Usually when people visit the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico it is to lay on the beach, drink mojitos and party the night away. Maybe if they feel adventurous, they’ll get on a bus and venture inland to Chichen Itza, the most famous of the many archeological sites in the area.Sadly, while getting a chance to see some great pyramids, you’ll be joined by more than 10,000 of your newest friends. You’ll also be baked in the hot sun as your tour will likely drop you at the entrance to that great site just as the sun begins to reach its peak in the middle of the day.
So what should you do? Get off the typical tourist trail and see some of the other jewels this area has to offer. As great as Chichen is, and it is not to be missed, there are plenty of other remarkable archaeological wonders in this region just waiting to be discovered.
One of these is a nearly unvisited site called Dzibilchaltun [dzee-beel-chahl-toon] about 10 miles outside of Merida. Instead of battling crowds and being rushed to see all these sites have to offer under some prescribed timeframe, here you can relax and take it all in.
Dzibilchaltun, built around 700AD, was a major Mayan city with up to 200,000 people inhabiting more than 8000 structures. The most famous of these is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, at the and of the White Road, guarded by a huge monolithic stone, called a stela. The temple got its name because when it was excavated in the 1950’s, seven Mayan dolls were found there. Like many of the other Mayan sites in this region, Dzibilchaltun also has a sort of spiritual connection to the seasons. The doorways of the temple were built to align with the rising sun, so that the early rays pass through on the Spring and Fall equinoxes, marking the beginning of planting and harvesting seasons.Incredibly, perhaps because of the few people that visit this site, you can still climb up the steps to the tops of these great temples and get some of the best views around. It’s a real treat.
At the opposite end of the site are two other highlights of Dzibilchaltun. One is a small 16th century chapel. Like many other chapels built during the Spanish conquest, this one was built to send a message. By building in the middle of their ancient sites and using stones from the original Mayan construction, the Spaniards sought to convey to the indigenous people that the Christian God was more powerful than their Gods.
The other highlight is the Cenote Xlakah, a sparkling freshwater pool used by the Mayans for ritualistic ceremonies and today serves as a local swimming hole for locals and tourists alike. Unlike other cenotes in this region, most notably Cuzama, where you climb down rickety steps, crawl into caves and take a small horse driven train on old roller coaster tracks, Xlakah, [pictured below] is easily accessible. The water is crystal clear and the location is a great place to relax and cool down after touring the rest of this under visited site.
On your way out, don’t miss the museum that was remodeled for the 2010 bicentennial celebration. It is filled with lots of great Mayan artifacts uncovered from the local area and by divers from inside the Cenote Xlakah.
If you want to hang out with a thousand of your closest friends, go to Chichen Itza, it’s certainly worth it… but when you get home, you’ll soon realize your vacation was like everyone else’s. However, if you want something different, get off the tourist trail and check out Dzibilchaltun and take a swim in that cenote. I guarantee you’ll have an adventure none of your friends can match, because you went to My Mexico!
When you go… get a taxi from Merida or Progreso, the nearest beach area to Dzibilchaltun. From either location, make sure your driver agrees to stay until you are ready to leave otherwise you will have no way of getting back. Don’t sweat this, as drivers do this all the time. $100.00 US will get you a driver all day and all the local knowledge you can soak in.
Entrance will be about $15.00 US and like many sites in Mexico, they are closed on Mondays.