The Oxtankah Ruins - Chetumal Bay

Oxtankah Mayan Ruins – Most Southern Archaeological Site in Quintana Roo

This Classic Period Mayan City is located on Chetumal Bay, the most southern tip of Quintana Roo, just a few kilometers from the Belize border. During its heyday from 200-600 AD, the city stretched along the coast of the Bay and onto Tamalcab Island. Oxtankah focused on trade and fishing, due to its proximity to the Bay and the Sea.

The story that makes the history of Oxtankah noteworthy happened in the early 16th century. The area was ruled by Nachan Ka án during this time period, a Mayan King who has given two Spanish slaves. One of the slaves was Gonzalo Guerrerro, the famous Spanish explorer captured by the Maya. His legacy has less to due with his capture, but more to do with his marriage. He was the first foreigner to marry into the Maya community and father mixed raced children with his wife Zazil Ha.

The archeological site was first discovered in the 1930’s by Alberto Escalona, but excavation of the area did not begin until 1983. In 1996, this small, but interesting site, was opened to the public, though never received a lot of attention. We feel quite differently about the historical influence of this small site, and have visited Oxtankah again to re-acquaint ourselves with its history and influence.

History of Oxtankah Mayan City

The original name of this Mayan city is unknown, but its contemporary name Oxtankah means ‘three neighborhoods’ surrounded by Ramon trees. The Ramon Tree is an indigenous large trunked tree easily identified by its above ground root system and the nutrient packed nuts that can be seen throughout your walk.

The Maya in Oxtankah were masters of the sea and known for their navigation skills, using their city as a trade hub. Most were fishermen, but there were was a secondary focus on honey, salt and agriculture. One of the plazas in the site is called the Plaza of Abejas (Plaza of the Bees) in recognition of their beekeeping skills.

The original city was built along the northern tip of Chetumal Bay and onto Tamalcab Island, with workers living in the rural, bayfront areas. Priests and rulers lived 1000 meters inland, where the current excavated site is located. The two plazas and the Spanish church that you see in this archeological site, is just a sample of the three plazas that had up to one hundred buildings surrounding each area. The Plaza of the Bees and the Plaza of the Columns are the only areas seen by visitors.

Though the city started its rapid decline in 900 AD, the Maya continued to live in the city up to the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. The now partial Spanish church seen on the property is thought to have been built under the direction of Gonzalo Guerrerro.

Fast Facts About Oxtankah Ruins

  • Classic Period Mayan City with its heyday between 200 -600 AD but inhabited until the late 1500s.
  • Past Rulers were buried in tombs deep in the heart of larger pyramids
  • Inland rain water reservoirs were used to collect fresh water
  • Two burial tombs can be seen today, one in each plaza. One is located within the altar, while the second requires a bit of climb up the pyramid.
  • Care has been taken to restore one stone covered in red paint.
  • Though a smaller site, there are three areas to visit, the Plaza of the Bees, The Plaza of the Columns, and the Spanish church. There are various structures within each plaza to view.

Getting to Oxtankah in Chetumal

This Mayan archeological site is located 10 kilometers from Chetumal’s city center in a suburb called Calderitas. The most scenic route to take to the ruins is the Chetumal Bay highway. Take Insurgentes east, a main artery in the city, and head north on the bay side highway. There is an inland route to the ruins, but the Bay side highway is a pretty way to discover the Chetumal Bay. Drive by the seafood restaurants, and continue on the road for an additional 10 minutes until you see the driveway into the ruins. The excavated site is inland, so watch out for the entrance on your left.

Note: If your travel permits, visit the Oxtankah Ruins in the morning. There are two great breakfast empanada restaurants on the road about 15 minutes before the ruins, Abuela de Juanita and La Empanada de Oro. Both are roadside cocina economicas and great! We had two empanadas at each place and loved each one. You will have a nice view of the bay, and could not get more local than this. Alert- the empanadas are big so just order two! If your time only allows for an afternoon visit, there are a few roadside seafood restaurants worth eating at with views of Chetumal Bay.

Stay Close By

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  • Forty Cannons Boutique Hotel

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  • Mayan Beach Garden north of Mahahual in the Costa Maya 2 hours from Tulum

    Mayan Beach Garden Hotel

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