|JUNGLE LAIR: Calakmul's strategic perch in the Campeche backcountry (Liza Prado)|
Located in a magnificent biosphere reserve, Calakmul is believed to have been one of the largest and most important city-states in the Maya world. With over 60,000 people living in its city center at its peakand thousands more in the surrounding areasits influence stretched far and wide. Today, over 6,750 structures have been mapped, including the tallest Maya pyramid in the world (at 174 feet tall) and more stele (carved stone slabs erected to honor important leaders and events) than any other Maya archaeological site. Notably, Calakmul has been excavated by removing a minimal amount of vegetation; walking through the site, hidden deep in Mexico's jungle forest, it's easy to imagine what it must have been like to stumble upon this city centuries after its demise.
Inside Tip: Keep your eyes on the trees in the Grand Plazayou're sure to see howler monkeys swinging high above. Near dawn or dusk, listen for their unnerving call.
Practicalities: Calakmul is located a longbut beautiful72 miles from the tiny town of Xpujil, Campeche, on the Gulf of Mexico side of the Yucatán Peninsula. A private car or tour is the best way to get there (and out). Open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; admission US$3.
Xpujil has no tour agencies, per se, but you can ask at hotels like Rio Bec Dreams, Chicanná Ecovillage, or Calakmú Yaxche (an excellent campsite on the road to the ruins) about locating a knowledgeable guide. The Maya Mirador hotel operates a private taxi service to area sites; to Calakmul, round-trip prices run US$60 for two people, US$100 for four. Be sure the driver will wait at least two hours while you visit the ruins, preferably more. You might also negotiate for a quick stop at Balamkú, another ruin with amazing stucco friezes, on the way back.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication