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Calakmul: Ruin with a View

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Photo by Andrew Evans, National Geographic Traveler

Clearly the Maya had smaller feet than my size 13 clodhoppers. Climbing to the top of the temples at Calakmul requires a lot of sidestepping and deep breathing, but it’s definitely worth the effort.

My desire for Maya “cosmovision” took me deep into the jungle, to UNESCO World Heritage site of Calakmul, an ancient Maya city that spanned more than a millennium of civilization. Given its remote  location in a national park, there are far fewer visitors and far more animals to enjoy.

Calakmul was only rediscovered in 1931 by botanist Cyrus Lundell who named the ancient city “ca” (two) “lak” (near) “mul” (mountains), or “two neighboring mountains.” Climbing both these mountains was like none other experience I’ve had in Mexico. The steps were hot from the sun and carried me up high above the treetops to the lofty world that was once home to sacred Maya ceremonies.

Until I gain cosmovision, I shall rely on the Microsoft’s Photosynth, an app that allowed me to shoot these panoramas with my phone. For best results, click through to “Full View” and for the optimal experience, use an iPad.

I first stopped at the base of Temple I and gazed up to the highest man-made summit of Calakmul:

Then I huffed it to the top of the (incredibly steep) pyramid, to the highest perch of Temple I: a stone rectangle about 4 meters long by 1 meter wide. In the mid-afternoon, the view was breathtaking. As far as the eye could see was nothing but pure, untouched jungle. That is the beauty of Calakmul–that other than the pyramids poking through the trees, there is no other sign of human civilization for as far as the eye can see in any direction. Here, let me show you:

As you can see, the view from the top of Temple II was no less spectacular:

Hands down, Calakmul has been my favorite Maya ruin in Mexico, so far. The sheer height of the pyramids amid the very wild setting make it worth the time it takes to get there. After all, is that not the underlying goal of most travel? To attain the best view possible? I know I did–in Calakmul.

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