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Becan Campeche

Becán Archaeological Site

Becán is a beautiful site with large structures from the Classic era of Maya civilization. Although way off the radar of most tourists, it is actually not far off the beaten path, in a cluster of ruins in southern Campeche. The site gets 100 visitors on a blockbuster day; maybe five to ten intrepid travelers on a slow day. There are many more reasons to visit this wonderful archaeological site, but these will do for starters.

Regional capital of the Rio Bec area, Becán came to power after the fall of Calakmul to its rival Tikal (located in northern Guatemala). The city was surrounded by a dry moat, with earthen ramparts on the inside. More than 126,000 cubic meters (4.4 million cubic feet) of earth was moved to create it. Although most sources call this a defensive structure, the official INAH brochure I picked up on site suggests that this “moat” was part of the city’s elaborate water catchment system. In Yucatecan Mayan, Becán can be roughly translated as “road left by running water.”

Outside of this moat were living quarters, granaries, smaller temples, and other structures associated with daily living. Within, on 25 hectares, was the inner city accessed only by important people, including the ruling family, priests, and high-level officials.

Ceramic shards and other evidence tell us that Becán was first populated around 600 BC, and that the height of civilization was between AD250 and 900: the Classic Era. After that time the centralized government lost power to nearby cities. At the time of the Spanish conquest, Becán had been reclaimed by the jungle.

This site was rediscovered in 1934 by Americans John Denison and Karl Ruppert, doing Maya research for the Carnegie Institute in Washington, DC. Becán has some 680 ruined structures, most of which have not yet been explored. But those that have are monumental and inspiring. Their architectural style is typical of others in the region. The Río Bec style is characterized by walls with rounded corners, twin towers, and false stairways. The Chenes architectural style of central Campeche is seen in the remnants of giant zoomorphic masks representing the earth god Itzamná, which adorned building exteriors in stucco and limestone mosaics. Stone walls measuring between 1.2 and 1.5 meters thick kept interiors cozy: neither too hot nor too cold. An extensive irrigation system utilized hydraulics to move and store water for times of drought.

Unlike Chichén Itzá and Palenque, Becán’s sights are concentrated within a relatively small area. And unlike those very popular sites, most of the structures at this relatively obscure ruin can still be climbed. There’s a great view of neighboring Xpujil from the top of Building VIII.

Surrounding three plazas are buildings in various stages of repair that once housed the ruling family as well as rooms dedicated to their self-sacrifice (blood-letting), religious observations, and ceremonies. Maya priests scanned the heavens from twin towers in Structure I, on the south side of Plaza A. This building was constructed near the beginning of the city’s occupation and was successively modified over the centuries. On the north side of the square, Building IV’s northern façade was originally decorated with huge masks of stone mosaic, only remnants of which remain after almost 1,000 years of wear and tear.

Surrounding Plaza B are other magnificent buildings, most notably Building VIII, with vestiges of an Itzamná mask. Its other architectural elements are mainly Río Bec style: including false stairways and rounded towers. In addition to housing for Becán elite there were rooms dedicated to rituals such as self-sacrifice, prayers, and fasting. Archaeologists learned a good deal about the site from a cache of 15 ritual vessels recovered in adjacent Building IX, the tallest structure on site.

Becán is within the protected Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, 723,185 hectares (1.7 million acres) of tropical forest connecting the drier, shorter jungles to the north with those of the Petén region, of Guatemala. As well as harboring small human settlements and a half dozen archaeological sites, this vast jungle provides refuge for many of Mexico’s endangered animal species, including cats like the puma and the jaguar, and increasingly rare birds such as toucans and macaws.

The site is open seven days a week from 8AM to 5PM. The entrance fee is currently 42 pesos. It’s free on Sundays for nationals and Mexican residents.

Getting There

Because there are many sites to visit in the area, a car is the most convenient way to visit, although buses from Campeche, Campeche and Chetumal, Quintana Roo will get you to the Xpujil bus station, and you can grab a taxi from there.

If driving, Becán is easily accessible from both Chetumal and Campeche City. Federal Highway 186---which connects Escárcega, the small transportation hub of southwest Campeche State with Chetumal---is flat and well-maintained. It’s about equidistant between Becán and Chetumal (130 km/78 miles) and Escárcega (150 km/90miles). Add about 148 km (92 miles) from Escárcega to Campeche City.

From Campeche City, take Hwy 180 south to Champotón and continue of Hwy 281 to Escárcega. Bear east on Hwy 186 east toward Chetumal, Quintana Roo. The site is a few kilometers west of (before) Xpujil, the nearest town of any size. For lodgings we recommend Hotel Chicanná Ecovillage (www.chicannaecovillageresort.com). There are simpler lodgings in the small town of Xpujil.

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