Ruins of Muyil

by: Mari Pintkowski aka Moe Mulrooney

She and her husband checked into a luxurious suite at La Selva Mariposa on a clear day in April. Our small but luxurious hotel/B&B is located just 15 minutes inland off the Coba road. Shortly after her arrival, she emerged from her suite with a book in her hand and settled in one of the hammocks on the deck adjacent to the cenote-style pool. As the colors in the western sky turned from bright blue to coral red, and again to petal pink before the evening clouds swallowed up all the color, she moved from hammock to floating pool lounge, and finally to the chairs on the terraza under a light and whirling fan. For two days her husband came and went from the property returning each time with beverages and food for his wife. We made sure they had plenty of ice, salted glasses, and chilled margaritas.

At breakfast the first morning she showed me the book she found in her suite that she had become absorbed in: The Lost World of Quintana Roo by Michel Peissel. We chatted briefly about La Selva Mariposa and how we came to find this amazing spot, and then her eyes lit up when she politely said good-bye and let us know that she would be staying on site all day relaxing and reading this interesting book.

Later that day, when she finished reading Chapter seven describing Michel Peissel’s discovery of the ruins at Chunyaxche, she asked if I knew of the place. I told her what I had learned from a recent visit to the Post-classic Mayan ruins of Muyil, less than an hour from La Selva Mariposa.

Castillo, Muyil
The two names Muyil and Chunyaxche are used interchangeably for this ancient place. It is named after the two large inland lagoons that separate the site from the Caribbean Sea. I had also read the book by Mr. Peissel and let her know that some of the 108 mounds, including: 12 pyramids, 5 large palaces, 9 temples, 12 platforms, 20 small oratories and shrines he discovered had been further excavated by INAH, a branch of the Mexican government, a number of years ago. Unfortunately, many of the buildings in other groupings that he discovered on his first and second trip to Muyil are difficult to pick out among the encroaching vines. These existing buildings, from the Mayapan period, were built between 1250 and 1550 AD. This oriental-west coast style includes mural paintings, vaulted ceilings, columns, art nitches, and lentils set back above the door ways. Discoveries by later archaeologists found evidence that the pyramids were built over at least once.

I explained that these archaeologists believe that Muyil was a maritime-trade center with ceremonial significance like Tulum. The city was surrounded on the outskirts by 1000’s of wood and palapa huts inhabited by the lower class of Mayans. There are still an abundance of trees in the area including: ceiba, zapote negro, ficus, chechen, chit palms, red barked fig trees, flamboyant, corcho as well as the mangroves closer to the lagoon.

Our guest was excited by this description and I invited her to explore our grounds where over three hundred different trees and plants, many the same as those to be seen at Muyil, flourish in the gardens and along the paths that wind through La Selva Mariposa, which means The Jungle Butterfly.

By evening she had finished the book and was ready to explore the lost world of the Mayans, starting tomorrow with the ruins at Muyil. I told her that I would have a slide show of pictures I had taken to display at breakfast and would give them a preview of what to expect.

I explained that the ruins are located on Highway 307 about ½ hour south of Tulum, an easy day-trip from our place. There is a new road sign that announces you have arrived at Muyil and the archaeological site is about 50 meters on the left after the sign. There is plenty of parking under the gorgeous flamboyante tree and proceed toward the ticket booth. If no one is there go on in. Sometimes there is a guide, but this is rare. The signage in the park is clear and easy to follow in Spanish, Mayan and English. Unfortunately some of the directional signs are falling down or missing, but it is easy to find your way to the two main areas.

I advised them to first take the beautiful, shaded path to the left leading to the “Pink Palace.” This rectangular building, constructed of rough hewn stones mortared together with lime cement, was once covered with pink stucco and was referred to as “El Centro.” It was the center of civic and religious activities. It is marked with the remains of a low stone wall. There is a tall platform 12 ft. high above a long wide stairway. On top of the platform there is a rectangular building with three small rooms, possibly used for ceremonial purposes. There is an art niche above the original door that once held an image of a Mayan god. An altar lines the back of two of these three chambers. A 3 ft. idol was found inside on one of the altars, but was removed and placed in a museum in Chetumal. There is still evidence of some color (Maya blue, yellow, red, and black) from ancient murals on the walls inside. We never did find the entrance to the secret meeting place that Michel Peissel tells was located ¾ way down the stairs leading to an inner chamber that was used during the Caste War. The author believes this chamber was actually a temple that the current pink palace was built over.

There are over a dozen other platforms in the area in front of the Pink Palace, some with altars; others are foundations and remains of buildings constructed with some very large stones. There are no signs available that describe when or why these buildings were constructed. Most of these structures are slowly being covered with clinging vines. There is a path behind the structures that goes for quite a distance, perhaps towards the lagoon.

Climbing Castillo
Signs lead back to the main path, to the Castillo, one of the few remaining Mayan pyramids that you are allowed to climb, but the second phase above the wide platform is a bit treacherous. If you dare you to make it to the top, you will not be disappointed for the spectacular view of the lagoons and the sea to the east is breathtaking. This magnificent structure is 62 feet tall; 54 feet above the first platform which extends out 50 feet. There are six small oratories on the platform with small openings on one side. It is believed they housed small statues. This is the highest northeast- coast ruin structure that has been discovered. There is a steep stairway that leads around the back to an altar at the top of the pyramid. 264 ornamental objects were found here. There is a circular concave tower on the backside of the pyramid whose exterior is adorned with small flat stones that resemble the thorns on the sacred ceiba tree. In front of the Castillo, the remains of the foundation of a small temple are easily visible. On the back side facing the lagoons there was once a sac-be that led toward the ruins from the water.

Today wooden walkways have replaced the raised sac-bes behind the Castillo that lead through the jungle to the Muyil lagoon. Stop to take a look at a large map showing the route of the path. There is a ticket booth at the start of the sendero (path) where you may be asked to give 40 pesos each for the preservation of the path. There at least 10 different wooden signs indicating names of trees, animals and other natural sights of interest. These are numbered in the Mayan numbers consisting of a circle, a dot and or a dash. Since you have been resting for two days you will be ready to go to the top of the wooden tower and delight in the view of the lagoons in the distance. This is definitely a great photo-op.

Boat Launch Muyil Tour
We advised our guests to let us arrange for a tour guide to take them out on his boat through the lagoons linked by narrow canals that lead to the sea. This is the only way to reach the small ruin of Xlapak, located across the Chunyaxche lagoon. Here they will see a carving of a serpent at the entrance of the isolated Mayan shrine and ponder its ancient secrets. This building was used as a rest stop and customs post on the route where once salt, incense, gum, honey, wood and animal skins were traded. There will be not-to-be-missed opportunity to put on a life vest and float serenely for almost an hour through clear, cool water flowing through the ancient trade canal, surrounded by the unique flora and fauna that enrich this ecosystem.

When you return from your boat adventure, walk along the road back to the ruins where you have parked your car and notice the stone carvings about half-way down on the right.

There is a very nice snack bar-restaurant with clean bathrooms located across the street from the ruins if you are ready for some refreshing drinks or food.

Escondido Cenote
On your way back to Tulum, keep your eyes out for a rustic sign on the left-hand side that says Cenote Crystal. You pay here and can drive across the road to the entrance of Cenote Escondido for a beautiful, refreshing swim in the clear waters surrounded by lush jungle.

After sharing our enthusiasm for the excursion to Muyil, our guests were ready to embark on what would be the first of many adventures into the land of the Maya.

I suspected that the wonders of nature that lay ahead for that day would leave memories that would linger long after they were back in the pool at La Selva Mariposa.

moe muyil 2008