Dzibilnocac is a Mayan archaeological site just outside of Vicente Guerrero in Hopelchén, Campeche. In the Yucatec-Mayan language, Dzibilnocac means painted vault, though the name is sometimes also translated as the great painted turtle.
The tiny community of Vicente Guerrero, also known as Iturbide, has a population of just over 3,000 and feels a world away from the trodden path forged by the tourism industry — because, well, it is.
The surrounding area is also home to a handful of Mennonite communities that trace their ancestry to the Low Countries and southern Germany.
Dzibilnocac is in an area known as Chenes (“well” in Yucatec-Mayan), which begins to the south of the Puuc valley and hill range dominated by cities like Uxmal and Kabah. Like many of the sites in this region, Dzibilnocac displays a wide range of architectural influences including Chenes and Puuc and Rio Bec.
When entering the site you will immediately be greeted by the unrestored remains of what must have once been a large temple complex.
Once inside the archaeological site proper, your attention will be immediately drawn to a (mostly) restored structure sitting proudly in the center of the ceremonial complex. This structure, known as Estructura A1 or El Palacio, dates to the 5th century CE, and is a great example of Twin Tower Chenes architecture.
At both ends of this massive complex sit two temples or towers lined with decorative stairways which are too narrow and steep to be climbed. Though only one of these two towers has been restored, they would have presumably been near mirror images of each other.
The structure’s main platform is nearly 80 meters long and 30 meters wide. At its center is a temple accessible via a large staircase built upon four distinct platforms. At its base sits what would appear to be a niche, likely used to house a large painted stucco mask thought to be depicting Lord Itzamná. On both sides of the staircase sit relatively small rooms decorated with a protruding and slanted cornice — characteristic of Puuc architecture.
Aside from El Palacio, one of the few restored structures at Dzibilnocac is a circular stone platform. Given its location near the center of the ceremonial center, it is likely that this platform was built to support a large stela.
Aside from Dzibilnocac’s Mayan ruins, the town also has several interesting structures dating back to Yucatán’s Caste War.
The Caste War, or Guerra de Castas, was a 19th-century conflict between the native Maya people of the Yucatán Peninsula and the dominant socio-political class made up of people of European ancestry. This conflict is widely seen as the last large-scale Mayan revolt on the Peninsula.
Evidence of Maya occupation in Dzibilnocac dates back to the fifth century BCE. During this early period, the settlement was made up of mostly small raised artificial platforms topped with simple dwellings made from materials extracted from the surrounding jungle.
If you go
The only feasible way to get to Dzibilnocac is to drive there yourself or book a private tour. I would recommend the latter. The archaeological site is roughly two hours away from Campeche and three from Uxmal. Dzibilnocac is best visited as part of a tour of sites in the northern Chenes area including Santa Rosa Xtampac, Hochob and El Tabasqueño.
If you do decide to drive yourself, make sure to plan out your route in advance. Roads can get quite spotty, especially during the rainy season, and signage is far from optimal.
It is also a good idea to fill your gas tank at every opportunity as stations in the area are not exactly plentiful. Small hotels can be found in Hopelchén, which is an ideal home base to explore this fairly remote region.
As with all archaeological sites in Mexico, it is prohibited to bring in food or drink other than water. The entrance fee is 65 pesos Monday through Saturday. And on Sunday admittance is free for Mexican nationals and foreign residents (with ID).