Swallowed by the jungle over the centuries, Kohunlich (8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily, US$4) was first “discovered” in 1912 by Raymond Merwin, an American explorer. It was not until the 1960s that excavation of it began in earnest.
Today, the jungle site sits in harmony with the surrounding vegetation; wandering through it, you’ll be rewarded with more than 200 structures, stelae, and uncovered mounds that have trees growing out of them and moss spreading over their stones—a beautiful sight. Most date to the Late Preclassic (A.D. 100–200) through the Classic (A.D. 600–900) periods.
Kohunlich’s most famous and compelling structure is the Temple of the Masks. Constructed in A.D. 500, it features six two-meter-tall (6.6-foot) stucco masks, believed to be representations of the Maya sun god, with star-incised eyes, mustaches, and nose plugs.
Intriguingly, each is slightly different, leading some to speculate that they also represent successive members of the ruling dynasty; it would not have been unusual for the city’s elite to draw an overt connection between themselves and a high god.
Southwest of the Temple of the Masks is 27 Escalones, the largest and most impressive residential area in Kohunlich. Built on a cliff with a spectacular bird’s-eye view of the jungle, it is one of the largest palaces in the Maya world, reached by climbing its namesake 27 steps. As you walk through the site, keep an eye out for aguadas (cisterns) that once were part of a complex system of Kohunlich’s reservoirs.
Kohunlich is located about 60 kilometers (36 miles) west of Chetumal . By car, take Highway 186 west and turn south (left) at the sign to Kohunlich. An 8.5-kilometer (5-mile) paved road leads straight to the site. There is no public transportation to the site.