Monkeys swing from branch to branch. Constantly and everywhere there is rustling. Around the Pyramids, but especially in the woods. Those pyramids are proudly standing, although the traces of mother nature are there of course. Some old Mayan buildings are somewhat overgrown or full of moss. The largest pyramids have been cleaned, but here too the ravages of time can be seen.
Welcome to Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul. Until recently it was an almost impassable journey to get there, but the road from the town of Xpujil to here has now been paved. This reduces the travel time from Xpujil to about two hours. Instead of six hours on a bumpy dirt road.
Perhaps Xpujil is on the eve of tourism. Because not Coba, not Chitzen Itza, not Tulum, but the pyramids of Calakmul have to be the most spectacular in all of Mexico.
“Look”, guide Abel points out, “wherever the trees seem to be higher, there are Mayan temples. They are not accessible to the public. And that gray one, in the distance, that’s Tikal.”
Right, from here you can see Guatemala, with its world-famous Tikal city. It’s far away – over 35 kilometers – and all you see are trees. is green. And the monkeys keep spinning. Abel has stories. About the Maya, but also about his own tour.
“Once a German brought his dog with him. He wanted to climb a pyramid and tie his dog to a tree. When we returned, the dog was no longer there. Crushed by a jaguar. I warned him about it, but that dog had to come at all costs.”
How do you get to Calakmul?
By car or bus: this is certainly not a day trip. From Campeche, on the east coast, tours are offered that cost about 75 to 100 dollars. Then you will be picked up from your hotel and brought back. You can also go independently. It is then advisable to stay at least one night at a hotel in the town of Xpujil, because you still want to be in the park on time. Abel’s tour departed around 8 a.m., but actually, it’s too late. You want to be at the entrance a lot earlier. After all, from Xpujil it is at least an hour and a half to two hours.
Route 186 is a highway that cuts through the jungle and passes through Xpujil, among other things. This road actually starts in Chetumal, on the west coast. Route 269 will take you to Xpujil from the north, but keep in mind that this is a narrow road. From Mérida, for example, it takes about six hours. Right through the woods.
From Cancún there are only two buses a day to Xpujil. You are on the road for about seven hours. This bus runs through Playa del Carmen and Tulum and will cost you between 500 and 700 pesos. It is difficult to indicate what time exactly which bus will go to Xpujil: you are in the Riviera Maya and Yucatan, public transport is not particularly reliable. Good, by the way: ADO drives its luxury buses.
Is Calakmul worth visiting?
Xpujil is therefore far away from everything and from Xpujil it is about sixty kilometers to the park. Is it worth it? Yes, that is it. Where the aforementioned Mayan temples of Coba, Chitzen Itza, and Tulum are overrun by tourists, Calakmul is so far away that most do not think it is worth it. Of course, it is. This place is for the adventurers, the people who want to make the effort.
What is there to do in Xpujil
Not so much. Keep in mind that hardly anyone speaks English and that the population is almost indigenous. You will encounter a lot of Amish here; whole families dressed in black. Please note: in the morning you can hardly have breakfast anywhere; it is advisable to just buy some sandwiches and spreads at a supermarket. Most restaurants don’t open until 8 o’clock, which is really too late if you want to fully enjoy this amazing Mayan city. The highlight of Xpujil is at most the large statue in the middle of the road.
What does the tour look like?
I took Abel Tours in Xpujil. Abel will pick you up with a van at your hotel, just like the other tourists. Since Xpujil is small, you’ll be on your way pretty quickly. To get to the park initially just drive on Route 186 until the exit.
Until recently, this was a bumpy dirt road, which made the adventure even greater. Six hours on an almost impossible road, before arriving at Calakmul. This is now asphalt and it takes about an hour and a half to two hours before you arrive. Here you get a tour and explanation from Abel. About how the Maya lived here, what the relationships were among themselves.
Can you climb the pyramids?
You can all just climb the pyramids themselves. Not that it’s easy, but you can get all the way to the top and that gives you an amazing view over the area. There are two large pyramids that are directly opposite each other.
More information about Calakmul
Calakmul or Kalakmul is a Mayan city in the deep jungles of Petén Basin. Calakmul is 35 kilometers from the border with Guatemala and was one of the largest and most powerful greatest cities of the Mayan Empire. This was the seat of the Kingdom of the Serpent. That Serpent Kingdom ruled most of it. About 50,000 people lived here.
About 6,750 structures have now been found that were part of Calakmul, including the 45-meter high pyramid, one of the highest in existence. Four tombs have been found in this pyramid. The total area covers about twenty square kilometers. From the highest pyramid, you can see Tikal in Guatemala. This place was discovered in 1931 by the biologist Cyrus L. Lundell.
What does Calakmul mean?
‘Ca’ means ‘two’, ‘lak’ means ‘adjacent’ and ‘mul’ is a mountain or a pyramid, so it is City of the Two Adjacent Pyramids. By the way, in ancient times it was called Ox Te’ Tuun, which means Three Stones.
This is an adventure, in the deep jungle. If you want to go independently: you pay about 4 dollars to use the road and about 5 dollars entrance. There is no trade, so you will have to bring your own food and drink. There are toilets at the entrance. If you are hesitant to climb the pyramid: do it anyway. It is always more than worth it.
Last but not least: in the surroundings is a very spectacular batcave. Most tours will bring you there, but make sure you go there too. Thousands or maybe millions of bats fly there around a cenote. A bit smelly, but beautiful!