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Sunday, October 1, 2023

The magic of Campeche’s Ruta de Los Chenes

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Aside from world-famous sites like Chichén Itzá, Uxmal, or Calakmul, the Yucatán Peninsula’s more obscure ancient sites are often difficult to reach.

Temple at the archaeological site of El Tabasqueño, one of the dozens of archaeological sites on the Yucatán Peninsula. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Inspired by the idea of La Ruta Puuc, which was first promoted in the late 1950s, we present our very own archaeological circuit in the state of Campeche. We call it La Ruta de Los Chenes.

Similar structures in Dzibilnocac’s Palacio can be found throughout Campeche. Their highly impractical design suggests that their use was almost entirely ceremonial. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Nicknamed “La República de los Chenes,” Los Chenes also refers to a geographical area made up by several communities including Hopelchén, Komchén and Dziblachén — which all share the suffix Chen, meaning watering hole or well in Yucatec-Maya.

The further you delve south on the Yucatán Peninsula, the more likely is that you will run into exotic fauna, such as this lovely hocofaisán (Crax Rubra). Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Like with La Ruta Puuc, La Ruta de Los Chenes can be covered in a single day if you start early enough. But you will likely require an overnight stay if you want to include Uxmal or Santa Rosa Xtampak. 

A front facing view of Hochob’s exquisite Monster of the Earth facade portal Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The circuit can be started from either Mérida or Campeche and includes the archaeological sites of Chunhuhub, Tohcok, Xcalumkín, Kankí, plus Santa Rosa Xtampak, for the ambitious explorer. All of these archaeological sites are open to the public but are extremely under-visited, so don’t be surprised if you find yourself alone in one or all of these spots.

Map of some of the most impressive archaeological sites in the Chenes region. Map: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Like La Ruta Puuc, La Ruta de Los Chenes takes its name from the dominant architectural style of the region, though the influence of other styles is readily visible, especially in the more northern sites. 

As with La Ruta Puuc, there is no “right” order to visit these sites, but if you want to make the most of your day, we suggest the following order. Also, before we begin, remember to fill up your tank whenever you have the chance, as sometimes gas stations in the area run out of petrol and can be few and far between.


Chunhuhub’s largest and only restored structure, “El Palacio.” Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Meaning “next to the root” in Yucatec-Maya, Chunhuhub is like many sites in the region, having apparently reached its zenith sometime in the 5th century. It had likely been occupied for several hundred years before that. The site has many structures, though only its main palace has been restored.

The remains of what was likely once a ceremonial chamber towards the back of the “El Palacio” complex. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

It is also possible to observe several stelae preserved in a small hut next to the ticketing booth (which is also a small hut). The facilities are quite good and have adequate bathrooms and running water. Admission is free.

Santa Rosa Xtampak

Santa Rosa Xtampak may be difficult to get to but is very much worth the effort. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Santa Rosa Xtampak is the heavy hitter of the Chenes route. It is believed that it was one of the most important city-states in the entire region and held under its yoke at least a dozen smaller communities. The site boasts several pyramids, residential complexes, and a structure that resembles Chenes’ Monster of the Earth facade but is known as the Snake Mouth Portal.

At the very top of El Palacio, it is still possible to make out some of the temple’s original stuccowork. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The road to the site is treacherous and full of potholes, so make sure your vehicle is up to the challenge. Cellphone reception in the area is sketchy at best. If you decide to include Santa Rosa Xtampak in your itinerary, consider spending the night in the nearby town of Hopelchén. The entrance fee to the site is 45 pesos


Red paint depicting an anthropomorphic creature carrying what is likely a shield engaged in a ritualistic ceremony is all that remains of Tohcok’s murals — though it is striking nonetheless. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Tohcok is a recently restored site just a few kilometers from Hopelchén. In 1951, Tohcok was rediscovered and documented by Edwin Shook and the Russian-born Tatiana Proskouriakoff, one of the first and greatest women in Mesoamerican archaeology. In the Yucatec-Maya language, Tohcok roughly translates as “the place of the precious flint knife.” Though the site itself is relatively small, it is jam packed with fabulous vaulted structures and even frescoes depicting anthropomorphic creatures in red paint.

Tohcok’s Puuc palatial complex, simply known as Structure I. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine 

The facades of the temples of Tohcok make ample reference to the sky god Itzamná as well as the rain god Chaac and the god of maize, Yum-Kaax. Entrance to Tohcok is free of charge. 


El Templo de Los Cilindros in Xcalumkín, Campeche exhibits many of the hallmarks of this region’s architecture. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

There is debate regarding the meaning of the name Xcalumkín, as some specialists insist that it roughly translates as “the place of good soil that receives the sun,” while others’ translations are closer to “window/entrance of the sun.” The site is among several rolling hills, some of which were used by the Maya as natural platforms for temples. Chenes and Puuc architecture are on full display, which makes perfect sense considering their geography.

Xcalumkín’s Puuc architecture and its beautiful vistas make it the perfect destination for a day trip. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

Driving toward the site, you will notice several other hills, many of which also sport the remains of ancient temples at their summits. Walking through these fields is not advisable, but not impossible. If you have a decent telephoto lens, we advise photographing them from the road, as encountering a snake would be no fun. Entrance to the sight is free, and ample parking spaces and bathroom amenities exist.


During the first couple of days of May, at the height of the dry season, the sun passes directly behind the eyes of this mask, making it resemble the Solar fertility deity known as Kin Ich Ahau. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The archaeological site of Kankí shares its name with a nearby community in the municipality of Tenabo. It is likely named after a local species of agave, recognizable for its small yellow flowers. The site is full of impressive structures, notably an immense ceremonial complex adorned with Chaac roof combs (not your typical Puuc-style hook-nosed profiles). Your GPS navigation app of choice will likely be of little help in finding the site.

Keep in mind that the terrain on the way to Kankí can be quite rough and that not all vehicles may be up to the task. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht / Yucatán Magazine

The site is well hidden among corn fields. To make things even more complicated, the signage is poor and feels almost deliberately obtuse. Follow the signs as best you can, but when you come across the third one, just ignore it and go straight to the smaller road instead of continuing on the road that circumvents the entire field. Make sure to drive slowly; the road is not much more than a path, and getting stuck here would be pretty straightforward. Entrance to the site is free of charge. 

Other fascinating sites including Hochob, El Tabasqueño, Dzibilnocac, and of course Edzná are also in the region but have been left out of this route given their location further south. To learn more about these sites and many others check out our extensive list of archaeology articles.

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

Remember to bring along plenty of water, mosquito repellant, and lunch, as convenience stores are not exactly plentiful in this area of the Peninsula. Happy travels!

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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