The Maya civilization existed from around 1800BC to about 1700AD with the final defeat of the Mayans by the Spanish. The peak of its power and influence was during the Classic period (250AD to 900AD). They excelled at agriculture, pottery, hieroglyph writing, calendar-making and mathematics, and left behind a huge amount of architecture and symbolic artwork. It is everywhere in the Yucatan, with an estimation of over Mayan 1000 sites, many of which have yet to be worked from an archeological perspective. It is just beautiful.
Just look around. You can see ruins even from the highways. Many of the mounds of rock, or small hills that you see, are actually the ruins of buildings.
In the post classic period (900AD to 1500AD), due to many influences, the Mayan civilization was reduced in size and many of the cities of the Classic period were abandoned. But the Mayans continued to be an influence in the Yucatan region and in other parts of Central America. The arrival of Spanish in the early 1500's marked the end of the end of the city states and their great civilization. Many of the people in Akumal and the rest of the Yucatan are the decendents of the Mayan civilization.
Another main question was how to read their language. The Mayans wrote in complex hieroglyphs, and produced many illustrated books, however, all but 4 were burned by the Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century. One the remaining 4, called the Dresden Codex, was essential in helping to begin the decoding of the language in 1981. Today about 90% of the hieroglyphs are understood.
The corn god(left) and the rain god. Chac, drawing from the Madrid Codex (Codex Tro-Cortesianus), one of the Mayan sacred books; in the Museo de America, Madrid.
Dresden Codex, one of the few collections of pre-Columbian Mayan hieroglyphic texts known to have survived the book burnings by the Spanish clergy during the 16th century (others include the Madrid, Paris, and Grolier codies). It contains astronomical calculations eclipse-prediction tables, the synodical period of Venus of exceptions accuracy.
The Mayans are also famous for their mathematical capabilities. They had both complex counting systems, and a calendar. What is significant was their advancement in both. In the mathematics, they had a symbol for zero as early as 350AD. And in the Mayan calendar, today called the Calendar Round, dates cycle once every 52 years, much like the cycle today that we follow in the Gregorian calendar.
There are many, many questions that still exist about the Mayans, and their way of life. The more we learn about the Mayans, the more they are becoming appreciated as an evolved civilization.
In our area, there are several significant ruins, all in varying states of restoration, varying states of access, and thus varying numbers of tourists. Even if you are not a history buff, you should see at least one of these during your stay. And if you are a history buff, we can help you plan some wonderful trip exploring the ruins and culture.
TheTulum ruins are beautiful. The ruins are just off the highway, 307, just north Tulum city, and the Tulum beaches. Being the main port of the area for the Mayan city of Coba, it was built overlooking the Caribbean. And as it was one of the latest cities built by the Mayan’s, it is well preserved. We love Tulum; so does everyone now. Being fairly compact makes it close and easy to visit. If you go to Tulum; go VERY early, do NOT expect to be able to climb the ruins, bring lots of water, wear lots of sunblock as it is in the full sun and hot, and be sure to bring your bathing suit, to enjoy the close bybeaches of Tulum. You don’t need a guide to enjoy Tulum.
Coba was a large agricultural city built between 2 lagoons, and consists of 3 main sites connected by elevated white stone walkways called ‘sacbe’. Coba is north and west of Tulum into the Yucatan’s interior. With the recently developed highway, it is now very easy to get to. Parts of Coba are well preserved, especially, its largest pyramid; we do recommend hiring a guide. The pyramid, is the largest that can still be climbed in the region. The 3 ruins groups are well spread apart, are primarily in the shade. IF you don’t want to do all the walking, bicycles are available for rent, as well, as bicycle drivers.
What makes Ek Balam special is that it has archaeological features that you see nowhere else in the area, even statues of winged warriors! And in some rooms still have colored paintings consisting of texts that can be seen. We love Ek Balam because of the Indiana Jones feel you get while visiting. As only part of the center has been restored, we do recommend hiring a guide to fully appreciate what you are seeing. Ek Balam is about an hour drive further north from Coba and past the city of Valladolid. As it is a lesser visited site, it is easy to do as a day trip.
Muyil which is located just off highway 307, 14 kilometers south of Tulum city is one of the earliest and longest inhabited sites in the Yucatan. Being situated close to the Sian Ka’an lagoon, it was part of the trade route from the Caribbean. It has just recently been restored, and as not as visited as other sites, is a tranquil place where you can imagine life as a Maya a millennium ago. The ruins are mixed in throughout jungle, so another interesting facet of this visit would be walking among the flora or the region. And while the pyramids are not as tall as other sites, several of them can be climbed and walked on.
Chichen Itza, one of the most famous and restoredof the Yucatan ruins, is a very large site, and one of the most visited sites in Mexico. It has many archeological wonders, and deserves a good amount of time to see and appreciate. It is about a 2.5 hour one way drive from Akumal, so unless you leave VERY early, we recommend to arrive the night before, see the laser light show, and visit the ruins when they first open. We do not recommend doing a bus tour, as you will be arriving about mid-day when everyone else does.