You want to visit Calakmul! It’s a hidden treasure of an abandoned ancient Mayan city, nestled deep in the jungle of Mexico!
Located in the state of Campeche on the Yucatan peninsula, it’s close to the border with Guatemala.
It is one of the largest Mayan sites ever discovered! Over 70 sq km large, it was once a powerful kingdom with more than 50.000 inhabitants and over 6000 structures!
The ancient Maya kingdom was actually not known as Calakmul. It was referred to as Ox Te’ Tuun, which means “Three Stones”. In the Classic period, it was most probably known as Kaan, the “Kingdom of the Snake”.
Calakmul is a more modern name – in the Mayan language, “ca” means two, “lak” means adjacent, and “mul” means pyramid. So the translation of Calakmul would be “Two Adjacent Pyramids”.
Hidden deep in the heart of the jungle, to visit Calakmul is not the easiest thing to do. It is located inside the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, 60 km from the nearest highway. You can only reach it following a narrow road through the jungle. Our driver told us that if you’re extremely lucky (or unlucky) you can spot jaguars along the way!
If you want to rent a car, the closest larger city is Chetumal, 3.5h drive away. Another possible way to visit Calakmul would be to take the bus from Chetumal to Xpujil (1h 45min) and then take a taxi, but it’s still about 2h drive away from there.
Here is what we did to visit Calakmul: We were staying in Campeche City and walking around town we spotted a few random posters from drivers offering a full day trip back and forth to Calakmul. We then also found 2 tour companies offering a full-day tour from Campeche. We ended up having a fully private tour with our driver. He picked us up at 4.30 am from our hotel at Balamku Campeche and brought us back at 6 pm. We paid 3000 pesos (around 120 EUR) for the 14h day trip for the 2 of us, which ended up being a reasonable deal for that 600 km road trip, especially given the fact that there really aren’t many other options.
Calakmul is definitely not an easy site to get to. But if you do make the effort, you’ll be rewarded! It’s seriously incredible!
Just to stress this again, there is no accommodation available inside the Calakmul World Heritage Site/Biosphere Reserve area. On top of that, the area is huge. Your best option and the closest you can get is to stay in the small town of Xpujil. Less than 4000 people lived there in 2010 to give you an idea of how small it is. Xpujil still isn’t super close to Calakmul, it is still a 2-hour car ride from there to visit Calakmul,
Since this is the way it is, and Xpujil wasn’t in the general direction of where we were heading we stayed in Campeche and did a really, really long day trip out of it instead. We still think that was a great decision.
If you decide to follow in our footsteps and visit Calakmul as a day trip from Campeche, we can happily recommend staying at the Balamku Hotel, as we did.
We spent a few nights upstairs in the Balamku Hotel inside the walls of the Campeche Old Town. This is a lovely little place that also serves a very nice breakfast. Since it’s inside the walls its super close to everything. We got good sleep here and in general really good value for money.
In Cabañas y Hostal Zoh Laguna 10 EUR per night will land you a bed in a dorm. What’s lovely about this place is the outdoor pool and the jungle setting. Bear in mind that Zoh Laguna is located a little bit off Xpujil, about 10 min drive in the opposite direction from Calakmul, which might be a little less convenient.
For 16 EUR per night you will get a simple private room in Hotel Chaac Calakmul, a hotel located in Xpujil, right by the highway to Calakmul.
Nicte-Ha is a nice 3 star hotel, and for 25 EUR per night you will get a lovely clean room with air-conditioning, wifi and a private bathroom.
Hotel Casa Las Lolas is located on the edge of Xpujil in a lovely jungle setting. For the same price of 40 EUR per night you can choose between a Double Room or a One-bedroom apartment, both equipped with a terrace, private bathroom and air-con.
Just off Xpujil on the way to Calakmul is Casa Ka’an, a beautiful place a little more tucked away in the jungle but still very close to the highway, which makes it very convenient. For 60 EUR, including a lovely breakfast, you will have a full bungalow-style house all to yourself. You’ll have a nice terrace, wifi, and a fully equipped kitchen too.
Calakmul is basically really far from everywhere. 🙂 The closest airport to Calakmul is actually in Belize and not in Mexico, which already speaks for itself. Even if you did land at Belize airport, it’s not exactly like you can just walk through the jungle across the border and into the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. You could technically cross the border into Mexico and get to Chetumal right on the other side of the border, and then follow the route we described above. You could also take a direct flight from Mexico City to Chetumal (there are direct flights every day and the trip takes 1h45 min).
Alternatively, you can take a 2h direct flight from Mexico City to Campeche and then visit Calakmul as a day trip from Campeche, like we did.
Everyone following our Travel Challenge to visit all UNESCO World Heritage sites in the world, you know that we love to explain why each place is listed as UNESCO, and with Calakmul it’s not different.
“Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul” was declared UNESCO in 2002 for its cultural and environmental importance.
Calakmul was one of the most important Mayan cities that played a major role in the history of the region. On top of that, the structures are incredibly well preserved and located deep in the jungle, within the Mesoamerican biodiversity hotspot. If you want to read more, head over to our Calakmul UNESCO page.
FUN FACT: Because of its remote location in the middle of the jungle it stayed hidden and unexplored until recently. Only a small portion of the massive site has been explored and excavated to date. This is indeed a great time to visit Calakmul.
The best and basically the only way to visit Calakmul is by car. The Biosphere Reserve is simply ginormous and there is no way you could walk the 60km through jungle to the entrance from the nearest highway. Once you reach the entrance, you will park your car and continue exploring on foot.
Unless you’re staying in Xpujil, you will need a full day to visit Calakmul from any of the starting points. You actually probably need it even if you are staying in Xpujil. We started our day-trip at 4.30 am from Campeche and got back around 18.00. We stopped for a big breakfast on the way and packed our backpacks with snacks for a whole day out exploring. It was an almost 5h drive each way, which left us with around 4h to explore the Calakmul Mayan Ruins complex.
Due to its extremely remote location, there aren’t really that many other things to do around Calakmul than visiting ruins. But there are still a few places you can try to squeeze into your itinerary. We’re sharing two of them below. When you visit Calakmul you should also try to see the following:
For some reason, Balamku isn’t very well known and most people seem to miss it or skip it. It came suggested by our Balamku Hotel for obvious reasons. When you visit Calakmul you are actually visiting an area full of cool Archaeological Sites. They are all part of the Calakmul UNESCO World Heritage Site Calakmul.
We think that’s it’s really worth stopping by, as it’s not really a detour and it’s not difficult to get to, once you’re already in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.
After you visit Calakmul, all other Maya sites are small. Balamku is a very important site, especially because of its large stucco frieze, one of the largest preserved of its kind.
Another place you could see when you visit Calakmul is the Archaeological Site of Xpujil. It’s still a good 2 hours drive away. If you decide to stay overnight in Xpujil, you could include a visit to the ruins afterwards, or on the next day, if you’re not completely “ruined out” after climbing up and down the pyramids of Calakmul.
Never travel without travel insurance! This is the most important travel advice we can give to anyone, always. When you visit Calakmul is no exception, quite the opposite. We can highly recommend HeyMondo. We’ve been using them for years and they’re great. We normally have yearly travel insurance with them. This is great value for money if you, like us, travel a lot during the year. They also do short trip coverage., so you can choose what works best for you. What makes them unique and super helpful is their mobile app. It allows you to chat with a doctor 24/7 and always call for free as long as you have internet access. We all know that phone bills can go through the roof when you’re abroad, so we are very happy with that option. And most importantly, they cover Covid-19 related expenses.
Do you guys feel like now you know a bit more about this ancient hidden jungle treasure? We really hope you will visit Calakmul, this is an unspoiled gem. Would you add it to your list of places to see in Mexico? Let us know!