Muyil, in the midst of the mysterious Mayan forest

The original name of the site is unknown. Muyil is the name given since colonial times to one of the lagoons adjacent to the site. It is also known as Chunyaxché.

Muyil, in the midst of the mysterious Mayan forest
Muyil. Image: INAH

There are few pre-Hispanic sites in Mexico where, in addition to admiring their ancient temples, you can also enjoy a unique natural environment that combines lush vegetation and the turquoise blue of the Caribbean Sea. Such is the case of the Muyil Archaeological Zone, an ancient Mayan city located just 20 minutes from Tulum and an hour and a half from Cancun.

It is one of the 20 most important archaeological sites in the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve, in the state of Quintana Roo, due to its size and number of architectural vestiges, and it is very attractive to visit during this Easter vacation. Muyil, whose name comes from the vocative of one of the two adjacent lagoons (Muyil and Chunyaxché), represents one of the best-preserved environmental sites in the protected reserve, which makes it an attractive place for those interested in learning about our history and coexisting with nature.

The tour of the Mayan settlement -which reached its greatest development in the Late Postclassic period (1200/1250 at the time of contact with the Spaniards 1500-1521)- begins in the area known as the Entrance Group, where the first set of constructions such as pyramidal bases, temples, altars, and platforms can be observed. Here the small building denominated by the archaeologists as Structure 7H3 calls the attention, which consists of a double temple with an interior adoratory and in which in spite of being more than 750 years old, you can still see remains of stucco and mural painting with tonalities in red, black and the characteristic Mayan blue.

As you continue along the paths surrounded by abundant jungle vegetation, you will be amazed when you come across a 17-meter-high temple known as El Castillo, whose top has a temple that resembles a turret, which makes it an atypical structure for the region. It is the most important and tallest structure in Muyil, whose building at the top is circular in shape. It is not known exactly what its function was, possibly it was erected to represent the ceiba, the sacred tree of the ancient Maya and whose trunk has thorns. This kind of turret had protruding stones that may have represented the barbs of the tree.

The original name of the site is unknown. Muyil is the name given since colonial times to one of the lagoons adjacent to the site. It is also known as Chunyaxché.

El Castillo has two altars, in one of which archaeologists found an offering consisting of small beads but in great quantity, made of greenstone, shell, and snail. This finding has been relevant if we take into account that due to the humidity of the region it is not possible to find remains of skeletons that could provide us with data about the ancient inhabitants of this site. Another element that makes the contemplation of this ancient Mayan building a must is a stuccoed frieze on the back, which contains the representation in relief of two herons walking in opposite directions.

The next place to visit in Muyil is the so-called Temple 8, a construction that rests on a pyramidal base of 20 by 15 meters, and has two entrances. The space is delimited by a low fence, this indicated that it was a space of restricted access as was the case of priests. This small building is one of the many examples of the architectural style that was developed in the region between the years 1200 - 1500, called East Coast and that consisted of structures with vaulted roofs, accesses formed by columns or pillars, and sometimes they had interior adoratory. During the restoration works of Temple 8, specialists left in sight a substructure and a staircase inside it, so that the public can appreciate the core of a pre-Hispanic building.

If you continue along the path you can see that in the center of the architectural complexes there are square civic platforms with a staircase on each side, alluding to the four cardinal points, and by which high-ranking characters climbed to give a message to the population.  In pre-Hispanic times Muyil played an important role in the coastal trade route because although it is located just 12 kilometers ( 7 miles) from the Caribbean Sea, its economic activity was developed through the pair of adjacent lagoons. As the site is inland, its connection with the Caribbean was through the two lagoons, which allowed access and exit of goods, thus participating in the distribution network with other towns.

On the other hand, since 1986, when the Sian Ka'an Biosphere Reserve was declared, the environmental authorities have maintained a joint effort to protect and preserve the ecosystem, including the archaeological zone, since both elements represent a binomial, where nature is part of the beauty of the pre-Hispanic site and vice versa. The visit to Muyil could not conclude without first going to the lagoon that gives its name to the archaeological zone and that is located only one kilometer away ( 0.6 miles).

There, there is a lookout point where you can climb and have a panoramic view of the lagoon and its connection with the Caribbean Sea. It is a natural spectacle, where the calm and transparent water of the Muyil lagoon meets the strong and bluish waves of the open sea. There is also a pier where the villagers offer boat rides that should not be missed.

Cultural importance

Muyil is a settlement that due to its geographical position maintained a long occupational continuity. The first material evidence corresponds to the Late Preclassic (300 - 50 BC) when it would have had links with settlements in northern Belize and southern Quintana Roo, a relationship that is broken towards the late Classic when it strengthens its relationship with the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula and has a significant population growth, which is related to the construction of some of the buildings that are preserved today.

By the Early Classic period (250 - 600 A.D.), Muyil was already an important city in which important Petén-style buildings were constructed, such as El Castillo and the three basements of the Entrance Group. Due to its strategic location, towards the early Postclassic (1000 - 1200 A.D.), it maintained some contacts, first with Chichén Itzá, and later with Mayapán. In the late Postclassic (1200 - 1450 A.D.), most of the known buildings were built, and when the city gained great importance by inserting itself into the coastal trade networks of the Peninsula.

How to get to Muyil

Muyil is located 22 kilometers ( 14 miles) from Tulum and 150 kilometers (93 miles) from Cancun and can be reached by federal highway number 307. It is open 365 days a year, from 8 am to 5 pm. On Sundays, the entrance is free for the national public. Children under 13 years of age, people with disabilities, and senior citizens, as well as students and teachers with valid ID, are exempt from payment.