There is no getting away from it. Acanceh is a bit of an odd place — but in a good way.
The town may have a population of just over 12,000, and though it is far from a thriving metropolis, its constant buzzing along of trici-taxis and open-air markets make it feel far from sleepy.
Acanceh, which in the Yucatec-Maya language translates as “deer grunt” is of course best known for the pyramid, which sits ominously on its main road.
But the true marvels of this pyramid, known as the Temple of the Masks, can only be seen by scaling its ancient staircases.
To this day, five large stucco masks survive in Acanceh, though some are in better shape than others.
A survey of the pyramid also reveals the presence of two ritual burial sites complete with ceramic and jade offerings.
Atop the Temple of the Masks, you can make out a smaller structure directly behind it. This smaller pyramid is not open to the public but resembles the Temple of the Masks in its architecture.
Most visitors to Acanceh believe that these two pyramids are all there is to see when it comes to archaeology in the town, but this is far from the case.
Three city blocks behind the Temple of The Masks lay a much larger pyramid called the Pyramid of Friezes.
Aside from its size, the Pyramid of the Friezes is remarkable for the stucco figures in its interior, depicting animals and anthropomorphic figures
The friezes within this structure are covered by metal sheets to protect them from the elements, just like in the Temple of the Masks.
Both the Temple of the Masks and the Pyramid of the Friezes are gated, but access can be requested at a kiosk adjacent to the town’s main square.
Entrance to Acanceh’s temples is free, but if you give the security guard a tip (at least 100 pesos or so), the guard might show you around and give you some local insight.
Acanceh also boasts an astronomical complex five city blocks from the main road on which the Temple of the Masks rests.
In recent years, folks in Acanceh have complained that the astronomical complex has been virtually abandoned by the authorities who had let the vegetation surrounding it run wild.
The solution to the problem the community came up with was to place a couple of goats on the observatory stands, thus taking care of the vegetation and shooing away folks who get too rowdy.
According to archaeological surveys, Acanceh is estimated to have had roughly 600 structures, making it a ceremonial site equivalent to Mayapán.
Folks in Acanceh are very proud of their town and its Maya heritage, so if you get lost, don’t hesitate to ask for directions or advice, even if your Spanish language skills are modest.
If you go
Acanceh is en route to Yucatán’s most visited cenotes at Cuzamá. But if you are looking to make a day of visiting archaeological sites, Aké, Mayapán, and Izamal are all nearby options to soldier on with your adventure.
Getting to Acanceh is easy from Mérida via public transit, though driving is your better option, as this will give you much better flexibility. If you are the sort who enjoys long bike rides, this is also an option. But be careful when crossing the Periférico!