Visiting the Mayan Ruins of Dzibilchaltún in Mexico
Dzibilchaltún is a relatively small Mayan archeological site on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. It's about 45 minutes from Progreso or Merida. Although the site is smaller than Chichén Itzá or Uxmal, it was a bustling trade city during its peak between 600 and 900 AD.
Dzibilchaltún was the longest continuously inhabited Mayan city, founded sometime around 500 BC. It was still inhabited when the Spanish arrived around 1540 AD. The Spanish took over the city and built a church in the center of it.
Tour the Spanish Church and the Temple of the Seven Dolls
Several Mayan structures as well as the Spanish church can be explored today. One of the most interesting and popular is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. The temple got its name when seven clay figures were found in the structure during excavation. The temple was built so that the sun shines through the doors and down the main road of the city on the spring and fall equinoxes. There are also times when the moon can be seen through both doors.
Swim in the Dzibilchaltún Cenote
A popular and fun thing to do at Dzibilchaltún is to swim in the cenote, a sinkhole that exposed water underneath. The cenote is filled with clear blue-green water full of fish and partly covered with lily pads. One end is shallow and the other is said to be 140 feet deep.
Other cenotes have been found in the area. Many of them were filled with human remains, probably put there after human sacrifices. Our tour guide assured us that the swimming cenote at Dzibilchaltún was not used for this purpose.
Our Experience at Dzibilchaltún
We arrived in Progreso, Mexico, on a cruise ship. It's possible to book an excursion through the cruise line, but we opted to go with a local tour from Progreso. It was about half the price at $32 each for the bus ride and tour of Dzibilchaltún. It saves money, but the downside is that the cruise line won't wait for you in the event that something makes you late from a private tour like they would if it was purchased from them.
From Progreso to Dzibilchaltún
We took the free bus from the cruise dock into Progreso. The bus dropped us off at the market area. Here you can book tours to several places or just shop and people watch. There are lots of vendors in Progreso and everyone is aggressively trying hard to sell their wares, including bags, dresses, and jewelry.
Our bus ride from Progreso to Dzibilchaltún was about 40 minutes. The tour guide spoke English well and was very nice and well informed. He was actually of Mayan descent. I thought that the Mayans were completely gone. It surprised me to learn that there are still Mayan villages and many Mayan languages are still spoken.
A Guided Tour and Plenty of Time to Explore
When we arrived at Dzibilchaltún, we first had a guided tour of the site. After that we were given over an hour to swim in the cenote or explore on our own. We did a little of both. We went swimming, climbed to the top of one of the pyramid-like structures, and checked out the Temple of the Seven Dolls. Visitors to Dzibilchaltún are allowed to climb structures, something that's prohibited at larger archeological sites.
While waiting for the bus, we had a beer and looked around the gift shop. After buying a few pictures and postcards, our time at Dzibilchaltún was up. If you're into history and culture, a tour of Mayan ruins is a no-brainer. It's relatively easy, inexpensive, and short enough to check out during a cruise.
Have you been to Dzibilchaltún or other Mayan ruins? Let me know in the comments!
© 2020 Chad Claeyssen