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”.
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.