If the crowds at Chichén Itzá  and Tulum  get you down, these picturesque twin ruins may be the antidote you need. Dzibanché and its smaller neighbor, Kinichná, see very few visitors—it’s not uncommon to have them to yourself, in fact—and feature modest-size temples in varying states of restoration. (A great many structures aren’t excavated at all, but even they—abrupt tree-covered mounds—hold a certain mystery and appeal.)
The larger of the two sites, Dzibanché is Yucatec Maya for Etched in Wood, a name created by archaeologists in reference to a wood lintel inscribed with hieroglyphics that was found in one of the primary temples. A date on the lintel reads A.D. 618, and the site seems to have flourished between A.D. 300 and A.D. 800. Archaeologists believe this area was occupied by a sprawling, widely dispersed city that covered some 40 square kilometers (25 square miles).
The site has three main plazas, each higher than the next. Dzibanché’s namesake lintel is still in the temple atop Structure VI, also called the Building of the Lintels, facing one of the plazas. Unfortunately, climbing Structure VI is no longer allowed, but it’s just one of several large pyramids here, the rest of which you can clamber up.
The largest is Structure II, with an ornate temple at its summit where archaeologists found a tomb of a high-ranking leader (judging from the rich offering found with his remains). The steep stairways and lofty upper temples here are reminiscent of Tikal  and other temples in the Petén area  of present-day Guatemala, suggesting a strong connection between the two regions.
Kinichná (House of the Sun) has just one structure, but it’s a biggie: a massive pyramid whose summit affords a great view of the surrounding countryside. The structure has three distinct levels, each built in a different era over the course of around 400 years. As you climb up, it’s fascinating to observe how the craftsmanship and artistry changed—generally for the better—over the centuries.
At the top is a stucco image of the sun god, hence the site’s name. As in Structure II in Dzibanché, archaeologists uncovered a tomb here, this one containing the remains of two people and a cache of fine jade jewelry and figurines.
Dzibanché and Kinichná are open 8 a.m.–5 p.m. daily; admission is US$4 and valid for both archaeological zones. There is no public transportation to or from the area, and precious little local traffic, so a car (or tour van) is essential.
To get here, look for the turnoff 50 kilometers (30 miles) west of Chetumal  on Highway 186, before reaching the town of Francisco Villa; from there it’s 15 kilometers (9 miles) north down a bumpy dirt road. You’ll reach Kinichná first, then Dzibanché about 2 kilometers (1.2 miles) later.