Standing 45 meters high on Structure II, the world spins around me, and a carpet of dense jungle ripples from the base of the monstrous pyramid. I raise my arms into the fresh air mimicking victory, and two thousand years of turbulent history of the “Snake Kingdom” come to life before my eyes.
Calakmul was the urban center of one of the world’s most epic empires. The city itself reached an estimated population of about 50,000 inhabitants during the Late Classic period, with the entire state reaching an estimated population of nearly two million people.
Both the magnitude and sheer number of buildings in the site are awe-striking. Calakmul is home to 117 recorded hieroglyphic stelae (one of the largest concentrations in the Maya world), which are large limestone slabs carved with information about important accomplishments and the ruling dynasty. Although highly damaged by weather, the stelae, along with painted murals and a complex system of highways, or sacbés, give archaeologists a glimpse into the chaotic, international lifestyle of the people living in this pre-hispanic powerhouse.
I plant my feet into the stones where the great king Kaan or “Sky Witness” once stood. Coming to power in 561 A.D., the king would eventually conquer the imposing rival site of Tikal, located in the dense jungles of northwest Guatemala. The power play lasted for centuries, with Tikal eventually bringing the Calakmul empire down by 900 A.D.
Today the site looms over the enormous Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (nearly two million acres) in southern Campeche. Considering the ancient population, the jungle feels humanless today. Walking through the birded jungle, I imagine spotting a jaguar. I whisper to the ancient buildings: thank you, thank you, thank you. Maybe this is the most special place I have ever been.
And you should go too.
Now it is easier than ever to adventure into the unknown. In 2015, a project named “Visit Calakmul” was founded, dedicated to incubating and spreading the word about local eco-tourism projects in collaboration with members of five surrounding communities. At the adorable yellow house known as the Centro de Información Turística in Xpujil, you can connect with local guides, find the ultimate campsite or jungle bungalow, and start your journey through time.
From biking, caving, and hiking to birding and artisan workshops, the eco-tourism packages offered by Visit Calakmul accomplish sustainable tourism, while supporting local populations. There is so much to do, you’ll regret rushing your visit. Give yourself plenty of time to explore the ancient Snake Kingdom with the guidance of the living Maya.
Visit Calakmul today. Trust me – you will be blown away.
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