city of King Rajendra Chola, who had once conquered lands as far as Sumatra and Java apart from Bangladesh and Malaysia. The city thrived for more than 250 years, but then suddenly disappeared off the maps leaving behind just the ruins of the present-day temple.

Recent excavation works in an area nearby, have identified broken burnt bricks, polished granite pillars, and shrouds of porcelain in the former royal palace. Porcelain finds in the ruins have firmly established the trade links of the Cholas with the Chinese, thus reaffirming the stronghold the dynasty had over maritime trade links with faraway lands. Yet, Gangaikondacholapuram remains a lost city in the annals of Indian history. 

The best season to visit is November to February / June – August, so during the monsoons. There are no hotel options in and around Gangaikondacholapuram. It’s best to visit all three ‘Great Living Chola Temples’ in this area on a day trip from Thanjavur, which has excellent infrastructure and facilities for tourists. The nearest airport is just an hour from Thanjavur.

lost city bucketlist India Gangaikondacholapuram

#19 Pompeii, Roman lost city in Italy

by Megan from Megan Starr

I have always been fascinated by Pompeii, a city that froze in time almost 2000 years ago when a plume of ash engulfed the city when Mt Vesuvio erupted. 

Before the eruption, Pompeii was a vibrant city inhabited by some of ancient Rome’s wealthiest citizens. Known as a resort town, it was famous during the time for its lavish buildings and extraordinary artworks that were impressively preserved by the ash. 

The art of the city often delved into the world of erotica, and when it was discovered it was locked away deemed too risqué to display and even today, minors must be accompanied by an adult to view some of the pieces in the Naples Secret Museum. 

Life in Pompeii stopped abruptly in 79 AD when Mt Vesuvius erupted violently. The first stage of the eruption was not as deadly as the second, allowing many people to escape. However, during the second stage of the eruption, a giant ash cloud engulfed the city with such power that some of the buildings were knocked down while the rest were immaculately preserved. The ash cloud was so powerful that it even preserved people in time holding them in the final poses for eternity. 

Today, Pompeii is one of Italy’s most popular tourist destinations and can be visited year-round. You can walk the ancient streets, admire stunning frescos, and witness people frozen in time. 

Pompeii is easily accessible from Naples with direct trains running between the two. In the surrounding areas, you can find other amazing sites from the era, such as Herculaneum; a smaller city but one that is far more well-preserved than Pompeii due to the depth and heat of the ash.

Lost city Pompeii ruins in Italy

#20 Lissos, ancient lost city of Crete

by David from Delvo into Europe

Lissos is a long-lost port city hidden away on the mountainous south coast of Crete. It was one of two ports for the city of Elyros, a few kilometres inland near the village of Rodovani. Part of the magic of Lissos is the amazing journey you have to make to get there, and you’re rewarded with one of the most evocative sites in Greece and one of the best beaches in Crete almost to yourself.

The city of Lissos was probably founded in the Classical period, most likely the 5th century BC. Its mother city Elyros is believed to have had a population of 30,000, and had two ports – the other was what is now the modern village of Sougia, 3 km from Lissos. Lissos was important enough to mint its own coins, and it’s also believed to have had a sizeable fishing and naval fleet. Little is known about its end, but it’s most likely that Saracen raiders destroyed the city.

This once-thriving area is now incredibly peaceful, and you can only reach this ancient port by boat or on foot. The south Crete coast is very isolated, and travel is very, very slow. A daily boat departs Paleochora, 12 km to the west, for nearby Sougia every morning between April and October. It’s a short walk from the jetty to Sougia harbour, where a fisherman runs a ferry service at 1000 each day, picking up five hours later.

Otherwise it’s a 90-minute walk through Lissos gorge to the mountain overlooking the valley of Lissos. The city has remains of a temple, a small necropolis of tombs, two churches and scattered ruins throughout the valley.

It makes sense to stay in either Paleochora or Sougia if you intend to visit Lissos. Both are totally undeveloped in comparison with the resorts of the north coast – Paleochora is larger, with plenty of great cafes, restaurants and bars, and trips to other Crete destinations including Elafonissi beach.

Lost citis ancient ruins Lissos Greece

#21 Chichen Itza, world wonder in Mexico

by Adrienne from The Haphazard Traveler

Chichen Itza is a Maya archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula. One of the largest Maya cities, Chichen Itza rose to prominence beginning around 600 AD as a center of trade and culture. It fell into rapid decline around 1200, and was abandoned around 1500 for reasons unknown. However, its surviving monuments and blend of Maya and later Toltec architecture make it an important Mesoamerican ruin site. Chichen Itza is also one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Travelers can see Chichen Itza on a full day trip from other cities in the region like Cancun, Merida or Tulum. Tour itineraries often include a visit to nearby cenote Ik-Kil, a natural swimming hole formed by collapsing limestone, which is a welcome opportunity to cool off after a visit to the ruins. Be sure to bring sunscreen, water, comfortable walking shoes, and a hat, as well as a bathing suit and towel if you plan to visit the cenote.

Tour guides with group tours explain the history and significance of Chichen Itza’s monuments, or travelers who visit on their own can hire a guide at the entrance. Must-see monuments include the main temple, the Pyramid of Kukulkan (also known as El Castillo); El Caracol, an astronomical observatory; the Great Ball Court, a game court found in every Maya city, and the largest of its kind in Mesoamerica; and the Temple of Warriors, a massive 3-story temple with hundreds of stone columns. Visitors can also see the Sacred Cenote, into which the Maya threw offerings of jade, gold, and even human sacrifices.

Visiting Chichen Itza on a day trip is a great way to add some culture and history to a Mexico beach vacation. If you need ideas on where to stay for a perfect trip, check out my guide to the best Tulum beach hotels.

#22 Caracol, lost Mayan city in Belize

by Martha from Quirky Globetrotter

Caracol is a hidden gem when it comes to Mayan ruin sites. Relatively unknown to the general public, Caracol only gets roughly 10,000 visitors each year, which makes a trip to this lost city so life-changing. Though not a typical bucket list item, this Mayan ruin site is the largest in Belize and played a significant role in the Mayan empire.

Caracol stakes a place in Mayan history as being one of the few civilizations to defeat well-known Tikal in neighboring Guatemala. In fact, after the battle between Caracol and Tikal, much of the architectural elements incorporated into Tikal can be traced back to unique architecture originating in Caracol’s expansive temples and plazas.

Caracol dates back to 1200 B.C. In it’s most glorious days, Caracol was home to more than 140,000 Mayans. Historians have found evidence suggesting that Caracol was one of the few cities that survived the initial collapse of the Mayan empire. It wasn’t until 1050 A.D. that Caracol became a lost city of the Mayan empire and abandoned.

When venturing to Caracol, it is an all-day affair. Visitors need to be escorted by a military convoy in order to reach the ruin sites. Since the 3+ hour drive to the ruins is not for the faint of heart, but definitely is for adventure lovers. A self-guided tour of the Caracol Mayan Ruins is possible, but if you rather leave the adrenaline rush to the professionals, local tour guides also offer to take visitors to the ruins.

#23 Machu Picchu, famous lost city in Peru

by Wendy from The Nomadic Vegan

As one of the most famous archaeological sites in the world, Machu Picchu hardly needs an introduction. It was built by the Inca in the 15th century in the mountains of Peru. Lots of mystery surrounds Machu Picchu, but the general consensus among archaeologists is that it was built as an estate for the emperor, so it was not exactly a city. It’s thought that about 750 people lived there, most of whom were support staff who served the emperor. Machu Picchu was abandoned during the Spanish conquest, just 100 years after it was built.

In order to protect the site from overtourism, prices have been raised and limits placed on the number of tickets sold. It’s unclear what the situation will be after COVID-19, but previously tickets for the ruins cost 156 soles and had to be purchased in advance for a specific four-hour time slot. I recommend taking the earliest slot, at 6 am, to avoid the crowds and see the sunrise.

There are several ways of getting to Machu Picchu from Aguas Calientes, the nearby town that serves as a base for visitors. If you want to hike the 4-day Inca Trail, you’ll need to book it months in advance. Several alternative hikes are also available, or you can take the train. Some budget travelers choose to do a combination of bus rides and hiking instead, which works out significantly cheaper. Aguas Calientes has a wide variety of accommodation and restaurants available, including some suitable for vegan visitors to Machu Picchu.