More enticing than ever, The Convent Route is a day trip that will take you somewhat off the beaten path and into the heart of the Yucatán. Meandering through the countryside of the west-central part of the state, you will visit Mayan villages and archaeological sites, colonial churches, cathedrals and convents, courtyards and cenotes, all dating back centuries. Note: the churches and convents are usually open in the mornings 10 or 11 am), or in the evenings (6 or 7 pm), but not always; they don’t keep regular hours, so don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to see the inside. However, the churches are mostly viewable from the outside.
The best way to do this route is by car. Gas up before leaving (one full tank will more than suffice). You should try to be on the road by 8 am. Start on the “Periférico” and go to Route 18. (Signs will say Kanasín, not “Route 18”.) Follow the signs to Acanceh and on from there. The amount of time spent at each stop will vary from ten to forty-five minutes.
22 km. from Kanasín is Acanceh (which means “moan of the deer”), where you will see an interesting combination of past and present. The main attraction is the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, which joins the prehispanic, colonial, and modern eras. Note the temple dedicated to our Lady of the Nativity and the chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Several blocks away are more archaeological sites with hieroglyphs. Ask around for the Temple of the Stuccoes which is about four blocks away. Entry: 35 pesos. 8 am – 5 pm Mon.-Sun.
Eight km. down the road, has a gas station, a market and a very ornate church and convent dedicated to the Virgin of the Assumption. The carved stones and altar, along with the statues and painting, are impressive. While you are there, you might notice that this complex is built on what appears to be a hill, but is really the base of a very large Mayan pyramid. (If you do this route in the opposite direction, there is an excellent option for lunch at km. 22.9, on the right…Na’Lu’um Restaurant with contemporary Yucatecan regional cuisine, open from 8 am – 8 pm. It is also a small hotel and offers Temazcal baths.)
Next on the route is Telchaquillo, a small village that has a small, austere chapel and a wonderful cenote in the plaza that you can visit. Stairs have been carved for your convenience.
Several kilometers out of Telchaquillo off to the right you will find the fantastic Mayan archaeological site of Mayapán. This walled city has 4,000 mounds, of which six are in different stages of advanced restoration. Mayapán is the size of Chichén Itzá, and you will find the buildings are replicas of the ones in Chichén Itzá. Visiting this site allows you to observe many mounds in their original state (covered with trees, shrubs, etc.) and to see others in transformation with the archeologists actually working on them. Mayapán is considered the last great Mayan capital. Entry: 35 pesos. 8 am – 5 pm Mon.-Sun.
Continue on 30 km. to Tekit, a large prosperous-looking village. There you will find the parish of “San Antonio De Padua”, with a large temple that houses many ornate statues of saints in their individual niches. The altar itself is very simple.
The next village is a little over 7 km. away, and it is a small one named Mama. Mama is famous for its large beautiful bell-globed church containing a large garden, a well, and a closed atrium along with frescos on the wall, statues of saints in the niches, and a very ornate altar. It is believed this is the oldest church on the route. The temple and ex-Franciscan convent shows the beautiful bell tower, irresistible to admire, as well as a closed atrium, which is the most famous of the region.
Following the route for 10 more km., you will next come to Chumayel (Place of the Seeds) where the famous document “Chilam Balam” was found, sacred book of the Mayas. Here you can see the Temple of Immaculate Conception built in the XVI century. This is a clear example of the medieval religious architecture brought to Yucatán by the first Spaniards. In the interior is the black wooden Christ, especially interesting.
Known for its two sacred buildings: the Parish and the ex convent of Saint Peter and Saint Paul, built during the XVII century. The interior boasts an altarpiece with a pair of caryatid columns and the Chapel of the Indians from 1617. This area is also known for its dresses and embroidered huipiles.
The final and perhaps most important stop on the Convent Route is Maní, where you will find a large church, convent and museum with explanations in English, Spanish, French and Maya. See the Temple of the Convent of Saint Michael Archangel, dating from 1549. (Note: the convent here is undergoing extensive restoration.) This is the place where Fray Diego de Landa ordered the burning and destruction of many Mayan statues and documents during the Franciscan movement to convert the indigenous peoples to Christianity. They destroyed 5000 idols, 13 altars, 27 deerskin parchments, and 197 vessels of varying shapes and sizes. Upon realizing his great error, Fray Diego began to write everything he could recall. This document is called “History of the Things of Yucatán.” If you are in Yucatán during Holy Week, be sure to visit Maní. Maní is another good place to have lunch (in the Restaurante El Príncipe Tutul-Xiu), or you can head on to Ticul to have lunch at Los Almendros.
To get back to Mérida, head to Ticul, then Muna, then to Uman, then on to Mérida. If you want to stop here to do the Ruta Puuc the next day, you can stay in Ticul where there are several small hotels. This is a good departure point for the Loltun Caves on the Puuc Route.
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