Day Trips from Xcalak – Chacchoben Ruins
Chacchoben (Chalk-Choe Ben), was discovered by a Yucatec Mayan man named Serviliano Cohuo. in 1942. Serviliano built his home at the base of the Basamento and lived there as the honorary guard of the ruins until his death in 1991. Chacchoben was opened to the public in Oct. 2002. The site was first inhabited around 200 BC, with the peak in the Classic Period around 300-700 AD when most of the temples were built. Chacchoben site gets its name from a nearby Mayan village. The original name of the city is unknown. This is a popular place with the cruise ship crowd so you may want to check the cruise ship schedule at Mahahual to schedule around the crowds. If you go on a non-cruise ship day, you can expect to see very few other people there.
Chacchoben, place of the red corn, is the closet ruin you can get to from Xcalak. This ruin discovered in 1972 dates back 2000 years. We had been wanting to see Chacchoben for a while, so a free weekend near a birthday gave us an excuse. At bit over an hour and a half drive, it makes for an easy day trip. You can also combine it with a quick trip to Bacalar to see the Lagoon of 7 colors and the San Filipe museum.
From Xcalak, Chacchoben is about an hour and half to two hour drive. From Acocote Eco Inn take the beach road into town, get on the paved road turn right at the stop sign and drive the 61 KM to Mahahual. At the T-intersection, turn right to go to the Pemex Gas Station if you need fuel, otherwise, turn left. Go 51 KM until you hit 307 (This is the road that goes to Cancun). Turn left towards Chetumal. In about 10 KM you will pass through Pedro Santos. This is a great place to pick up some Piña Miel (Honey Pineapple) They usually sell large whole pineapples, 3 for $50 pesos and small ones 5 for $50 pesos. You can also get fresh cut pineapple, fresh squeezed pineapple juice, or honey at the stands that line the road. Once you pass through Pedro Santos. Take the right hand turn onto 293. You should see signs for Chacchoben. In about 9 KM you will see a sign to turn into the ruins on your left.
The roads are wide enough to accommodate tourist buses and are well paved except for a short stretch about ¼ mile from Chacchoben. We arrived at about 10:30 on a summer Sunday morning. Quintano Roo is 18 degrees north of the equator so summer can get hot and muggy and buggy. We brought big hats, sunglasses, water, Off, Ultrathon and deet wipes. We had been told that the mosquitos are “muy grande” in the jungle. Either the mosquitoes weren’t out on this particular day or we were so well covered we effectively created a repellent bubble that the bugs weren’t interested in trying to penetrate. Be prepared.
The Chacchoben entrance fee is 40 pesos about US $3.00. For US $ 40.00, a guide will give a 50 minute tour of the temples in English which is probably money well spent but we didn’t do that. I was more in a mood to indulge my inner Dora the Explorer. With almost no other tourists there, I could pretend I had just hacked my way through the jungles of the Yucatan and come upon these three stunning temples jutting up from the flat terrain.
At one temple, you can see hieroglyphs on the stone. On another temple there is still some red stucco exposed. On this particular day, large fluffy clouds and a comfortable breeze rewarded the climb up the temple steps.
Tall Chich, sacred Mayan palm, lined the paths around the temple compound and also formed the jungle canopy that shaded much of the park. While walking between two well excavated temples, we heard a wind in the trees, which turned out to be a band of monkeys journeying through the jungle canopy.
I saw a mother with an infant clinging to her back and adolescents athletically swinging through the air. I couldn’t see all of them but I would estimate 20-30 monkeys were in the band. The experience definitely fed my Dora the Explorer fantasy.
A number of smaller buildings are partially excavated and some foundations exposed but I was fascinated by the entirely unexcavated hills covered by trees. So much more remains to be discovered at this ancient site. This is a great half-day adventure.
Going around the circular path, make sure you go up the hill to the Grand Basamento. There is a large pyramid (Templo 1) as well as another large structure (Las Vasijas) you can climb on. Great views of the surrounding jungle. On the back side of Las Vasijas, you can see some of the original stucco and red paint.