Pyramid of the Masks, a Ball Court, and Only Three Potties!
Apr 11, 2006
Review by Michelle Chelledun
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Pros:Pyramid of the Masks, isolated feel, jungle atmosphere
Cons:Poor facilities, not as much to see as major ruins
The Bottom Line: Kohunlich is a beautiful site, worth visiting just to see the masks!
I was able to spend a day at Kohunlich during my recent Carnival cruise. In college I took several classes on South-American history and Ive long had an interest in early American peoples, so I was thrilled to finally visit a Mayan ruin site. While the bus ride was long and the ruins facilities were somewhat lacking, it was still a worthwhile excursion and I loved the jungle setting.
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Kohunlich is a Mayan ruin located in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, at the south-east tip of Mexico. The ruin is about a two hour bus ride from Costa Maya which was the city at which our ship docked. It is also accessible from many other major Mexican cities. If youre doing a ruins tour, this area is 4 hours south of Tuluum. The ruin is literally in the middle of nowhere, in the jungle. If you are not taking a bus or coach, make sure you know where you are going! I would advise either taking a guided tour bus or making sure you have a book on the ruins designating what to see. Visitors are not given maps and the buildings are poorly marked, so it would be tough to know what you are looking at if you went on your own. We did see some people doing this, however.
Admission, I believe, is around $10. Ours was included in the price of the tour. You MUST where good walking shoes. The terrain is rugged and somewhat slippery with loose pebbles. At least three people in our group fell down!
This is a ruin from the early Mayan period. The ruins in this area were not discovered until 1967, and the ruin is relatively newly excavated.
Facilities (Or Lack Thereof)
This is not a commercialized area at all. This means no gift shop, no museum, no snacks, no selling of guide maps. It also means the bathrooms are quite an ordeal. To be blunt, there are three stalls for women, you must potty with the door open, and toilet paper goes in the garbage can, not down the toilet. When you have buses of 40+ people unloading all at once, the limited quantity of toilets is a real problem. Another bus arrived as we were about to leave, so no one in our party was able to use the facilities before getting on the bus for a two hour ride back. Clearly I survived, but barely.
When we visited the entire staff of the ruin seemed to be one guy, two puppies, and a domestic cat who was crawling around the temples. Our group really enjoyed playing with the puppies.
Ill cut to the chase. The main reason to come to Kohunlich is to see the Pyramid of the Masks. This is a huge pyramid with six carved stucco masks stretching down the side. Some say the masks represent former rulers of the area while others say they represent gods. The whole area is covered with a tent to protect the masks. I thought these were really impressive. There were two of the masks that were almost completely cleaned off and these made for some great photos.
You will also want to see the Residential Village of Kohunlich. The ruin is huge, and only a small portion is excavated. Our guide lead us to several different groups of buildings and you could actually walk into them and through the rooms of the dwellings. Many of the buildings still have trees coming out of the top. Our guide informed us this is both good and bad. While the trees hold the structures together, they also eat away at the facades.
One reason I picked this ruin over some of the others in the area was my desire to see a Ball Court. This is a large grassy area that was used to play a sports game in Mayan times. There is some speculation over whether the winners were sacrificed, the losers were sacrificed, or no one was sacrificed. I have to say, seeing the field was a little anticlimactic considering it is just a big green space.
Climb a Temple - There are two different areas where visitors can climb to the top of a pyramid. The first is the Pyramid of the Masks, although access is restricted to the center, away from the masks. There is also a large pyramid near the ruin entrance with much steeper stairs. I was kind of freaked out by the height and only made it half way up this one. My husband climbed to the top and was able to get some great pictures of the area.
Finally, we really enjoyed the jungle setting. The ruin is set in a tree-filled area. It provides shade from the sun and helps to transport guests into a different world. As we walked through we saw lots of different kinds of plants and tons of industrious (and big!) leaf-cutter ants at work. Be careful you dont put your foot in an ant hill! Sometimes there are howler monkeys in the area around the ruins, but unfortunately they were not there the day we visited.
We had a nice day at Kohunlich. The buildings arent as massive as those at major Mayan sites, but I really enjoyed the jungle setting and the Temple of the Masks was amazing. The best part about Kohunlich was that the people in our group were literally the only ones at the site except for four or five other tourists. Having the place so quiet and private helped me really soak in the atmosphere. I do still want to see one of the really huge ruin sites and hope to visit Chichen Itza or Tulum in the future. If you visit Kohunlich, be aware that the facilities are somewhat lacking. In other words, have lunch before you head out!
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