Beyond the crowds at the New World Wonder Chichén Itzá and the lush jungle setting of mysterious Uxmal, there is a third major Maya site that is often overlooked but is as important historically as the other two: the city of Mayapán.
League of Mayapán
Home to the so-called League of Mayapán, which incorporated the kingdoms of the Itzaes in Chichén Itzá, the Tutul Xiu of Uxmal, and the Cocomes of Mayapán, Mayapán flourished after Uxmal and Chichén Itzá were already in decline or abandoned. When visiting this important site, you will note a striking similarity between its construction and buildings and those of Chichén Itzá; this is no mere coincidence as the city was built by a group of Itzaes that had left Chichén Itzá.
An ideal site with less tourists
As Mayapán is not on the Puuc Route (like Uxmal) and is more than two hours from Cancun (unlike Chichén Itzá) the site is not nearly as popular as those world-famous attractions; but it is easily accessible from Mérida. The magnificent buildings of Mayapán stand resolutely in absolute stillness, accompanied by only the sounds of birds overhead and in the trees, waiting for the intrepid explorers who wish to experience the solitude and magic of a great Maya city.
Mayapán’s almost-forgotten status is further reinforced by its welcome to the visitor. There is no gift shop, no ATM, and in fact there is not even pavement on the road you will take to reach the entry gate, a simple wire mesh affair. Indeed, the fee to visit Mayapán is a fifth of that charged at Chichén Itzá or Uxmal; currently it is $70 pesos. Also, there is no group of badge-wearing men in straw hats and blue long sleeved shirts repeating the words “guide service, servicio de guía” in the hope that someone will hire them for $800 pesos.
No, there is but one ticket-booth minder who will issue you a ticket and perhaps ask you to sign the visitors’ book; and, if you are lucky, a young man by the name of Eric who can provide you with an excellent and enthusiastic guided tour of the site and who will accompany you to the top of the main pyramid all the while regaling you with tales of the history of Mayapán. Eric has worked with archaeologists involved in the restoration of sites in the area and has many interesting and alternative stories that cannot be found in guidebooks. There are no signs indicating a price for this guided tour, but a $200 peso bill was happily received on a recent visit.
Attractions near Mayapán
Area attractions include, of course, the Convent Route which starts a few towns prior in Acanceh and Tecoh, and there is the interesting little church in nearby Telchaquillo that features prominently exposed carved Maya stones in its façade. There is also a tiny cenote right in the middle of town that can be visited easily.
Combining Mayapán with a visit to one or more churches in some of the towns enroute can make for a great day trip out of Mérida.
Text and photos by William Lawson
Lawson’s Original Yucatán Excursions
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