This is one of UNESCO’s “mixed” sites, being both of natural and cultural value. The cultural part is the remains of one of the most powerful Mayan cities. Inhabited from the 6th century BC to the 10th AD it was, like many other sites, at its peak during the Classic Period of Mayan civilization – around 200 to 900.
The site is huge, with groups of buildings spread out amid the tropical rainforest. I bought a map on the way in that handily indicated how long it would take to walk between different parts; the longest was 45 minutes.
Many people arrive early in the morning to catch sight of the sun rising over the jungle from the top of a pyramid. I took the 4.30am bus with them but settled on breakfast over sunrise, which turned out to be sensible since the heavy mist must have prevented much of a view. My early arrival was not in vain though – it meant that for the first hour of my visit I saw no one else and had a lovely time enjoying the sounds of jungle in peaceful solitude.
At the centre of the site are a number of particularly tall steep pyramids with attendant ceremonial and residential structures. A couple of them are climbable through external wooden staircases, to prevent wear to the monument, which is a sensible compromise.
The city was powerful and had political and commercial links all across the region including with Teotihuacan in central Mexico, who may have conquered it in the fourth century. They certainly had a long running rivalry with Calakmul, the previous site I visited.
The city was huge and a great deal of it remains unexcavated; quite a few of the outlying pyramids shown on the map turned out to be grassy lumps in the trees.
I saw and heard a little of the abundant local wildlife, mostly the spider monkeys bounding around in the treetops and a group of decorative ocellated turkeys.
The mosquitos were quite busy in the early morning too, but I had come chemically prepared to repel them.
I thought I should try to be reasonably ambitious for the Lego model so chose one of main pyramids:
I had to adopt a different method of building the steps to get them steep enough.