Visiting Chacchoben Mayan ruins in Mexico is a highlight of any trip to the country’s Yucatan peninsula. The ruins, situated in the southern part of the state of Quintana Roo, are tucked away deep in the Yucatan jungle close to the border with Belize.
Even if you have already traveled to a ton of Mayan ruins (or you are not a “ruins” kind of person), you will be impressed by Chacchoben. The ancient city is quite unlike any other Mayan settlement.
Located in the heart of the dense jungle, the site is massively overgrown. Exploring it makes you feel like a real-life Indiana Jones.
Giant palm trees tower overhead, blocking the sky from view.
Many of the pyramids and other structures have only been partially excavated and are only just peeping out of the ground, covered in moss and overgrowth. Although Chacchoben is slowly becoming a more popular day trip destination for people staying in Tulum, Bacalar, and Cancun, it sees a fraction of the tourists that you see in more famous sites like Chichen Itza and Ek Balam.
If you get here early in the morning before the tour buses arrive, you may find that you have the ruins largely to yourself. This makes the experience of wandering beneath the jungle canopy trying to find specific structures, even more magical.
Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
The Chacchoben Mayan ruins await in Southern Quintana Roo. They are approximately 169.5km south of Tulum, 299km south of Cancun, and 50km north of Lake Bacalar, respectively.
The name Chacchoben means “the place of red corn” in Mayan. It is believed that the city was inhabited from as early as 200 BC but like a lot of Mayan cities, the structures here are from a range of different time periods.
The first inhabitants of the region of Los Lagos settled in small houses along the various bodies of water here. Chacchoben thrived between the years of 600 AD and 900 AD and so, many of the structures that you can see today were built around this time.
This was an important Mayan city during its day. Chaccoben controlled a large territory that included the areas around Lake Bacalar.
Their strategic location and abundance of resources allowed the people of Chacchoben to be able to trade and participate in political exchanges with different Mayan cities in the northern and southern regions of the peninsula.
Visiting Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
Chacchoben is the largest pre-Colombian city found in the Los Lagos region. Interestingly, the site was not discovered until the 1940s.
In 1942, a local man found the ruins, liked the area and didn’t tell anybody about his discovery. He set up a home among the ancient structures and raised his family among the ruins.
In 1972, an American archeologist named Dr. Peter Harrison was traveling through various places in the Yucatan when he stumbled across the site. He informed the Mexican government and INAH of their discovery and excavations started from there.
Some of the artifacts from the area had been found by the children that lived among the ruins and kept them as toys and decor items! Excavations on the site started in 1994 and the site was eventually opened to the public in 2002.
Still, as you will note, some of the structures have not been fully excavated. So who knows what other treasures lurk beneath the surface?
Notable structures at Chacchoben
The various pyramids and sunbleached structures here are accompanied by information plaques. So, you can read the signage for each one to gain an understanding of what the building’s original purpose was.
Among the 30 or so buildings, there are a couple that stand out. In particular, the “Great platform” contains five different structures that are believed to have had some form of ceremonial or spiritual purpose.
Plaza B, Temple 24 and Temple 1
When you enter the complex, wooden waymarkers indicate where you need to go. You will be greeted with an ancient piazza known as “Plaza B” and a pyramid known as “Temple 24” which you can climb part way up to take photos.
Temple 1 awaits a little deeper into the jungle. This is the largest pyramid in the city and towers above the jungle canopy at a height of 42 feet.
(For context, the famous “El Torre” pyramid at Ek Balam is climbable and has a height of 95 feet). It dates back to the Early Classic period and was likely built between 200 and 600 AD.
Gran Basamento and Temple of the Vessels
The Gran Basamento exists in the form of a series of stone slabs and columns that were once used for ceremonial purposes and dances. The grand Temple of the Vessels nearby was used as a storage facility.
Tools, ceramics, pottery, and other instruments used in ritual ceremonies were stored here.
The Great Plaza
The Great Plaza of Chacchoben is a collection of buildings that were used as stores, for civic purposes, or as residential homes. You will note that only the tops of the buildings are peeping out above the ground and this area remains largely unexcavated.
Chacchoben nature and wildlife
A plethora of gorgeous wildlife, flora, and fauna calls Chacchoben home. Many of the plants and animals that live here are native to the Mexican Yucatan.
Peccaries, armadillos, grey foxes, spider monkeys, and howler monkeys have all made homes in the trees and shrubberies in this patch of jungle. If you stop by early in the morning or later in the afternoon when the site is at its quietest, you are more likely to encounter wildlife.
Seeing peccaries chase each other through the Great Plaza or spider monkeys swing through the branches overhead creates an extra level of magic that you simply don’t have when the site is ultra crowded. Pumas, jaguars, and ocelots live deeper in the jungle.
Getting to the Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
It is easy to get to the Chacchoben Mayan ruins whether you are traveling from Cancun, Tulum, or nearby Bacalar. Opting to rent a car in Mexico and drive to the site independently obviously gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility.
That way, your schedule is not dictated by the local bus/tour times and you can arrive at the site early in the morning or later in the afternoon when it isn’t crowded. Arguably some of the magic is lost if you visit Chacchoben on a tour and you are following a group of 50 people through the site.
Still, if you are not going to be driving in Mexico, it is preferable to take a Chacchoben tour rather than try and get to the site independently by public transport. The various ways that you can reach the ancient city are detailed below.
The best option depends on your personal preferences, your budget, and where you will be starting your journey from.
Take a Chacchoben Mayan ruins tour
Opting to take a Chacchoben Mayan ruins tour takes a lot of stress out of figuring out the logistics of how to get to Chacchoben and back. Exploring with a guide also means that you get a lot more information and context into the various structures that you are seeing than you would get independently.
Various reputable local tour companies offer Chacchoben day tours. Many also stop at nearby Lake Bacalar or include a traditional lunch/cultural exchange experience with local families too.
The most common pick-up destination is the nearby Costa Maya cruise port. However, departures from Cancun, Tulum, and Bacalar are also available.
You should expect to pay upwards of $65 USD per person (Circa 1236 MXN) for an excursion from Costa Maya. Considering that this includes your round-trip transport, a licensed bilingual guide, and complimentary drinks and water, it isn’t a bad price.
(Expect to pay more if you want a private tour or a tour with additional activities and stops).
Recommended Chacchoben Mayan ruins tours
A selection of excellent Chacchoben tours that you can book via Viator is detailed below for your consideration. Reserve your place online in advance to avoid disappointment!
- Chacchoben Mayan ruins tour from Costa Maya
- One-day tour to Chacchoben and Bacalar lagoon with a licensed guide
- Ancient Chacchoben ruins tour and traditional Mayan family visit from Costa Maya
- Chacchoben Mayan ruins and beach day at La Chilangaloense beach club
Driving to Chacchoben
Driving in Mexico is not as intimidating as it may sound. Various reputable international firms operate here including Sixt, Avis, and Europcar.
You can rent an economy-sized car from Cancun/Tulum for a week for around just $200 including insurance. (Discover Cars is a great comparison website that allows you to compare quotes between various providers).
The Chacchoben archeological site can be found just off the Mexican federal highway 293 in Southern Quintana Roo. Do note that there are two locations labeled “Chacchoben” on Google maps.
The Chacchoben ruins are about 13km (16 minutes drive) away from the namesake town. The easiest way to visit the site is while staying nearby in Bacalar.
From the lake, it is just a short 40-minute journey north along Carretera Federal 307. Take a left turn when you see the signs for Chacchoben archeological site or “Carrterra Federal 293”.
From Tulum, it takes about 2 hours to get to Chacchoben. If driving from Tulum, you need to head south along Carretera Federal 307 past the Sian Ka’an biosphere reserve, the city of Felipe Carrillo Puerto, and Lake Noh Bec.
Turn right on Carrterra Federal 293. In the area around the ruins, you will not have any data or cell phone service.
So, it pays to make sure that you have a Mexican sim card and an offline map downloaded on your phone. With a car, you can also visit the nearby archeological sites of Oxtankah, Kohunlich, Dzibanche, and Kinichna.
The Chacchoben ruins are open to the public every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM. Admission is 70 pesos per person (circa $3.72 USD/£3).
Entrance is free for Mexicans on Sundays. (Be prepared to show your INE card or another form of ID). There are a few stores at the entrance selling some traditional Yucatan food, handicrafts such as wooden masks and dolls, and other Mexican souvenirs.
Several tour guides will offer their service on entry. It is approximately 200 pesos (circa $10.60 USD/£8.60). This is a nice way to both gain more information and support the locals.
FAQs about Visiting Chacchoben Mayan Ruins
Do you have any further questions or concerns about planning a trip to the Yucatan peninsula or visiting the Chacchoben Mayan ruins? The answers to some frequently asked questions on the topic are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for there. If not, feel free to reach out!
Are the Chacchoben Mayan ruins worth visiting?
The Chacchoben ruins are well worth visiting. Nestled deep in the Yucatan jungle, they have a setting quite unlike any other Mayan ruins in the country.
Although the site is not as large as Chichen Itza or Dzibilchaltun, you can easily pass a few hours here. The ruins are best explored when combined with other attractions in the area – e.g. Lake Bacalar.
Can you climb the Chacchoben Mayan ruins?
You cannot climb the Chacchoben ruins. However, you are able to climb part way up the steps of some pyramids and structures.
It will be very apparent which structures you can climb and which you cannot. Red ropes with signage section off areas you cannot go.
How old are the Chacchoben Mayan ruins?
The Chacchoben ruins are over 2,000 years old. There is evidence that the site was inhabited from 200 BC, although most structures here were built around 700 AD.
What is Chacchoben known for?
The Chacchoben ruins are known for the curved lines that adorn the pyramids. The structures here have been built in Peten style.
This is a very different type of Mayan architecture than you will see along the Puuc route for example.
How far is Chacchoben from Costa Maya?
Chacchoben is located 90km west of Costa Maya. It takes approximately 50-60 minutes to drive to the ruins from the Costa Maya port.
When was Chacchoben discovered?
A local Mayan man found Chacchoben in the 1940s. However, he didn’t report his discovery to any archeological board or the Mexican government.
Instead, he decided to live amongst them. It wasn’t until the 1970s when an American archeologist was traveling through the region that somebody raised the flag that there was an ancient Mayan city in the jungle.
Final thoughts on visiting Chacchoben Mayan ruins
The Chacchoben Mayan ruins are a great place to visit if you are on vacation in the Riviera Maya, the Costa Maya, or you are traveling around Southern Mexico on a Yucatan road trip.
If you are visiting the Yucatan for the first time, you may also be interested in this post on the best time to visit the Yucatan or this article on safety in the Yucatan. Have a wonderful time in Mexico!