story and photos by Susanna Starr
With all the spectacular Mayan archeological sites in this region, it is close to impossible to look at each of them individually. Although I have often, over the past thirty years or so, gone to several of these sites in one day, this time we focused only on Becan.
Located on the road between Escarcega and Chetumal, the region is literally dotted with sites, some of them excavated, most of them not. Although we tend to see them as ruinas, buildings that were constructed by a lost civilization, that’s not exactly true. Although the Maya no longer occupy these important cities and haven’t for many centuries, the people are very much alive and well. What remains of this spectacular civilization can also give us the false impressions of individual sites without suggesting that they were actually part of a sprawling complex of interconnected city-states.
The focus for this article is on Becan, one of the most important sites along this highway which crosses the Yucatan Peninsula from east to west. Once little travelled, it now is easily accessible by car, highly recommended if one were to spend some time in this region. There is so much to see and, unlike the better known sites in the northern part of the Peninsula, this region still maintains the feeling of discovery.
When we visited Becan most recently, we saw just one other group of visitors. There were no tour busses nor did the jungle paths ring with excited chatter. That will undoubtedly become more common in the coming years as this southern part of the Yucatan develops. Easily accessible from many different parts of the Peninsula, just 3 hours from the city of Campeche, 2 ½ hours from the city of Chetumal and 3 ½ hours from Tulum by bus, auto or taxi, this is a must-see area for those who have long been or are just being introduced to the mysteries of this immense pre-Columbian civilization.
A great place to provide a beautiful, natural, eco-tourism focused resort, with all the amenities you would hope to find, like beautiful and comfortable accommodations, extensive and savory dining menus, pool and lushly landscaped grounds, but still nestled in the jungle replete with orchards and bird-song, I could not recommend a more ideal place than Chicanna EcoVillage Resort. With 42 rooms arranged in 13 beautiful buildings with two to four rooms each, there is a feeling of intimacy and quiet. La Biosfera Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner and serves both regional and other foods, ranging from pollo (chicken) pibil which is a well-known traditional Yucatan dish to shrimp in mango sauce. They also provide guided tours to the sites.
Although closest to the beautiful site of Chicanna, it is also just a short distance to Becan and to Xpujil. If one were to be adventurous, visiting the sites of Rio Bec and Hormiguero are memorable experiences but not recommended without a guide. In the other direction is the most major site of Calakmul, one of the most important of all the Maya cities. It is truly spectacular and if you’re able to get a guided tour, it is barely possible to do it all in one day. Balam Ku, a much smaller but very beautiful and interesting site, is close to Calakmul and should be included in a visit to that area. These are easy day trips from Chicanna EcoVillage, the perfect place to return to.
If you feel like starting out with Becan, it can be seen by itself in one day or along with the other two sites of Xpuhil in one direction and Chicanna in the other, especially if you’re based at Chicanna EcoVillage. All are located just a few minutes away with Becan being the most important in its size and excavated buildings. Discovered in 1934 by a Carnagie Institution expedition, it dates from the late Pre-Classic to the late Post-Classic periods, from about 550 B.C. to approximately 1200 A.D., although was in decline by the 9th century A.D.
Although there are 20 structures and a number of plazas, including the Central, West and East plazas to be explored, they are only part of the vast complex. Built in various styles of architecture over the many centuries, such as the rounded turrets, an influence of Rio Bec and the huge, intricately carved masks that are evidence of the Chenes influence, much remains, including some of the original paint on the colossal mask now under glass for protection. Also remaining is evidence of the protective wall that surrounded the site and the moat just outside of it. It is located within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve which is still home to some of the endangered species such as puma, jaguar, toucans and the occasional macaw.
Navigating Becan is not challenging, although many of the buildings seem formidable to climb. There are many easy walks from one site to another and relatively easy access to the ball court, a famous legacy of the ancient Maya. There is also an interesting, tunnel-like walkway that has been completely restored, including the nichos that line the interior. Were they there for offerings or did they have sentries who were guarding the access to the next set of buildings and did they collect payment as many bridges and tunnels in contemporary cultures still do? Maybe they were just a place to have their torches to light the way at night.
Yes, Becan has much to stimulate the imagination. Of course research can go a long way in explaining, professional guides can provide a lot more, but ultimately it’s the visitor’s own direct experience in touching these ancient carved blocks and traversing its plazas that open the mind, the heart and the soul to this reminder of a flourishing culture spanning millennium.
If You Go: