Chacchobén (chak-CHO-ben) is an archaeological site in the south of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, surrounded by spectacular lakes and lagoons, including the nearby lagoon of seven colors in Bacalar.
The ancient city shares its name with a tiny community of roughly 700 people, about 10 kilometers to the north, and means “place of red corn” in the Yucatec Mayan language. However, this name was given to the archaeological site in the 20th century, as its original name has been left to time.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Chacchobén was first settled by the Maya sometime in the second century BCE. During the first few centuries of habitation, architecture at Chacchobén seems to have been limited to perishable huts constructed atop stone foundations in the areas surrounding bodies of water.
By the 2nd century CE, Chacchobén experienced a considerable demographic boom which brought with it the construction of monumental architecture and greater social stratification. This trend seems to have continued until the 7th century when the city took the form visible to visitors today.
After the fall of the city, and centuries after the arrival of the Spanish, the legacy of Chacchobén was lost until in the 1940s a farm was established in the area and reports of ancient structures began to emerge.
In the 1970s research at the site began with the assistance of the Royal Ontario Museum, but excavations did not begin in earnest until 1994 under the supervision of the INAH, which excavated the site and opened it to the public in 2002.
Chacchobén covers an area of approximately 70 hectares, but the core of the site open to visitors is much smaller and can be visited in fewer than a couple of hours.
Similar architectural influences can be seen at other archaeological sites in the region, including the pyramid at Limones, Quintana Roo.
A handful of stelae of other textual sources have been discovered at the site. But because of centuries of neglect in the humid jungle, these stone slabs have become badly eroded and are illegible. Due to this fact, not much is actually known about the site outside of contextual clues and information gathered from techniques like radiocarbon dating and poetry fragment analysis.
When visiting the site today, visitors are able to explore several architectural groups which feature three angularly edged pyramids, as well as several ceremonial centers and residential complexes.
Some of the structures at Chacchobén, still show signs of the original red paint that covered the site’s temples and must have created a dramatic contrast given the surrounding jungle. There are also a few instances of surviving fragments of stucco, though these are relatively few and far between — especially when compared with relatively nearby sites like Kohunlich.
The jungle surrounding the site is exuberant and packed with all sorts of exotic birds and small mammals, as well as lush vegetation.
IF YOU GO
Chacchobén is accessible on the Chetumal-Cancún highway and fairly easy to find, as signage is abundant. If you don’t have a car, tours to the site, usually bundled in with tours to other nearby sites, are readily available from Chetumal, Bacalar, and Mahahual.
Given the ease of access to the site, Chacchobén has become a popular destination for tourists in the area, though it could seldom be described as crowded.
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.