Nat’s Travels – Ruins In The Rainforest
One of the many points on my busy Mexico Map is the archaeological site of Calakmul. However, this UNESCO site is located in the core of the second largest expanse of tropical forest in South America, so I knew this one would be difficult to get to. But that also added to the appeal. Originally I planned to make the long trip into the jungle from Campeche, but whilst in Chetumal I found a full day trip with Bacalar Adventure Tours and so decided to go fro here.
Into The Jungle
From either Campache or Chetumal, it is a long drive to Calakmul. So it was an early morning start. Our tour guide, Rodrigo, picked me up at 6:30am and we were on our way.
The tour didn’t just include Calakmul, there was plenty to do on the way. Once we reached the entrance to the reserve, the ruins were still further away. They are truly hidden in the jungle. So on the way to the ruins we stopped at the museum and had a short jungle walk, where we were practically eaten alive by mosquitoes.
We finally arrived at Calakmul in the early afternoon.
Calakmul, The Big City
Calakmul is an amazing site. Only partially restored, its location and its size are awe-inspiring. It is thought to be the biggest archaeological area n Mesoamerica; in the centre there are thought to be nearly seven thousand buildings, plus more steles and pyramids than any other site. Not only that, but the main pyramid here is the largest Mayan construction, with a base of almost five acres.é
The site is just 35km from the Guatemalan border and a Sacbé (a Mayan road) runs between Calakmul and El Mirador in Guatemala. It seems that Calakmul had alliences with El Mirador, Tikal and Nakbe.
At its height, Calakmul had a population of 50,000 people. The city was also the capital of a regional state that was over 13,000 square kilometres.
The site of Calakmul was much bigger than I’d anticipated. But Rodrigo was a great guide.
There are three pyramids that can be climbed here. But I only climbed two, as the first one that you come across is the smallest and so doesn’t give great views. The next two though, wow. At the top of the other two pyramids you are above the jungle. The other pyramids can be seen poking their heads above the trees. It makes an incredible sight.
One weird little thing, we climbed the second pyramid that we came to, and it seemed to be below the third pyramid in the distance. However, the third pyramid is actually built on a hill, so is technically smaller.
It’s not just the pyramids that are great though. The site has lots of steles; these are kind of like gravestones. They have images of (generally) a deceased ruler carved into them, plus their name. They are stood upright in front of the pyramids, and the carvings can still be seen. Some even retain a bit of their original colour, albeit very faint.
My Favourite Part
Since Calakmul is hard to get to, there are very few visitors. This is great, as it means the steep pyramids are easier to climb, without having to worry about people getting in the way. Once at the top of the pyramids it is quiet and you can fully appreciate the majesty of the area.
As it is quiet at the site, there is also a good chance of seeing wildlife. Which I did. There were spider monkeys and wild turkeys all over the site. The turkeys certainly weren’t shy!
Once we left the main area with the pyramids and carried on our tour of the site, we were completely alone. Rodrigo was great, he made sure we saw everything: the observatory; the ball court and lesser buildings. He knew a lot too, constantly talking about the history of the place and ancient Mayan myths.
There were just three of us, including Rodrigo, so walking round the rest of the site really made me feel small. It was so quiet, apart from Rodrigo telling us everything he knew. I could almost feel the history of the place.
The Bat Cave
The tour also included another spectacular sight, the bat cave. This bat cave houses about 4 million bats, of about 8 different species. It is also known as the Bat Volcano.
At dusk every night, these 4 million bats ‘erupt’ from the cave. Starting as just a trickle, it soon becomes a constant stream of bats swirling out of the cave, starting to hunt for their food of insects. This spectacle last for about three hours. It is a magical sight to see. What’s even more staggering is that is one of two places in the world where this natural phenomenon can be seen.
As there is just a small car park just out side of the bio reserve, and it’s not really advertised, I doubt I would have found this magical site without Rodrigo.