The Oxkintok ruins are an off-the-beaten-path Mayan city and archeological site in the Yucatan state of Southern Mexico. The ancient city, approximately 70km south of Merida makes a wonderful day trip from the Yucatan capital and yet few people are even aware of its existence.
Visiting the Oxkintok Mayan Ruins in 2024
The prehispanic city of Oxkintok sits in the western part of the Yucatan state, close to the border with Campeche. It is located halfway between the port city of Campeche on the Gulf of Mexico and the ruins of Dzibilchaltun just north of Merida.
The city is more than 2,000 years old and was an important architectural, political, and social hub along the Ruta Puuc in ancient times. Archeologists believe that the name “Oxkintok” means “three flint suns” but nobody is entirely certain and there are several other interpretations of the name.
The city was occupied from 500–300 B.C. to around A.D. 1200–1450. It was also known as “Maxacan” or “Tzat Tun Tzat” several centuries ago.
The site is huge, and there are still a lot of ruins that haven’t been excavated. Fascinatingly, you can see the tops of pyramids peeking out above the ground and the jungle canopy.
Even the ruins that are visible are impressive. There are pyramids, temples, palaces, and ball courts organized into different groups, and it is permitted to climb most of the ruins for unparalleled views across the Yucatan jungle.
Exploring the Oxkintok Ruins
You should dedicate at least a couple of hours to exploring the Oxkintok ruins. The great thing about visiting this lesser-known site is that you can often have it entirely to yourself, especially if you visit during the week.
There is a site map at the entrance of the archeological site but little signage to help you navigate your way around. It is better to turn left after entering and explore the different groups of structures in a clockwise route.
Ah Canul, Ah Dzib, and Ah May are the names of the main groups of buildings. They were all interconnected by white stone roads known as “sacbes”.
Ah Canul and Palacio Pop
Entering the site, you will pass by the Ah Canul group of structures, its various pyramids, temples, and plazas. The Palacio Pop is the most important pyramid in this area, as well as one of the oldest.
Archeologists interpreted that the structure must have been some form of a palace after finding a painted floor with a matting design inside the pyramid during their excavations. Its principal facade looks north and there are four rooms inside.
Palacio Pop is one of the earliest constructions on the site and it corresponds to the Early Oxkintok style of architecture. (300-500AD). There is an interesting circular stone platform in the plaza just in front of the tiered pyramid.
This type of altar is associated with fire-making rituals. It may symbolize the comal, a circular clay griddle on which Maya women prepare meals.
Chi’ich Palace sits in the southwest plaza of the Ah Canul group of ruins. There are two interesting human statues located on either side of the palace entryway, worn by time and the elements.
Archeologists are not sure who they are supposed to represent – be it Gods, nobles from Oxkintok, or warriors. But it’s clear that they were important.
The palace itself has been built in classic Puuc architecture and dates back between 750AD to 1050AD. The structure is made up of ten rooms and a portico-facade.
Palacio del Diablo
The Palacio del Diablo is a small building to the right of Chi’ich Palace that primarily catches your eye because of an obscure skeleton-like figure standing at its doorway. The figure has two openings at the upper part of its head and has its hands raised in the air.
Palacio del Diablo contains three rooms and was built during the Terminal Classic period between 750 and 1050 AD.
Shrine to the Fertility God
A well-endowed shrine to the Fertility God sits inside a palapa hut a short distance from Chi’ich Palace and Ah Canul’s southwest plaza. It is similar to the deity on display at Sayil – another lesser-known site along the Ruta Puuc.
The statue has exaggerated genitalia and a snake for an arm.
Unfortunately, the palapa hut storing the statue is currently locked (January 2024) and filled with construction equipment. You can only see the rear side of the statue behind barbed wire from the outside of the hut.
Structures CA-5 and CA-6
Structures CA-5 and CA-6 are interesting because several Mayan hieroglyphics were found within them. The first structure (CA-5) is also known as “the Palace of the Moon” because paintings of the Moon series were found on a lintel inside.
CA-6 is also known as “the Palace of the Initial Series” because various hieroglyphic inscriptions and motifs were found inside its doorways. The carvings and inscriptions on the buildings point to a date of 487 AD.
The Ah May group of structures
The Ah May group of structures is flanked by an impressive pyramid that is simply named “La Piramide” and is the tallest structure in Oxkintok. This pyramid contains more than a dozen rooms and was built in several stages.
The earliest construction on the pyramid started in the Early Classic period between 300-500AD. The structure was then expanded and modified during the Late Classic period. (Between 500-750AD).
Two nearby buildings marked as MA-2 and MA-3 are believed to have been the residences of nobles. However, the presence of some unusual grinding stones indicates that manual labor work was done in the area.
The Ah Dzib Group of Structures
The Ah Dzib group of structures has a square ground plan and the area consists of four plazas built at different levels. This area has only been partially excavated and thus far, archeologists have uncovered a Pok-a-Tok ball court, a Tamazcal (place of spiritual Mayan rituals), and the Palace of Chaac.
There is a nice archway that marks the entrance to the Ah Dzib group and is a great place to stop and take photos. It has been constructed in Puuc style and is similar to the arches found at the Mayan cities of Kabah and Labna.
One of the most mysterious ruins at Oxkintok is the Satunsat – a rectangular labyrinth to the south of Ah Dzib. The Satunsat was also spelled “Tzat un Tzat” in Mayan meaning “place where it’s easy to get lost”. (Quite amusing and literal!)
Labyrinths are unusual in Mayan cities and only two others have been found in Southern Mexico – in Yaxchilán and in Toniná, Chiapas. It is believed that the three levels of Satunsat represent the living, the celestial level, and the underworld.
Archeologists and historians mistakenly identified the structure as a dungeon and then a cave. It wasn’t until Miguel Rivera Dorado and a team of archeologists from Spain worked on excavating the site between 1986 and 1991 that people started to gain a deeper understanding of it.
(His works are published in Spanish via the historical journal “El Labertino de Oxkintok”). Today, the labyrinth is blocked off to the publish – perhaps to prevent unsuspecting tourists from wandering in, thinking they can take on the challenge of the labyrinth and getting lost inside.
Pok-ta-Pok ball court
There is a Pok ta Pok ball court in the center of the city. Pok ta Pok was a challenging Ancient Mayan ball game where players were tasked with hitting a hard rubber ball through a stone hoop mounted high on the walls.
The difficult part? They could only hit the balls using their hips.
You will find ball courts at numerous Mayan ruins in Mexico, including Chichen Itza, Uxmal, and Edzna. Archeologists believed that there may have been tensions between the people living in the different parts of Oxkintok and so, Pok ta Pok games may have been played to settle disagreements.
The losing team was often sacrificed. The stone hoops from Oxkintok have been moved to the Gran Mundo del Maya museum in Merida where they are on display. An inscription on the stone goal displays a date of 714 AD.
A circular hole found close to the ball court was believed to be part of an ancient steam bath. It was likely used for the cleansing of the players and pregnant women.
Getting to the Oxkintok Ruins
No public transport currently runs to the site from Merida, although various reputable tour companies offer excursions to the ruins.
Oxkintok is not as popular as places like Uxmal and Chichen Itza. So, you may have to search around for suitable tours.
Driving in Mexico is not as intimidating as it may sound. Plus having your own vehicle will make exploring many of the Yucatan’s lesser-known sites much easier.
General Admission Info
Admission to Oxkintok is 70 pesos per person (circa $3.39 USD). There is no reduced fee for Mexican nationals or Yucatan residents, although Mexicans can enter for free on Sundays. (Be prepared to show your national ID card).
The lesser-known site receives just a handful of visitors each day. However, a tour guide does work at Oxkintok and you can hire him for 200 pesos if you want to gain a deeper understanding of the ruins and their history.
The guide only speaks Spanish. If he is already occupied with another group of tourists, you may need to wait a little for his service.
Final thoughts on visiting the Oxkintok archaeological zone
The ruins of Oxkintok are among the most fascinating ruins in Mexico, as well as the most underrated. They sit close to the town of Calcehtok where you can stop for a traditional Yucatecan food lunch, or to explore the nearby Calcehtok caves (Grutas de Calcehtok) if you are looking for an adrenaline adventure.
There are also some historic Yucatan haciendas in the area that you can stop by if you like exploring abandoned places. Both the abandoned Hacienda San Jose Chactun and the Ex-Hacienda Santa Maria Eduviges are a short drive from the site.
Alternatively, you can continue onwards from Oxkintok to explore some of the cities along the Puuc route. If you are looking for places to stay nearby to break up your journey, you can consider the village of Santa Elena or the city of Muna.
Enjoy your visit and have a wonderful time traveling through the Yucatan! If this is your first visit, you might find the below posts useful in helping you plan your trip.
- Is the Yucatan safe?
- Suggested Yucatan road trip itinerary
- Best time to visit the Yucatan
- Best places to visit in the Yucatan
- Yucatan pueblo magicos