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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

The hidden (and not-so-hidden) gems along the path of the Tren Maya

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One of the chief reasons given by President Andrés Manuel López Obrador for the ambitious Tren Maya is to bring tourism and development to underserved communities in southeastern Mexico.

The path of the Tren Maya spans 5 states and when completed will cover just under 1000 miles of track. Photo: Courtesy

While highly visited attractions such as Chichén Itzá, Cancún, and Tulum are likely to benefit from the program, lesser-known communities may also experience a turn of fortunes.

Here is a list of communities in the Tren Maya’s path. They have not gotten much attention, but when the project is finally up and running, that might change.

Today, we explore some of the highlights along the first three of the six train routes, but don’t worry; we will get to the rest soon!

Route 1 (Campeche and Tabasco)

Kicking off in Palenque, just next to the famous archaeological site of the same name, and concluding in Escarcega, the route also crosses paths with some much lesser-known yet impressive archaeological sites. 

Stop 4 – El Triunfo, Tabasco

The region of El Triunfo has never really been on the radar for tourist groups. Part of the reason is the region’s poor infrastructure and, frankly, lackluster security. Though the town itself is cute enough, the main draw of this area is the archaeological site Moral de Reforma

The archaeological site Moral de Reforma is dominated by a massive double pyramid, as well as an impressive plaza containing several structures, including a Mesoamerican ballcourt, circular temples, and an abundance of Maya stelae. 

Restored in the 2010s, Moral de Reforma has become one of the most impressive archaeological sites in Tabasco. Photo: Courtesy

Stop 5 – Candelaria, Campeche

Located near the border with Guatemala, Candelaria has long been considered fairly off-limits to tourists, as the region is known for illegal border crossings and drug smuggling. Hopefully, the presence of the national guard along this section of the Tren Maya will make exploring this region rich in natural and archaeological wonders safer and more accessible to travelers.

Given its remote location, Candelaria is known for its biodiversity. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The area is also home to several impressive archaeological sites, including Itzamkanac, also known as El Tigre. 

Route 2 (Campeche) 

The second route of the Tren Maya runs entirely within the state of Tabasco. It will offer travelers the opportunity to check out Colonial cities, Beaches, and, of course, plenty of archaeological sites.

Stop 2 – Champotón, Campeche

The town of Champotón is an extremely charming fishing village with some particularly good seafood restaurants. The community is also particularly good for birdwatching and taking it easy on the boardwalk.

Among people in Yucatán, Champotón is well known for its seafood dishes including the shark-based pan de cazón. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Given its location right on the coast, the town also has some dazzling beaches nearby, which are usually all but empty and make for a great location for picnics. 

The emerald waters of this region of Campeche have resulted in the coastline being dubbed La Costa Esmeralda. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Stop 2 – Edzná, Campeche

In the Yucatec-Maya language, Edzná means the home of the Itzá. Although not nearly as famous as Chichén Itzá, Edzná is extremely impressive and feels nothing short of a great imperial capital.

The Five-Story Temple in Edzná, Campeche. Photo: Luis Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The site covers 25 square kilometers and features dozens of impressive structures, including religious temples, administrative buildings, and habitational areas. Although not as dense as archaeological sites more to the south, the vegetation surrounding Edzná is quite beautiful. It is also possible to spot a great many species of birds, as well as monkeys and peccaries — a species of small wild pig endemic to the peninsula.

Stop 3 – San Francisco de Campeche

Better known as simply Ciudad de Campeche, San Francisco de Campeche is one of the most beautifully preserved colonial cities in the Yucatán Peninsula. The city is famous for its beautiful churches and extremely long boardwalk, chock-full of great restaurants and public parks. 

The boardwalk in Campeche City is one of the most beautiful in Mexico and is well worth a long stroll. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

In the XVII century, Campeche erected large fortifications to fight the growing piracy problem in the Gulf of Mexico. Several of the original walls and bastions are still observable today and give the city a charm unlike anywhere else on the Peninsula. 

Campeche’s defensive anti-piracy network is pervasive, but some sections have been torn down over the centuries to allow for better air circulation in the city. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Route 3 (Yucatán)

The third route of the Tren Maya is the shortest of all. Still, it travels along some truly spectacular locations and provides opportunities to discover the wonders of Yucatán’s northwest.

Stop 1 – Maxcanú, Yucatán

Maxcanú was founded in the 16th century by the Spanish. It was initially a Mayan settlement, and its name means “place of the four houses.” The town grew in importance in the 19th century, becoming a center for the henequen industry.

Henequen, also known as Sisal, was a major cash crop in the Yucatán up until the 20th century when the development of synthetic fibers made it obsolete for most purposes. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The town is also near several archaeological sites, including Oxkintok, and the caves of Calketok. Both are worth a visit. 

A view of Oxkintok from atop its largest pyramid. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Stop 2 – Umán, Yucatán

Umán is a modern city with a mix of old and new. The city center is home to several historic buildings, including the Exconvento y Parroquia de San Francisco de Asís, an XVIII-century church and convent. Umán is also home to several ex-haciendas, which were once large agricultural estates.

An aerial view of Umán and its impressive convent. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Umán is also known for its markets, where locals and visitors enjoy some of the region’s best eats.

Stop 3 – Mérida, Yucatán

Mérida is the capital of the Mexican state of Yucatán and the largest city in southeastern Mexico. It is located in the northwest corner of the Yucatán Peninsula. The city boasts rich colonial and Maya heritage, as well as some of the best restaurants in the south of México. 

An aerial view of Mérida’s main plaza or zocalo. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Mérida is also a major economic center for the Yucatán Peninsula. The city is home to a variety of industries, including food processing, textiles, and tourism. Mérida is also a popular tourist destination known for its archaeological sites, colonial architecture, and vibrant culture.

The Mérida Cathedral of San Ildefonso, also known as the Cathedral of Yucatán, is the first cathedral built in continental America and the oldest in Mexico. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazne

Check back soon for Part 2 for more of the highlights along the path of the Tren Maya. 

Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
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.
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