The Dzibilchaltún ruins are overlooked from most Yucatan itineraries which is a shame. The site boasts some of the most unique and fascinating Mayan structures in all of Southern Mexico.
Dzibilchaltún, meaning “writing on the flat stones” in Ancient Mayan is located just 16km northeast of the Yucatan capital of Merida. Its name points to several inscribed tablets scattered throughout the site. Unfortunately, most of their inscriptions have not withstood the test of time and the elements.
The site is relatively large. It dates all the way back to 500BC and once upon a time, more than 25,000 people called the city home.
The city residents traded various natural resources that they recovered from the Yucatan peninsula. Most notably, salt, which was also the main area of trade for the residents of the Ancient Mayan city of Xcambo.
The most notable structure to look out for at Dzibilchaltún is the Temple of the Seven Dolls. This religious structure is believed to have been dedicated to Yum Kax, the Mayan God of corn.
It takes its name from seven roughly made clay dolls that were found inside during the excavations. (Today, the dolls sit inside the museum for their protection and preservation).
The Dzibilchaltún Ruins are relatively expansive and well-deserved for 2-3 hours of your time. They are easily a highlight of any Yucatan road trip itinerary. When you enter the complex, a right turn takes you to the former Central Plaza and commercial hub of the town.
Meanwhile, a left turn takes you down a long sacbe (Mayan white paved road) to the temple of the dolls. The site reopened to the public in late July 2022 after a long period of closure due to ongoing disputes between the landowners and the Mexican government. However, currently, the museum and the cenote are closed.
Several religious and ceremonial buildings encircle the Central Plaza at Dzibilchaltún. The square covers an area of approximately 12,240 square meters.
Its floor was once entirely stuccoed, although today, this has disappeared almost entirely. You can climb to the top of each of the pyramids here and from their peak, you have a wonderful view over the ancient city and the jungle canopy.
The buildings in this area predominantly date back to the Late and Terminal Classic periods (aka from 600-1000 AD). However, two of the smaller pyramid structures in the northern part of the complex date to the Early Post Classic period (1000-2000 AD).
The most interesting building in this part of the city is the uniquely designed open chapel. You can also see the old stone entrance to a cattle ranch that once stood here.
Do also look out for the long, colonnaded structure known as “structure 44” that appears to have served an administrative/civic purpose. Nearby, you will also find the tomb of the 9th-century ruler Kalom Uk’uw Chan Chac.
It is believed that Dzibilchaltún continued to be occupied even after the Spanish colonization of Mexico. The site’s unique, arch-shaped open Franciscan chapel is one example of a structure that was built during Spanish rule.
The chapel boasts a notably different construction style compared to most of the buildings in Dzibilchaltún. So much so, that it almost looks out of place here.
It is situated right in the center of the Central Plaza, leading archeologists to believe that even in the Pre-Hispanic area, an older structure existed here and it was also used for religious ceremonies and rituals.
The building as it stands today dates back to around 1590-1600. During the colonization, the Spanish would often build structures using materials taken from Mayan buildings.
Following its modification, it was likely then used for Catholic rituals. The chapel’s nave was once made out of straw and branches. Parts of the painted stucco can still be seen.
The main sacbe to the old temple
In Ancient Mayan cities, sacbes were white paved roads that connected settlements to plazas, temples, and other important structures. They were likely coated with limestone stucco or plaster to give a white appearance.
A long, grand paved sacbe connected the settlement of Dzibilchaltún to the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls). Even today, following the route to the temple, feels like you are embarking on some form of pilgrimage.
Temple of the Seven Dolls
The Temple of the Seven Dolls is also sometimes referred to as “The Temple of the Sun”. (It is believed that this was its original name during Ancient Times). It was not excavated until the 1950s after archeologists working at Dzibilchatun noticed the outline of the structure poking out of a pile of rubble from another collapsed structure.
For reasons unknown, the Ancient Mayans had filled the temple with stone around 800AD. After that, they constructed another pyramid on top of it.
Seven clay figurines were found during the excavations, along with a number of weapons. Nobody is entirely sure of the exact purpose of the dolls. Six of them depict females and one depicts a male.
The male of the group boasts erect genitalia and looks almost crude and profound. One theory is that the dolls were repeatedly used in rituals wishing for a successful harvest.
Access to the temple is not permitted in order to preserve the structure. Red painted handprints were found in the temple interior. These markings are similar to those found in various other Mayan caves, cenotes, and temples.
Spring and Fall Equinox at Dzibilchaltún
The Ancient Mayans are believed to have performed ritualistic ceremonies at Dzibilchaltún twice a year. They would visit in Spring, to pray for a successful planting season, and again in the Fall, to pray for a successful harvest.
Following the Spring ceremonies, local shamans would perform rituals as seeds for crops were planted around the city. Today, locals still visit the temple for the Spring and Autumn equinox each year.
This takes place at dawn on the 21st of March and the 21st of September respectively. It can be painful to wake up so early and head to the ruins when it is still dark to watch the sunrise.
However, the view and the atmosphere are well worth it. As the sun rises, the light shines right through the doorway of the Temple of the Dolls. This would indicate to the Ancient Maya that it was time to plant their seeds or harvest their crops.
This can be a beautiful sight to behold as well as a way to catch a valuable glimpse into local traditions. Do note that this only happens on these exact dates, not on the dates preceding or following. The site can be crowded with locals and other tourists, but that doesn’t detract from the magic.
Cenote Xlacah, (“old town” in Ancient Mayan) can be found close to the Central Plaza of the Dzibilchaltún Ruins. This body of water is larger than the sacred cenote at Chichen Itza, and it was an important source of water for the residents of the village. (There were few lakes, cenotes, or other bodies of water in this hot, humid part of the Yucatan).
It covers a surface area of 328 feet x 657 feet and has a depth of 144 feet. The cenote was believed to be the home of Chaac, the Mayan God of rain, lightning, and storms.
When Archeologists started working on excavating Dzibilchaltún, they uncovered more than 3,000 broken ceramic and pottery objects, along with human and animal remains. As such, it is believed that numerous rituals were performed here.
Today, Cenote Xlacah is a gorgeous body of aquamarine water home to a unique ecosystem of flora, fauna, and fish. It is encompassed by lush, tropical foliage. If you are lucky, you may see the occasional grey fox, marmot, or iguana that lives in the nearby trees.
It is usually possible to swim in the cenote. However, as of summer 2022, it is currently closed until further notice.
Dzibilchaltún is home to the Museum of the Mayan people, and admission to the museum is included in the price of your site ticket. It is important to visit the museum in order to gain more history and context into the Ancient Maya and the various structures within Dzibilchaltún.
The museum consists of four rooms. La Pérgola de Los Monolitos contains artifacts recovered from the states of the Yucatan, Quintana Roo, and Campeche. La Sala de Arqueología Maya contains prehispanic artifacts from the Yucatan tri-state peninsula, as well as from Chiapas.
Meanwhile, La Sala de Historia discusses the history of Dzibilchaltún ruins, as well as an overview of the Mayan culture. Finally, El Solar Maya is a room that has been set up to look like an Ancient Mayan village so that you can get a feel for how people may have lived all those centuries ago.
Unfortunately, as of 2022, the Dzibilchaltún museum is currently closed. Hopefully, this will change in the near future.
Tour guide services at Dzibilchaltún
An entrance ticket to Dzibilchaltún costs 282 pesos ($14) per person. Entrance is free for Mexicans on Sundays, however, you should be prepared to show your proof of identity.
You can also hire the services of an English or Spanish-speaking tour guide at the entrance. Expect to pay 200 pesos ($10) for a guided tour.
This is a good way to support the locals and gain more information about Mayan history. There are information plaques displayed in English, Spanish, and Mayan located outside each major structure in the site. However, this does not give you the same depth of understanding that you would obtain with a guide.
Getting to Dzibilchaltún Ruins
Despite the fact that the Dzibilchaltún Ruins are one of the oldest Mayan cities and arguably, one of the best Mayan ruins in Mexico, they are often overlooked and not frequently visited. This may be why tour options and public transport to Dzibilchaltún are limited and the site is not all that easy to get to.
Take a cab or an Uber
One of the most comfortable and convenient ways to take a day trip from Merida to the Dzibilchaltún Ruins is to take a cab or an Uber. It is generally better to take an Uber or a Didi car here rather than a street taxi.
Unfortunately, taxi drivers have a tendency to overcharge, particularly when they know you are a tourist. An Uber from the center of Merida to Dzibilchaltún is likely to cost around 150 pesos ($7.50) each way, depending on the demand at the time that you order the car.
You don’t need to worry about being an Uber back into town. Dzibilchaltún is still essentially within Merida city limits and there are a lot of residential areas nearby so there are always Ubers in the area.
Didi is a local alternative to Uber that you may want to consider using, although you may have to change your phone and Apple ID (if applicable) settings to Mexico to be able to download it. The cars are often cheaper here than on Uber, although sometimes there are fewer drivers available.
Take a Colectivo
If you plan on visiting Dzibilchaltún by public transport, you can take a colectivo from the Parque de San Juan in central Merida. Colectivos are shared minivans that depart when full.
They depart at regular intervals from Calle 69, between Calle 62 and 64. It should take approximately 42 minutes from here to the ruins. However, it is a good idea to allow an hour for the journey as colectivos do stop often to let people on and off.
Renting a car in Mexico is not as intimidating as it may sound and driving can give you a lot more freedom and flexibility in your schedule. To get to the ruins, follow Carr. Mérida – Progreso/México 261.
Then, follow the signs for Dzibilchaltún. The modern settlement where the ruins are located shares the same name (Dzibilchaltún).
Its center (Zocalo) boasts a basketball and a quaint little church. The entrance to the ruins is clearly marked and you cannot miss it.
FAQs about visiting the Dzibilchaltún Ruins
Do you still have any burning questions or concerns about visiting the Dzibilchaltún Ruins? Hopefully, you will find the answers you are looking for below!
How old is Dzibilchaltún?
Dzibilchaltún is one of the oldest Mayan cities that exist in the Yucatan. It dates back as far as the year 500Bc.
How do I get from Merida to Dzibilchaltún?
You can take a colectivo (shared minivan) from San Juan Park in central Merida for just a few pesos. Alternatively, take an Uber for around 150 pesos, or drive along the Merida to Progreso highway and then follow the signs for Dzibilchaltún.
Where is the Temple of the Seven Dolls?
The Temple of the Seven Dolls can be found at the archeological site of Dzibilchaltún, just north of the city of Merida, in the Yucatan region of Mexico.
Have you visited the Dzibilchaltún ruins? What did you think? This is perhaps one of the best places to visit in the Yucatan.
How did they compare to other Mayan sites that you have seen around Latin America? Have a wonderful time exploring Mexico! Buen Viaje! Xo