Lol-Tún is a cave and archaeological site located in the municipality of Oxkutzcab, in Yucatán’s south. Given its location near Puuc archaeological sites such as Kabah and Sayil, it is often considered part of the “Puuc touristic route,” despite not truly fitting this moniker architecturally.
The name Lol-Tún derives from the Yucatec-Maya words Lol meaning flower, and tún, meaning stone.
Archaeological and paleontological discoveries suggest that the human occupation of Lol-Tún goes back more than 10,000 years. These early inhabitants likely belonged to the Clovis culture which covered much of the Americas. Within the cave, researchers have discovered the bones of mammoths, bison, large cats, and deer — some dating as early as the Pleistocene, millions of years ago.
Cave paintings, tools, and other artifacts dating to the Maya period have also been discovered in Lol-Tún, pointing towards a prolonged period of Mayan occupation.
One of the most interesting archaeological discoveries found at Lol-Tún is a stone head, perhaps previously belonging to a larger sculpture, which is widely believed to be Olmec in origin.
Near the entrance to the site, it is possible to see several stelae. However, their high levels of erosion have made it impossible to glean information regarding the date of their erection or any other details.
Visitors to the site will also notice large stone phallic sculptures, common to the area in the 5th Century CE.
In much better condition is a large circular stone disc with the side-facing portrait of a man.
The time period when the Maya first began to inhabit Lol-tún is a source of controversy. Some maintain that the cave had already been occupied by a small number of people as early as the 12th Century CE, after the abandonment of nearby cities such as Xlapak and Sayil. However, others argue that it was not until the caste war beginning in the 17th century that the Maya took refuge in Lol-Tún.
Regardless, ample evidence of barricades dating to the caste war has been found in Lol-Tún, adding credence to the latter theory — though it’s still likely that the cave had been home to small numbers of people before that.
This idea is backed up by the presence of Mayan cave paintings representing human faces, as well as handprints. Similar paintings have been discovered in several other caves and are thought to date to as early as the 8th century CE.
If you go
If you decide to visit Lol-Tún, you must take part in an organized tour, as otherwise getting lost in a dark damp cave would be inevitable. The cave system is roughly two kilometers long and quite a hike. Make sure to bring good sneakers or boots, as the ground is extremely irregular and very slippery at times. No sandals, I can’t stress this enough.
The facilities at Lol-Tún are quite good and feature ample parking, a small restaurant, and clean bathrooms. The caves are open from 9:00 am to 4:00 pm and tours are offered in Spanish and English, as well as sometimes in French and German. The cost of the tour is 141 pesos.
Please note: As of the writing of this article, Lol-Tún is one of several archaeological sites in Yucatán still closed due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to check if the site has reopened before scheduling your adventure. Lol-tún also tends to close to the public after particularly heavy storms, as sections of the cave inevitably flood.