Located in the state of Campeche, on the border of Quintana
Roo and Guatemala,
the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is one of the largest protected
areas in Mexico, covering more than 14 percent of the state.
Calakmul is Mexico's grand eco-archaeological experiment.
The 723,185 hectares (1,786,266 acres) reserve surrounds the
ruins of what may be the largest city built by the Maya, and
if you want to combine bird watching or treks with archaeology
- this is the place to start. It hasn't always been so accessible.
In 1993 the Mexican government paved a road through the forest
to facilitate excavations in the ruins. This road allows easy
access from Cancún or Mérida. And slowly this
reserve is being highlighted on the tourist trail. If you go,
the best time to visit is during the dry season that runs from
November through March.
If the road is new, so is the official reserve. In 1989 President
Salinas de Gortari declared Calakmul a biosphere reserve.
In a watershed agreement, Mexico's federal government transferred
the management of the reserve to the state of Campeche, which
agreed to jointly administer the park with the environmental
group Pronatura Yucatán. In 1993 the reserve became part
of the Man and the Biosphere Program. Calakmul will be joined
by Guatemala's Maya Biosphere Reserve and Belize's Río
Bravo conservation area to form the proposed international Maya
Peace Park, which will attempt to protect the remaining forests
in the Petén.
It's easy to visualize the scope of the reserve. From the
top of the pyramid here, you can see across the border into
There are more than 6,000 archaeological structures in Calakmul,
108 stelae, a mural 6 meters high, and two tombs. The Great
Acropolis of Calakmul is home to a ball court and a residential
area. Occupation dates from the pre-classic (70-600 B.C.) to
the classic period (A.D. 900). At its height, the city of 60,000
inhabitants was larger than either Palenque or Tikal at their
zeniths. The civilization crashed, some say, because of heavy
Ten endangered species of large mammals live in the reserve,
including five of the six felines found in Mexico. Nearly all
are nocturnal. You may come across their tracks but sightings
are uncommon. There are also anteaters, tapirs, white-lipped
peccaries, and two species of deer. At least 30 different species
of birds of prey, including the king vulture and ornate hawk-eagle,
make their home here, as well as the great curassow, ocellated
turkey, and another 300 species of birds. The count is climbing
as research continues.
Xpujil, occupied by the Maya since A.D. 400, serves as one
gateway to the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. The area does not
receive many tourists, but in 1993 cabaťas were built behind
the local restaurant. The ruins of the ancient city are on the
outskirts of the town.
There are numerous attractions nearby. The greatest concentration
of blue-crowned motmots in the Yucatán are found near
Xpujil. The Río Bec archaeological site is only 15 kilometers
(9 miles) south of Xpujil, but it's a two-hour drive by four-wheel-drive
vehicle. A few kilometers north of Xpujil is the town of Zoh
Laguna, which boasts a small zoo with native fauna including
an ocelot and pumas.