All posts in Mayan Ruins Mexico

  • Becan Mexico

    Becan Mexico

    Located in southern Campeche, Becan has a long history, reaching back into the Middle Preclassic Period. It features massive temples and a magnificent enclosed plaza. The ruins were rediscovered in 1934 by archaeologists Karl Ruppert and John Denison. They named it Becan, meaning “ravine formed by water” in Maya, after the ditch that surrounds the site. The ancient name of the site is not known.

    History of Becan

    Becan was already occupied around 550 BC, and grew to a major ceremonial center a few centuries later. Around 250 AD, a defensive dry moat was constructed around the city center. One of the oldest defensive systems in Mexico, this ditch ran about 16 feet (5 m) deep and 32 feet (10 m) wide. When added to the embankment it created a nearly 40 foot (12 m) high defensive barrier. Around this time, the population and scale of construction declined although it remained a significant Maya site. From 500 AD Becan experienced another growth in population and many large new buildings were constructed, mostly in the Rio Bec style of Maya architecture. Construction ceased around 830 AD, but Becan continued to be occupied until 1200.

    Structures IX. Photo credit: Luca Penati

    Structures IX. Photo credit: Luca Penati

    Map of Becan

    The map shows the location of Becan. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

    Becan Highlights

    Two massive pyramids, Structures VIII and IX, are located in the northeast corner of the Central Plaza. Both can be climbed and provide spectacular views of the surrounding area. At 98 feet (30 m), Structure IX is the tallest structure at Becán. At the top is a platform with a huge mask on one end, and a shield-image on the other.

    A short path leads from the Central Plaza through trees along the edge of the site to the East Plaza. Structure I’s back wall forms one side of the East Plaza. On the opposite side is Structure IV, which staircase is well preserved. On top of Structure IV are several rooms surrounding a small courtyard.

    Structures VIII. Photo credit: NCReedplayer

    Structures VIII. Photo credit: NCReedplayer

    Visit Becan

    Becan is located 5 miles (8 km) east of Xpujil, a town that is growing rapidly in the anticipation of a tourist boom. Several restaurants, a couple of hotels and a taxi stand are near the bus depot.

    The entrance fee is M$30.

  • bonampak mexico

    Bonampak Murals

    Bonampak is a small site in the Mexican state of Chiapas near the border with Guatemala. Although its ruins are not overly impressive, a series of brilliant murals makes this one of the most fascinating Mayan sites in Mexico. Found within Structure 1, the Bonampak murals are considered one of the masterworks of ancient Maya art and has earned Bonampak the nickname “The Sistine Chapel of the Americas”.

    Bonampak was rediscovered in 1946 when two American travelers, Herman Charles Frey and John Bourne were led to the ruins by local Maya. Shortly thereafter a photographer, Giles Healey, was shown the amazing frescos covering the walls of Structure 1. The name “Bonampak” was given to the site by archaeologist Sylvanus Morley and means “painted walls” in the modern Maya language.

    Photo credit: Mr. Theklan

    Photo credit: Mr. Theklan


    The history of Bonampak is closely linked to that of its neighbor Yaxchilan, located approximately 20 miles (30 km) to the north. A larger and more powerful city, Yaxchilan dominated it smaller neighbor and would captured several of Bonampak’s lords. The first one, lord Bird Jaguar of Bonampak was captured by K’inich Tatb’u Skull I of Yaxchilan in the early 5th century. More noblemen would follow in a later war against the aggressive Knot-eye Jaguar I of Yaxchilan. Bonampak was given a brief pause, when Knot-eye Jaguar I was himself taken captive by the armies of Piedras Negras. But after 526, his successor K’inich Tatb’u Skull II continued the tradition and attacked Bonampak, capturing more lords. The capturing of lords ended around 600 AD when Bonampak became a satellite of Yaxchilan.

    In 776 Chan Muwan was installed as lord of Bonampak by Shield Jaguar III (or Itzamnaaj B’alam III), the ruler of Yaxchilan. Bonampak collapsed with Yaxchilan in the 9th century.

    Map of Bonampak

    The map shows the location of Bonampak. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

    The Bonampak Murals

    The Maya murals. Photo credit: Steve Silverman

    The Maya murals. Photo credit: Steve Silverman

    Structure 1, which is often referred to as the Temple of the Murals, is a long narrow building with 3 rooms atop a low pyramid base. The walls of all 3 rooms are covered with murals rendered in a vivid and highly skilled manner.

    Room 1 depicts a gathering of nobles and royalty for dance performances that took place around 791 AD. Two seated figures, probably Chan Muwan and his wife watch from a large throne. Room 3 also shows a dance performance. This room does not include a date but the fact that most of the dancers in this image are the same as those shown in room 1 suggests that the rituals in the two rooms were closely related.

    The central chamber, room 2, is less peaceful and illustrates a dynamic battle scene and the torture of captives. In the scene, spears are thrown, one piercing the head of a warrior, and prisoners taken by the hair. A the focus of the scene stands the war leader, Chan Muwan, grasping a captive by the hair while holding a spear. He is accompanied by another warrior, probably Shield Jaguar III of Yaxchilan, both wearing jaguar tunics. On the north wall the aftermath of the battle is shown. The unfortunate captives are tortured and bleeding from their fingernails while the chief captive sits at Chan Muwan feet. The head of one captive is already been placed at the steps while the rest will soon be sacrificed as well. The date of the events in room 2 likely dates a few years before the events in room 1.

    A full scale reproduction of the Temple of the Murals can be found in the National Museum of Anthropology & History in Mexico City.

    Visit Bonampak

    Many travel agencies in Bonampak run day tours to Bonampak and Yaxchilán. It is also possible to take a taxi from San Javier, about 7 miles (12 km) from Bonampak. The entrance fee is M$37.

  • Edzna, Mexico

    Located in the north of the Mexican state of Campeche, Edzna is a fascinating Mayan city that has a unique combination of styles and features, reflecting its position at a crossroad of trade and cultural influences. Its roof combs and corbeled arches are reminiscent of those at Yaxchilán and Palenque, several buildings are in the Puuc style and the giant stone masks are characteristic of the Petén-style architecture of southern Campeche and northern Guatemala. Located in a very dry area, Edzna also has one of the most sophisticated Mayan systems for channeling and retaining water.

    The word Edzná comes from “House of the Itzás” which may suggest that the city was influenced by the Itzá Maya long before they arrived in Chichen Itzá.

    The Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos at Edzna.

    The Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos at Edzna.

    History of Edzna

    Edzna was occupied very early, from around 600 BC, but it took until 200 AD before it developed into a major city. It reached its greatest extend in the late Classic period, between 600 and 900, and gradually waning in importance until being all but abandoned in the early 15th century. The decline and eventual abandonment of Edzná still remains a mystery today.

    Map of Edzna

    The map shows the location of Edzna. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

    Edzna Highlights

    The Great Plaza of Edzna is a spectacular elevated platform, consisting of beautifully preserved structures. The most remarkable building at the plaza is the 102 foot (31 m) Pirámide de los Cinco Pisos (pyramid of the five storeys). The pyramid consists of five levels, terminating in a tiny temple crowned by a roof comb. A grand central staircase of 65 steps rises to the top of the structure providing a great overview of the surroundings.

    West of the Great Acropolis, the Puuc-style Plataforma de los Cuchillos (Platform of the Knives) was so named because of a number of flint knives found inside.

    On the south side of the Great Plaza is the Small Plaza. It is an elevated platform very similar to the Great Plaza but some of its buildings are probably some of the oldest at Edzna. The Temple of the Relief Stairways is the largest pyramid at this plaza.

    Visit Edzna

    The ADO bus company offers a circuit of Edzna and several other destinations. Xtampak Tours offers an hourly shuttle service from Campeche to Edzna as well as guided tours to the Mayan ruins.

    The entrance fee is M$37.

  • Mayapan Mexico

    Mayapan is considered the last great Maya capital, reaching its zenith in the Late Post-Classic period from around 1200 until the 15th century. The site is located about 60 miles (100 km) to the west of Chichen Itza. Though its ruins are much smaller and less impressive than Chichen and other Maya sites, Mayapán is historically significant. It name means ‘standard of the Mayas’.

    History of Mayapan

    There is evidence that Mayapan was occupied since the Early Classic period, but most of its ruins date from after 1200 AD, when the city rose to prominence. Although Mayapan certainly succeeded Chichen Itza as the dominant power in the Yucatan at this time, it is not clear how this transition took place. Some sources tell the story of the kidnapping of the wife of the ruler of Chichen Itza by the ruler of Izamal. In the ensuing war, Hunac Ceel, the ruler of Maypan, conquered Chichen Itza. Other sources claim that Mayapan was built as a fortified capital near the hometown of Hunac Ceel after he defeated the Maya-Toltec lords of Chichen Itza. These chronicles are now discounted however as it is clear that Chichen Itza and other cities in the region had already declined before most of Mayapan was even built.

    Instead Mayapan was probably the joint capital of a loose alliance of small city states. Most of its monuments were built within the city wall. At its peak the city had a population of about 12,000 with several thousands more people living outside the protective walls. There are many cenotes in the residential areas, and settlement is the most dense in the southwestern part of the city where cenotes are more numerous.

    Descendants of Hunac Ceel , the Cocom lineage, shared the leadership of Mayapan with other noble families and regional lords who send members of their families to Mayapan to play parts in the government. This shared leadership was affective for almost 200 years but in the late 14th century, the powerful family of Xiu became resentful of the Cocom rulers and organized a revolt. Most of the Cocom family were killed except for one who escaped to lead the resistance. The civil war went on for years until 1441 AD, when Mayapan was sacked, burned, and abandoned and the Cocom withdrew to their base at Sotuta. When the Spaniards arrived 80 years later the Xiu-Cocom feud was still ongoing, which proved enormously useful to them in the Conquest of Yucatan.

    Mayapan's observatory. Photo credit: Richard Johnson Hurtado

    Mayapan’s observatory. Photo credit: Richard Johnson Hurtado

    Map of Mayapan

    The map shows the location of Mayapan. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

    Mayapan Highlights

    The main temple in Mayapan is the Temple of Kukulcan, a cruder smaller copy of the Castillo in Chichen Itza. There are a number of other major temples in the ceremonial center including three round ones, which are unusual for the Maya. Unlike many other Mayan sites, Mayapan has no ball courts.

    Visit Mayapan

    Mayapan is just off Highway 18, a few miles southwest of the town of Telchaquillo. Buses from Merida will let you of near the entrance of the ruins although renting a car might be a better option.

    The entrance fee is M$27.

  • Tulum Panorama


    The Tulum ruins are a walled Maya city perched on a rocky cliff overlooking the Caribbean in the Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico. The site is of modest scale and was built during the post Classic period when the Mayan culture was in decline and therefore lacks the elegance of some other famous Mayan ruins. The tropical beach backdrop however makes this a unique site which should not be missed.

    Tulum means wall or trench in Yucatan Maya and refers to the walls surrounding the city. The ancient name may have been Zama, meaning City of Dawn because it faces the sunrise.

    El Castillo looks over the Caribbean at Tulum Mexico. Photo credit: Dennis

    El Castillo looks over the Caribbean at Tulum Mexico. Photo credit: Dennis


    Tulum came to prominence in the 13th century, at a time when all the large Mayan cities in the Yucatan had already collapsed. As a seaside port Tulum maintained trading routes all the way down to Belize. Salt and textiles were among some of the goods brought to Tulum by sea, copper artifacts were brought from the Mexican highlands by land and ceramics and gold objects from all over the Yucatán.

    When Spanish conquistador Juan de Grijalva sailed past in 1518 he was astonished by the sight of a walled city, its buildings painted red, blue and yellow and a fire flaming on top of a seaside watchtower. The city managed to survive about 75 years after the Spanish began occupying Mexico and was one of the last of the ancient Mayan cities to be abandoned. Old World diseases appear to have been the cause of its demise.

    Map of Tulum

    The map shows the location of Tulum. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.


    Tulum was protected on one side by steep sea cliffs and on the landward side by a 26 feet (8 m) thick wall that averaged about 3 to 5 meters (16 ft) in height. The west side measures approximately 1250 feet (380 m) and 560 feet (170 m) along its other sides. There are five narrow gateways in the wall with two each on the north and south sides and one on the west. The vast majority of the city’s residents lived outside the walls, leaving the interior for the residences of the ruling class and ceremonial structures. A small cenote near the northern side of the wall provided the city with fresh water.

    The most imposing building in Tulum is the 25 feet (7.5 m) tall El Castillo (the castle) set above the cliff. It was once covered in with stucco and painted. A small shrine appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes. On the beach below, where the canoes came ashore, tourists combine a visit to the Mayan ruins with a dip in the Caribbean.

    The Temple of the Frescoes, directly in front of the Castillo, was used as an observatory for tracking the movements of the sun. Its decoration was among the most elaborate at Tulum and include relief masks and colored murals on a inner wall. Entrance to the temple is no longer permitted.


    Visit Tulum

    It is important to know that there are really three different areas all referred to as Tulum, located near each other, but not close enough to walk to and from.

    The town center, sometimes referred to as Tulum Pueblo, lies across the highway south of the Coba junction. The bus terminal is toward the southern end of town. During the daylight hours there are frequent buses to Cancun, Merida, Playa del Carmen and Valladolid.

    Tulum Playa or Zona Hotelera extends for more than 6 miles (10km) of great white sandy beaches along the Caribbean coastline. The zona embraces many of the fancier, ecological, boutique and spa hotels, and it has a decent selection of restaurants and night spots. There are also a number of affordable beach front cabana-type lodging locations.

    Tulum Ruinas is the archaeological site where the Tulum Mayan ruins stand. It is connected by a long road from highway 307. The road is flanked by several restaurants, a commercial area geared to one-day visitors, a huge parking lot, a small bus station that operates part-time and a handful of middle range hotels.

    The entrance fee is M$45.

    To visit Tulum on an organized tour (entrance fee included) see our recommend Tulum Tours.

  • Uxmal Panorama

    Uxmal Mexico

    Set within a region in Mexico that is rich in vegetation and abundant in bird life, the Uxmal ruins represent the pinnacle of late Mayan art and Puuc architecture. The architecture has several predominant features, most notably constructions with a plain lower section and a richly decorated upper section. Puuc, which means “hill”, refers to the nearby hills in the area.

    The name Uxmal means “built three times” in Mayan, referring to the construction of its highest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician.

    Pyramid of the Magician.

    Pyramid of the Magician.


    Uxmal was founded around 700 AD, relatively late compared to some other famous Mayan cities. Paradoxically, not that much is known about its history. Only one ruler, Lord Chac, has been specifically identified. Its location is also somewhat unlikely for a city. Yucatán has few surface rivers and most Maya cities, including Chichén Itzá, used cenotes to access underground water. There were no cenotes at Uxmal however. Instead, at Uxmal it was necessary to collect rain water in cisterns that were built in the ground.

    Uxmal flourished in the Late Classic period, around 850-920 AD when most of the city’s main structures were build. During this time the population of the city reached about 25,000 people making Uxmal one of the largest cities in the Yucatán. The rise of Uxmal coincided with that of Chichen Itza and the two Maya cities seem to have been allies for a time in Chichen’s war against Cobá, although by the 10th century Chichen appears to have turned against Uxmal.

    Around 920-950 AD Uxmal went into a very rapid decline. Although Uxmal collapsed as a city state it was never totally abandoned for its temples continued to be used for special ceremonies. Spanish documents from the 17th century complain that pagan ceremonies were still being carried out in Uxmal.

    Map of Uxmal

    The map shows the location of Uxmal. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.


    At 115 feet (35 m), the Pyramid of the Magician or Pyramid of the Dwarf is the tallest structure at Uxmal. Both of it names refer to an ancient legend stating that it was magically built overnight by an enchanted dwarf who then became the city’s ruler. The pyramid is unique among Mayan structures because of its layers are oval in shape, instead of the more common rectilinear plan. Beneath the Magician’s Pyramid are five earlier temples. Construction of the first pyramid temple began around 700 AD and the structure was expanded over the next 400 years.

    West of the Pyramid of the Magician is the Nunnery Quadrangle, consisting of four rectangular buildings with 74 individual rooms. It might have been a palace or a residence for students, priests, or soldiers. It is decorated with elaborately carved façades. South of the quadrangle is a ball court that was dedicated in 901 by Lord Chac.

    The Governor’s Palace, standing farther south, is probably the finest example of the Puuc style. Although it seems like one long low building, it is actually three buildings joined by covered vaults. The four façades are decorated elaborately with rich mosaics. The structure was probably a residence and contains about twenty rooms. The House of Turtles, a smaller building so called from its fresco of sculptured turtles, is located on the same terrace as the Governor’s Palace.

    Visit Uxmal

    The Uxmal ruins are located about 50 miles (80 km) south-west of Merida. Most buses that take the inland route between Merida and Campeche can drop you of at Uxmal.

    There is no town at Uxmal, only several top end hotels. Cheaper accommodations can be found in the nearby towns of Santa Elena and Ticul.

    The entrance fee is M$95.

  • coba mexico

    Coba Mexico

    The Coba Ruins are located between two lakes in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, and was once an important Mayan city. Despite its proximity to the coastal tourist areas of the Riviera Maya, Coba is much less well known than any of the other great Mayan cities. Only a small fraction of the many structures have been excavated and this, together with the remote jungle setting, add to the feeling of being an early discoverer.

    Knowledge of the Coba Mayan ruins were never completely lost, but they were not examined by scholars until the 1920s.

    Climbing the Nohoch Mul

    Climbing the Nohoch Mul

    History of Coba

    As a source of water Coba’s lakes attracted Mayan settlers from earliest times but a strong population growth in the area did not occur until around 100 AD. Between 200 and 600 AD, Coba dominated a vast area, including the north of the state of Quintana Roo and areas in the east of the state of Yucatán. To maintain its influence, Coba established military alliances with the Classic Mayan cities in the south.

    After 600 AD, the emergence of powerful city states of the Puuc culture and the emergence of Chichén Itzá challenged the dominance of Coba ,which had more closer ties, both cultural and economic, with the Classic Mayan centers of the Petén to the south. This is reflected both in its architectural style and in the presence of a large amount of carved stelae.

    Unfortunately the stelae are in poor condition so not as much is known about Coba’s history as other Mayan cities in the south. Archaeological evidence however indicates that by the 8th century it had as many as 50,000 people. Cobá was also the hub of a system of roads called sacbes, constructed by the Maya for commerce and general foot travel. Some of these roads go east to the Caribbean coast, while the longest runs over 62 miles (100 km) westwards to Coba’s stronghold Yaxuná.

    Coba’s downfall came with the rise of Chichen Itza and the long war between the two cities. In 860 AD Yaxuná was destroyed by Chichen followed by the defeat of Coba itself. The decline of Coba preceded the main collapse of all the Mayan cities in the region. The city was to revive a little centuries later when some new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.

    Coba Group B Ball Court

    Coba Group B Ball Court

    Map of Coba

    The map shows the location of Coba. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.


    Coba contains several large temple pyramids. The main pyramid, Nohoch Mul meaning ‘large hill’, is 138 feet (42 m) tall. Another pyramid known as Temple of the Church, is second in height at Cobá and from its summit there is a spectacular view of lake Macanxoc. Besides a large number of stelae, there are also two ballgame courts.

    Visit Coba

    There are several buses to Coba from Cancun (3 hours), Playa del Carmen (2 hours) and Tulum (1 hour). The tiny village of Coba has a small cheap hotel, several simple restaurants and an upscale Club Med hotel.

    The entrance fee is M$45.

  • Palenque Panorama

    Palenque Mexico

    The Maya ruins of Palenque, are dramatically situated at the foot of the northernmost hills of the Chiapas highlands in Mexico. The Palenque ruins are widely regarded as the most atmospheric and impressive of Mexico’s Mayan ruins. Palenque’s monumental stone temples are famed for their architectural sophistication and fine sculptures, and are made even more interesting by the detailed knowledge of its history that archaeologists have recovered from its inscriptions.

    The first European to visit the Palenque ruins was Priest Pedro Lorenzo de la Nada in 1567. By then the ruins were already abandoned for centuries and absorbed by the jungle. In the 19th century Palenque became the most studied of all Maya ruins.

    Mayan ruins in Palenque


    Anciently known as Lakamha’s (“great water”), Palenque’s was already a regional capital between 300 BC and 250 AD. Much of what is known about Palenque rulers comes from the lengthy text found inside the Temple of the Inscriptions. This temple was built as a funerary monument for Pakal the Great, who recorded detailed information on three tables about his dynastic forebears.

    Because of these tablets we know that the Palenque dynasty was founded on March 10, 431 by K’uk’ Bahlam (“Quetzal Jaguar”). We also know that Palenque had a queen, Yohl Ik’nal, who reigned for some 20 years between 583 to 604.

    Pakal the Great himself was inaugurated in 615 during difficult times. Years earlier Palenque suffered a military disaster when Calakmul and its allies sacked the city. During Pakal’s reign which lasted until his death in 693, Palenque began to emerge as a major power, expanding its control over the surrounding region. He was also one of the main figures responsible for rebuilding Palenque and for a renaissance in the city’s art and architecture.

    A record of the last known Palenque rules comes from a pottery vessel and refers to an inauguration of a ruler in 799. After this date the historical record at Palenque falls silent.

    El Palacio

    El Palacio

    Map of Palenque, Mexico

    The map shows the location of Palenque. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.


    The largest pyramid at Palenque, the Temple of the Inscriptions was specifically built as the funerary monument for K’inich Janaab’ Pakal. Construction of this monument started in the last decade of his life, and was completed by his son. The temple is named for the hieroglyphics found inside, describing the family tree of King Pakal. In 1952, the tomb of King Pakal was discovered deep within the temple. The crypt is closed to the public, and much of the tomb has also been moved to Mexico City.

    The Palace is a complex of several connected and adjacent buildings and courtyards including a unique four-story tower. The Palace houses many fine sculptures and bas-relief carvings.

    The Temple of the Cross, Temple of the Sun, and Temple of the Foliated Cross are a set of graceful temples each built on top of a pyramid. This group of temples, now in various stages of reconstruction, was built by Pakal’s son, Chan-Bahlum.

    Visit Palenque

    The Mayan ruins are about 4 miles (6 km) from the town of Palenque and minibuses run between the town and ruins every 10 to 15 minutes during the day. Taxis and combis (shared taxis) are also available. Sleeping accommodation can be found either in the town of Palenque, or just outside the limits on the road to the national park.

    The easiest way to get to the Palenque ruins is by bus. There are many buses daily from San Cristobal de las Casas (5 hours), Tuxtla Gutierrez (6 hours), Villahermosa (2 hours), Merida (8 hours), Campeche (5 hours), Cancun (13 hours). One or two buses per day also ply from Mexico City (14 hours), Oaxaca (15 hours) and Tulum (11 hours). It is also possible to get to Palenque from Flores in Guatemala by bus (about 6 hours).

    The entrance fee is M$45.

  • Calakmul

    Calakmul is a huge Maya site located deep inside the tropical forest of the Tierras Bajas of southern Mexico. The City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids, Calakmul was one of the most important Mayan cities of the lowlands together with archrival Tikal. The Mayan ruins contains almost 7,000 ancient structures including one of the tallest Maya pyramid ever built. The residential remains of the city cover some eight square miles (20 square kilometers), and its extensive system of canals and reservoirs once served a population of over 50,000 Mayans.

    Calakmul was first sighted from an airplane in 1931 by Cyrus L Lundell during a botanical expedition. It was he who gave it its present name, made up of the Mayan words ca (two), lak (near), and mul (mount/pyramid). The original Mayan name is Ox Te’ Tuun, (“Place of Three Stones”) which may refer to the triadic pyramid Structure 2.

    Calakmul largest pyramid, referred to as Structure 2. Photo credit: Pete Fordham

    Calakmul largest pyramid, referred to as Structure 2. Photo credit: Pete Fordham

    History of Calakmul

    Not only is Calakmul enormous, it is also very old. A monument some 40 feet (12 meter) high was already built here between 400 and 200 BC, with other major buildings erected by 350 AD. This helps to account for some of the huge structures at Calakmul. Maya practice was to build new temples on top of existing ones and Calakmul had plenty of time to pile on the layers.

    The first dated inscription from Calakmul is from 431 AD found on a stela commemorating a Calakmul king. A hieroglyphic text, dating to 529, indicates that the city was within the control of the Kaan dynasty. Calakmul eventually emerged as a powerful force in the Peten, controlling neighboring towns who in turn controlled over smaller villages. These villages governed even smaller political units all of which were ultimately under the power of Calakmul. This vast region was known as Kaan or the Kingdom of the Serpent’s Head. One hypothesis is that El Mirador in northern Guatemala once was the capital of the Kaan kingdom. After the collapse of El Mirador and other major sites in its vicinity, around AD 150 refugees moved towards Calakmul and continued the kingdom there.

    At around 550 AD Calakmul allied itself with other powerful Mayan cities in the Peten. Calakmul formed alliances with Naranjo in the east, Yaxchilan in the west, and Caracaol, a former ally of Tikal in the south. This alliance allowed Calakmul’s leader Sky Witness to encircle the great city of Tikal and ultimately defeat the city in 562 AD. Tikal’s ruler Wak Chan K’awiil was captured and sacrificed. Over the next one hundred and thirty years, Calakmul enjoyed the height of its influence and most of the great structures at Calakmul were built during this time. Its highest achievements occurred during the reign of king Yuknoom Che’en II who was 36 years old when he came to the throne in 636 AD. The king commissioned 18 stelae and was probably also responsible for the construction of the palace complexes that form a major part of the city core.

    Tikal returned with a vengeance in 695 AD when Jaguar-Paw, the ruler of Calakmul, was defeated by Ah-Cacaw of Tikal. This event marked the end of Calakmul’s zenith, with diplomatic activity declining and fewer cities recognizing Calakmul’s king as overlord.

    Later kings continued to erect monuments for the next century. Recorded history at Calakmul ends abruptly in 909 AD. By this time the far-reaching power of Calakmul was only a distant memory.

    Map of Calakmul Mexico

    The map shows the location of Calakmul. The buttons on the left can be used to zoom in or out. Click and drag the map to move around.

    Calakmul Highlights

    The city core is built around the Central Plaza flanked by major palace complexes. On the east side of the plaza is a giant pyramid, referred to as Structure 2. With a base of 460 by 390 feet (120×140 meters) square and a height of 148 feet (45 meters) it is one of the largest in the Maya world. The core of the structure is a triadic pyramid dating to the Late Preclassic period, that still forms the highest point of the pyramid. In the Early Classic a massive extension was added to the front of the pyramid. Calakmul also contains 117 stelae, most of them in paired sets representing rulers and their wives.

    Visit Calakmul

    Calakmul is located 37 miles (60km) south of the highway at the end of a decent paved road. There is a road maintenance fee of M$40 per car and M$20 per person.

    The entrance fee is M$37.