Mexico’s Best Maya Ruins

Mexico's Lesser-Known Maya Sites

Mexico's Lesser-Known Maya Sites
By Susannah Rigg

There are around 70 Maya sites open to the public, the majority of which are all but ignored by the mainstream tour buses. For those with longer to spend, or a deeper interest in the region's archaeology, here are a handful of Mexico's lesser-visited Maya sites.

Mexico's lesser-visited Maya sites

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Maya ruins in calakmul mexico

Calakmul, shrouded in forest

How to get to Calakmul

A remote archeological site in the jungles of Campeche, close to the Guatemalan border, Calakmul was a seat of impressive power during its peak in the Late Classic Period (600-900 C.E). There are almost seven thousand structures identified at the site and it is home to one of the tallest pyramids known in the Maya world, standing at 148 ft high. Surrounded by jungle, the flora and fauna (including monkeys, jaguars and tropical birds) is as impressive as the structures.Calakmul is about a 4.5 hours drive from the city of Campeche (188 miles). It is best to hire a driver or take a tour.The site entrance fee is around $240 pesos (This is divided between three fees as you enter the national park).

How to get to Edzna

Edzná is a less visited site, close to the colourful city of Campeche, in the state of the same name. The Temple of Five Storeys is a stunning structure that was used for ceremonies that would be watched from the courtyard. Clap and you will understand the impressive acoustics. The Temple of the Masks also has wonderful depictions of the Sun God, K’inich Ajaw.

Edzná is 32 miles from Campeche. Combi vans travel from the city to the ruins and take roughly one hour. Ask to be dropped at ‘Las Ruinas.’ The site can also be reached easily by car and there is parking at the entrance. Tours from Campeche to Edzná start at around $50/£35.

The site entrance fee is $60 pesos ($3/£2.10).

How to get to Yaxchilán

Yaxchilán is possibly the most remote of Mexico’s Maya archeological sites as it is only accessible by boat. Travel down the Usumacinta river which divides Mexico and Guatemala to enter this stunning site of palaces and temples. You might feel like the first to rediscover it.

Boats to Yaxchilán run from Frontera Corozal. The more people, the cheaper the ride so try to chat to a few others arriving at the car park and all jump on a boat together. The road to Frontera Corozal is bumpy and somewhat isolated, and often with a number of army stops as it is close to the border, so you may choose to take a tour rather than to drive yourself. Tours to Yaxchilán run from Palenque and take in Bonampak and Yaxchilán.

The site entrance fee is $90 pesos ($4.50/£3.20).

Bonampak mural

Well preserved murals at Bonampak

How to get to Bonampak

Most well-known for the stunningly preserved murals found there, Bonampak is well worth a visit if you are in Chiapas. The site is dated to the Late Classic period (580- 800 CE), like Yaxchilán is found close to the Guatemala border. The murals, which still retain an array of colours depict wars and human sacrifice telling archeologists a lot about Maya life.

Bonampak is a three hour drive from Palenque. It can be reached by car but the road is not incredibly well paved and is lined with speed bumps that can be hard to spot so it is best to go by day. Many find it easier to take a tour from Palenque that visit Bonampak and Yaxchilán.

The site entrance fee is $90 pesos ($4.50/£3.20).

Sun temple Dzibilchaltún mexico

The sun temple at Dzibilchaltún

How to get to Dzibilchaltún

Dzibilchaltún is a small site found just 16 miles north of Merida. The most well-known structure is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, so named due to the number of small figurines discovered there. The dolls, which represent different physical deformities, are housed in the onsite museum. If you are lucky enough to visit during the equinox you will see the sun rise right through the doorway to the temple, yet another testament to the astrological prowess of the Maya.

Dzibilchaltún is a twenty-minute drive from Merida and easily accessible by car. Since it is so close, you may also like to hire a taxi to take you there and back. A tour from Merida taking in Dzibilchaltún and Puerto Progreso is a fun day trip and costs around £64.

The site entrance fee is $80 pesos ($3.90/£2.80).

How to get to Kabah

Kabah is a tiny archeological site that makes up part of the Puuc Route, a collection of sites that all boast Puuc architecture. Kabah is worth visiting, if only to see the impressive Temple of Masks with a facade made up of hundreds of sculptures of the rain God Chaac.

Since Kabah is on the Puuc Route it can be fun to take a tour of all the sites along the route (the main ones being Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak, Labnaá and often the Loltún Caves at the end). You can self-drive this route from Merida or take a full-day tour.

The site entrance fee is $50 pesos ($2.40/£1.75).

Mexico's Lesser-Known Maya Sites

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist based in Mexico City. Her work has been featured by Condé Nast Traveller, CNN, BBC Travel and AFAR among others. She has visited 26 of Mexico’s 32 states and is captivated by Mexico’s rich Mesoamerican history.

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