Calakmul Ruins: A Journey Through Time in Campeche, Mexico

The archaeological site and Biosphere Reserve of Calakmul is one of the last discoveries of the Mayan civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula.

And it’s not just “another archaeological site,” it is believed that it was one of the most important cities (if not the most important) of the Classic Maya era.

Although Calakmul’s buildings are not as “important” as other archaeological sites such as Chichen Itza or Uxmal, the environment in which it is located, in the second largest biosphere reserve in the Americas, makes it a magical place.

In today’s blog post, I’ll share some of the must-do activities for those visiting Calakmul, from trekking through the jungle to visiting ancient ruins.

So buckle up and get ready for an unforgettable journey. Let’s begin!

Getting to Calakmul

The archaeological site of Calakmul is nestled in the jungle of the state of Campeche (about a 4.5-hour drive from Campeche City).

To get there, you can fly into Campeche City and then take a rental car (highly recommended) or taxi to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, which is located near the ruins.

Alternatively, you can arrange for a tour that includes transportation to and from the site.

A Brief History of Calakmul

calakmul ruins
Source: dasar / flickr.com

The importance of the city of Calakmul is linked to the time when it was inhabited, in the Classic Maya period.

At that time it was one of the most powerful centers for this civilization, together with the cities of Palenque and Tikal (in Guatemala) with which it had continuous and violent struggles.

According to research, Calakmul was the epicenter of the so-called “Kingdom of Kaan,” a confederation of Mayan cities that dominated this territory.

Although human presence has been known for a longer period, it is estimated that the city was occupied for at least 1,500 years without interruption. Quite a record!

The name Calakmul in Mayan means “two adjacent mounds” and refers to the two large pyramids that are still preserved in the enclosure, and to which we’re allowed to climb.

The Mayan stelae ruins

Around 900 A.D. the city began its decadence and was abandoned to its fate and to the ferocious jungle, which didn’t take too long to engulf the stone buildings.

Then it fell into a long nap, until the 20th century when it was discovered and adapted for the public.

Lodging near Calakmul

calakmul ruins
Hotel Casa Maya Calakmul

According to my plans, since I was coming from Ciudad del Carmen (Campeche), I decided to spend the night near Calakmul and the next day visit in the morning calmly.

The nearest village with more accommodations is Chicanna-Xpujil.

I found a nice little hotel close to the Becan Archaeological Zone and it was the perfect place. It is called Casa Maya Calakmul.

How much is the entrance fee to Calakmul?

campeche mexico

There are two different fees for access to the archaeological zone and to the protected natural park.

On the first detour, you pay 165 pesos, and for access to the ruins, another 85 pesos. So a total of 250 pesos per person.

I think it was super cheap. Getting lost in the jungle in search of stone ruins hundreds of years old, accompanied by the cries of spider monkeys and the constant crackling of nature, is a priceless experience.

You may want to read: Top 12 Pyramids and Ruins to Visit in Oaxaca in 2024

How to explore the ruins

In Calakmul, there are three different tour options, with more or less duration.

My recommendation is to dedicate at least 2 or 3 hours and take the long tour. This is the one I did:

After leaving the car in the free parking lot and going through the ticket office, I started the visit walking along a path in the middle of the jungle.

It takes about 10 or 15 minutes to do this stretch, in which I already started getting the adrenaline pumping, imagining that I was being watched by a group of hungry jaguars.

Did you know that 5 of the 6 species of felines registered in Mexico live in this jungle?

They are the puma, the jaguar, the ocelot, the jaguarundi, and the margay. All super cute!

Anyway, these are some of the buildings you can’t miss on your visit to the archaeological zone of Calakmul:

The Great Plaza

la gran plaza

This was the main meeting place and the center of the city, from which roads led to other places and neighboring villages (such as the one that communicated with El Mirador, in Guatemala, 40 km long).

This plaza was surrounded by structures of greater or lesser size and with different functionalities, standing out Structure VII in the north and Structure II in its southern end. It was also the place for sacred ceremonies.

The Great Calakmul Plaza: Structure II

calakmul ruins
Source: Edgar Lopez / flickr.com

This is the main building of Calakmul and the tallest, at approximately 50 meters.

It was built during the Early Classic period (between 250 and 600 A.D.) and is composed of a monumental central stairway and four buildings on top that were added later.

If you think that the central steps are too steep or if you feel a bit dizzy, I recommend you to go up the right side, where it is easier.

calakmul ruins
One of the Stelae at the bottom

Tips for visiting Calakmul

When visiting Calakmul, you have to be especially cautious with some aspects. These are my recommendations:

Drive cautiously

On the entire stretch of road inside the reserve, drive at a reduced speed.

Make sure to fill up the gas tank. The nearest gas stations are about 100 km away, so don’t gamble.

It is an area with a lot of animals that can jump onto the road at any given time and you don’t want to run them over.

Although it is the habitat of imposing felines such as the puma or the jaguar, you will probably only find beautiful peacocks, deer, skunks, or birds.

Don’t feed the animals

In the archaeological area, you may encounter groups of spider monkeys.

They are usually high up in the trees and don’t bother you, other than their howls (which sound more like roars).

Don’t interact with them, don’t feed them, and don’t scare them, remember that you are in their home.

What to pack to Calakmul

First of all, light clothing and comfortable shoes, mosquito repellent (especially in the summer months), plenty of water, and some food (granola bars type of snacks would be perfect).

Most of the tour is shaded, so in this case sunscreen and a hat are not essential (but it won’t hurt to bring them just in case).

  • The opening hours are from 9:00 to 17:00 every day, with the last access at 16:00 Although it is not recommended to start the visit after 15:00
  • There’s no mobile coverage, so it is best to download the offline map before you go
  • There is a guided tour that leaves daily from Bacalar (in case you’re there and don’t want to drive)

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