Found forty minutes inland from Tulum, the Maya city of Cobá has become a popular destination for tours out of Cancún, and upon arriving, we were disheartened by the number of buses we saw in the lot. But the ruins are spread out across such a wide swath of jungle that the crowds never became overwhelming. This was the final archaeological zone we would be visiting during our 91 days in the Yucatán, and we greeted the milestone with sadness and a little relief.
Okay, so the ancient Maya site of Oxkintok is not “forgotten” in any true sense of the word. It appears on maps and in guidebooks, and there are people waiting at the entrance to collect your fee. But once you’re inside, wandering about ruins half-reclaimed by the jungle, so distant from the next town, Oxkintok feels forgotten. And you’re allowed to feel like the intrepid adventurer who discovered it.
On the way home to Mérida from Izamal, we swung by the small village and archaeological site of Aké. Requiring a long drive off the main highway, it’s a town which feels forgotten by the march of time.
Izamal is a small city and you don’t need a lot of time to familiarize yourself with it, but you will need sturdy legs. Both of its main sights, the ancient Maya pyramid Kinich Kakmó and the somewhat-less-ancient Convent of San Antonio de Padua, involve a lot of stairs and climbing.
Just twenty minutes north of Valladolid are the ruins of Ek Balam, a fantastic archaeological site which boasts some of the peninsula’s best-preserved Maya sculptures.
On a visit to Chichén Itzá, you’re going to oscillate violently between love and hate for your fellow man. The mathematics, artistry and astrology involved in constructing these ancient buildings… people did this? People are awesome! But still, there’s no way around it: people are terrible. Today, the site is overrun with money-grubbing locals, megaphone-wielding guides and sheep-herd tour groups. On leaving, I said to Jürgen, “The ingenuity and ambition of humanity is truly inspiring.” And then: “I wish everyone was dead.”
Not only is the Palacio Cantón one of the loveliest buildings on Merida’s Paseo de Montejo, but it’s also home to one of the city’s best museums: the Museo Regional de Antropología de Yucatán.
Found 50 kilometers inland from Campeche, the Maya site of Edzná is best known for its five-level pyramid-palace structure. Without our own transportation, Edzná was difficult to reach, but the opportunity to see its compact and beautiful ruins made the effort worthwhile.
Mayapan was the final major capital of the Maya civilization, with a period of preeminence that lasted from 1200 to 1400, postdating the fall of Chichén Itzá. Thanks to its relatively recent age, many of the ruins have survived in good condition, making it easier to imagine how the city must have looked during its prime.
After swimming in Chunkanán’s three cenotes, we felt energized enough to stop at nearby Acanceh before our return to Mérida. This small town is one of the oldest Maya sites in the Yucatán, and one of the few to retain its original name, which approximately means “Cry of the Deer”.