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Mexico - Yucatan Penninsula

Calakmul-Ruins of the Rio Bec

( Sightseeing / Archaeological Sites )

A Karen Brown Recommendation

Dotting the stretch of highway between Escárcega and Chetumal is a group of fabulous Mayan ruins in an area called Río Bec. These are some of our favorite archaeological sites in Mexico—not only because they have awesome structures, but also because you are frequently the only person about, a truly magical experience. If you have time to visit only one ruin, choose Calakmul. It is stupendous, and although rarely visited, ranks in grandeur with its greatest rival, Tikal, which is somewhat alike in layout and architecture. It is not surprising that they share similarities, since although Tikal is in Guatemala, the border is only 30 kilometers away. This site is farther off the highway than any of the others that we mention in the Río Bec area. After leaving the main road, it takes about an hour to drive there, with most of the distance along a single-lane road. However, the road is straight and has little traffic. Best of all, you pass through the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve (established in 1989 to protect the natural rainforest) where you are likely to spot many species of exotic birds and some wild animals. In the spring, wild turkeys, resembling colorful peacocks, are common. The city spreads over a huge area of 25 square kilometers, and it is estimated that at the height of its grandeur (A.D. 400–800) as many as 200,000 people lived here. It is fascinating to wander along the jungle paths, coming across grand structures rising from the tangle of trees, including the highest pyramid ever built by the Maya, which soars 53 meters into the sky and has a base of 5 acres. As found in other sophisticated Mayan sites, Calakmul had an observatory for charting the movements of the stars. Other places of interest include a huge market and ball courts. The site is still in the process of being renovated. (Plan to make Calakmul an all-day outing.)

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