|STAIRWAY TO HEAVEN: Becán's grandeur underscores its importance in Maya civilization (Liza Prado)|
If you don't have time (or a vehicle) to make it to Calakmul, there are several excellent sites within minutes of Xpujil. For wow factor, it's hard to beat Becán, with its huge pyramids and numerous palaces, plazas, tunnels, and stairways. And if you like sites where you can clamber up and around the structures, you'll love Becán. The area was inhabited as early as 600 B.C., and was a regional capital in its heyday (A.D. 600 to 1000). It is one of few Maya cities with a moat, which encircles the site and was surely used for defense. Becán's tallest pyramid reaches nearly 100 feet and offers a superb view of the site and the thick surrounding forest. Spend a morning here, but leave time for the smaller ruins nearby, including Chicanná, with its amazing serpent-mouth façades, and Balamkú, boasting one of the most impressive stucco friezes in the Maya world.
Inside Tip: Don't miss the large stucco mask, recently uncovered on the south side of Structure X.
Practicalities: Becán is right alongside Highway 186, about five miles west of the town of Xpujil, and is reachable by car, bus, or cab. Open daily 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; admission US$3.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication