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Acanceh

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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”.

Acanceh Yucatan

Archaeologists date the ruins of Acanceh to AD 300 and the dawn of the Classic Era. At this stage in Maya history, the great cities were much farther south in Guatemala and the Chiapas region of Mexico. There’s reason to suspect that Acanceh wasn’t even founded by the Maya: its oldest carvings are evocative of Teotihuacan, a powerful empire from northern Mexico.

In a rare juxtaposition of the pre- and post-Columbian religions, Acanceh’s central pyramid is found right across from the town cathedral. The Spanish must have been in an unusually good mood when subjugating Acanceh; Maya structures in populated towns were almost always demolished, so that their stones could be used as material for the new churches, but Acanceh’s pyramid was allowed to survive.

Archaeologists eventually discovered a secondary structure hiding underneath the outer layer of the pyramid: a sub-pyramid, crowned by eight enormous masks which look out over the town, two facing in each cardinal direction. You can climb the scaffolding for an up-close look at the sculptures, of which only a couple have survived relatively intact.

Nearby, another pyramid can be climbed for a view over the jungle canopy, and Acanceh boasts a third structure called the Palace of the Stucco, which we completely missed. Frustratingly, we didn’t even know of the palace’s existence until a few days after our visit. If there’s one thing Yucatán’s Maya sites are lacking, it’s information for the visitor; it’s always a good idea to bring your own guidebooks or brochures when exploring the peninsula, and to research a specific spot rigorously before visiting it.

We really enjoyed our short time in Acanceh. More than just a set of forgotten ruins, it’s a town which is very much alive. Before grabbing the bus back home, we walked around the central plaza, which was buzzing with activity. The pyramid is an odd sight on the edge of the plaza, but a refreshing one. In Acanceh, more than in other places, you can really sense the pride which locals have for their wondrous Maya heritage.

Location on our Map

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January 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm Comments (0)

Oxcutzcab and the Ruta Puuc

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Some of the Yucatán’s most impressive Maya ruins are laid out in a convenient row along the Ruta Puuc. Beginning in the village of Oxkutzcab, we made a rough semi-circle to the south and west, visiting caves, an eco-museum dedicated to cocoa, and five archaeological sites, among them the ruins of Uxmal.

The Puuc-era Maya, who flourished between AD 800 and 1000, situated themselves around a fertile valley of the same name (pronounced, by the way, like “pook” and not “pooch”, as we had been saying). The largest of the Puuc cities was Uxmal, though there were other major population centers such as Kabah and Sayil.

With an itinerary that included five archaeological sites, I thought we had planned a comprehensive tour of the region. But that was only until we were shown a map of all the ruins that have been discovered in the Puuc Valley. There are hundreds, and archaeologists are still uncovering more.

We stayed the night at Oxkutzcab, about 90 minutes south of Mérida, a pleasant town and the Yucatán’s citrus capital. With crates upon crates of oranges, lemons and limes packed up and bound for Mérida, walking around the morning market was a rich olfactory experience. It takes place every day in the main plaza of the town, directly across from the cathedral. The prime location underscores the importance of the citrus trade to Oxkutzcab.

With our busy Ruta Puuc itinerary, we didn’t have enough time to properly explore the town. But after visiting the market, we did track down an interesting old railway station, which dates from 1947 and was built in a faux-Maya style, complete with replica masks of Chaac, the rain god. It’s a shame that rail service has been suspended; rumbling through the jungle in an antiquated train would be an unforgettable way to experience the Yucatán.

Location of Oxkutzcab on our Map

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December 23, 2013 at 6:54 pm Comments (3)
Acanceh 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".
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