Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Mayan Ruins

... and children, possibly sacrificed to appease the rain god Chac, have been found. ... is a wall made up over 260 Chaak masks, stacked on top of one another ... -

Mayan Ruins

The land of the Maya includes the Mexican states of Quintana Roo (which contains Cancun), Yucatán, Campeche, Tabasco and Chiapas -- but also spills over into Belize, Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.

At hundreds of points around the region stand majestic Mayan ruins which speak eloquently of the grandeur of this imposing culture. There are even several archeological sites right within Cancun's hotel zone. The most frequently visited Mayan ruin sites (with the exception of Tikal in Guatemala) are all in Mexico, and can be reached by bus or car from Cancun.

"Strange to say, cryptologists - those makers and breakers of codes from the world of espionage and counter-intelligence - have played little role in the great decipherments of ancient scripts. In fact, I remember the announcements in the American press that the famous husband-and-wife team of Col. William Friedman had received foundation support to decipher Maya hieroglyph writing. The Friedmans having achieved well-deserved fame by cracking the Japanese naval code on the eve of the war, it was a foregone conclusion that the ancient Maya were going to be a pushover for them. Nothing resulted from this doomed project, and they went to their graves without having deciphered a single Maya hieroglyph."
-Michael D. Coe, Breaking the Maya Code

Chichén Itzá
Click Here for Chichen Itza Hotels

Chichen Itza Tour
The majestic city of Chichén Itzá awaits you. See the magnificent pyramid of Kukulkan (75 feet high); The Temple of the Warriors, The Ball Court, The Observatory and the Sacred Well, the place where countless victims were sacrificed to ancient gods. Includes: A/C bus transportation, guide, entrance to the site, lunch (drinks not included).

Only two and a half hours away from Cancun is one of the most impressive of all Mayan ruins, Chichén Itzá. This is perhaps the most famous Mayan cultural site in the world, and one of the richest and largest archeological remnants of that civilization. Founded in 445 B.C., and inhabited until 1204 A.D. when it was mysteriously abandoned, Chichén Itzá lies about 120 miles west of Cancun.

Map of
Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Map

The site's most impressive structure is the 75-foot pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcán, whose stairs lead to two large serpent heads. In an impressive display of ancient Mayan science, the temple accurately predicts the Spring (March 20 or 21) and Fall (September 21 or 22) equinoxes in a spectacle of light and shadow. Thousands gather at this time to see the snakelike shadow of Kukulcán, the greatest of the Mayan gods, descend the main pyramid.

Another outstanding feature of the place is the Ball Court, where ancient Mayans played a mysterious and complicated game that is still the subject of debate. The Ball Court's history is no less intriguing than its acoustics: you can hear someone talking from the far side of the field, even though it is over a football field long.

Buildings are not the only interesting features of Chichén Itzá. Highly important in this Mayan society was the Sacred Cenote, that gave the city its name. Human skeletons of men, women and children, possibly sacrificed to appease the rain god Chac, have been found. Apart from that, a large number of artifacts have been found, such as idols, jewelry and jade. Some object are from other parts of Mexico, leading archaeologists to believe that pilgrimages were made to the Sacred Cenote long after Chichén Itzá was abandoned.

Click Here for Hotels in Tulum | 360 Virtual Tour: Tulum Ruins

Tulum and Xel-Ha Tour
Discover one of the most beautiful Mayan cities and the only one overlooking the Caribbean sea, and then visit the largest natural aquarium in the world. This natural aquarium is famous for its thousands of brightly colored tropical fish and the dramatic limestone formations. Includes A/C bus transportation, guide, and entrance to both sites. All-inclusive optional.

Tulum, just over 80 miles to the south of Cancun, is the only major Mayan archeological site to overlook the Caribbean. This archeological zone dates from the post-Classic era, and was inhabited after 1200 BC. It contains more than 60 structures.

Map of

Tulum is believed by archeologists to be one of the most important ceremonial centers of the Mayan people. Dating back more than 17 centuries, the remains show what was once a massive walled city by the sea, with roads, homes and businesses. Its geographical location right on the Caribbean Sea enabled Tulum to become a major Mayan trade center. Thousands of canoes traveled there from other points around the region.

One of the highlights of Tulum is El Castillo (The Castle), an impressive pyramid perched on a 40-foot cliff and thought be one of a series of lighthouses that guided seafarers in the area. You are NOT allowed to climb El Castillo.

Here too is the Temple of the Dios Descendente, built as a way station for descending gods, and the Temple of the Frescos, which still bears traces of color from ancient palettes.

"At the foot of the cliff, on the southeast corner of the site at Tulum is a small but exquisite white beach outlined by gray rock and sloping easily into a limpid, multicolored sea. If I had to pick just one Mexican beach to be listed among the Great Beaches of the World, it would be this. To swim in these vivid seas, looking up at the exotic outlines of Tulum's Mayan temples, is to combine two of Mexico's greatest pleasures into a single experience."
-Ron Hall, "Great Beaches of the World," Condé Nast Traveler


Coba Mayan Encounter
Visit the gorgeous archaeological zones of Coba and Pac-Chen, in a tour that will take you to the very heart of Quintana Roo’s jungle and get you in touch with the marvelous Maya culture and its impressive legacy. While visiting Coba, don’t miss the chance to climb up the 120 steps of the Nohoch Mul pyramid, the highest one of its kind. At Pac-Chen you can learn about the ancient traditions of the Maya culture and you will even get the opportunity of descending to the beautiful cenote “Balam Kim” and swim in its blue waters.

Three hours south of Cancun is Cobá, an early Mayan site yet to be fully reclaimed from the jungle. Begun in 600 A.D., Cobá is a combination of the leading attractions of Uxmal and Chichén Itzá, but its geographical location, 100 km from Cancun, provides an added sense of adventure, as it was built in the heart of the jungle.

This group of ruins is all that is left of what could have been the largest of all Mayan cities. There are thought to be over 6,500 structures spread out over 50 square kilometers. During its peak around 750 A.D. there may have lived as many as 50,000 Maya there.

The outstanding feature is the Pyramid of Nohoch Mul, the highest of its kind on the Yucatán Peninsula. With 120 steps, Nohoch Mul is worth the climb. This site also includes a well restored pelota court (ball court), and 20 some stelae that have been well preserved.

Archeologists have found many links to the great Guatemalan city of Tikal, including similar architecture and carvings or stelae. They believe that the royal females of Tikal may have married the Cobá royalty and formed a relationship between the Guatemala Maya and those of the Yucatán. The archaeology resembles Tikal hundreds of miles away, and there is one of the most advanced systems of raised roads, or sacbeob, in the Yucatán. One of these perfectly straight sacbeob travels 60 miles to a Mayan village of Yaxuna.

For some unknown reason the people of Cobá left town around the year 900 AD. All these mysteries are being explored right now, and if you see Cobá soon, you will have the experience of seeing archaeologists at work. This site is in complete contrast with Chichén Itzá's well restored, well landscaped clean surroundings (so bring your bug spray).

Getting to Cobá The ruins are located about 50 km west of Tulum. You have the choice of renting a car and spending the day enjoying the ride, or taking one of the many buses or tours to Cobá from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. Be ready to do some walking, as this once great city was very spread out. Expect to walk three to four miles if you want to see most of the sites. A good tour should take between three and five hours. After lunch, you can stop for a dip in one of the many cenotes on the road to Cobá. Car Wash is a nice one.

Click HERE for Hotels at Uxmal

Uxmal ruins are in the state of Yucatán, south of Mérida. They are large and impressively carved. Uxmal is one of the most well known of the Maya cities, and rated by many archaeologists as the finest.

Map of

In area, the site is fairly compact, though you should allow at least half a day for a first visit, after which you’ll probably want to return to go over the site in more detail. There has been much renovation work and the grounds are well tended, but wear good shoes if you intend to do any climbing. It is permitted to climb the largest structure, the Pyramid of the Magician, and the view from the top is well worth the effort, though the steps are extremely steep.

From Mérida, follow 261 in the direction of Campeche. The site is about 70 miles (110 km) from Mérida and it should take about an hour by car. Otherwise, take a tour from Mérida. There’s an admission fee of around $4 USD and a further fee for the sound and light show. All the sites are free on Sundays.

Mayan Ruins in Cancun

Ruinas El Rey Dating back to the Mayan post-classical period, its name is derived from the skeleton discovered on the upper part of the larger mound. The ruins of El Rey are located in front of Playa Delfines in Cancun's hotel zone. Any taxi or bus on Kukulcán Boulevard can take you there easily. The visit won't take you more than an hour. It is an ideal site to relax, become familiar with Maya culture, and to witness the numerous iguanas that chose these ancient temples as their home.

El Meco Found just north of Cancun, on the avenue leading to Punta Sam, is the archeological zone of El Meco. From the top of one of its pyramids - the tallest archeological structure in the north of the state - there is a breathtaking view of the Chacmochuc Lagoon, near the area known as Isla Blanca (the name is misleading since it is not an island). To get there, we suggest taking a taxi, since this site, recently open to the public, still does not receive many visitors.

Other Noteworthy Sites

Dzibilchaltún Located only 22 kms. from Mérida, Dzibilchaltún holds an incredible amount of stone constructions. One of these, the House of the Seven Dolls, is the site of a beautiful light show every equinox.

Ek-Balam Near the colonial city of Valladolid is one of the newest sites to open to the public, Ek-Balam, home to remarkably well-preserved Mayan ruins. This little gem of a Mayan city is rarely visited and you may very well end up strolling around all by yourself among temples and jungle. It’s a bit off the beaten path since it’s located about 20 minutes north of Valladolid, and is best handled by car. It is not difficult to find. Go to Valladolid, go through the main square (El Zócalo) and then follow the signs to Tizimin. The exit to Ek Balaam is well marked.

Kabah Open daily 8am - 5pm. Located about 1.5 hours south of Mérida on Highway #261 The city can be found just south of Uxmal, and is directly off the main highway. In a similar Puuc style that can be found in Sayil, Labná and Xlapak, Kabah is another example of this construction style that flourished in the eighth and ninth centuries throughout the Yucatán. The best known site south of Uxmal, its popularity with tourists is largely due to the existence of the Wall of Masks, which is a wall made up over 260 Chaak masks, stacked on top of one another in an almost fanatic configuration.

Kohunlich Discovered less than three decades ago, Kohunlich is one of the finest sites in the south of Quintana Roo, especially for the enormous gargoyles on the main pyramid which are supposed to represent the Gods of the Underworld, rather like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. It is 80 km from Chetumal, the capital of Quintana Roo, and can be reached from Cancun by air - the flight takes 50 minutes - or by road, a distance of 360 km.

Labná Open daily 8am - 5pm. Located about 20 minutes south of Uxmal on Highway #261. This site is 120 Kms. from Mérida with easy access by highway. Labná, which means "Old or abandoned house", was thus named at the time of its discovery and exploration. Along with Uxmal, Sayil and Kabah, it forms the jewels of northern Maya architecture and sculpture. This site has attracted worldwide attention for its well-formed and finely ornamented arch, which must have been the entrance to an area dedicated to great celebrations.

Muyil / Chanyaxche Only a short drive south of Tulum, there’s a nice little site with very few visitors. This site goes under two names, Muyil and Chanyaxche. It is not big, but there are a few interesting buildings and the historical significance is apparent. Your visit will probably last about half an hour. Parking is free. Continue south about 15 minutes (22km) after passing the village of Tulum and you’ll find it on the left hand side.

Sayil Located about 1.5 hour south of Mérida on Highway #261. Sayil was constructed and inhabited at the end of the classic period of the Maya (roughly 950 AD) and is built in the similar Puuc style that can be found in Kabah, Labná and Xlapak. As with other Mayan sites, Sayil had a key ceremonial center surrounded by smaller towns, villages and residential centers and was believed at its peak to hold a population of ten thousand people at its core and seven thousand more in the outlying "suburbs."

Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya We recommend.

Their civilization teemed with life -- and brutality. Guess what's in their art? Read Editorial Review
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Genre Type: Ceramics, Sculpture/Installation
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Mayan Myth And Mayhem
By Mark Jenkins
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 30, 2004

TODAY WE are awash in mythology. Every Westerner is able to mix and match from myriad sources, whether Norse epics, samurai films, the book of Revelation or professional wrestling.

The Maya, however, had only the creatures and plants that lived in the rain forests of Mexico and Central America and the things they saw in the sky. That didn't stop them from creating an intricate cosmology, populated by deities that both combined and transcended their natural characteristics.

Among them were the lightning god, K'awiil, whose foot was a serpent; the Maize God, whose outlandish bouffant represents stalks of corn; and the storm god, Chaak, whose headdress was sometimes a live bird. These creatures are a fantasia on the fecund natural world in which the Maya lived.

Stone or stucco renderings of these and many other apparitions are among the roughly 130 7th- and 8th-century items in "Courtly Art of the Ancient Maya," a beautifully installed and frequently startling exhibition at the National Gallery of Art.

Most of the objects in the show, which was organized by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and the National Gallery, have never been seen in the United States. All of them testify to a civilization that was long lost and even now is only partially understood.

Many mysteries remain in the story of the Maya, who were first thought by European scholars to have been a tribe of benevolent mathematicians and stargazers, sort of like the disinterested, super-civilized peoples sometimes encountered on "Star Trek." Archaeologists and anthropologists have unlocked some of the Maya's secrets, and believe them to have been an exceptionally violent people, devoted to war and blood sacrifices. Yet their more than 500 hieroglyphics (which represent both pictorial and phonetic meanings) have been only partially deciphered, leading some of their gods to be known by less evocative names than K'awiil. The entity that governed both the underworld and trade -- sort of a cross between Hades and Warren Buffett -- has been unsatisfyingly dubbed "God L."

The Greeks sometimes referred to Hades as Pluto, who also was involved in the creation of wealth. Over the last few centuries, these sorts of coincidences have fueled a lot of speculation. The Maya built pyramids and wrote in hieroglyphics, like the Egyptians. The sleeker, more idealized faces in this show suggest Hellenic sculpture. And the Maya, who never had the stores of gold the Spanish invaders sought, buried their kings with death masks of jade, much like the ancient Chinese, whose royal jade shrouds were displayed four years ago in the National Gallery show "Celebrated Discoveries From the People's Republic of China."

Yet the Maya, scholars surmise, had a culturally specific reason for that burial practice: Jade's greenness represented maize, so a jade death mask expressed a dead king's desire to be reborn as the Maize God.

That the Maya were influenced by people from other continents is unlikely. Many of their rituals bear no known relationship to the customs of any non-Mesoamerican population. It's quite common for bygone civilizations to have developed myths of divine death and rebirth that reflect the annual cycle of fall's harvest and spring's planting. (Indeed, some contemporary religions retain elements of that allegory.) But the Maya envisioned a universe that was very closely related to their daily lives and then brought that symbolism to bloody life.

For example, the great (if only fragmentary) Maya epic known as the Popul Vuh recounts that the Maize God went into the underworld each fall, where he died on a ball court while battling the death gods. For the residents of such Mayan city-states as Palenque, Bonampak, Tikal and Tonina, this legendary sacrifice could become very real. If competitors lost what is known by scholars simply as "the ballgame" (played with a heavy rubber ball), contestants such as the one depicted on a 6th-century stone ball court marker might well be put to death.

The Maya's ceremonial need for blood seems to have been one reason that the various states warred with each other so frequently. This exhibition includes many representations of prisoners, such as a pair of relief carvings from Tonina, each showing an individual captive with his arms tied behind his back. Sometimes great victories were reenacted at court, with prisoners being scourged and killed, as is shown in a reconstruction of a painting from Bonampak.

This is what the exhibition title means by "courtly" -- not European-style chivalrous behavior, but the sanguinary horrors of Mayan imperial rites. The kings and queens of such cities as Palenque didn't offer only the blood of men who lost games and battles. A limestone lintel depicts Lady Xok, wife of a powerful ruler called Shield Jaguar, pulling a thorn-studded rope through her tongue, a customary form of ritual bloodletting for female royalty.

The blood was spattered on paper and then burned, summoning a prophetic Vision Serpent.

Such observances seem utterly alien. Yet there is much in this exhibition that's less exotic, from the Maya's taste for corn and chocolate -- according to the Popul Vuh, K'awiil split a mountain with a lightning bolt, revealing these two essential crops -- to their fascination with jaguars (representing power) and monkeys (exemplifying mischief). When not fighting and killing, the Maya developed their mathematics and writing. A pair of ceramic figures -- one human, one simian -- represent the twin brothers, sons of the Maize God, who were the Maya's patrons of art and writing.

Mayan culture still holds many secrets, but historically the final enigma is that the Maya suddenly abandoned their major cities about A.D. 799. The pieces in this show represent the last testament of a society that was about to slip into the jungle, the source of so much of its imagery. Gradually, many of its products went with it. Scholars believe that most Maya artworks were made of wood, hides, bark, fabric and feathers, none of which last long in a tropical climate. (Some items were also destroyed by the Spanish.) It's quite possible our knowledge of the Maya will never be complete.

Viewing these beautifully made if often chilling objects, however, it seems certain that our vanished Southern neighbors will continue to fascinate.

COURTLY ART OF THE ANCIENT MAYA -- Through July 25 at the National Gallery of Art, Fourth Street and Constitution Avenue NW. 202-842-6333.

DoCancun: Cancun Mex


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