Dzibilchaltun–gateway to Mayan ruins

Mayan ruins

Ancient Mayan ruins

If your cruise ship docks at Progresso, Mexico on a Western Caribbean itinerary, don’t miss an opportunity to visit Mayan ruins at the archaeological site of Dzibilchaltun. Located only a 30-minute bus ride from the end of the pier (a long 4.6 mile man-made concrete structure), it’s a pleasant half-day excursion–instead of about seven hours to see ruins at Chichen Itza or Uxmal.

Mayan ruins

Climbing steps to top of the main altar

Dzibilchaltun is the oldest Mayan worship center among the 2,000 ruin sites that have been discovered from this ancient civilization.  It was a major city for the early Maya with a population estimated at 200,000 people and was still inhabited by the Maya when the Spanish arrived in the 1500s. Artifacts have been unearthed that date from 700-800 A.D.  History and accessibility make this site a worthwhile spot to visit.

Guides of Mayan descent (short and stocky in stature), give informative talks, after which visitors are welcome to explore the structures—not prohibited here as for some other sites.  Thirty-two narrow, uneven stone steps lead to the top of the main altar, and other archeological remnants include a large piazza and amphitheater.  Temple of Seven Dolls is an imposing structure built on a pyramidal base.  The doorways were built in exact solar alignment with the rising sun, and the rays marked planting and harvest seasons according to the spring and fall equinoxes. Mayans used these natural markers for planting and harvesting corn, their main crop.


Cenote at the runis

In this flat land, water filters through the soil and makes cenotes, underwater basins connected underground that had spiritual meaning for Mayans. The water may be cloudy during the rainy season, but it becomes clear during the dry season in November-December, and visitors can explore some of these underground caves by diving or swimming there.

The town of Progresso is a small fishing village, undistinguished except for the fact it’s the main port for Merida, a bustling modern city with more than one million people, located just nine miles away.  Merida is the capital of the Yucatan, and Progresso provides the means for exporting and importing goods.

mayan ruins

Dzibilchaltun has many ruins scattered over the site

Excursions may be booked through cruise ships, or visitors to Progresso or Merida can hire a driver and guide independently. Less expensively, buses and taxis also go directly from Progresso to Dzbilichaltun. Guides may be hired at the site for around $25, with the cost divided among group members.

Photos by Larry and Beverly Burmeier

Read more travel stories at : Going on Adventures and Austin Adventure Travel

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