Dzibilchaltún, México - Dzibilchaltun Ruins Map
Although a minor archaeological site compared to Chichén Itzá or Uxmal, in its day Dzibilchaltun contained hundreds of structures and bustled with commerce. It reached its peak of importance during the Late Classic period (AD 600-900).
It was inhabited long before, however; in fact it is one of the longest continuously inhabited Maya cities. Unlike many of its contemporaries, it was still occupied at the time of the Spanish conquest. Some of its wealth was derived from salt, which was mined in the area and traded extensively throughout the Maya world and beyond.
Today only a few of the structures in the 16 square kilometer (about six square mile) site have been excavated, but you can see evidence of others in tumbled rocks and telltale, grass-covered mounds. The best-restored building is the Templo de las Siete Munecas, named for the seven baked-clay figures found buried underneath.
Although far from ornate, the building served religious and ceremonial purposes. It was mathematically aligned to direct the light of the rising sun into the building at a precise angle, marking the importance of the spring and fall equinoxes. Dzibilchaltun opens early on these days so visitors can witness the spectacle at sunrise.
The flat, scrubby plain is unusually open. The Spanish dismantled many of the original structures, using the perfectly cut stones to construct buildings of their own. One example is the Franciscan church that now lies in ruins near glass-green Xalcah Cenote, or “Sinkhole of the Old Town.” Cool and clean although sometimes littered with leaves, this natural limestone pond is the perfect place to take a refreshing swim after a hike around the ruins.
In the Mayan language, Dzibilchaltun means “Place Where There’s Writing on Flat Rocks.” Today hieroglyph-engraved stones can be seen at the good site museum, along with ceremonial and utilitarian items. The museum closes on Mondays, but the site is otherwise open daily between 8AM and 5PM. Located less than 20 km from both Mérida and Progreso, this minor-league archaeological site makes a worthwhile excursion from either.