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Ruins > Calakmul Ruins and Calakmul Biosphere

Calakmul Temple
Structure II look up from ground level (see sepia toned aerial shot below)


Calakmul ruins

Calakmul is a situated in the middle of the Calakmul biosphere reserve, the largest tropical forest reserve in Mexico. Set aside as a Biosphere Reserve in 1989, Calakmul is also a major archaeology site. Very close to the Guatemalan border, when you climb the tallest temple of Calakmul you can see Meridor in the distance.

Hours: 8-5

$46 pesos admission


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One of the things that struck us about Calakmul was the many artifacts just laying around the ruins. Our guide showed us where to look to find pottery shards and even found an arrowhead. It would have been exciting to pick up a souvenir, but the guide explained to us that by taking something from the site, we would be destroying a piece of history, for the artifacts were only meaningful if they could be studied on site. We gladly put everything back in place where we found it (and recommend that everyone take that attitude as well.).

calakmul artifact

Calakmul is quite a bit out of the way. You must travel 52km west of Xpuhil, and from there it's another 60 km to the ruins. You can camp at the ruins, but there are no facilities. On the way to the site, you notice a change in the vegetation. The closer you get to the ruins, the higher the tree canopy becomes. This is where the howler monkeys and jaguar live.
Calakmul ruin

There are many large buildings at Calakmul. The great city of Calakmul was discovered in 1931, but restoration and mapping was only begun in 1985. The city extended over 10 square miles and had over 600 structures. More are being discovered. Its population at its peak was over 50,000. The site is a wealth of Stelae -- 103 have been found so far. The dates on the stelae range from AD 364 to 810.

The existence of Calakmul was widely recorded in neighboring sites. The emblem at the right signifies the name Matan, which is the Mayan Name of Calakmul.

Calakmul was at one time equal in power to Tikal. Quite a bit is known about Calakmul because of the Stelae that have been deciphered. Pictures of Calakmul don't do it justice because of the trees that surround the place. You really do feel that you are in a jungle when you visit. Not pictured here is Structure II, the largest of all Mayan pyramids. It is quite a task to climb, but the view of the surrounding jungle is spectacular.

Calakmul Glyph

Calakmul aerial shot

From ground level it is impossible to appreciate the scale of Structure II, which is the largest temple at Calakmul. When atop the very highest level, you can see all the way to Mirador in Guatemala on a clear day.

Pictures on the right are some arches with some original wooden supports that date from about 600 ADCalakmul Mayan Arch
Howler Monkey-Calakmul

Calakmul is in the center of the Calakmul Biosphere, a protected forest rich in wildlife and botanical species. On our most recent visit to Calakmul, we were treated with more howler monkeys than we had ever seen before, and never so close. We were picking our way through the ruins. It was high noon and the jungle was very quiet. All of a sudden the howling started over our heads - it sounded like jaguars fighting in the trees! Biologists study these monkeys every year in the Calakmul Biosphere and they too find their way to Mayan Beach Garden at the end of their studies for a little beach time. The last time we visited, we also saw Spider Monkeys swinging amongst the trees. Both of these types of Monkeys are more likely to be about early in the morning and later in the afternoon.

The following information about Calakmul is taken from the INAH site which is sponsored by the Mexican Government.

Calakmul is located 20 kilometers from the border with Guatemala, in the zone of influence of the Petén. The name means "two taken off hills", that were imposed in 1931 by their discoverer Cyrus Longworth Lundell; later the ruins were studied by architect John Bolles.

Structure 5, one of many large temples on the site. The site is large with few opportunities for water. Please make sure you come equipped.

Calakmul Structure 5

This zone comprises the Ecological Reserve of the Biosphere of Calakmul. The archaeological zone has a total extension of 30 km and 6,252 structures have been located, including temples and portable altars, a ball court, constructed palaces and houses with worked stones. It is estimated that Calakmul could have about 60 000 inhabitants. A sacbé surrounded the city and another one ran towards the North. The architectonic characteristics of the constructions correspond to the classic period; the main body includes a seat around which the first buildings rose; later structures upon these were constructed and new ones were added other, totaling 972 now, of which 90% are unexplored. The main sets are I and II, true hills and is why Lundell gave the city the name. Set II is greatest, of rectangular form, whose base has almost two hectares and 40 meters tall. In set VII a tomb with an affluent skeleton of a male personage was discovered in 1987, of about 35 years of age and 1.5 meters of stature, to which a large mask of pieces of jade, and adornments of the same material and several polychrome offerings of vases had been placed near him.

Calakmul appears to be the Mayan city where have been more stella with 108 discovered, of which 68 are recorded and 40 are smooth, although it appears that thieves have cut the carvings off many of these. The stella indicate dates that go from the year 514 AD to 990 AD; one of them, with date 731, shows one of the best examples of Mayan artistic carvings. Six meters in length with seven figures of captives were recorded, with the hands tied behind.

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