Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History, the governmental agency that oversees the country’s many ancient ruin sites, announced this week the opening of the newest site in southern Quintana Roo. The site is named Ichkabal, and it is located about 20 miles west of Bacalar, or about an hour and a half from Mahahual. All are excited, as this site adds to Mexico’s already amazing inventory of excavated and public sites, while also bringing thousands more tourist to our area, as well as much needed revenue for local businesses and the government.
First finished area.
Ichkabal has researchers excited, as the site has already revealed that it might be the largest yet discovered. It is also one of the older sites, with a tower higher than the previous record height discovered in Chichen Itza. Archaeologist think most of the significant structures were build between 300 and 550 AD, the pre-classic period of Mayan history, and that the city was part of a trade network that connected the Yucatan Mayans with those in what is today Central America. The site contains three large structures, and many smaller buildings of various sizes spread about the entire 30 square kilometer area.
From a pile of dirt, they found this.
Ichkabal was initially discovered in 1995, but it was not until 2009 that funding began to excavate the site. Small groups have been able to tour the site privately since 2011 with the actual opening expected in late 2017 or early 2018. When it does open, only a very small portion of the area will be excavated and open to the public. Work will continue for decades. Work is tediously slow and the funding for such work, in a money strapped place like Mexico, is even slower. But work is being done. Just slowly. The road into the area is currently being completed and funding for additional opening expenses, such promotion and staff training has already been allocated.
The excavation is almost vertical, making the tedious work even harder
The site is within the Municiplaity of Bacalar, another part of the southern portion of the state’s Costa Maya area. The land it sits on belongs to the local ejido, native tribes that have owned the land for generations, and they now will receive compensation from the Mexican government, as the area is impacted. It is always a very delicate balancing act, trying to advance study, tourism and local economics, and not disrespect local cultures, traditions and sacred areas at the same time, but Mexico does a very good job at this, and should be applauded for that effort. They would not, for example, run a gas line through it like some countries I know.
Ichkabal is a nice fit in the Costa Maya’s Bacalar lagoon system, the area’s host for more pristine eco-tourism, much in the fashion of Costa Rica’s jungle, low impact tourism. The site is located in heavy jungle area and will provide, in addition to archaeological tourism, a vast area for eco-tourism activities such as hiking, wildlife viewing, biking and cenote adventures. A very welcome new piece to the Costa Maya tourism community.
So if you are an amateur/vacation archaeologist, you might want to put this area on your schedule for the near future. Ichkabal, combined with existing sites in the Costa Maya area, Dzibanché, Kohunlich and Chacchoben, make the Southern Quintana Roo one of Mexico’s very best archaeological tourist destinations. Throw in the great beaches of Mahahual, the jungle areas of Bacalar, and Chetumal’s gateway to Belize, and the Costa Maya has all the adventure tourists might want. Don’t take my word for it, come see for yourself.