If you like Mayan ruins, southern Quintana Roo has some interesting sites that will increase your understanding of the Maya. Roughly 4 hours south of Tulum, at the base of the Yucatan Peninsula in the Costa Maya region, are some fantastic archaeological sites that have you venturing near some extraordinary beaches and historical ground.
The ruins of Kohunlich and Dzibanche are real gems. Surrounded by tropical jungle these time worn ruins have a mystical quality that are seen by few tourists. On any given day, it’s not unusual to find yourself alone wandering the maze of paths that makeup these two archeological sites. The lack of activity preserves an eco-haven for tropical wildlife and exotic birds.
Kohunlich was a residential complex during its heyday in 600 A.D.. Visitors will walk through palaces and the ball park that have elaborate architecture, evidence of the sophistication, importance and status of the families that lived in this southern settlement. The Mayas settled in Kohunlich by 200 BC, with most building taking place in the Early Classic period from about 250 to 600 AD.
The highlight for us was the Pyramid of the Sun, where six stucco masks are located on the central staircase. The three meter high masks located on this three tiered temple symbolize the Sun and Venus. Other structures include Plaza Mervin, the ball court and multiple structures located at the entrance.
The term Dzibanche means ‘writing on the wood’, thought to be named after the carvings found in the Temple of the Lintels. This Mayan city was active during the Classic Period of 300 to 900 A.D. and thought to be an influence in the southern Maya cities. Archeologists have evidence that Dzibanche was the early capital of the Kan dynasty, which later ruled from the great city of Calakmul.
The most important buildings at Dzibanche are the Temple of the Captives, the Temple of the Lintels and the Temple of the Owl. The K’inichna’ Pyramid is a large temple located outside of the site core.
The highlight is the Cormoranes Pyramid, the largest pyramid at Dizibanche. It was built during the 5th century A.D. and is decorated with stucco friezes coated with red paint. The view is outstanding from the top of the pyramid showing the dense jungle that surrounds this city.
If you are up for a walk, visit the K’inich Na’ Pyramid, “House of the Sun God” located 1.2miles/2 kms north of the city center. Two royal burials were found inside the structure along with offerings of jade. The Pyramid is surrounded by a number of smaller palace structures
To reach Dzibanche take highway 307 (Cancun/ Tulum highway) approximately 3.5 hours south of Tulum to where 307 ends at the Chetumal/ Escarcega highway (past the town of Bacalar). Turn right. At kilometer 58 (sign for Dzibanche/ Morocoy) turn right again and drive 22 kilometers to the ruin site.
To reach Kohunlich continue past the turn for Dzibanche on the Chetumal/ Escarcega highway, and travel just 2 kilometers farther on, then turn left (at the sign for Kohunlich) and travel approximately 9.5 kilometers to the Kohunlich ruins.
In the neighboring state of Campeche there are quite a few more archaeological sites including; Xpuhi, Chicanna, Becan, Rio Bec, Hormiguero and Calakmul. Most of these ruins can be found along the Chetumal/ Escarcega highway, farther west across the Quintana Roo / Campeche State border. Some are located off road and are very difficult to get to. The best way to visit the area is to spend the night in the Bacalar / Chetumal area.