We can’t return to the Yucatan without a stop at Muyil Ruins, so it was one of our destinations on our last visit, as well.
Only a few miles down the road from Tulum, Muyil is still off-the-beaten track. To make things even better, it is in Sian Ka’an, the biggest nature preserve on the coast. So with one stop, we visit both, ruins and part of the preserve.
Years ago our car used to be the only one that stopped in the dirt parking lot, off the highway going South of Tulum. A Mayan child walked with us, showing us barely visible trails, a cave and the path through the jungle to the lagoon.
Now the parking lot tends to have a few cars every time we stop. It is never full though, even though it’s small. We encounter a few visitors, but most of the time we still have the place for ourselves. And that is the main reason we still stop. And the jungle walk, of course. We can’t climb the pyramid any more, though it is restored. I climbed it when it was probably dangerous to do it, since it was in rubble.
It is so much prettier now, reconstructed.
But before we visit the structures, allow me to talk about the site.
Muyil or Chunyaxché – What’s In a Name
The name of the site, Muyil derives from Mayan for “Place of the Rabbits”. The same site is sometimes called Chunyaxché, which means “Trunk of the Green Tree” in Mayan.
The green tree is the ceiba tree, which the Mayans considered the “tree of life”. They believed that these trees were the axis of the World, connecting the Underworld to our Middle World to and the sky, the Upper World.
The site is filled with ceiba trees, we come across them often while walking through the jungle.
Both names for the site are used interchangeably, though Muyil is better known. Generally, Chunyaxché is used for the village nearby.
Walking Through the Site
Muyil is one of the oldest sites on the East coast of Quintana Roo, and the one inhabited the longest. Its oldest structures date back to the Early Classic Period of the Mayan civilization, and people were still living there when the Spaniards showed up. Archaeologists believe that the city was occupied from about 300BC to as late as the 1550s.
The jungle covers many more buildings that we see excavated. The few exposed are pretty impressive though.
The Entrance Plaza Group,
visible from the highway, includes the first few buildings we encounter. A few structures stand on this plaza, some of them still in ruins, others restored. A well-maintained trail leads us though it, though no one stops us when we step off it. We feel the need to look at these structures from every angle, although we’ve seen them many times.
I remember with nostalgia our kids playing inside the small temple, while trying to keep out of the midday sun. They are grown now, and the tiny temple is closed to new visitors.
Following the trail, to the East, we reach the most imposing building,
Reconstructed, it is spectacular.
Although I remember I thought it was pretty imposing when I first saw it in ruins. I didn’t realize it at the time, but this is the tallest pyramid on the coast of Yucatan, standing 57 feet tall.
I always find it amazing to return to the same site years later and find the rubble reconstructed. It’s nice to see what they looked like. It’s one of the main reasons I like returning to the same sites year after year.
The Castillo of Muyil is unique among the Mayan sites of the peninsula. It looks more like a classic site, much older than Tulum and even Xel-Ha, the other two major sites on the coast.
We can see the base now, built in terraces and dated in the Terminal Classic period. I like this style of the Ancient buildings.
As we walk around it, I find myself in front of the
East side of the Castillo
Walking through the Jungle
Although a small temple, Structure 9K-1, Temple 8 – no it doesn’t have another name – is one of my favorite buildings in Muyil. It doesn’t look like much, a small pyramid base with a temple on top. And at this point you can’t even enter it. Still, I remember the inside of the Temple. If the sun hits it right, we can still see the remains of the paintings.
But the knowledge of what’s under it makes it special. It was built on top of another pyramid – no news here, the ancient Maya always did that – though still interesting.
Both old and new pyramids are on top of a natural cave. Building temples on top of natural cenotes and caves was another common practice of the ancient Maya. That’s because they thought those places sacred, and powerful.
In the Sian Ka’an Reserve, “Where the Sky Is Born”
We Say Goodbye to Muyil – For Now
I take my time walking back to the ruins and the Entrance. I stop often, listening to the sounds of the jungle. Once back on the Sacbe, I walk to the Castillo and stop for a while, enjoying the view in the late afternoon sun.
I know it won’t be long before we return. We can’t stay away from Yucatan, no matter how much we try.
There are a few sites that I can’t return to, like Tulum, since they became a huge tourist attraction. I hope that Muyil can still remain off the tourist track. We’ll see. It is too close to Tulum, but it’s not on the main track of the Riviera Maya. I hope it stays this way for a while longer.
I also wonder about the structures that are still covered in the jungle.
I hope to see something new next time I return.