Kohunlich: An Unmasked Mayan Treasure on Mexico's Yucatan Peninsula
Chichén Itzá, Cobá, Tulum.
All significant Mayan Archaeological sites on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, but if you’re spending any extended period of time there, and want to avoid the mob of tour buses, overpriced souvenir stalls and excessive entrance fees, you owe it to yourself to visit Kohunlich (Koh-hoon-leech), an oft-forgotten site of great historical importance in its own right.
Deriving its name from the cohune palm species native to the area, Kohunlich serves up its own architectural style, utilizing mampostería, a method of masonry incorporating irregular stones and mortar. It has been noted to have served as an integral link along the Mayan route between Petén in Guatemala and the Rio Bec region of Campeche.
A Pre-Columbian Mayan civilization first visited by North American archaeologist Raymond Merwin in 1912, this site dates back to 250-600 AD. Only 69 km west of Quintana Roo’s Capital City of Chetumal, it is located near the village of Franciso Villa, off Hwy. 186 heading towards Escarcega Campeche. It covers an area of 23 acres, with several structures scattered about, some unearthed, while others remain veiled in a blanket of sub-tropical vegetation. Of those exposed and prominent structures, Templo de Los Mascarones (Temple of the Masks), built before 500 AD, stands alone in its grandeur and delicate tribute to a civilization with an affinity toward ornamentation and detail. Canopied by a thatched roof to further their preservation, the eight-foot tall stucco masks represent the Sun God according to some theories.
Another principal discovery at Kohunlich which shares the focus with the Temple of the Masks is the complex known as 27 Escalones (or 27 Stairs). This structure not only housed the ruling elite, as most believe, but did so in grand style from its perch atop a ridgeline which offers some broad views of the surrounding impenetrable scrub jungle.
While these two structures make up only a small share of the entire site’s complex, others of equal interest and worthy of exploration include: The Acropolis, The Gradería (The Grandstand), El Edificio de las Estelas, and Merwin Plaza.
So remember, for just a short drive from Chetumal, and for a refreshing escape from all the maddening things linked to other touristy Mayan sites, lose yourself in a place where the only other faces you may encounter may be of a centuries-old civilization.
Hours: OPEN DAILY 8-5
Getting to: BY CAR
Things to bring: Water, sunscreen, hats and insect repellent.
Written and contributed by Mark Mendiola Guerra