Maya a culture is alive and well, but there’s no question that the archaeological remains of some of its greatest pre-Hispanic constructions are one of the most important reasons to visit Yucatán.
Here, you’ll find some tips to visit one of the lesser known Maya sites in the area. Most sites (not just the ones listed) are open 8 am to 4 pm every day, and offer free admission for legal residents in México on Sundays.
Ek Balam (Jaguar Star)
This archaeological site, north of Valladolid, offers some of the best preserved and most amazing examples of Maya stucco and sculpture work. Climb the Acrópolis (yes, you’re still allowed!) and be amazed by its figures of winged warriors, and the entrance to the underworld in the shape of a monster’s open jaws.
While you’re there, stop by cenote X’Canché; you can walk the mile and a half that separates it from the site, rent a bike, or hire a taxi-cycle. Hungry? The site offers a restaurant, but you can also stop at nearby Temozón to try a delicious Longaniza or Carne Ahumada (smoked meat) taco.
Admission $211 pesos for Mexicans and $531 pesos for foreigners.
How to get there: From Valladolid, a taxi (collective, $40 pesos per person; private, $250 pesos per vehicle) takes about 25 minutes.
Dzibilchaltún (Place where There is Writing
on Flat Stones)
Being so close to Mérida (about 10 miles north) makes it great for a quick visit, but don’t underestimate it: it was one of the first Maya cities founded, and, in its heyday, one of the most populated in Mesoamerica. Its most famous structure is the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls), where an archaeo-astronomical phenomenon takes place: during the March and September equinoxes, you can watch the sun rise exactly aligned to the building’s main entrance. During those days you can enter the site before dawn. At night, the site offers a video mapping show.
Admission: $175 pesos for Mexicans and $303 pesos for foreigners.
How to get there: By bus, from the Autoprogreso terminal in Mérida (Calle 62 x 65
y 67, Centro).
Mayapán (Flag of the Maya)
Located southeast of Mérida, on the Ruta de los Conventos, this is one of the least visited Maya sites in Yucatán, but a treasure of its history and architecture.
It was the seat of the League of Mayapán, an alliance between its own rulers (the Cocom clan), the lords of Uxmal (the Xius), and those of Chichén Itzá (the Itzáes). It’s important to note that the pre-Hispanic Maya did not see themselves as one people; every city was its own independent state.
Known as the last Maya capital, it was one of the most recently founded; several of its buildings are considered to be smaller-scale replicas of those in Chichén Itzá (including the iconic Castillo de Kukulkán), but incorporating elements that were more modern at the time. It is also one of the few sites where Maya painted murals can still be seen.
Admission $70 pesos.
How to get there: Autobuses LUS offers bus services from Noreste terminal (Calle 67 x 50 y 52, Centro), $65 pesos.
Xcambó (Place where Trades are Made)
This archaeological site, one of the earliest in the state, is the only one in Yucatán to be
found on the coast, just under a mile from the Progreso – Telchac Puerto road.
Its location made this city an important trading port, where local products (such as salt and cotton) would be traded for merchandise brought from all over, including obsidian and jade. Visitors at Xcambó are allowed to (respectfully) climb the structures; the site is extensive and very nice to visit due to its proximity to the coast and the sea breeze.
Round off your visit to Xcambó with a visit to the neighboring Xtampú salt mines, where a local cooperative offers guided tours of the pools (which can shine bright pink, depending on the season) and share their knowledge regarding the salt cultivation, drying, and harvesting processes.
Admission: $75 pesos.
How to get there: As it happens with most of these less visited sites, the most convenient way there is to drive; travel agencies may also offer (most likely private) tours. By public transportation, you can take a mototaxi from Telchac Puerto; to get to Telchac Puerto by bus, go to Autobuses Noreste (Calle 67 x 50 y 52, Centro); $65 pesos per person.
Photography by Laura Pasos, Nora Garrett, Pashix, Carlos Rosado, and Yucatán Today for use in Yucatán Today.
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