Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway.
Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Ya’axtal Park in Mérida, Yucatán is one place people regularly pass by. But few have any idea of the archaeological wonders it hides within.
The park is frequented mainly by joggers, dog walkers, and families out for leisurely strolls in the early mornings and evenings.
But Ya’axtal Park is more than just an ordinary green space; it is home to the largest archaeological site within Mérida’s city limits.
The original name of this remarkable archaeological site has been lost to time. It has taken on the name of the nearby Hacienda Xoclán, which in Yucatec-Maya translates as “sunken foot.”
But the archaeological remains of Xoclán are not all contained within the park proper, as several structures can be found in the surrounding area in roundabouts and the backyards of nearby homes.
The fact that so many of these ancient Maya structures have survived is a minor miracle, especially given its location roughly 2.5 miles from downtown Mérida.
While today, Xoclán and downtown Mérida are connected via several avenues and streets, during antiquity, a Sacbé (or Mayan road) served as the main artery between these two settlements.
The ancient settlement also includes a limestone quarry that has been in continuous use for at least a millennia and floods during the rainy season, which is why the park is known to many locals as El Parque Unidido, or Sunken Park.
At what is now considered the core of the archaeological site, we find the remains of an acropolis or central plaza, surrounded by structures on all sides.
The tallest structure in the acropolis also happens to be the tallest Prehispanic structure within Mérida’s city limits.
The pyramid was likely a lot larger during antiquity, as it shows obvious signs of having been pillaged for construction materials from the colonial period onwards.
The most restored structure in the acropolis area is a residential complex to the east of the complex.
Roughly half a mile from the acropolis sits another large architectural complex, though the structures found here do not appear to have received any restoration.
The same complex is also home to a cenote known to have been used by the Prehispanic inhabitants of Xoclán.
If you go
Getting to Xoclán’s archaeological site is easy by taxi, ride-sharing apps, or public transit from just about any point within Mérida.
As the archaeological site sits within a city park, entrance is free, and it is possible to gain access 24 hours a day, though early mornings before the heat kicks in is the best time to visit.