If you yearn to explore Maya ruins in the Yucatán Peninsula but don’t have time for a long trip to famous sites like Chichen Itza, Uxmal or Tulum, consider a quick visit to Dzibilchaltún Archaeological Zone.
Less well known but historically significant Dzibilchaltún is located only about 15 km. north of Mérida and a short detour off the highway from the capital to Progreso.
Recognized as the oldest continually used Maya ceremonial and administrative center on the Yucatán Peninsula, Dzibilchaltún was inhabited throughout the three acknowledged Maya historical epochs, from about 1000 B.C. until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century.
However, when the Spanish arrived, the royalty of Dzibilchaltún had already been dethroned by the general populace of farmers, fishermen and artisans, who lived in settlements surrounding the temple and ceremonial sites whose ruins form the core of the present archeological zone. It’s believed that a long period of drought that plagued the region was blamed on the royalty, leading to the uprising by the general population.
The Temple of the Seven Dolls is the only known Maya temple with windows, and its orientation suggests it was used for astronomical observations; during fall and spring equinoxes, the sun rises directly through the temple doors. The temple is named for a set of small clay figures that were found inside during its excavation. These tiny dolls and other striking artifacts from the Maya and Spanish conquistadores are displayed in the site’s excellent Maya Museum. Signage is in both Spanish and English.
Another wonderful feature of Dzibilchaltún is a cenote open for swimming right on the site. Bring a swimming suit and towel if you’re inclined to test the waters of this rocky-bottom pond fed by cooling freshwater springs.
The site also includes a chapel built by the Spanish on the central plaza, between three impressive Maya stepped platforms.
Admisssion to the Dzibilchaltún Archaeological Zone and Maya Museum costs $132 pesos for those who are not Mexican citizens or residents. If you’re not a Mexican, don’t expect any discount for senior status.
Even though Dzibilchaltún is quite close to Mérida, you should plan carefully in advance how you will get to and from the site. Regular bus service to the area is limited, with only several daily departures from the AutoProgreso terminal in Mérida’s centro. Bus service back from Dzibilchaltun is also very limited. The bus fare is $12 pesos one-way.
Another option is to take a “combi” van from San Juan park in central Mérida ($7 pesos one-way). However, these vans drop you off and pick you up in the small town of Chicxulub, about 5 km. from the archeological zone. To get to and from, you’ll have to hire a mototaxi, a motorbike with a small bench mounted on the front for passengers ($15 pesos one way). While this transport can be a fun part of your adventure, it’s not for everyone.
The most convenient options are to rent a car, hire a taxi for the day or join an organized tour to the site coordinated by one of several tour agencies in Mérida.
If your budget permits, you may wish to hire one of several knowledgeable guides who provide fascinating background on the site while you walk from structure to structure and explore the ruins. Guide fees start at $150 pesos for 45 minutes.
Text and photos by Robert Adams
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