Day Trips from Xcalak – Calakmul
So this is cheating a bit. This is probably not a day trip from Xcalak for most people. It took us about 6 hours one way to get there from Xcalak. When I was first researching it, google maps said 6 hours, and I couldn’t believe it because it didn’t look that far. But the last 60 km is on a windy narrow road and the last 30 KM has a 30 KM/Hr speed limit. So it doesn’t take that long to get to the turn off. It just takes a long time once you do turn off the road.
Calakmul is a very large ruin that was continuously inhabited from the Pre-Classical period through the Terminal Classic. There are over 6,750 structures in the 70 sq KM area of the city that had a population of 50,000 people during the Classic period. The 6,750 structures compares to 1,400 at Palenque, it’s more famous neighbor. Calakmul or the Snake Kingdom, was a super power from the 6th century though the 8th century. There is a theory that the Kan dynasty moved to Calakmul from Dzibanche Much of this time it was in a power struggle with Tikal (in modern Guatemala). The two cities were at war with each other for centuries.
The other thing that really stood out about this site is the amount of wildlife you run into. It is a very large site with relatively few people there. I think we saw 2 or 3 other cars the entire time we were there.
We had actually spent the night before in Chetumal doing some business there before we left for Calakmul, so that cut the drive time down, but it was still a solid 3 hours drive. The actual distance isn’t that great, it’s really the last 60 or so KM that take a long time. Another quick issue we had, was about 30 KM in from the main road, the road runs into a museum. We had thought this was the entrance, but turns out we were only half way there. The museum is nice and does show some nice artifacts and has exhibits of Mayan history of the area. Entrance was free. Also has clean bathrooms 😉 In order to keep going to the ruins, there is another gate you have to pass to get to the final 30 KM stretch that has the 30 KM/Hr speed limit. This is what feels like it takes forever. However, take it slow, you will see a lot of wildlife. It seemed like there were Ocellated Turkeys around every corner.
The first thing we saw when we got into the gates to the site, were a whole troop of spider monkeys, traveling through the trees. The ruins cover a massive area, you end up walking a lot just to get to the ruins that have been excavated. There are 5 main areas, the Northeast Group, Small Acropolis and Chan Chi’ich Residential Area, Grand Plaza, Acropolis Chik Naab and the Grand Acropolis. As you look at the maps, they usually have a Ruta Larga (Long way), a Ruta Media (Medium route) and a Ruta Corta (Short Route). The Ruta Larga takes you to see the most stuff, the Ruta Corta, the least but also shortest route. If you have the time, take the Ruta Larga.
The first area you come up on is the Northeast Group, This is mainly residential areas, or Mayan Condos as we like to call them. There is a square with surrounding living areas. There are a lot more structures to the south off the beaten path.
The second area is the Chan Chi’ich Residential area, that also has lots of Mayan Condos. And on the other side of the path you will find the Small Acropolis.
Acropolis Chik Naab is a large area of Mayan Condos and may have been a central market for the city.
The main attraction is the Grand Plaza. This has three main buildings, Structure 7 on the north end of the Grand Plaza. This is worth the climb as it gives you a higher vantage point to view Structure 2 at the south end. Structure 2 is one of the tallest Mayan Pyramids. At nearly 150 ft tall, it is taller than the 138 ft Nohoch Mul at Coba. This is climbable as well, but take your time. It is quite a steep one. (Also a note, we took 3x16oz bottles of water each on this, and I found that I needed 16 oz of water for each pyramid I climbed. It was hot and the climb is pretty steep so don’t skimp on the water end psa) Structure 2 has a double peak, the top one not visible from below. From the top of Structure 2, Structure 7 and Structure 1 are visible.
Structure 1 appears to be taller than structure 2 however it is built on higher ground. The actual pyramid itself is not as tall as structure 2. This is also climbable. I didn’t do it as I had run out of water by that point and dang, it is tall.
The last area is the Grand Acropolis and this is a large residential area, and is famous for its Muralla or large wall that was less for defense, than to keep the riff raff out of the royal condos.
Definitely plan on climbing some gigantic pyramids. Structure 2 is by far the largest and definitely one you should climb. Next in line would be Structure 1, then Structure 7. But keep in mind you will need to bring a lot of water with you. You are in the jungle, and it is hot and you can easily get dehydrated.