I have been climbing Mayan pyramids, visiting ancient sites in the Yucatan peninsula with my family for over two decades. We have seen a lot of changes during this time in most of the sites. When we first visited, the Mayan Riviera didn’t exist, as it is now. A narrow road let from Cancun down the coast, where most of the traffic we encountered was Mayan workers on their bicycles.
While twenty years ago we could climb every structure even in the most popular sites like Tulum, and in Chichen Itza, now it is impossible to do so in both sites.
Over time, we have learned to venture deeper into the jungles of Quintana Roo, Yucatan and Campeche, in search of lesser-known pyramids to explore.
Ancient Mayan sites are scattered all over the peninsula. Some are still covered by the surrounding jungle. They are off the beaten track, where you won’t find tourists. You just need to know where to look.
Climbing Pyramids in Lesser-Known Sites
Our last trip took us to Chacchoben, Kinichna, and Dzibilchaltun. We only shared the jungle and the ruins with spider monkeys, iguanas and birds of all colors and shapes.
Calakmul is one of the most impressive and well-known sites on the Yucatan peninsula. But it is so remote that most tourists don’t bother driving to it. Located in a nature preserve with the same name, at the end of a 60 km long narrow, dirt road, it is still a challenge to reach. Big tour buses from Cancun can’t make it through. And most tourists don’t bother to drive so far from the resorts. Most of the people we met on the trails were birdwatchers, and hardy travelers.
The two major pyramids at Calakmul are tall enough to see the surrounding jungle canopy and other structures from. We could climb them and feel on top of the world, eye level with the birds.
Howler and spider monkeys, tropical birds, iguanas and ocellated turkeys kept us company.
Not far from Calakmul, in the ruins of Balam-ku, we saw the most beautiful and well preserved Mayan murals. We were the only visitors there. The caretaker was kind enough to unlock the door that lead inside the pyramid where the murals are. She also told us that underneath they have found an ancient tomb. As we were walking around the other structures, only iguanas kept us company.
Staying off the Beaten Track
As we prepare to return to Yucatan after the Holidays, we are looking for more treasures that are not overrun by tourists. it is getting more and more difficult, but not impossible. One of our favorite spots is so remote, we can only get to it on a dirt road, and we only encountered locals there. Mayans, who speak Spanish as a second language. In some ways it is easier to communicate with them. Since they speak slower, I can understand better. It also helps to pick up a few words in Maya. Not that I could communicate with them in their own language, though I wish I could. But it makes us all feel better when we try.
There are no pyramids very close to this place, that I know of, but we might find something new, unexpected. Yucatan tends to offer something new every time we visit.
The best-known Mayan pyramids are so popular that they are hard to enjoy due to the crowds they attract. But the jungle still has plenty of hidden treasures. If you know where to look, you can still find solitude and adventure, even on the Riviera Maya.