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Calakmul

Calakmul is one of the great destinations to visit in Mexico.

Declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site, it is the second largest lung in America and the largest tropical reserve in Mexico and also one of the most remote ruin.
Here you can freely explore what was once one of the most important Mayan cities, hidden in the jungle, under the attentive gaze of monkeys sitting in the trees.

It is located 5 hours by car from the city of Campeche near the border with Guatemala. That’s why few tourists arrive, and I love that!

We share here a complete guide to Calakmul with all the practical information you need to not miss anything during your visit.

Where is Calakmul ?

The entrance to the Calakmul reserve is 4 hours from Campeche, 2 hours and 15 minutes from Bacalar and 40 minutes from Xpujil.

Then you have to calculate 1 hour more to reach the entrance of the archaeological site (driving at 30 km/h).

Calakmul Ruins

Calakmul means “two adjacent mounds” in Yucatec Maya, referring to the two largest pyramids at the site: Structures I and II. But according to some hieroglyphics, the city would also have had other names such as Kan “serpent” or Ux te tuun “three stones”.

Here they have found the largest number of stelae in the Mayan world. Thanks to the valuable information they contain, it has been possible to reconstruct the history of Calakmul and the type of society it was.

Along with Palenque in Chiapas and Tikal in Guatemala, it was one of the most important and influential cities in the Mayan world.

A brief summary of its history:

  • Occupied from the year 550 BC, it had its heyday from the year 250 to the year 900.
  • Between the years 636 and 695, Calakmul managed to establish a very powerful sociopolitical network.
  • Defeated by Tikal in Guatemala, Calakmul had to reorient itself politically. The new rulers established relationships with other cities located further north, such as Río Bec.
  • Between the years 1000 and 1500, it was mainly a place of pilgrimage.
  • From the year 400 B.C. Until the year 1000, numerous scribes, painters, potters, sculptors, master builders and other characters were received who contributed to creating important works (buildings, murals, friezes, gigantic masks), as well as numerous colored vases (for the houses of the elite and the tombs of the great personages), jewels and jade masks, shell and wood objects, etc. It is also the place where the largest number of funerary masks have been found.

Calakmul

There are an estimated 6,500 structures in the Calakmul archaeological zone, but only 21 structures have been “cleaned” so far.

You have 3 possible ways to visit Calakmul: a short one (2h), a medium one (3h) and a long one (4-5h).

There is a map at the beginning of the route that indicates all the accessible structures with the different itineraries, but it is true that it would be much more practical (but certainly less ecological) if they gave us a map in hand at the entrance. Fortunately, the path is well marked.

1. Chan Chi’ich

It is a small residential area where large families lived with members who did not necessarily share blood ties, but were part of the same lineage.

A drainage channel was found to evacuate the large amount of water that fell in the rainy season and prevent flooding.

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The residential area of Chan Chi’Ich, Calakmul

2. Chii’k Naab

It is a complex of 68 structures with plazas and corridors. It is believed that it was a gathering place for various parties and celebrations.

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Chii’k Naab, Calakmul

3. Gran Acrópolis

It was a large residential area divided into two main spaces: one semi-public and the other private, reserved for the elite.

  • The semi-public zone: about 10 buildings around two plazas separated by structure XII: the north plaza (with a ball court) and the south plaza. Original access to the Acropolis was through Structure XIV, so it was effectively public, but access was limited and highly controlled.
  • The private zone: here the governor and the elite of Calakmul resided. There are about 70 structures around 17 patios and plazas.

In addition to being residential, the area of the Great Acropolis had administrative, political, social and ceremonial functions. Tombs of important figures with funerary offerings have been found in some of the structures, such as Structure XV, where three tombs have been found.

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La Gran Acrópolis de Calakmul
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Structure XIV which was the control post of the Great Acropolis
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Structure XV where 3 tombs were found

4. Gran Plaza y Structure II

The Great Plaza is the central square of Calakmul. It is surrounded by several structures, such as the famous Structure II. Besides being the largest pyramid in Calakmul, it is also the heart of the city.

With its 50 meters high (it reached 60 in its time), it is one of the most important pyramids in the Mayan world.

This pyramid was the center of power in Calakmul and the tomb of some of its leaders. So far 9 burial chambers have been found.

You have to go up to admire the view, beyond the top of the trees. And if you look closely, you will see some points that emerge from the vegetation: they are other pyramids. Among them, to your left, you will see the other great pyramid of Calakmul: Structure I.

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The Great Pyramid of Calakmul (Structure II). It doesn’t look very tall from below, but it is!
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Structure II
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The view of Structure I from the top of Structure II

5. Structure I

With its 40 m height, Structure I is the second most important pyramid in Calakmul, after Structure II.

Fortunately, having climbed Structure II, the knees are used to it! But be careful because the stairs are quite uneven.

From the top you also get a magnificent view of the surroundings. And more or less in front of you you will see Structure II emerging from the trees.

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At the foot of Structure I in Calakmul
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View of Structure II from Structure II

6. Small Acropolis and Structure III

This is the last complex on the site before departure, so take advantage of it.

It is true that after the huge Structures I and II, the Small Acropolis may seem less impressive because they are not really restored buildings.

Structure III is situated on the edge of the Little Acropolis. It is a palace in which one of the oldest lineages of the city lived. Two tombs have been found here, one of them with offerings (crockery, jade masks) and plaques with hieroglyphic writing, indicating that the deceased was an important ruler.

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Structure 3 of Calakmul, next to the Small Acropolis

7. Fauna

The Calakmul reserve has a rich fauna: 235 species of birds, 5 of the 6 Mexican felines, numerous reptiles and monkeys.

As for the archaeological site of Calakmul, you will see several monkeys playing from one branch to another and a couple of ocellated turkeys strolling. You will surely meet them on the way, so keep your eyes open.

Tourist map of Calakmul

Here you have a map of Calakmul with all the buildings accessible to the public, provided by the INAH.

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Visit Calakmul

How not to be enchanted by this Mayan site hidden in the jungle?

You can discover the Mayan site of Calakmul in complete freedom, climbing to the top of the pyramids and other structures, which is not the case with most other archaeological sites in Mexico!

It is an archaeological site little known, but of great importance. This is a great advantage at this time because there are very few visitors, which makes the place even more magical. On its busiest days, Calakmul welcomes about 100 people, imagine!

The big question is: is the site worth 5 hours one way (+ 5 hours return on the same day if you return to Campeche)? YES, without hesitation.

Visiting Calakmul is a unique experience that you must live during your trip to Mexico.

How to go to Calakmul?

On your own

The entrance to the Calakmul reserve is 4 hours from Campeche, 2 hours and 15 minutes from Bacalar and 40 minutes from Xpujil.

Then you have to calculate 1 hour more to reach the entrance of the archaeological site (driving at 30 km/h).

BY CAR:

  • From Campeche: Take Highway 261 south to Escárcega, and then Highway 186 to Chetumal. At km 95 (Conhuas), take the intersection to the south for 60 km. Important: when you pass through Escárcega, take the opportunity to fill your tank because there is no gas station until Xpujil.
  • From Bacalar: 2h15 via Mexico 186 and Villahermosa – Chetumal/Mexico 186

By public transport

To get to Calakmul by public transport, you have to take two things into account: you will have to do it in 2 days and get to Xpuijl first. There is no other.

  • From Campeche: ADO bus from Campeche to Xpujil (takes 4h30, departure at 4:30pm), spend the night in Xpujil.
  • From Bacalar: there is an AU bus that leaves at 11:55 p.m. (from the ADO terminal) and arrives at 2:45 a.m. to Xpujil. It is direct, but the schedule is not practical at all. Another option is to take a bus or collectivo from Bacalar to Chetumal (40min) and then the ADO bus from Chetumal to Xpujil (takes 1h45, departures 6:30pm, 9pm, 10pm, or with AU at 12:55am)

Take a tour to Calakmul

  • From Campeche: You will find many tours from Campeche, private or more economic.
  • From Bacalar, Chetumal or Xpujil: There are also tours to Calakmul from Chetumal, Bacalar or Xpujil with pick up at your hotel.
 

Where to stay near Calakmul ?

Hotels in Campeche

  • Hotel Rath: it is located in front of a park, near the La Pigua restaurant and the botanical garden. The hotel is simple, but the room is nice, with TV and air conditioning (a luxury!), and the staff is very friendly. From only 25 euros per night
  • Casacadencia Colonial House: This is a spacious apartment in the center of Campeche that offers excellent value for money. With air conditioning, living room, kitchen, terrace, good wifi and breakfast included. Capacity for 2 to 4 people, from 85 euros per night
  • Casa Don Gustavo Boutique Hotel: An elegant, fully restored 18th-century manor house on a pedestrian street in downtown Campeche. A clever mix of modernity and period decoration, comfortable rooms with air conditioning. Wifi, outdoor pool, jacuzzi and a very tasty a la carte breakfast await guests. From 139 euros!

Hotels in Xpujil

If you visit Calakmul from or on the way to Bacalar, it is best to sleep in Xpujil.

  • Hotel Chaac Calakmul: It is an excellent option for modest budgets in Xpujil. It is a small and simple hotel, but close to the ADO bus, the rooms are clean and have air conditioning (a luxury at this price!), and the owners are very friendly. From 18 euros per night
  • Ecohabitat: a country house surrounded by vegetation, comfortable, very clean, with a very good reception. In the morning they bring you breakfast on the veranda, or if you prefer they prepare it for you to take away. From 52 euros per night
  • Casa Ka’an: 4 comfortable cabins with air conditioning, private terrace and right to kitchen. They are located in the middle of nature, surrounded by the jungle, close to the hiking trails. It is an ecological accommodation that works with solar energy and has several fruit trees. Breakfast is included in the price and the waste is used as fertilizer for the garden. If your budget is a bit higher, this is a great option to consider in Xpujil! From 85 euros

Calakmul entrance fees

The ruins of Calakmul are open daily from 8am to 5pm. However remember that the drive to the ruins through the jungle takes over an hour from the nearest town.

There are a few different fees involved when visiting Calakmul. First, there is a highway toll of 40 pesos per person to use the 186 Highway which takes you to Calakmul.

After about 20 kilometers, you’ll reach another booth where you’ll pay the National Park Fee, which is 165 pesos per person. Finally, at the ruins themselves, the entrance ticket costs 55 pesos per person.

So the total fee to visit the Calakmul Ruins is about $260 MXN ($10 USD).

Best tours to visit Calakmul

Klook.com

Other Ruins you can visit

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Book your trip

Are you ready to book your trip?  .Here are the websites you can use to book your trip, get inspired with the best things to do in your destinations and travel smarter.

  • Kiwi.com– A great website to book your flights. It has good airfares but you need to search regulaly as the prices are constantly changing
  • Booking.com – The best website to book your accommodation, you can book and cancel free up until a certain point, especially when your plans are forever changing. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections. 
  • Airbnb – You can get some really nice places to stay here. If you don’t have an account and you click on this link then you will get $36 off your first booking.
  • Hotel.com – Huge choice of hotels with  free cancellation up until a certain point. It’s easy to use and has one of the widest selections. 
  • Agoda – Agoda is very good if you are searching hotels, resorts, houses. They always have attractive promotions.  
  • Xcaret Group – Xcaret Group is the most famous theme park in the Riviera Maya. If you visit Cancun, check their prices here to get good discounts.
  • Viator – If you need to find inspiration about things to do in Cozumel, check on Viator to see the tours they offer for diving and other activities
  • Rental Cars – Looking to rent a. car while you are away? I always book through Rental Cars as they do a search of all of the big sites and find the best deals. 
  • Yacht Rental – If you are thinking of spending time in a paradise beach destination with friends or family, this is a good option to enjoy the beach life.
  • Sailing Trip – For cruising holidays, book a sailing trip, they have many trip destinations, lehghts and standing.
  • Dive the World – If you are a diver, book a diving trip with them. They have dive packages everywhere in the world with very attractive prices.