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Dzibilchaltún, between archaeology, astronomy and taking a dip

In the Yucatan peninsula there is a trinomial that is the delight of its visitors: a cenote, an archaeological site and the colonial heritage. Dzibilchaltun is an interesting example of this.

Approximate travel time: half a day

How to get there: Dzibilchaltun is located just 13 miles from Merida, on the highway to Puerto Progreso. You can go by car, or, at the local bus stop, you can take the bus going to Dzibilchaltun.

The challenge: do you dare to take a dip in the Xlacah cenote?

What you will need: it is essential to bring sunscreen and insect repellent. If you are planning to swim in the cenote, come wearing your swimsuit, as there are no dressing rooms nearby. On hot days, try to wear T-shirts with long sleeves and light colors.

What you cannot miss: Leisurely tour the archaeological site and the Museum of the Maya People. Ideally, you should visit this site during the summer or fall equinoxes, when you will be able to see a phenomenon of light on the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls).

Archaeologists offer a very local explanation: the Maya always sought to be close to the mouth of a cenote that would provide clean water, and therefore built their pyramids close to these natural pools. When the Spaniards arrived in the Yucatan Peninsula, they saw the advantage of having stones close by with which to build their homes, as well as a source for water; therefore, they built their cities close to the Maya constructions. Thus, a trinomial arose which is constantly seen in the geography of Yucatan. Dzibilchaltun was a major Maya city, which, during colonial times became a villa with an open chapel. The Xlacah cenote has been witness to both eras, and preserves within its depth of 140 feet several archaeological secrets.   

The Museum of the Maya People is the first stop in this route. In it you will discover the lifestyle of the ancient Maya, which is still preserved in some communities. The Maya house, which has an oval structure and thatched roofs, was built with thermal materials. Simplicity is its main feature, as well as the hammock, the versatile piece of furniture used for relaxing, coexisting and sleeping. Outside, the crops and fruit trees remind us of the generosity of the land in Yucatan.

The archaeological site lies a few feet from the Museum, and at the end of a long and wide sacbe, a white stone path, you will find the Temple of the Seven Dolls or the Temple of the Sun. It is quite possible that this building was used as an astronomical observatory. Archaeologists have found numerous stucco decorations, as well as seven small sculptures which gave the temple its name. It is not very high; you can climb to the top and enjoy a beautiful view of the place.

This temple, which was found covered by the remains of a larger temple, has a great peculiarity. The windows and doors are perfectly aligned with the spring equinox, so that the sun appears at the door and seems to illuminate the whole enclosure dedicated to it with its rays. Dzibilchaltun is one of the many examples of the astronomical wisdom achieved by the Maya, which continues to astound the whole world. 

The sacbe connects this temple with a set of more uniform constructions, such as platforms and slopes. In the center of what was perhaps the central square of the Maya city, the Franciscan friars built and open air chapel in the sixteenth century. They obviously used the stones coming from the pyramids to build the Catholic Church.

Children and those who are not so young will be waiting for this moment: very close to the chapel, and under the shade of leafy trees, is the Xlacah cenote. It appears to be a pool about 328 feet long, beautifully covered with lilies. However, you should swim very carefully: in one of its edges it is only 3 feet deep, but toward its center it reaches a depth of 141 feet. Divers have found a horizontal gallery, a large space, which has not been explored up to where it ends. Wear your life jacket or enjoy staying in the shallow area.