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Area N: Yucatán Peninsula - South


     Dzibanché    ****


State of Quintana Roo

Of the many impressive cities encountered in this region, Dzibanché (meaning the writing on wood) takes a somewhat backseat to the likes of Becán and Calakmul. Nevertheless, it is well worth the visit. There are fine buildings of a distinct nature arranged around a grand plaza, and the twin site of Kinichná lies only a few kilometres away.

You will probably only ever get here by private car, but if staying at Chetumal, it is one of the closest sites to that town. Drive seventy kilometres from Chetumal along the Xpuhil-Escárcega road (highway 188) and then we will see a sign telling us to take a road off to the right. This minor road suffers from the disease all others in this area face: it is badly pockmarked, and care must be taken while driving. We will pass through the small town of Morocoy and proceed for about twenty kilometres or so to Dzibanché (pronounced "jee-ban-CHEH").


Culture: Southeast Maya

Early Classic Late Classic  
200AD 4 00 6 00 8 00


development apogee decline

Dzibanché occupied an interesting location; it was not part of the Río Bec region but lay on important trade routed extending from there to the coast. We might therefore conjecture that this was a significant reason for Dzibanché's growth throughout the Early and into the Late Classic.

In the first half of the Late Classic, many of the largest buildings were constructed and here we see the development of its unique architectural style: rounded pyramidal bases tapering to double-sided temples on top. This feature alone places the city outside of the Río Bec group.

About two hundred years after the city's collapse, the ritual areas were begun to be occupied again by the local people who left offerings in the temples. In 1927, the first person to write about it was an English doctor, who named many of the buildings.

For more about other Rio Bec Maya cities, see Cultural History.

Tour  (Scroll down to follow complete tour, or click on feature below and use your BACK key to return to the map)

Less than a kilometre form the main archaeological zone, we see a partially ruined complex on the left of the road, containing the backs of once imposing tower-like structures. While not part of the city proper, this is the remains of one of the many off-shoots of Dzibanché of which the neighbouring site of Kinichná is another


The fullest extent of Dzibanché has probably never been established; the main attractions are centred around three plazas, but there are innumerable other mounds lurking around in the jungle.

  1. Temple of the Lintels
  2. Temple of the Captives
  3. Pop Palace
  4. Temple of the Toucans
  5. Temple of the Owl
  6. Temple of the Cormorants

The path from the car park leads up a slight incline into the forest, where we come across the first feature of interest. Christened the Temple of the Lintels, it is also one of the most impressive. It is a pyramidal building fronted with a wide stairway and interesting stepped design. At the top, we find a temple with two entrances giving access to a single, long interior corridor. To my mind, this building is the most Río Bec influenced, sharing similarities with some temples at Becán, for example.


We follow the path past several unexcavated mounds before arriving in an open space known as Plaza Gann, after the English doctor discoverer, Thomas Gann. On our immediate right, we see a long, stepped platform. This is the Temple of the Captives, so-called because of several pictorial representations of prisoners. One is preserved beneath a straw canopy at the base of the temple. It appears that this building was gradually added to over the course of Dzibanché's history.

On the south side of the plaza we find the Pop Palace, a fairly unremarkable platform with ruined walls.

A similarly plain, stepped platform lines the north side of the plaza: the Temple of the Toucans. Both of these structures are reckoned to have once sported wooden temples.

We now ascend a short flight of steps that connects to the higher and larger Plaza Xibalbá. On the opposite side we find the largest structure at Dzibanché known as the Temple of the Owl. It is conceptually similar to the Temple of the Lintels - pyramidal with a double-designed temple, only realised on a much grander scale.

Behind us is the sheer back of the Temple of the Cormorants; a massive but currently unclimbable structure.

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