Santa Rosa de Xtampák Archaeological Zone
Like many Maya cities in the Yucatán Peninsula, Santa Rosa Xtampák (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$2.50) reached its heyday around A.D. 600–850, and archaeologists believe that this old city was once the heart of the Chenes Empire. It had more than 60 choltunes (underground water reservoirs) suggesting a population of more than 10,000 people.
It’s main structure, the Palacio (Palace), is one of the most architecturally complex buildings in the Maya world, with three floors, 11 staircases, and dozens of rooms. The site has scores of structures, though only a half-dozen or so have been extricated from the thick trees and brush.
Opposite the palace is a residential structure with a beautiful monster-mouth entrance, a classic feature of Chenes sites. Farther down the path, the huge Cuartel hulks, in semi-collapse, amid the trees.
John Stephens visited Xtampák in the mid-1800s, but major excavation didn’t begin until the mid-1990s, and continues today. For that reason, much of the Palace is off-limits, as are other structures, but if you’re there when workers are present, it’s offers a unique opportunity to see the difficult and dirty process of real-life archaeology in action.
Now for the bad news: Santa Rosa Xtampák lies 45 kilometers (28 miles) down a road that is practically more pothole than pavement. Count on 90 minutes each way, and that’s just from the highway.
If this is a stopover between Campeche City and Mérida—or even Santa Elena or Ticul—start early and count on a long day; in fact, casual ruin-hoppers may not find the trip a good use of their time. Driving from Campeche, take Highway 261 past Hopelchén to a marked turnoff just north of town.
© Gary Chandler & Liza Prado from Moon Yucatán Peninsula, 9th edition