Between corn fields framed by the rolling hills of the Puuc lay the ancient city of Xcoch.
Despite the size of the structures at Xcoch, the site has not been restored, though it has been well documented and surveyed by several teams of archaeologists, most recently in 2011.
Xcoch appears to have its origins in the Preclassic Era and is likely to predate most of the major settlements in the Puuc region in the southern reaches of Mexico’s Yucatán state. Later in its history, the area almost certainly came under the dominion of the great city-state of Uxmal.
Xcoch lay within the municipality of Santa Elena, or Nohcacab, as it was known during antiquity. The sign at the town entrance features an image of the town’s church, a Mayan pyramid, and the Golden Gate Bridge — referencing the fact that many of the community men currently live and work in California.
In 1843, the site was described in detail by the famous explorer John Lloyd Stephens in his renowned tome “Incidents of Travel in Yucatán.” Lloyd Stephens noted the Xcoch’s unusual geology, which was extraordinarily cavernous and porous, even for local standards.
As it turns out, the ancient city of Xcoch sits upon a giant cave system used by the Maya of the region to store water.
Profile of Xcoch showing both its main ceremonial center and underlying cave system.
Given the lack of cenotes in the Puuc region, the presence of this massive natural cave system capable of storing large amounts of water would have been an invaluable asset to the residents of Xcoch.
Though close to large Mayan cities, including Uxmal and Kabah, Xcoch was by no means a backwater. It has seven distinct architectural groups and at least 70 still discernable structures.
The largest architectural feature at Xcoch is a pyramid towering nearly 40 meters tall, topped with the remains of an ancient temple.
From the top of this great pyramid, it is possible to make out Uxmal in the distance with the naked eye.
Atop the pyramid, it is possible to make out the remains of the temple that once topped this great structure, though only a single wall remains.
The landscape surrounding Xcoch is made up of a low-lying jungle and is full of birds and mammals, including wildcats and armadillos.
If you go
Xcoch can be found by following a small road roughly halfway between Uxmal and Santa Elena. The problem here is that the road is one of many and no signage is available. Keep in mind that cell phone coverage is extremely spotty in the region.
If you want to visit Xcoch, your best bet is to find yourself a local guide in Santa Elena. As the town has no tourism agencies, ask for a contact at one of the community’s hotels such as the Pickled Onion.
Arriving at Xcoch early in the morning is ideal, thus it’s a good idea to spend the night in nearby Santa Elena. This will also afford you the opportunity to visit other nearby off-the-beaten-path sites in the region such as Mul-Chic or Nohpat.