Talc-white beaches, reefs teeming with life, ruined temples in misty rainforests – the Riviera Maya offers a family or romantic beach holiday with a dash of Indian Jones adventure.
Calakmul is unforgettable. The giant pyramids of this 2000-year-old ruined city jut out over the largest stretch of rainforest in the Americas north of the Amazon, the Peten.
Calakmul was one of the largest of the Maya cities, built in around 100 BC and occupied for 1,000 years until it was abandoned to the forest. Much of it is protected as a biosphere reserve and the wildlife is exuberant – macaws and toucans flit through the canopy, jaguars hunt in the shadows.
Only a handful of visitors ever make it to this impressive Mayan city, lost in a vast, pristine rainforest. That’s a shame but a boon too – it’s remained a magical experience. The sense of being an explorer, isolated in pristine nature is exhilarating.
The summit is topped with three buildings, rising to over 175 feet. Climb to the top for rewarding views over a seemingly endless sea of rainforest.
While you’re there
Much of the Mexican Peten is preserved as the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve – the largest forest reserve in Mexico covering 7,231 square km. It’s home to Mexico’s largest populations of terrestrial fauna and flora. Some 24,000 traditional Maya people live in the park’s buffer zone.
Keep an eye out for the 86 mammal species including like Puma, Jaguar and Baird’s Tapir, plus the 400 bird species including rare Ornate Hawk-Eagles, Ocellated Turkeys and Curassows.
Getting there & doing it
Calakmul lies in remote forest 60km off the Chetumal to Escarcega road, about a 4-hour drive from Tulum. The road to Calakmul lies south off the main Villahermosa-Chetumal highway (CF 186), half a kilometre east of Xpujil village.
There are a handful of very expensive guided tours to Calakmul available from the Mayan Riviera, but the site is best reached by hire car – or private taxi from Xpujil village, 60km to the north.
Unfortunately, there are no guides available on site. If you’re going it alone, read first – or take with you – Joyce Kelly’s An Archaeological Guide to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.
There’s no food on site, but there are simple snack bars and local eateries in Xpujil. Take binoculars for wildlife spotting, two litres of water and strong insect repellent.
If you wisely decide to stay more than a day to explore this magnificent region, stay overnight at a cheap guest house in Xpujil village. Hotel Debliz is best.
When to do it
The site is open all year-round, seven days a week; gates open at 8am and close at 5pm.
It’s great all year round. Early mornings and late afternoons are the best times for seeing wildlife. Stay overnight in Xpujil village and leave early.
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