MAYAPAN / ACANCEH; These two unique and seldom visited archaeological sites are interesting and very memorable if for no other reason than they are not crammed with bus-load hordes of visitors.
What makes these two places so great is the fact that they can both be visited in an easy day trip out of Mérida by bus. You will not need a bicycle on this trip because easy local transportation is readily available.
Start early from the bus terminal on calle 50 and 57 for the 47 kilometer ride.
Buy your bus ticket to Mayapan and the bus driver will let you off at the entrance to these seldom visited remote and tranquil Mayan ruins.
Plan to arrive before 9 AM on week days and more than likely you will be the only visitors; it is well worth the effort.
The following story is told with captioned photos;
At the perfectly unspoiled entrance to quiet and pristine Mayapan before 9 AM Jane and I are treated to a very special reward of having this enchanted world of ancient Mayan heritage to ourselves.
Yes, we are happy to be here and this tropical morning and share a priceless extraordinary memory making moment. The tranquility speaks to us with powerful vibes of the mighty Mayan empire that flourished at this very place.
Beckoning us to enter... this monumental complex of over four-thousand individual ancient Mayan buildings that are only partially restored tell a haunting story of an organized civilization that harmoniously thrived with nature right up until the time of the conquest.
Jane and I first visited Mayapan more than twenty years ago when it was overrun with tropical vegetation that was pulling down and destroying these beautiful creations of the ancient Mayan times. The restoration and preservation has been a remarkable success.
Immaculately clean, well restored and tranquilly quiet makes this place a favorite of ours. Majestic beauty still abounds and speaks out from across countless centuries directly to us.
The significance of these unique buildings is hard to fathom because of the advanced minds proficient in mathematics, astronomy and natural medicine that created this colossal metropolitan center with an engineered purpose.
Four hundred plus years ago in its prime these structures were all ornately plastered, painted and decorated.
No motorized apparatus was accessible or sophisticated survey gadgetry was available to these craftsmen and engineers that erected these geometrically accurate edifices.
Jane gives a good scale of size in this photo depicting massive Mayan handy work.
So very little remains of the meticulous plaster and frescos that adorned these structures that were elaborately ornamented in inspirational wonders from these first Americans.
Unearthed are these few plaster glyphs now in a state of scrupulous restoration.
This prized moment is a wondrous time to have the entire meticulously kept and uncontaminated location to ourselves and the precious memories that go along with it.
The amazing investigative adventure traveler and author John L. Stephens visited the ruins of Mayapan back in 1840 and mentioned it in his two volume books entitled INCIDENTS OF TRAVEL IN YUCATAN, which is amazingly still in print and selling well to this day.
Here is a brief excerpt from that book that we consider to be a must read;
The ruins of Mayapan cover a great plain, which was at that time so overgrown that hardly any object was visible until we were close upon it, and the undergrowth was so thick that it was difficult to work our way through it. Ours was the first visit to examine these ruins. For ages they had been unnoticed, almost unknown, and left to struggle with rank tropical vegetation; and the major domo, who lived on the principal hacienda, and not seen them for twenty-three years, was more familiar with them than any other person we could find. He told us that within a circumference of three miles, ruins were found, and that a strong wall once encompassed the city, the remains of which might still be traced through the woods.
Mayapan like almost all the other Mayan ruins have been looted, plundered and pillaged for the past four plus centuries and I find it most incredible that any ornate work such as this still remains on site.
This is just a faint glimpse at the great glory that so lovingly adorned the home of a people that haunt these sacred grounds to this very day.
Digital photography has opened the door to us for recording these memorable events.
We can only witness but a few of the 4,000 plus structures that make up Mayapan.
From the top of this pyramid the Yucatan jungle may still appear much as it did to those intellectual, intelligent and clever builders of these colossal structures countless centuries ago.
After your visit to Mayapan just walk out to the road and catch the first bus or taxi-van headed north back toward Mérida and get off at Acanceh.
This story continues at Acanceh with captioned photos;
This is quiet peaceful little Acanceh’s central plaza from left to right; ancient Mayan pyramid, colonial Spanish church, recent municipal market and in the foreground an open air flea market and tricycle taxis.
At the crowded market on this lively side-street tricycle taxis and street vendors abound as life goes on at an unhurried pace.
Business had bustled early as vendors sold out their prepared tamales to be consumed hot at home. At noon the market place is slowing its pace headed for the lunch hour and siesta time enjoyed leisurely swinging in a comfortable hammock patiently awaiting the hot afternoon sun to sink low casting long shadows and easing the heat of a tropical day.
Diminutive Acanceh is just close enough to Mérida to feel the impact of a daily commute so the municipality has lost much it its small town shopping charm to the big cities faster pace.
Local color of old world charm is still alive and well in this tiny little open air market kitchen. Savory enticing cooking aromas that waft through the marketplace originate here sending irresistible subliminal messages to come and partake.
Street vendors offer things of importance to the locals and even frivolous curiosities of questionable use.
The Mayan staff of life, the corn (maize) tortilla is sold hot and ready to eat by the kilo. Unfortunately the above tortillas are made from some ersatz ready ground corn product called Maseca that smells and tastes like wet cardboard. This product casts unfavorable suspicion as to its composition. Could it be that this is just ground up old corn-cobs and not really corn at all?
The conquistadors didn’t manage to take down all of the Mayan pyramids quarrying them for their stone in a zealous quest to erect churches.
This particular pyramid situated on the town central plaza somehow partially escaped that fate. Judging from the Spanish Inquisition colonial period construction many Mayan structures had to have fallen prey to the pirating of their stone. Though the Spaniards efforts met with huge successes across Mexico judging by the outrageous numbers of cathedrals, they didn’t have 100% success.
A pagan style pageant of marchers are led by this Mexican Saint of Guadalupe that prepares to leave the church with banners flying and many local labor unions are represented on the flamboyantly painted banners to receive the church’s blessings.
As the pageant of marchers unfolds its gaudy banners and takes to the street the size of the little towns assemblage becomes apparent. The brassy out-of-tune horn sends ear splitting sour notes echoing around town with a grating brain battering barrage of blasts.
This is our view from our tricycle taxi as we traverse this typical side street on our way to visit a second Mayan pyramid several blocks from the city center. Young and old, walkers and riders fill all the little streets on market mornings.
The city of Acanceh has sprung up around the remains of this ancient Mayan pyramid that somehow miraculously has survived four hundred years of looting for its stones as a building materials repository.
Looking down from the top of the scruffy scrawny and puny little picked over pyramid you see our tricycle taxis patiently awaiting our return.
This pyramid behind the one in the city center shows serious signs of looting for building materials but the remains are being preserved as best they can by an agency of the federal government.
This is one of several plaster frescos restored and un-covered on the pyramid adjacent to the central plaza zócalo.
Even this beautifully bedecked young bride arrives at the church on her wedding day in a tricycle taxi.
Our Mérida bus is parked across the open plaza in the background.
Across the street from the central plaza is this colorfully quaint cocina-economica removed in time by a century or two where we are treated to a savory eating extravaganza Yucatan style at a right price.
Helga Stürmer our visitor from Germany and my wife Jane eagerly sample the local specialties. Helga’s comment; “this is the real Mexico!”
Our German friends are happy to be the only visitors at the ruins of Mayapan and also here in Acanceh after a week over at the tourist-packed “Costa-Maya” on the Caribbean coast.
This poorly kept monument in the city center speaks volumes of the plight of the ancient Mayan who were the original inhabitants of Acanceh.
Ironically the Mayan interpretation of the name “Acanceh” is “dying deer”…how very fitting!
This is the bus we arrived on but we returned to Mérida by taxi-van which is much quicker.
In the background behind the bus is the cocina-economica we enjoyed so very much.
This easy and convenient bus day-trip out of Mérida is one of our all-time favorites.