The Mayan ruins of Dzibilchaltun near Merida in the Yucatan offer tons. From the cenote found on the site to the large structures to check out. It has it all.
You may have never heard of Dzibilchaltun.
A small set of ruins nestled 20 minutes north of Merida, it’s completely overshadowed by its bigger brothers — Chichen Itza and Uxmal.
But these ruins (and its cenote) are worth a visit if you’re in the area.
And this post will tell you exactly how to get there and what to see.
Let’s get started.
Background and history of Dzibilchaltun
The Dzibilchaltun ruins (known as Ch’iy Chan Ti’Ho in Mayan) are an ancient Maya site located in the Yucatan, just a bit north of Merida, with thick vegetation on all sides.
Although most of the buildings date to around 600-1150 A.D., people inhabited the area as early as 500 B.C.
And it was still occupied at the time of the Spanish Conquest, making it one of the longest-standing cities for the Maya and a wealthy port for Mayan coastal trade. It also happened to be one of the most populated sites in the Maya world, reaching a peak population of around 200,000 before Chichen Itza rose to take its place.
However, at the time, it would have been one of the largest settlements found to date in Yucatan and one of the largest ancient cities in Mesoamerica. The place also held religious importance, as the tomb of a ruler (Kalom Uk’uw Chan) during the Late Classic Period has been found here, which is structure 42 at the site.
Today, it’s a perfect archaeological site to explore, with the settlement covering around 19 km2 of the surrounding area.
There’s plenty to see with numerous monumental constructions that cover about 25 hectares of the site, there’s plenty to see. Pyramids and vaulted buildings, a museum with scattered architectural and archaeological items found along the nearby coast, and the Xlacah Cenote waiting for you to dip into.
And it’s all only about 20 minutes north of Merida, Mexico, making it the perfect day trip.
So, lets check out some things to do while you visit.
What to see at Dzibilchaltún
- Temple of the Seven Dolls
- Capilla Abierta
- Rest of the Area
- Cenote Xlakah
Temple of the Seven Dolls
This structure is arguably the main structure at the ruins.
The monumental temple, known as the Temple of the Seven Dolls (Templo de las Siete Muñecas), played a critical role for the Mayans.
A large stone, quadrangular substructure, with doors and windows on all four sides, was the central fixture for equinoxes.
Every autumn and spring, the sun passes perfectly between the doors of this temple, signaling the start of the Spring equinox and Autumn equinox. And hundreds of people gather to watch it from the west side of the temple.
For us, it’s just a fancy light and shadow trick.
But for the Maya, the sun poking through the doorway of the temple showed their skill with math, architecture, and astronomy, and what a vital role the sun played in their lives for signaling the planting and harvest seasons. It would have been interesting to see the Mayans as they gather around for a ceremony or event each spring and autumn.
An interesting fact about this structure is that as archaeologists uncovered it, they found another temple below the structure.
As the temple fell apart or for unknown reasons, the Mayans continued to build it.
The Open Chapel
In the central part of the main plaza sits the Capilla Abierta (Open Chapel).
What’s interesting about this particular structure is that, even though it dates back to pre-hispanic times, they didn’t destroy it when the Spanish arrived.
It was a Spanish common practice to destroy all native buildings and build their own in place.
But the Spanish left Capilla Abierta untouched, and the reasons why remain unknown.
With old stones fighting to hold up the building and grime running down its walls, you get a proper look into the past. (Even as restoration continues)
Rest of the area
As you roam the site, you’ll pass by other Mayan structures in various areas (officially called sacbe).
These all held cultural and religious importance and are worth exploring simply to look at the architecture.
Some of the other structures you can find are:
- Structure 12. An interesting structure with a stela dating back to around 700 or 800 A.D.
- Structure 37. A large, rectangular building.
- Structure 41. A smaller and more basic structure in the central plaza.
- Structure 42. A long structure containing the tomb of a Kalom Uk’uw Chan.
- Structure 44. A large structure with stairs running up it. May have had governmental purposes.
- Structure 45 South and North. A square pyramid with a temple on top and a smaller, chambered building.
When you see how large the area is, you can see why they reached a population of 100,000+!
And now, we arrive at the cenote in Dzibilchaltún: Cenote Xlakah.
Xlakah means “old town” in Mayan, and this cenote is one of the largest and deepest found to date in the area, which makes it perfect for a hot day.
How do I get to Dzibilchaltun?
You have a few options to get to Dzibilchaltun from Merida: taxi, bus, or car.
The easiest two are taking a taxi or car, and that’s what I did so that’s what I’ll cover here.
Head north out of Merida on 261 (Carrera Merida-Progreso). Follow it for about 5-6 miles, looking for signs for Dzibilchaltun.
Turn right off the exit and follow the road for about three miles, going through a series of roundabouts.
Dzibilchaltun will be on your right.
Dzibilchaltun Entrance Fee
The museum is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. The entrance fee is around 230 pesos ($12) and includes access to everything.
What does Dzibilchaltun mean?
Dzibilchaltun is a modern Mayan word that means “place where there is writing on the stone.”
When was Dzibilchaltún built?
Dating back to 500 B.C., Mayans lived in Dzbilchaltun until the time of the Spanish conquest in the 16th century A.D.
And you can see its age when you look at the ruins.
The tall, imposing structures stand firmly on the ground, rising high into the air like a colossus ready to swing down on you.
The stone steps look easily traversed from afar but are an ankle sprain waiting to happen up close. Stones lie next to each other with large creases between them. And the grass grows in every nook and cranny it can find.
You can feel the history as you stand on top of the structures. It’s buried deep in the stones, and it has a certain magic about it.
Similar to the feeling of visiting Angkor Wat, Machu Picchu, or another set of ancient ruins.
Like the people and culture are still there, they could appear at any moment.
Will you visit Dzibilchaltun?
I hope taking you through this step by step with me helped out!
The ruins are a perfect day trip for singles, couples, and families, especially if you have kids who like to swim.
Be sure to let me know if this helped out in the comments.
And, if you’re visiting Mexico, you should check out Holbox or Queretaro!