Chacchoben Archaeological Zone
Chacchoben (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$4) got its name from archaeologists who, after uncovering no inscription indicating what the city’s original residents called it, named it after the Maya village to which the land pertained. The exact meaning of the name is lost, even to local villagers, though the accepted translation is Place of Red Corn. The area may have been settled as early as 1000 B.C., and most of the building activity probably took place A.D. 200–700, the Classic period.
Entering the site, a short path leads first to Temple 24, a squat pyramid that is the primary structure of a small enclosed area called Plaza B. Across that plaza—and the larger Gran Plaza beyond it—is a massive raised platform, the Gran Basamento, with the site’s largest pyramid, Temple 1, atop it; this pyramid is believed to have served astronomical and religious purposes.
Also on the platform, two smaller structures, dubbed Las Vasijas and Los Gemelos, were likely used for ceremonial functions. The site has some well-preserved stucco and paint, and for that reason none of the pyramids can be climbed. Though it can get crowded on cruise-ship days, Chacchoben has an appealingly remote feel, nestled in the forest with towering mahogany and banyan trees, and paths dotted with bromeliads.
The Native Choice (Av. 20 de Noviembre #226, Chacchoben Village, tel. 998/869-3346, www.thenativechoice.com) is a small tour operation run by David Villagómez and Ivan Cohuo, both born and raised in Chacchoben Village and extremely knowledgeable about the ruins and Maya history, culture, and belief systems.
Tours offered include the ruins alone (US$50 adult, US$45 child, 3.5–4 hours) and in combination either with a visit to a home in Chacchoben Village (US$70 adult, US$65 child, 5 hours) or with a trip to Laguna Bacalar (US$75, US$70 child, 5.5 hours); all tours are offered in Spanish, English, or Italian and include air-conditioned transport from Mahahual, entrance fees, drinks, and lunch on combo trips.
The tours are geared for the cruise-ship crowd (as they must be) but are limited to 14 people, and hotel owners warmly recommend them to independent travelers as well.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition