Yesterday was a sleepy Sunday in Mahahual. The spring breeze was lightly blowing, sending up dust from the beach sand that collects in town and gives a light sugary coat to everything during the dry season. My wife and I headed out to a late morning coffee, sipping slowly and chatting easily with a few locals about how their week had gone. We usually have plenty to do surprisingly, but on this particular Sunday we really didn’t have anything on the agenda and the beach was out of the question because we had gone diving the day before and were already sun-kissed to the brink of a burn.
As we meandered lazily back towards our house trying to figure out how to spend our day we ran into a good friend of ours, Carlos, who runs a tour company, Mayan Trips, at the local corner store. He seemed awfully preoccupied with something, given the present vibe of the town, so we asked him what was going on. He told us the cruise ship for the day had just docked and he was stocking the supplies for his tour to the Chacchoben Ruins. Then he just casually asked, “do you want to go?”. We looked at each other and thought why not? Our Sunday was set. We were to meet the van on the corner in 40 minutes.
The comfy white van pulled up just at the moment that we arrived to the corner and when the door slid open and the cool air conditioner hit us it was the perfect antithesis to the blazing sun. We loaded in and spoke to two adventurous older women, who were the only other passengers that day, and the friendly guide. We were on our way.
The ruins rest about 50 minutes from town and on the way the guide spoke to the curious tourists about local flora, fauna, customs, income, you name it. he was a wealth of information and happy to do it. We sat back and enjoyed the ride and AC while they chatted. We had both been to the ruins before with some friends of ours but were unable to really take advantage of the experience because of a heavy stomach bug I had been fighting that left me too weak to walk far without stopping, let alone climb, so the excitement was building to get another crack at it and have a guide to fill us in on the goodies.
When we arrived the guide offered us waters from the icy cooler they had brought for the passengers and showed us to the gate. If you have never been, the ruins are very impressive. We have visited various ruins around the peninsula and other parts of Mexico and something about Chacchoben is very special. It hasn’t been packed like other ruins we have visited such as Tulum and Chichen Itza either time we have visited and a lot of the tall trees and jungle vegetation remain intact, giving you a nice shady canopy to protect you from the sun. It also somehow makes the experience feel more authentic when everything isn’t clear cut. You feel like you are really seeing the Mayan world as it was.
Entering the park and taking the nice trail the first thing you come to is a huge pyramid known as Templo 24. Not a lot is known about Chacchoben but experts date the settlement of the area to around 200AD and most of the major structures to around 700AD.
Off to the right there is a little trail that leads to a small area of ruins that isn’t on the maps of the park. Being ever curious, I decided to Indiana Jones my way down the trail to see what was at the end and even though these ruins aren’t on the map and aren’t big compared to the others, something about the juxtaposition of them against the back ground of the surrounding ranch was sublime. It is a beautiful area and I enjoyed this section just as much as any other. Ask your Mayan Trips guide about it and if he has time he may take you!
Getting back and course and traveling down the trail you pass through “Plaza B” where you get a nice view of the other side of Templo 24. Then you enter the area known as “Las Vasijas”. This is the area where most of the trading and commerce of the site was done. It is a long stretch of sunken earth bordered on both sides by steps that definitely make it seem like a good place to bargain shop.
After leaving Las Vasijas and continuing on the trail you come to the side of a platform that is easily two stories high. You just get the feeling that it is holding something truly special on top. Once you come all the way around to the front you can see the only stelae that remains from Chacchoben sitting peacefully in front of the main staircase that takes you up to the “gran basamento” where the other two pyramids sit.
As you arrive to the summit and get a glimpse at the majesty of “Templo 1” you suddenly forget about your profuse sweat and lack of breath. The beauty of this main platform and remoteness of the location make you feel like you have stepped through time and the owners are just out hunting and will be back soon.
After wondering around the Gran Basamento for 30 minutes or so it was time to head back to the van. The tour is only about 4-5 hrs round trip so it is perfect for a cruise excursion. You can take more time if you are staying in Mahahual and have your own car but then you miss out on the info that the guide has to give.
There are some photos and information that I have purposefully left out of the article so I wouldn’t spoil your dinner if you ever decide to go. With the internet the way it is I try as often as I can to leave some things to wonder before that artform is lost to humanity! Taking the trip to these ruins is definitely worth your time and money and Mayan Trips was a great tour group to go with. For bookings you can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.