Mayan Ruins Expedition: Part Two

In my last post, I shared Part One of my expedition through the Yucatan jungles of Mexico with a group of  explorers who are huge aficionados of Maya ruins. As I mentioned in the post, our goal was to retrace and locate some of the Mayan ruins that were documented by the French explorer Michel Peissel in his 1963 book The Lost World of Quintana Roo. Many of the sites in his book have probably not been visited, or much less been photographed in decades.

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Let me tell you a little about how we arrived at this amazing structure way down in the mangroves of Sian Ka’an. First take a flight to Cancun International Airport. Then drive about 2 hours south to Tulum and then take another 2 hr drive down the dusty jungle road to Sian Ka’an (4×4 vehicle recommended). There you will have to take a 3hr boat ride deep into the mangroves of Bahia del Espiritu Santo. You will traverse the dense mangrove all the while trying to avoid getting smacked around by the prickly branches. Suddenly you will come upon a spectacular site that seems like straight out of a Hollywood movie. Built upon a small clearing within the mangroves is this Mayan temple simply known as Tupak. I find it really hard to comprehend how the Mayans were able to built it at this site. It is still in very good condition. As with many other Maya sites, there are multiple red-handed prints throughout the front and interior. We also found many bats that had taken up residence inside. Atop is a small rectangular structure that probably served as a beacon. We spent quite a while exploring and taking photos. After the long trek to get here, we were in no rush to leave.

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Front view of Tupak in the mangroves. Yes, I had to step way back in the water to get this shot.

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As we were speeding through the bay, our boat suddenly began to slow down. Our guide peaked over and immediately jumped out. Turns out that at a certain time of the day, the tide recedes and he has to manually guide the boat to higher tide. All the while, he has to be on the lookout for crocodiles. Yep, I waited inside the boat.

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Check out this spectacular view of the Sian Ka’an mangroves from atop Tupak.

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Meet explorer extraordinaire Dr. Peter Thornquist. Here he is posing at the site known as San Miguel de Ruz way down in the Sian Ka’an Biosphere. Dr. Thornquist actually retraced many of Michel Peissel’s routes way back in 1973! I had a great time learning from him and witnessing his passion for Mayan history and culture. Plus, he speaks fluent Spanish and is an aficionado of fine cigars. I can hang out with him anytime.

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This is Kaa’Peechen – The Sunken Temple. Somewhere in the middle of the bay, where there is no GPS signal, stands this unique Mayan temple. It actually sits atop a base with steps leading up to the entrance. The amateur archeologist in me concluded that at one time, Mayan people were able to climb up the temple to the top level, which is all that is visible now. Mind blown!!! The whole team was pretty excited about finding this structure. We all went for a swim and took some cool photos posing alongside the structure.

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Kaa’Peechen – The Sunken Temple. Check out the little fishies.

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Up and down the Yucatan peninsula, you will find Mayan structures, pyramids and temples pretty much everywhere you go. This pyramid is actually visible from the main highway between Playa del Carmen and Tulum. Good thing it was not torn down when the highway was expanded. It’s been known to happen.

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Spectacular view of the clear blue Caribbean from an abandoned structure in Tulum. This location is not the popular tourist filled site that you have to pay to access. Nope, this site is hidden among the rocks overlooking the beach.

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While Tancah rises among the trees, I was being eaten alive by fire ants. All for the sake of adventure.

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If you ever visit the Mayan Riviera and are looking for a great guide to escort you to any of the popular Mayan sites, you could not go wrong with having the very knowledgable Pedro Poot as your guide. Not only is he well educated in the history of the region, he is also fluent in Spanish, English, and Mayan. Plus, he’s also an all around great guy. And if you find yourself stuck in the middle of the jungle without water, never despair. He can climb up a palm tree and fetch you a couple of mouth watering coconuts.

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Right in the middle of the town of Akumal is this solitary structure. Nestled among a residential neighborhood with jungle growing all around, it is quite easy to miss. We took a machete and cleaned up the site.

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This structure is part of a large site full of many other amazing Mayan structures and temples. This is one of the best preserved sites since access is only allowed with a government permit and chaperon. In fact, many of the sites are actually very hard to find and to enter. We were blessed to be accompanied by a deeply knowledgable team that would stop at nothing to find these historic sites. I felt very fortunate to tag along for the ride of a lifetime.

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A Mayan pyramid reaches up to the sky at Rancho Ina.

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Our trusted driver Miguel drove us everywhere we needed to go in a nice air-conditioned van all the while keeping us entertained with his sense of humor. And not only did he provide transportation, he also dove right in and accompanied us on many of the treks deep into the jungle. Here he posed with a canine friend in front of the entrance to a cenote we found.

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Half of the explorer team posed for a group photo at El Naranjal. This was one of the most impressive sites we visited. After a whole week of exploring sites over land and water, the 2014 Mayan Expedition was winding down.

I still have many more photos from this amazing expedition. I will have to sort through them and see if I can put together a Part 3. I hope you have enjoyed reading along. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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Karl Herbert MayerNovember 27, 2014 - 12:28 pm

Really excellent photos. Thank you for sharing. Saludos desde Austria,
Karl

José Mata EstradaNovember 28, 2014 - 4:11 pm

Muy buena fotografía, habría que agregar un poco de documentación del tipo de arquitectura mostrada.

G.S.May 13, 2015 - 1:15 pm

Beautiful photos.

Who did you work with to visit Tankah and Inah? Did you get a chance to visit the ruins inland at Paamul?

Thanks for these.

RafaelinhoMay 15, 2015 - 11:07 am

Hi Gerrit,
Thanks for commenting. We were provided access by the INAH office in Chetumal. One of the guides arranged everything. I have not seen the ruins at Paamul. I’ll have to visit them next.

Karl Herbert MayerSeptember 21, 2015 - 8:12 pm

Excellent images of beautiful and sometimes rarely visited sites in Quintana Roo.

Bill MckennaApril 9, 2016 - 3:56 am

Thanks for part two of your adventure.
Look forward to art three once you are ready

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