Dzibilchaltun Mayan Ruins [A Complete Guide]

Written By: author image Kyle Cash
author image Kyle Cash
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.

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This guide will help you discover the ancient wonder of the Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins. This guide has everything you need, from what to see to how to get there.


Step back to one of the oldest cities of Mesoamerica at the Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins.

Explore the mysterious Temple of the Seven Dolls, swim in the sacred Cenote Xlakah, and uncover the secrets of a long-lost civilization. The convenient location of these Mayan ruins near Merida, Mexico, and Progreso Beach make them the perfect day trip to add a touch of ancient wonder to your Yucatan adventure.

And I’ll share everything I learned and did with you so you can do the same with this guide! I’ll discuss the history, how to get there, entrance fees, must-see sites, and insider tips to make the most of your experience.

Let’s dive in.

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Dzibilchaltun history

The Dzibilchaltun ruins (Ch’iy Chan Ti’Ho in Maya) are an ancient Maya site located in the Yucatan, just north of Merida. The site is surrounded by thick vegetation on all sides and hides away from nearby roads.

Although most 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.

Mayan structure's steps

Even with the rise of Chichen Itza, it was 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. The tomb of a ruler (Kalom Uk’uw Chan) during the Late Classic Period, which is structure 42 at the site, has been found here.

Today, it’s a perfect archaeological site to explore, with the settlement covering around 19 square miles of the surrounding area.

And there’s plenty to keep you occupied. 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 it.

It’s well worth the short ride north of Merida, Mexico.

What to know before visiting Dzibilchaltun

  • Best time to visit: The Yucatan’s dry season (November – April) has the most pleasant weather, but Dzibilchaltun is enjoyable year-round. For smaller crowds, choose weekdays and arrive early in the morning.
  • What to bring: Sun protection (hat, sunscreen, sunglasses) is essential. Comfortable shoes are a must, as the paths can be uneven. Consider a refillable water bottle.
  • Accessibility: While the main paths are great for everyone, some terrain is uneven, potentially limiting accessibility for some visitors.
  • Exploration time: Plan around 4 hours to experience Dzibilchaltun at a slower pace. This allows time to see the highlights, like the Temple of the Seven Dolls and the cenote, and soak in the atmosphere.
  • Food & facilities: Pack a picnic lunch to enjoy at the beautiful cenote or another scenic spot within the site.
  • Guides: While you can explore independently, hiring a guide gives you a deeper look into the history and significance of Dzibilchaltun.

How to get to Dzibilchaltun

Dzibilchaltun’s convenient location makes it an easy day trip from Merida’s city center.

Here’s how to get there:

  • Public Bus: The most affordable way. Look for buses heading to Chablekal/Dzibilchaltun departing from Merida’s central bus station. (Cost: approx. $1 each way)
  • Taxi: Readily available in Merida. Negotiate the rate before departing (Cost: approx. $15-20 USD each way).
  • Private Driver: A comfortable option if you’re traveling with a group or want more flexibility with your return time. (Cost varies, but expect to pay more than a taxi).
  • Rental car: Allows you to combine the ruins with other nearby attractions. Driving in the Yucatan is generally easy. My fiancee and I did this on our trip.

Tips:

  • Departure times: Check bus schedules or confirm your agreed-upon time with taxis and drivers before leaving Merida.
  • Sun protection: Essential even for the short walk between the site’s entrance and the ruins.

What to see at Dzibilchaltún

  1. Temple of the Seven Dolls
  2. Capilla Abierta
  3. Rest of the Area
  4. Cenote Xlakah

Temple of the Seven Dolls

This is the main attraction 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.

The Temple of the Seven Dolls is the most significant set of ruins at Dzibilchaltún

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 and Autumn equinoxes. 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 played a vital role in their lives for signaling the planting and harvesting 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 on top of 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.

The Open Chapel was created by the Spanish

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.

Dzibilchaltún temple ruins

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.

My fiancee and I enjoyed simply roaming around the area and checking out each place at our own pace. There weren’t many people, so we were never rushed for time.

Cenote Xlakah

And now, we arrive at the cenote in Dzibilchaltún: Cenote Xlakah.

Cenote Xlacah provides a refreshing dip at Dzibilchaltun

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. Many Mexican families gather around here for a picnic or family day. They all gather around the edges, finding a spot in the shade of a tree, and children dash for the waters to jump in.

This is a great place to bring a packed lunch and cool off after a nice day exploring the ruins. And it’s also the perfect way to finish your tour of Dzibilchaltun.

My favorite part of visiting the Dzibilchaltun Mayan ruins

The trip’s highlights for me were the Temple of the Seven Dolls and Cenote Xlakah.

The Temple of the Seven Dolls and its history were fascinating to learn about and see up close. I had a lot of fun snapping different angles of the temple with my Sony A6000. Plus, knowing that I could come back and catch the sunrise through the doors sounds like something I’ll definitely do.

And Cenote Xlakah was the perfect way to finish up the day.

Jumping into its cool waters (even though they were a bit murkier than the pictures showed) was a relief from the heat. And watching the Mexican families gather around, splashing and playing in the water, was exactly why I came to Mexico.

So make sure to take time for both of these.

Tips for visiting Dzibilchaltun

Make the most of your visit to Dzibilchaltun with these insider tips:

  • Timing is everything: Arrive early in the morning to beat the crowds and the midday heat. Weekdays are generally less busy if your schedule allows for flexibility.
  • Prepare for the sun: The Yucatan sun is intense, especially within the open archaeological site. A hat, sunscreen, and sunglasses are essential for a comfortable visit.
  • Be respectful: Stay on designated paths to help preserve this ancient site for future generations. Remember, photographing local people with a friendly smile and asking permission goes a long way.
  • Extend your adventure: Combine your Dzibilchaltun visit with a relaxing trip to nearby Progreso Beach. It’s the perfect way to cool off after a day of exploring Mayan history.

Ready to jump back in time at Dzibilchaltun?

Ready to walk through time at Dzibilchaltun?

Unlock the secrets of this ancient Mayan city with my FREE GUIDE! Sign up for my email list to get yours, packed with everything you need to plan your perfect Dzibilchaltun adventure, from must-see sites to essential tips for your trip. Plus, you’ll get exclusive travel inspiration and expert insights delivered straight to your inbox!

And, make the most of your Mexico trip by checking out my Mexico travel guide! And follow me on Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, and YouTube for more from me.

author avatar
Kyle Cash Owner
Kyle is the writer behind The Travel Runner. He’s a full-time traveler and adventurer who’s visited over 20 countries, including places like Thailand, Mexico, Vietnam, and Albania.