Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ruinas del Rey, Cancun, Mexico

Cancún receives millions of foreign visitors every year, and most of them aren’t aware that this ritzy resort on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula is dotted with the remains of temples, pyramids and other structures built by the ancient Maya. Cancún’s largest Mayan ruins are those of El Rey at Punta Nisuc near the southern tip of the 20-kilometre-long Hotel Zone.

El Rey – which means “The King” – got its name from a sculpture of a regal-looking human head that was found at the site. Archaeologists believe that El Rey was once an important Mayan trading centre and perhaps an astronomical observatory. It was first settled around 900 A.D. and some of its buildings date back to 1250 A.D. Several 19th-century American and European explorers passed through El Rey, but the site wasn’t thoroughly excavated and restored until the late 1970’s.

Today, the peaceful archaeological zone is a maze of elevated ceremonial platforms and temples flanking three sun-baked plazas. Among El Rey’s most interesting buildings are Structure 4, a wide platform topped with 18 well-preserved columns, plus a small temple known as Structure 3-B that resembles buildings found at the city of Tulum on the Mayan Riviera. At the far end of the site stands a ruined pyramid, El Rey’s tallest building. From it’s top, there are good views of the surrounding tropical jungle and of the Hotel Hilton which looms in the distance like a modern version of a Mayan pyramid.

The Ruinas del Rey archaeological site is located at kilometre 17.5 on Boulevard Kukulkán. The site is open from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m. daily. Admission is about US$3.

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