Aké Yucatan is the name of a small pre-Columbian Mayan city and modern-day settlement in the center of the Yucatan state, some 45 minutes/49 km east of the city of Merida. The archaeological site is the main draw here, but in Ake you will also find one of the only functioning henequen haciendas that remains in the Yucatan to this day.
Best of all? Most people that travel to the Yucatan aren’t even aware of the existence of the ruins of Ake. It is grossly overlooked in favor of better known Mayan ruins like Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Ek Balam. It is not marketed to tourists at all.
You can often find that you have the site entirely to yourself (bar maybe one or two adventurous Yucatecans on their days off work). The modern village that has sprouted up around the old hacienda provides a fascinating glimpse into traditional life in the Yucatan, and there are plenty of other interesting attractions in the wider region – from eerie abandoned haciendas that have been overgrown and reclaimed by nature, to quaint villages and lesser-known cenotes.
This article has been written by a British Travel Writer that has been living in Merida for the last two years. (Me!) I have made it my duty to explore every corner of the Yucatan state during my time here and recently made it to Ake.
Rest assured, you are in good hands here, and this Ake travel guide will help you make the most of your trip if you do decide to visit the area.
Ake Yucatan was once a thriving Mayan settlement and it continues to be occupied to this day. The name Ake means “place of reeds” in Yucatec Mayan, although the city’s original name has been lost in time.
Historians believe that this area has been occupied for more than 2,300 years, but Ake really reached its peak between 600 and 1200 AD. That is until, like most Mayan cities in the Yucatan, it was eventually abandoned around 1450 AD following the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in southern Mexico, and the decline of the Mayan civilization.
Historical records don’t provide us with much information about the site. However, a petroglyph (cave drawing) that has been recovered represents the site in a depiction of a hand holding a fish and words meaning “conjurer of clouds, storms and winds” in Mayan.
It was the explorers Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens that stumbled upon and reported the existence of Ake in the 1840s. (If you are interested in Yucatan history and ruins, you will note that this pair are credited with discovering and documenting a lot of sites across the peninsula and in nearby Chiapas).
Excavations on the site didn’t begin until the 1960s, and several more archeological digs have taken place since then. Even now, the city is not fully excavated and work is still ongoing – who knows what other treasures lurk beneath the surface and will be discovered in more time?
The Ake Mayan ruins
The Ake Mayan ruins are particularly interesting because the site is scattered around the modern town. A higgledy-piggledy stepped pyramid awaits in the zocalo (main central square) beside two colorful colonial-style homes.
In the evenings, local kids play soccer in front of the sun bleached remnants of these old shrines, while street vendors serve up elotes, esquites, marquesitas and other local treats.
The center of the archeological site is a little ways further down a dirt trail that veers away from the town square and past the old hacienda. Many of the structures here have been designed in the Puuc style – a distinctive style of Mayan architecture that is found along the Ruta Puuc cities of Uxmal, Kabah, Labna and Sayil.
Others have been constructed in the “Megalithic” style which basically meant that buildings were created by stacking giant blocks of stone on top of each other. You will pass a couple of tiered pyramids on your way into the site and then as you pass the admissions office, you notice that Ake opens up into one giant central square.
Notable structures at the Aké Ruins
Centuries ago, this area was surrounded by a defensive wall as an important Mayan governor resided in a grand property in the center. To your immediate left, you will notice an elevated platform that can be reached by climbing a couple of dozen stone steps.
This structure is known as the “Temple of the Columns” and contains dozens of large “Megalithic” style rectangular blocks that reach heights of 10-12 feet and are believed to have once held the largest thatched palapa roof in the Mayan world.
Ake most likely had important trade relationships with the Mayan cities of Oxkintok, Uxmal and Izamal and indeed, this idea is supported by the remnants of white paved sacbeob (Mayan roads) that still connect these archeological zones to this day.
There are a couple of other pyramid style structures that surround the Ake central square, although their purposes are currently unknown. They have not been provided with descriptive names and there is little information at the site, with plaques simply classifying them as structure 2, structure 4, etc.
You can climb the majority of the structures here and take a peep inside the old chambers and rooms. From the top, you can enjoy a fantastic vista of Ake itself, and glance across the lush green canopy of the Yucatan jungle.
Admission to the Ake site is 70 mxn pesos per person (circa $4.50 USD). Entrance is free for Mexicans on Sundays provided that they can show their ID.
The San Lorenzo Aké hacienda
The centuries-old Hacienda Ake Is another highlight of visiting Ake Yucatán. This is one of the only haciendas in the Yucatán that still functions to this day (many have been converted into luxury hotels and restaurants) and it employs many of the town’s 150 or so residents.
Centuries ago, Merida and the surrounding Yucatán region was one of the richest places in the world. The Spanish conquistadors that arrived here built haciendas in order to aid in their farming and cultivation of the henequen plant (sisal).
The plant was referred to as “green gold” due to the amount of money it was able to generate for the local people. Henequen was farmed and then used to make things like bags, hammocks, natural fiber accessories and the soles of shoes which were shipped to buyers across the world from the port in Campeche City.
Dozens of henequen haciendas popped up across the Yucatan between the 17th and 19th centuries. They often served multiple purposes and for example, some buildings and rooms served as a homestead for the Spanish, while other parts of the land were used for more traditional farming purposes – e.g. rearing and slaughtering cattle
Unfortunately, this boom was not meant to last and when synthetic fibers were invented as a cheaper alternative, many haciendas fell into abandonment. That is, mostly all of them bar the Ake hacienda.
Stepping inside the hacienda feels like a journey back in time. The air is thick with the smell of grease and oil and old-fashioned traditional machinery is still used.
If you stop by during the week, one of the locals will be happy to give you a tour. (You just have to be prepared to ask around in the town and negotiate a price).
Other interesting attractions near Ake Yucatan
Ake Yucatan itself is a very small town, although there are some interesting places to check out in the area. A short walk away from the center is the small, pastel yellow Iglesia Católica Aké.
It awaits on top of a little hill that is accessible via a stone staircase and offers some lovely panoramas from the top. There are some colorful religious icons, sculptures, floral displays and paintings inside that are distinctly Yucatecan.
Locals meet here every Sunday for mass, and most communions, baptisms, weddings, etc for the townsfolk are hosted here.
Try some regional cuisine
If you want to try some traditional Yucatecan food (although you have probably eaten plenty by now and encountered it across the Yucatan), you can stop by the budget-friendly Cocina Economica a La Reinita. Owner Don Leo treats his patrons as if they were long lost family members coming for a visit and the hospitality is unparalleled.
Try the sopa de lima (shredded chicken soup doused with lime juice) or the local favorite cochinita pibil (slow cooked marinated pork shoulder prepared in a traditional underground oven known as a pib). Wash it all down with an ice cold horchata or some tamarind juice.
Head to a honey farm (meliponario)
Just on the outskirts of town, before you approach the road back to Tixkokob and Merida, you will find the Abejas Mayas Meliponas honey farm. Yucatecan honey is famous across Mexico (and the world) and it is harvested from a stingless bee known as xunan kab.
The honey produced by this type of bee has a runnier consistency and a somewhat sweeter taste than honey produced by European bees or bees in other parts of the world. Xunan kab bees were even cared for by the Ancient Mayans who believed that their honey had healing properties.
(Yucatecans still often use it for medicinal purposes to this day!) Today less than 100 people harvest honey from this bee.
The Yucatan pueblo magico of Mani is actually the place that is famous for these meliponarios (honey farms) but if you don’t have time to visit during your Yucatan itinerary, you can stop by Abejas Mayas Meliponas in Ake.
The friendly owners will give you a tour of the facility, tell you how the bees are cared for and the honey is harvested, and then give you the opportunity to purchase if you want. Yucatan honey makes an excellent souvenir of your trip to Mexico!
Take a dip in the refreshing Cenote Ayun Nah
Swimming in the crystal-clear waters of cenotes (sinkholes) is a highlight of any Yucatan trip. While some cenotes like Cenote Suytan and Cenote Ik Kil are extremely famous and touristy, there are plenty of others that receive just a fraction of the visitors.
Cenote Ayun Nah is a small but beautiful covered cave cenote just 10 minutes away from Ake Yucatan. Admission is just 25 pesos per person (just over $1 USD) and you can rent life jackets if you wish.
It is located on a local farm and managed by a friendly local family. Access to the cenote is via a spiral metal ladder that leads down into a cavernous hole in the ground and there is usually nobody else here.
Final thoughts on visiting Ake Yucatan
Ake Yucatan makes a wonderful day trip from Merida or a place to stop briefly while you are driving across the Yucatan. Although the ruins are relatively small, they are unique and each Mayan city is special in its own way.
You can have a fun, varied day that allows you to soak up the best of the local traditions and culture by combining a trip to the archeological zone with a tour of the hacienda, a tasting at a honey farm, and a refreshing dip in a cenote.
Since Ake is relatively off the beaten path, it would be difficult to get here unless you are renting a car in Mérida. Driving here is not as intimidating as it may seem and most of the roads that lead to the site are quiet and remote, leading you through dense jungles and some stunning natural scenery.
Do you have any further questions about visiting Ake Yucatan? As I mentioned, I have been living in the Yucatan peninsula for the past couple of years.
Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you may have and I will do my best to get back to you ASAP. You might also enjoy this round-up post of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico.
Safe travels! Melissa xo