A great day trip from Mérida – only 43 miles away – a visit to the Oxkintok ruins and nearby Calcehtok caves makes a wonderful adventure! Oxkintok, “Three Flint Suns” or “Three Day Flint”, was once an important ceremonial center in the Puuc region. Hieroglyphic inscriptions show some of the oldest dates known in Yucatán.
The oldest and most well known building of Oxkintok is the Tzat Tun Tzat, Mayan for labyrinth or place in which one may be lost. Built in three levels on top of each other, its interior forms a maze of long, narrow rooms, connected by small gates and narrow stairs. A grave found on the site included a jade mask and symbols of power and authority were painted on the floor, leading archaeologists to believe it was the burial place of a great lord. It has been speculated that it might have served as a mausoleum, or represented the three levels of the Mayan world-view, or may have been built as a man-made cave. It’s easy to get lost as you wander through the rooms, speculating on their original purpose.
Like all-important Mayan cities, Oxkintok had a ball court. A huge, fragmented ring with a hieroglyphic inscription was discovered during excavation. Near the ball court, a circular hole has been unearthed, and experts believe that it is an ancient steam bath used for the purification and cleansing of the ball game players and pregnant women.
Another item of archaeological interest is the Chultun. Cisterns of Oxkintok were used to collect rainwater. These bottle-shaped receptacles have immense capacities, ranging from 1500 to 25,000 liters.
Many of the artifacts found during digs at this site can be seen at the Museum of Anthropology in Mérida. Located on Paseo de Montejo at Calle 43, the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 8 – 5. Oxkintok is open daily from 8 am – 5 pm .
Only a few kilometers away, the Calcehtok Caves, also called Xpukil caves, served as shelter for the Mayan people during the Caste War. Their name is derived from the Mayan words CAL (neck), CEH (deer) and TOK (stone), after a carved deer was found at the site. Evidence shows they were also in use at the time of Oxkintok’s peak; archeologists have found many pre-Hispanic objects, such as quartzite hammers, obsidian arrowheads, animal bones, ceramics, and human graves.
You must have a guide to enter the cave. Rates generally run about $200 pesos an hour. This large complex of over 30 connected caves offers 4 different tours of varying lengths. Walking and climbing through the cave can be rough, so be sure you are wearing good shoes (read addendum below) and are willing to work a bit to see the stalactites, stalagmites, natural formations, and Mayan artifacts.
Important additional information provided by one of our readers:
“After reading about this site in the Yucatan Today we decided to visit the place. Our group consisted of 6 people ranging in age from 8 years to mid-60’s so I think the observations are helpful for families with children and seniors. The visit was wonderful, exhilarating and challenging. We took the family tour and spent about 2 hours with the guide who was passionate and knowledgeable about his work. We went somewhat appropriately ready for the adventure but as we were leaving there were many coming in who were not dressed appropriately and that spurred me to write this note and recommend YT add an addendum of some sort to the current write-up. The comment you have in the article about wearing good shoes is not quite enough to reflect the journey and what to be prepared for. First of all one needs to be mobile and flexible as you enter the area by descending an iron ladder, rather steep. Do not wear flip flops or any fancy sandals/shoes due to the strenuous climbing/descending into the caves. Really helpful to keep your hands free to hold on to the ropes and ledges as you move through the tunnels and caves. I think children younger than 8 years should take a pass on this tour. The kids really enjoyed this tour and found it educational and fun. Younger children would not manage the rigorous trail.”
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