structure B-1 erick martin dal campo
structure B-1 steve mellard
structure C-4 steve mellard
structure C-20 erick martin del campo
structure C-22 erick martin del campo
decorative blocks in storage steve mellaed
structure C-15 steve mellard
structure C-4 david de la garza
structure A-1 palace of the "U's" erick martin del campo
mot mots erick martin del campo
structure B-1 marcia kirby.
serpent head (now in museum) steve mellard
group A site map alfredo barrera rubio
structure A-1 palace of the "U's" detail marcia kirby.
structure B-1 salvaged facade david de la garza
structure A-1 steve mellard
structure C-22 erick martin del campo
structure A-2 steve mellard
structure B-1 rear facade hjpd
structure C-5 mound david de la garza
Kuluba is a seldom-visited, Maya archaeological zone located in northern Yucatan State. The structures seen today mostly date from the Late Classic (600-900 CE), and are set among a few meandering cow paths and dirt trails. It has had some nice restoration efforts and is now slowly being overtaken by the sub-tropical forest to help in its overall conservation. Spider monkeys, deer, and Mot Mots (colorful, long-tailed birds) have been observed. The 578 acre/234 hectares site is locally promoted and has a small INAH presence. The site was purchased by INAH in 2019.
From Cancun, take the Highway 180 Libre (not the toll road) to Nueva Valladolid and look for the signage to Holbox. Once in Kantunilkin look for signage to Tizimin/Highway 15 west to Colonia Yucatan. Midway between Colonia Yucatan and Tizimin, around km23, look for signage to Tixcancal. Take the paved road (Highway 27) south for about 5.7 miles/9.2 kms passing through the small village of San Pedro. Look for a small sign, Kuluba, and make a left onto an unpaved road, currently in poor condition, for another 1.2 miles/2kms to a small rancho, E. Manuel, on the north side of the road.
From Valladolid the total distance is about 31 miles/52 km. Travel north on the Highway 295 to Tizimin, then west on the Highway 15 to the turnoff at Highway 27/Tixcancal. Follow the above directions from this point.
Before reaching the rancho you will literally pass the front door of an old hacienda building. You will notice the Palace of the U’s on the right-hand side just prior to arriving at the rancho. Usually the caretaker, Willy, is near the gate to let you into the site. If he is not present he is probably leading a tour, and you would need to wait for his return. On my most recent visit (June 2023) we were the only ones there. You must first sign the register book and pay the $3/50 peso entry fee. A small palapa contains some nice architectural elements from the site including a carved slab of unclear design. You can only enter the ruins with a guide. If you want to experience how ruin sites looked forty years ago, this is the place.
HOURS: no set hours, but figure around 8A.M-4P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: there is a $3/50 peso entry fee
GUIDES: required, a tip of about $6/100 pesos per person is recommended
ON-SITE MUSEUM: No
ACCOMODATIONS: Tizimin or Kantunilkin are the nearest towns; day trip from Valladolid, Merida or Cancun
GPS: 21d 06’ 54.48” N, 87d 50’ 46.32” W
MISC: Bring your own food, and especially drink. Wear hiking boots or similar, long pants, and bring insect repellant.
HISTORY AND EXPLORATIONS
Ceramic evidence attests to an early occupation back to the end of the Late Preclassic (250 BCE-250 CE), though no structures have yet been discovered. No stelae have been recovered to provide information regarding the history of Kuluba’s rulers or of its economic/political associations with other sites. There have been two hieroglyphic steps, and a short glyphic text discovered though the information concerning the texts has yet to be made publicly available. It is believed that Kuluba controlled a group of smaller sites within a 9 mile/15 km radius, and may have had access to the salt pans that are on the north coast.
The standing structures are mostly from the Late Classic Period (600-900 CE). They show a strong Puuc influence, c.800-850 CE, having small drum colonettes, Chaac masks, and zig-zag stone mosaic decorations. There have been suggestions of a political/economic link to Ek Balam during this time frame.
Recent excavations have revealed two structures, ceramics, and a cache found in Group C that have architectural and artistic similarities to Terminal Classic (900-1150 CE) Chichen Itza. These finds have demonstrated that Kuluba was most likely conquered by Chichen Itza in the Terminal Classic and became an enclave of that polity. The site was abandoned at the end of the Terminal Classic, though it later became a pilgrimage destination.
It has been determined that cocoa production was carried on at the site. Cacao trees were grown in the Yucatan within rejolladas, natural depressions containing fertile soils, that protected them from the elements. This was an important crop for the Maya. It was made into a chocolate beverage used by the elite, and the seeds were used as a form of currency. This form of currency persisted well into the 1800’s. In Nicaragua, cacao as currency was only officially demonetized in the 1880’s, and I have heard reports of its use in the early 1900’s.
While Kuluba was certainly known to the local population, it wasn’t until 1941 that E. Wyllys Andrews IV visited and first reported on the site. The next investigation was carried out in 1970 by students from the University of Yucatan. E. Wyllys Andrews V conducted field work in 1973. INAH began consolidations and restorations during a major project in 1980 carried out by Ricardo Velazquez Valadez. Alfredo Barrera Rubio of INAH led investigations and consolidations in 2001. Recent investigations, restoration and conservation efforts, especially at Group C, were again carried out by Alfredo Barrera Rubio between 2019-2021.
There are three main groups that make up Kuluba, Groups A-C, and are oriented a few degrees east of north. Groups A and B have a similar layout with the principal structure on the north side of the plaza, and a grouping of structures on the east side of the plaza. A single structure or two are on the south side of the plaza. For the most part, site maps show the west side open. Group C is centered around a large plaza and is the largest of the three groups. There are other individual structures and small groups within the archaeological zone.
Group B is formed around a central plaza. The most notable structure here is a wonderfully preserved palace, Structure B-1/Palace of the Masks, located on the north side of the plaza. The structure is mostly intact, and exhibits a very high vaulted ceiling reaching a total height of about 30 feet/9 meters. It is set upon a large, raised “L” shaped platform, and runs around 154 feet/47 meters on an east/west axis. It has 6 chambers with only the east and west rooms collapsed. The chambers have benches which would indicate a residential function. The upper façade of the front of the structure has fallen away revealing the interior rubble core. The rear of the structure features an outstanding upper façade of Chac masks separated by decorative stone mosaics. The whole structure features a ring of decorative drums at its base. An impressive section of a huge Chaak mask mosaic was removed during restoration work and is now kept under a protective thatched canopy in front of the structure. Several pairs of Mot Mots call the palace home.
Adjacent to the palace on the east side of the plaza platform is a structure, Structure B-3, perhaps of a civic/administrative nature. It contains 5 rooms that face towards the plaza. A decorative ring of geometric designs and drums runs along the base of the structure. There are 2 mask panels that adorn the lower portion of the wall facing the plaza. A terrace is in front of the structure that extends to a set of ruined steps that descend to the plaza level. This area is heavily overgrown. Behind Structure B-3, and to the south, the platform encompasses several overgrown structures. Further to the southwest are two smaller mound groups exhibiting some restoration, but currently closed to visitors.
Group A is located to the northwest of Group B at a distance of about 800 feet/245 meters, back towards the rancho. It is centered around a large plaza. The main structure here is a well-proportioned 6 room palace type structure, Structure A-1/a, also known as the Palace of the “U’s”, so named after its decorative rear façade. The rear wall is completely faced with “U” shaped blocks some still retaining a deep red paint. It has been suggested that the blocks represent scales of the reptilian earth monster. The front upper façade has mostly fallen away, though the remains of decorative stonework masks are still visible on the lower section.
The structure lies on the north end of the plaza, and has 5 south-facing entrances. Like the palace in Group B it runs on an east/west axis. The two west and the two east rooms are interconnected length wise. The central entrance leads back to a second room, the whole structure forming a truncated “T”. It is set upon a platform with a small terrace in front that features an altar. A set of steps leads down into the plaza. The west side of the plaza does not exhibit any structures.
Behind the palace is a small courtyard ringed with low platforms. Two hieroglyphic steps, since removed, were set into a small patio directly behind Structure A-1. The text of the steps have yet to be made publicly available. This structure is a good study on Puuc style construction techniques.
In front of the palace can be found a ruined structure, Structure A-2/b, on the east side of the plaza. It shares the same platform, and retains some low foundation walls with the remains of eight interior columns arranged in two rows. Behind it, and to the south, the platform houses a dozen or so small mounds set around two courtyards with one mound, Structure 5/e, displaying the remains of masonry walls. This whole area is heavily overgrown. Off to the southwest are a few, small mound-covered structures. A sacbe has been identified that runs from the south end of the platform towards Group C.
Group C is the largest group at the site, and is considered the civic/ceremonial heart of the site. This area has been recently restored and opened to the public. It features 20-odd structures set around all four sides of the Main Plaza that measures around 236 feet/72 m x 285 feet/87 m. This area is still heavily forested and extends into the center of the Main Plaza with many structures obscured in dense vegetation. A family of Spider Monkeys inhabit this area. Several structures have been recently cleared from the forest and restored. The most notable structure is Structure C-4.
Structure C-4, Palace of the Pillars, is a very impressive, large range type structure that is set upon a low raised terrace that houses other smaller structures. It has a length of about 180 feet/55 meters and lies along the west side of the Main Plaza. It is about 49 feet/15 m wide with a current height of around 20 feet/6 meters. A grand stairway extends the length of the structure facing onto the plaza. The summit of the platform houses a single gallery that runs from end to end of the structure. The gallery was entered between fifteen free-standing pilasters that once supported a long ago destroyed roof. This structure is very similar in design to Structure 44 at Dzibilchaltun and the Nohoch Na at Edzna, though on a smaller scale, and may have been used for civic/administrative functions. The fact that these three structures are so similar suggests that architectural designs were a shared knowledge among the Maya at the time. How this knowledge, including pyramid construction, the corbeled vault and other designs, was disseminated from one independent polity to another is a most intriguing thought. The rear of the structure does not display any stairs, or ornamental architecture.
A second structure is located directly in front of Structure C-4 at the terrace level and intrudes into the grand stairway. This structure is of a later date and is named the Palace of the Itza’s. It has two rows of 6 square columns that opened into a long, single chamber. This structure has been identified as a Terminal Classic construction built by the forces of Chichen Itza most likely to demonstrate its authority over Kuluba. The south side of the raised terrace has a small platform accessed by a north-facing stairway.
The south side of the Main Plaza is taken up by a very high pyramid mound, Structure C-5, maybe 33 feet/10 meters or so and totally shrouded in dense forest vegetation, as are the rest of the mounds along the south side.
The northwest corner of the Main Plaza features a similar pyramidal mound, Structure C-3, also entangled within the forest. The same can be said of the other mounds that line the northern edge of the Main Plaza including a pyramidal mound, Structure C-1. This is the tallest structure at the site. It is hard to make a clear determination, but a height of 39 feet/12 meters is a good approximation.
The center of the main plaza features a large circular platform, Structure C-22/Platform of the Deposits, about 3 feet/1 meter in height with a diameter of about 30 feet/9 m. It has a stairway on its east and west sides. The platform houses the remains of two altars with steps, and two chultuns/pits which could have held food stuffs perhaps in a ritual context.
Located within the Main Plaza are two other structures, Structures C-20 and C-21. Structure C-20 is a rather large, square platform with a west facing stairway. It is about 13 feet/4 m square and 6.5 feet/2 m high. A small round altar is positioned in front of the stairway. An unusual protruding ring extends around the east side of the structure in a “U” shape at plaza level. Structure C-21 is a much smaller two-step platform with a south-facing stairway.
Structures C-17-19 are small mounds located in the northeast corner of the Main Plaza next to Structure C-1. The east side of the plaza houses three structures with Structure C-15 being the main structure.
Structure C-15 is a five-chamber palace structure that has been partially restored. It still retains a portion of a corbel vault over the center chamber. A small terrace extends outward from the center chamber incorporating a stairway. Within the center chamber a patolli gameboard has been observed etched into the stucco floor though wasp nests make it inadvisable to enter the chamber.
To the southwest of the Main Plaza is Structure C-7. This structure is similar to the Palace of the Itzas in that it has two rows of square columns that once supported a roof and was accessed between the front row of the columns into a single chamber. This area has not yet been opened to visitors.
It is reported that to the west across the main road is a site with three structures known as Bolonchen. Some standing structures were observed in the distance atop a low ridgeline and may be those reported. It is on private property and will be an investigation for a later time.
Kuluba is a great site to visit not only for the nicely restored structures, but for its natural forest setting.
updated July 2023
structure B-1 erick martin del campo
structure B-3 2023 steve mellard
structure C-4 erick martin del campo
structure C-20 rear steve mellard
structure C21 steve mellard
structure A-1 mask #2 erick martin del campo
share your photos with us
structure B-3 front detail hjpd
group C site plan alfredo barrera rubio
structure A-1 glyph steps hjpd
structure B-1 david de la garza
group B site plan alfredo barrera rubio
structure B-3 detail steve mellard
spider monkys erick martin del campo
welcome to the mayan ruins website .
structure C-15 interior erick martin del campo
structure C-15 erick martin del campo
structure A-1 mask erick martin dal campo
structure A-1 interior steve mellard
group B erick martin del campo
group B drone image erick martin del campo
structure B-3 2015 steve mellard
structure B-1 rear david de la garza
structure B-3 during restoration 2001 hjpd
structure C-4 steve mellard