Not many people have heard of the beautiful Mayan ruins of Becan. The abandoned city lies in a part of the Yucatan most travellers never venture to, and those that do are usually just in the area to make the long trip down to the amazing ruins of Calakmul. The huge Calakmul biosphere reserve holds more than just it’s namesake ruins though, there are dozens of other sites spread around the park: foremost of which is Becan. These ruins contain some impressive buildings, and are in a beautiful site surrounded by thick jungle. Best of all the site receives just a handful of visitors most days. If you love feeling like a true explorer you can’t miss this impressive site.
HISTORY OF BECAN
Becan is one of the oldest Mayan cities, with evidence showing the site was occupied as early as the 5th century BCE in the early Mayan pre-classic period. This makes the city two centuries older than Alexandria. By the second century BCE the site had grown into a large ceremonial centre, and around 200AD a huge moat and embankment were constructed. The name of the city is derived from this defensive moat, as Becan means “ravine formed by water”.
Becan was at it’s apex in the 6th _ 8th centuries, this was when most of the largest surviving buildings were built. The city was also the capital and beating heart of the Rio Bec region of the Mayan world. Rio Bec refers to a unique architectural style prevalent in the central Mayan lowlands. This style first appeared in the 7th century and continued until the 12th. Monument building at Becan itself suddenly stopped around 830AD, though the city was inhabited to some degree until 1200AD. Like most other Mayan cites it appears that Becan suffered a collapse, which allowed the ravenous jungle to reclaim the city.
The ruins were re-discovered in 1934 by archaeologists Karl Ruppert and John Denison. Extensive excavations of the site were first carried out in the 1970s, though thankfully most of the vegetation was left intact.
SIGHTS TO SEE
After you have followed the winding path through the jungle from the entrance to the first plaza, your attention will immediately be riveted on the large temple here. This eroded but still beautiful building is like something from a Tomb Raider game. There are numerous steps, ledges and walls you can climb up, over and jump across to explore the building. Just be careful not to fall, as there are no second chances here!
I was able to climb up the precarious steps at the front and pull myself onto the ledge at the top. From here it was easy to explore the passageways and chambers that lie inside. I even found a few bats dozing upside down at the end of one long, dark passageway. This is another one of the reasons this site is so good, you are able to climb through and over all of the buildings. It’s possible to spend hours exploring all the hidden chambers and obscure corners of temples here.
The two main attractions at Becan are without doubt the two pyramids in the central complex: structures VIII and IX. The pyramids have a rather different appearance to the pyramids at sites like Chitchen Itza, with structure VIII having large twin towers on top. The tallest pyramid is structure IX which is 32 metres tall and has a series of very steep steps leading to the top. Unlike at a few other sites in Mexico you are allowed to climb up the pyramids here. There is even a handy rope on the main pyramid to help less assured climbers reach the top.
The climb to the top of the pyramid was hot and sweaty with the afternoon sun beating fiercely down, but was worth it for the sublime views. From the summit I was able to look out on jungle that stretched to the horizon in all directions. As I sat on the top two huge eagles soared down and over me searching for prey. In the distance I saw several vultures above the forest, and heard the squawks of parrots from the trees below. These are the magical moments that make travelling to such remote areas extremely rewarding.
Admittedly, the site is nowhere near as remote or truly wild as Calakmul itself. The ruins are within a mile of the main highway, that cuts across the reserve like a scar across the otherwise unblemished face of a beautiful woman. Still it’s a remote area. I was able to sit on top of the main pyramid alone for twenty minutes taking in the scene, before two other guys scrambled up to the summit to admire the stunning view.
Moat and Walled Passegeway
One feature of Becan this is completely unique and fascinating to see, is the remnants of the moat that was built around the city. This moat is the only known defensive moat built by the Mayans. The remnants of the moat and wall stretch for 2km around the city through thick jungle. I didn’t see a single person when I followed the course of the moat around half of the site. The only sounds were the birds in the trees, and the occasional rustling of a monkey climbing overhead.
The feature at Becan I actually found the most interesting was the walled passageway between the western and central complexes. This passageway is the remnant of a covered walkway the Mayans used to get between the two main plazas, part of the centre even has it’s original roof remaining. It’s amazing to think it’s survived for over 1200 years in this environment. Walking along this passageway is very atmospheric, especially at twilight when the surrounding jungle comes alive with the sounds of the jungle. Needles to say I didn’t linger too long in the tunnel with darkness falling!
Becan turned out to be one of the unexpected highlights of my time in the Yucatan Peninsula. I’d never heard about Becan until a few days before going there, and no traveller or local I’d met had mentioned Becan either. The lack of expectations really helped make exploring Becan a superb experience. The site is beautiful and rugged, with the few areas partly cleared of vegetation adding a nice contrast to the wild, jungle covered ruins of the rest of the site. Being able to climb up all the buildings adds to the experience too, as you get more of a feeling for the place. Best of all is the complete lack of crowds here, it felt like I had the place to myself at times (which I actually did after 5pm).
Perhaps it’s for the best that the site isn’t more well known yet. In Mexico, new throngs of tourists at archaeological parks are usually followed closely by souvenir stands, increased admission prices and more regulation. Lets hope Becan stays off the radar for a long time.
Admission price: 50 pesos
Opening times: 8am-5pm. It’s easy to stay here later than 5pm. At 5pm the couple of staff who work there leave and there is no gate, so it’s possible to stay to watch the brilliant sunset and stars come out from the top of the pyramids.
Location: Becan lies in the centre of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Campeche State. It’s 6km from Xpujil town, close to highway 186 – the only major road in the entire region.
Getting there and away: If you don’t have your own transport then a taxi from Xpujil is the quickest option to get there. A one way fare should cost 30-40 pesos.
Some of the second or third class buses that leave from Xpujil heading west will also drop you by the turn off from the highway.
If you leave late at night then the only option may be to walk back to Xpuji or try and hitch-hike. The village of Becan is tiny and I spent 30 minutes waiting for a taxi to drive past.
Accommodation and Facilities: If you decide you want to sleep as close to the ruins as possible without actually camping out on a pyramid, then there is the Hotel Becan which is a 10 minute walk from the site. There are also a couple of other accommodation options in the area.
There are no shops, stalls or vendors of any kind at or near the entrance here, so bring everything you need with you.