Tlaxcalan mausoleum style tombs at Zona Arqueológica Quiahuiztlán, in La Antigua, Veracruz, Mexico.

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Top choice in Veracruz

Perched like a mini–Machu Picchu on a plateau beneath a horn-shaped mountain, Quiahuiztlán is a pre-Hispanic Totonac town and necropolis. Enjoying a commanding view of the Gulf coast, the now-deserted site has two pyramids, more than 70 tombs and some carved monuments.

Buses plying Hwy 180 drop you at the Quiahuiztlán turnoff from where the site is reachable via a pleasant 3km walk up a winding paved road.

The inhabitants of Quiahuiztlán (Place of the Rains) were the only pre-Columbian civilization to bury their dead in tombs resembling miniature temples. Counting 30,000 inhabitants at the time of Cortés’ arrival in 1519, its history before that is sketchy, although there was certainly a settlement here by AD 800.

A short trail leads up from the main plateau that overlooks the ocean to a higher site with four tombs. The adventurous can continue up from here along an unmarked trail towards the summit for unparalleled views of the coast and the greenery-clad valley, with buzzards circling overhead. Otherwise, follow the steps down from the main site to the remains of the ball court where Totonac teams played for the 'honor' to be sacrificed.

In spite of its lofty location, the settlement was subjugated first by the Toltecs between AD 800 and 900, and then by the Aztecs around AD 1200. You can contemplate this amid nature and in solitude, as you're likely to have the place entirely to yourself.

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