Story and videos by Lydia Linton Pontius (March 2011)
Photographs by Alexandra Bradley
Click on links to see videos!
We woke early, before sunrise, to head out to the Calakmul Ruins. The drive from the hotel to the ruins is approximately an hour, 60 kilometers, but if you are planning to do some birding give yourself plenty of time to travel down the road. We grabbed our box lunches, bottled water, binoculars and cameras, and headed down the road with our guide, just as the birds started waking and the sun started to come up.
The wonderful thing about Puerta Calakmul is that you can see birds and wildlife right on the resort but, for the real birders and nature lovers, the drive to the ruins is an extra special treat.
Inching our way down the road, windows rolled down and eyes peering at the trees, we made many, many stops along the way. At some points we were barely moving, mesmerized by a sound or astonished by a bird that flew in front of us or wandered into the road. There is barely any traffic at this time of the day and the jungle grows right up to the edge of the road.
We saw parrots, Keel-billed Toucans, Collared Aracari, flycatchers, hawks, and many Ocellated Turkeys. You will not have to venture off the road to see all these spectacular birds.
Once we arrived at the entrance to the park, we registered and had a great view of a toucan on the top of a tree and a very friendly Ocellated Turkey who came to welcome us to the park. From the entrance it is still a ways until you get to the actual ruins. The road gets a little narrower, with more curves at this point. Near Km 26 there is a small body of water and our guide had us stop, look and listen; we saw spider monkeys just waking up in the trees
For many, the ruins seemed to be the highlight because as it got later in the morning the traffic increased and the cars and vans missed all the great things nature had to offer as they sped down the winding road to get to their destination. Unfortunately, there were animal causalities along the side of the road as a result—a reminder that the journey is as important as the destination. Please drive these remote roads with caution; remember you are but visitors in their domain.
Once we arrived at the ruins, which are full of rich history, we enjoyed a little snack before heading in to explore. Be sure to take a boxed lunch or snack, and water; there is no restaurant here. This is not Chichén Itzá with its hawkers selling souvenirs. This is a very well-kept, beautifully serene archeological site. The caretakers are pleasant and seem to take a real pride in maintaining their treasures. The walkways are narrow but easy to navigate.
There are 6,750 ancient structures identified at Calakmul, the largest of which is the great pyramid at the site. Structure 2 is over 45 meters (148 ft.) high, making it one of the tallest of the Maya pyramids. It is set in the jungle and the rolling terrain and canopy kept it nice and cool, unlike some of the ruins I have visited where all the greenery has been stripped away and the sun beats down on you.
Because the fauna are so lush here your birding and encounters with wildlife are not limited to the road into the park. As we walked around we encountered large groups of Great Curassow crossing our path, one at a time like follow-the-leader, and butterflies of all colors and varieties—white, yellow, blue, and red. And, much to my delight, we found a troop of Howler Monkeys and a tribe of Spider Monkeys, both carefully coexisting and carrying on. We heard for ourselves, later in the middle of the night, that the Howler Monkey is the loudest land animal and his roar can be heard miles away.
After several hours we were ready to head back to Puerta Calakmul and relax. Driving back, slowly, allowing those in a hurry to pass us, we chatted about all we had seen in one morning. Rounding a curve, it was then that our guide pointed straight ahead. In the distance, strolling on the side of the road in the middle of the day, was a jaguar. We felt blessed that we got to see such a magnificent animal in the wild, even briefly. Soon more traffic arrived, and the jaguar became aware of us too, as he swung his massive head around, focused his golden gaze upon us, then stepped off the road into the adjacent jungle, until even the tip of his long tail disappeared, rather like the fading smile of the Cheshire cat.
Rarely are they spotted at all and it's rarer still to see one midday. Our guide explained that hungry males, like this one, will hunt during the day. There were so many turkeys running around that it must have been easy for him to catch a "midnight" (for him) snack, before going back to sleep. Again, I encourage you to slow down and appreciate all there is in these places. If you are in a hurry, stay on the highway and only dream about what lies deep within the wilderness.
Once we returned to the resort we immediately started telling the staff about the great things we saw. Of course the most impressive to all, even the park biologist, was the jaguar.
That evening we had plans to see the bat cave but, because I had injured my foot and spent hours on it that day, we opted to simply relax and have a quiet dinner at the resort. I felt comfortable missing the bat cave because I know I will be back to see more in this incredible area. Next time we plan to visit the Balamkú ruins too; it is a small set of ruins containing an impressive stucco frieze. The Becán ruins are also in the area and unique for the moat surrounding its core area.
We also will try to visit the city of Campeche on our next trip, to see what this Spanish colonial city has to offer. We will certainly stay at Puerta Calakmul again. The service, accommodations and dining made it a lovely gem in the middle of an ancient and protected world. View the video of Puerta Calakmul.