From giant pyramid cities of Mexico to Late Bronze Age fortifications of Cyprus to subterranean temples in the Andes — these are my favorite Lost Cities of 2022.
At the beginning of 2022, I still had barely wandered out of my Paphos apartment or seen any of the abundant ruins in the city, much less the rest of the ancient island. Come January, I finally got around to tracking down all the ancient sites I’d mapped out the month before, knocking out as many as I could on the southern side of the divided island nation.
A couple months in, I returned to the still-frozen tundra of northern North America and eventually fled to warmer lands in Mexico—a country high on my list but I’d never been to before. However, my first stop in Puerto Vallarta, while full of colonial architecture, has few-to-no archaeological sites in the immediate region.
Mexico City, on the other hand, proved a great base from which to explore both the ruins scattered throughout the modern metropolis, as well as several a few hours away.
10) Kition | Larnaca, Cyprus
Larnaca was both my introduction to Cyprus as well as the many layers of the island’s long history. Dating back to the Bronze Age site at Kition, the main archaeological park north of the city center has relics stemming from the Mycenaean Greeks. This includes its own version of the horns of consecration, a design dating back at least to the Minoans of Crete.
Although not as grand or plentiful as other historic cities in Cyprus, hidden vestiges of Larnaca’s many eras are scattered throughout the city. Among them are Ottoman aqueducts, Byzantine churches and rock-cut tombs, and Phoenician shipyards.
This is all juxtaposed underneath a small-scale urban setting centered on Finadoukes Beach. Winding back from the seaside is a maze of tiny streets where tourists and locals gather in a surprisingly lively setting.
9) Tenochtitlan and Tlatelolco | Mexico City, Mexico
Mexico City, in a similar manner to Larnaca (albeit on a much grander scale) also hides many archaeological treasures throughout its vast urban sprawl. Chief among these in the old city center are Tlatelolco and Tenochtitlan. Dating from the 1400s, these Aztec cities are some of the largest remaining indigenous ceremonial centers in modern Mexico City.
That said, very few of these Aztec monuments remain, and what does only gives a vague hint at what they would’ve looked like in their prime. The ruins of Tenochtitlan are easily accessible from the Centro district and are grouped in with a number of historic Colonial Spanish monuments in the Historic Center. The Tlatelolco ruins in the Three Cultures Plaza (Plaza de las Tres Culturas) are a little further out, but easily accessible by taxi or subway from the Historic Center.
8) Amathus | Limassol, Cyprus
Located in the eastern outskirts of Limassol, Amathus is a hilltop citadel overlooking the coast. Although not as dramatic a setting as Kourion, this Amathus citadel also contains a large assortment of monuments dating from throughout its long history, which ended in the Late Roman to Early Christian Period.
The main site is easily accessible from Limassol along the coastal road east of the city. Visitors can start with the agora at the base of the hill, which has an impressive Roman fountain. Several winding trails up the hill lead past various monuments and give views of ruins on the neighboring hills. At the top of the Amathus citadel is an enormous 3.4m-wide stone urn – one of two that once existed at the hilltop. The second was taken by French architect Edmond Duthoit and is now in the Louvre Museum in Paris.
There are additional ancient monuments in the vicinity, including some rock-cut tombs and large circular structures on the hill immediately to the west. Unfortunately, that hill was not open to the public at the time of my visit.
7) Palaepaphos | Paphos, Cyprus
Palaepaphos, otherwise known as Old Paphos, is a Greek settlement dating from the Bronze Age and contained one of the earliest shrines to the goddess Aphrodite. The city was abandoned following an earthquake, at which time the population moved to Nea Paphos, the location of the modern city of Paphos. The city was later inhabited by the Romans, who left a number of structures, including an impressive mosaic depicting Leda and the Swan.
The Palaepaphos Archaeological Park is located in the modern village of Kouklia on a small hill overlooking the coast, approximately 2km away. A small onsite museum is hosted in an old Ottoman residence. In the hills surrounding the village are a number of other, mostly unmarked, ancient structures.
6) Cuicuilco | Mexico City, Mexico
Located in the far south of Mexico City’s urban sprawl and dating from at least 2500 years ago, Cuicuilco is among the most ancient cities in the region. Before the modern city was built over Lake Texcoco (the lake in which Tenochtitlan was also built), Cuicuilco was located along the lake’s southern shore. Around 200 BCE, the city was destroyed by a nearby volcano, leading to its total abandonment.
The archaeology site is divided into two sections by a major north-south road — Cuicuilco A on the east side and Cuicuilco B on the west side. Cuicuilco A contains El Basamento, a unique circular pyramid and the largest single remaining structure of the ancient city. Cuicuilco B is mostly closed off due to modern construction on the site, however, a few traces including 2 small ceremonial platforms and a large complex called El Palacio can still be seen.
5) Tula | Hidalgo, Mexico
Among the ruined cities in the Valley of Mexico, Tula is one of the better-preserved ceremonial centers. Located approximately 3 hours north of Mexico City, Tula was the center of the Toltec culture and contains several intact pyramids and ballcourts. There is also an onsite museum, which was unfortunately closed at the time of my visit.
While there is, on paper, an entrance to the archaeological park immediately north of the city center, this doesn’t appear to be used often. Instead, the main entrance requires a 3km/30-minute walk to the main entrance farther to the northeast of the city. This entrance brings you past the museum and several groups of souvenir stands before you get to the ruined city.
4) Kourion | Akrotiri and Dhekelia, Cyprus
Kourion is the most dramatic setting of all the ancient cities in Cyprus I visited. Like Amathus, Kourion is built atop a steep bluff rising above Cyprus’ southern coast. The city’s foundation legend says it was first settled by Mycenaean Greeks; a claim backed up by a Bronze Age settlement slightly east of the acropolis along the Kouris River.
While there are a number of temples and other ancient monuments in the area surrounding the acropolis, the largest grouping of ruins is concentrated in the archaeological park at the top of the bluff. These include a Hellenistic theater, several Roman buildings with mosaics, and a large early Christian basilica.
3) Tiwanaku | La Paz, Bolivia
Set in the frigid Altiplano, a flat and rectangular plateau high in the Andes between Peru and Bolivia, Tiwanaku served as one of the foundational cities of Andean cultures for the next millennium. Impressive monuments and stonework still lay scattered at the site and, when first recorded by European colonists, were dismissed as being unable to have been made by the local indigenous population.
This has, unfortunately, led to copious amounts of misinformation in all the places you’d expect: Atlantis conspiracies, ancient aliens, and plenty of others. Proponents of these ideas, for reasons I still cannot understand, tend to always go back to the initial documentation from over 100 years ago instead of any more recent research. However, over a century of subsequent research at the Tiwanaku site does indeed prove that the indigenous people of the Altiplano did build Tiwanaku, and their descendants are still living in the area to this day.
2) Teotihuacan | Mexico State, Mexico
Teotihuacan is one of those ancient places ranking up there with Machu Picchu, Giza, and Angkor with its grandeur, and is certainly one of the locations I’ve had high on my list for a very long time. In all, I ended up spending 3 days at Teotihuacan, with one being solely trying to hunt down a hotel after several unsuccessful attempts. *If you visit and want to stay overnight, do yourself a favor and stay in San Juan de Teotihuacan.
The city is the successor to Cuicuilco and there is evidence that the population settled here after the volcano destroyed their original city. While there are the two well-known pyramids of the Sun and Moon at the site, there are a lot more ancient monuments to see as well. This includes a number of complexes outside of the main archaeological park. Within the park, visitors have the freedom to walk around most of the area. The few exceptions to this include climbing the major pyramids (at the time of my visit) and some of the areas further back that are deemed unsafe.
1) Nea Paphos | Paphos, Cyprus
As monumental as Teotihuacan was, exploring the sprawling ruins at Paphos was my favorite time at an ancient site this year. While the Palaepaphos ruins at Kouklia provided a limited view of the ancient city, the more recent ruins at Nea Paphos (New Paphos) contain many more monuments and places to see.
There are two main areas of Nea Paphos Archaeological Park and the Tombs of the Kings, which are ticketed tourist attractions. However, all over the city and wider region are small, standalone sites including many rock-cut tombs, the ancient harbor walls, and several ongoing excavation sites. All of these together make up Cyprus’ largest UNESCO World Heritage Site.