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structure E-6 steve mellard
group K google maps
structure A-4 steve mellard
structure A-5 steve mellard
structure B-2 steve mellard
Structure P-1 detail karl herbert mayer
group F steve mellard
group C south end steve mellard
structure B-3 steve mellard
group F david de la garza
group D steve mellard
group G chapel david de la garza
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group P google earth
structure E-6 karla quinonez
structure A-1&8 steve mellard
XCARET-Quintana Roo, Mexico
Xcaret, small inlet in Maya, is an archeological zone located within the grounds of the Xcaret Theme Park. The name of the site has been identified from colonial sources as P’ole, a word that means merchants and trade in the Maya language, and was most likely its original name. The current name may derive from a local rancho that once stood on the site.
Xcaret is a costal settlement, and was an important commercial port, and embarkation point to the sacred shrine of Ix Chel located on the island of Cozumel/Tatun Cuzamil. Its apogee dates from the early part of the Post Classic (1150-1526 CE), and is mostly built in the East Coast Style as seen along the Caribbean coast at other sites such as Tulum, Xel Ha and El Meco.
The site is well placed along the coast as it features a protected cove that provided a natural harbor for the large trade canoes traveling along the coast and to the nearby island of Cozumel. Numerous foreign trade items recovered include polychrome ceramics, jade, obsidian, and quartz crystal. There are caves and underground waterways present that were of special ritual significance to the Maya. Fresh water cenotes are close by that provided the site with drinking water. Rejolladas, natural depressions containing fertile soil for crops and fruit trees, are also located within the area.
Xcaret is located about 47 miles/76 km south of Cancun, or 6.75 miles/11 km south of Playa del Carmen along the main coastal road, Highway 307. Turn in at the entrance to the theme park, and park in the parking lot. Look for the small INAH office window next to the Angels Arc near the theme park ticket entrance.
HOURS:8 A.M.-4:30 P.M.
ENTRANCE FEE: $5.00/90 Pesos, Xcaret Park charges an expensive, separate entry fee that you do not have to pay.
GUIDES: Required-you may have to wait if the guide is on tour. A $6/100 peso tip is recommended for the tour.
SERVICES: Bathrooms, Service kiosk, snacks & beverages
ON-SITE MUSEUM: no
ACCOMMODATIONS: Food and lodging can be found in Playa del Carmen or Cancun.
GPS: 20d 34’ 45” N, 87d 07’ 10” W
MISC: INAH entry is for visiting the ruins only, not the theme park attractions.
HISTORY AND EXPLORATION
Xcaret has a long history beginning in the Late Preclassic (250 BCE-250 CE). Colonial historical accounts indicate that the site was still inhabited at the time of the Spanish invasion. An early thatched roofed chapel was constructed by them, and is considered among the oldest colonial structures in Mexico, though only low foundation walls survive.
Ceramic shards and some low platforms reveal an early occupation from the Late Preclassic. There have been no stelae or other inscriptions recovered to identify its rulers or political relationships with other sites, though all the coastal sites were linked by trade. It is thought to have been a commercial port for the important inland site of Coba, and like its close neighbor, Xaman Ha, may have been under its political influence.
The site experienced an increase in population during the Late Classic (600-900 CE), and reached its apogee during the Post Classic with many of the structures dating from that era. This construction style is termed “East Coast Style”, and is represented by small shrines and flat-roofed temples constructed atop platforms. Entrances to some of the temples are between twin columns, and display recessed lintels. Interior walls were highly decorated with painted mural scenes.
Unfortunately, the ravages of time have destroyed nearly all of these beautiful murals. Earlier sub-structures at the site exhibit more uniformly finished stonework and are considered representative of the Classic Period. The overall quality of the stone work is considered rough by Classic standards, with the imperfections covered over by thick coats of stucco. Ceramics from the north of Yucatan are prevalent, along with ceramics distinctive of Cozumel.
Xcaret was an important participant of a trade route that extended south to Honduras, and north up and around the Yucatan peninsula to Veracruz. It connected with inland trade routes along the way that reached into the Peten, and farther into the Highlands of Guatemala. It was also one of the main embarkation points for pilgrims to travel by canoe to the important fertility shrine of Ix Chel on Cozumel Island. This traffic would have provided the site with a degree of renown and importance as pilgrims would have remained at the site for food, shelter, prayers, and later, transportation to and from Cozumel.
Xcaret had a similar status to that of the relationship between El Meco and Isla Mujeres further up the coast, and shared the pilgrim traffic with Xaman Ha just 3.4 miles/5.5 km to the north. In the Late Post Classic Xcaret appears to have been associated with Ekab, one of a dozen or so political entities within the Yucatan Peninsula.
The site was first reported on by Henry Spinden and Gregory Mason in 1926. E. Wyllys Andrews IV and Loring Hewen conducted investigations in the 1940’s. Anthony Andrews researched the site in the 1970’s. Between 1986 and 1992, archaeologists from INAH led by María José Con excavated and consolidated structures in several of the groups, work that is ongoing.
Xcaret is made up of numerous archaeological groups, most located within the Xcaret theme park. These groups include Groups A-H and Group K that are oriented on an axis about 56 degrees east of North. Group H is on Xcaret hotel property next door, and a single temple structure is on private commercial property about .5 mile/750 m further north. There are also other groups, including Groups M and P, located within the commercial enterprise adjoining the theme park. Group P requires a separate, advance notice INAH reservation. A brief description will appear at the end of this section. Group M is closed to the public.
Group A contains eight structures centered around a main plaza. A large temple structure, here called Structure A-1, is located on the east side of the main plaza. For clarity, the other structures are numbered 2-8 in a clockwise manner.
Structure A-1 is a two-tiered platform about 68 feet/21 m in length housing two structures separated by a narrow space on the upper tier terrace. The larger, single chamber structure on the south end has an entryway facing onto the plaza. A decorative upper molding is visible above the entryway. The single chamber structure on the north side of the terrace faces to the north and exhibits some nice geometric designs within the upper molding. Two separate stairways lead up to the terrace, an unusual feature also shared with another structure at Xcaret. An interesting, small opening at ground level is seen between the two stairways. This entryway has apparently not been explored by archaeologists. Two small altars are noticed in front of the structure which dates from the Classic Period (600-850 CE).
At the plaza level of Structure A-1 is a small, single chamber temple/shrine, Structure A-2, on the southside. This structure has an intact roof with a protruding medial molding, and faces west. Structure A-3 is the second largest structure of the group and is set on a low platform base in the southwest corner of the main plaza. It has a north facing stairway, and has been partially restored.
Structures A-4 through A-7 form around a small sub-plaza on the north side of the plaza. Structure A-4 is a roofless, single chamber temple on the west side of the sub-plaza, and has an east facing entryway, and a small terrace in front. Structure A-5 is situated in the northwest corner of the sub-plaza. It is a roofless, single chamber temple. Structures A-6 and A-7 are tucked away in a small corner on the northeast side of the sub-plaza. Both of these structures retain their roof and exhibit traces of red paint above the entryway lintels which face to the west. Structure A-8 is located on the northeast corner of the main plaza adjacent to Structure A-1. It is a single chamber temple/shrine with an intact roof and a south facing entryway.
Group B is composed of numerous platform bases, and is considered a residential area. Thirty-seven burials have been located within the group, most dating to the Late Classic.
The main platform structure in Group B, Structure B-3, is located inland about 353 feet/108 m to the northwest from Structure A-1. The distance between these two structures is a straight line that runs from the gap between the two temples atop Structure A-1 and the upper surface of structure B-3 and most likely across a buried sacbe. This sightline, about 144 degrees east of north, possibly referenced astronomical phenomena.
The B-3 structure is a large platform base measuring around 39 feet/12 meters x 51 feet/15 meters with a height of around 5 feet/1.5 meters. The remains of interconnected chambers ring the outside of the structure that once featured a corbelled vault. The northwest chamber exhibits a very small, interior shrine against a rear wall. The northeast side displays a now ruined stairway.
Directly in front of the ruined stairway is a small, square platform structure, Structure B-2, that has the rubble core remains of a temple/shrine on its upper surface, and steps on the southeast side. The other platform bases are lower in height, and found to the east and north of Structure B-3. Many of these are interconnected and are set around small courtyards and patios. All most likely held structures of a perishable nature.
Groups C-E, and most likely Group F, were separated from Groups A and B by a low wall that runs roughly parallel to the coast. This wall was more likely for a separation of space than for a defensive purpose.
Group C is located close to the coastline, and runs in a mostly north/south line. The most notable structure is in the north end of the group and has been partially restored. It is entered between twin columns and has two chambers. Several burials were located under the floor of the structure. There are numerous low platforms, most of which have a central set of steps. Two of the platforms at the south end of the group house the remains of masonry structures. Each of these two structures have a central stairway flanked by balustrades. Four of the other platforms are connected by a low wall and form a small courtyard around an altar.
Group D houses a nice pyramid with a height of around 33 feet/10 meters. A single chamber temple structure graces the summit and rests upon a secondary base. The temple is accessed from a plaza level, central stairway, and faces to the north. The masonry ruins of a small structure are adjacent to the pyramid.
Group E is a ceremonial complex located north of Group D, and has the tallest structures at the site. Structures E-1, 3 and 4 are set in a straight line, on a Northeast/Southwest axis, and are referenced here from right to left.
Structure E-1 is a nicely restored, single chamber temple structure set on a one-tier platform base of about 7 feet/2 m in height. A central stairway leads up to the intact temple. On the south side of the platform base are the remains of a single chamber temple, Structure E-2.
Structure E-3 is a partially restored two-chamber temple structure housed atop a seven-tier, circular pyramid base. This structure has an atypical double stairway leading up to the second tier. A single, central stairway ascends from the second tier terrace up to the temple. The temple structure is in a ruined state, and is entered between two single block, monolithic doorway jambs. Its height is about 36 feet/11 meters.
Structure E-4 has a circular pyramid base consisting of five tiers. A broad, single stairway leads up to a circular, ruined temple structure entered between two single block, monolithic doorway jambs. A small courtyard in front of the structure houses three smaller structures. On the righthand side of the courtyard is a small, roofless, single chamber shrine, Structure E-5. The masonry remains of a small altar structure is in the middle of the courtyard. On the far side of the courtyard is an intact temple structure, Structure E-6.
Structure E-6 has been very nicely restored, and contains two chambers, one inside the other. It sits on a low terrace with entrances on three sides. It once was brightly painted inside and out.
Group F is located north of Group E. The group houses three structures on a shared platform base measuring around 3.28 feet/1 meter in height. The principal structure features two chambers, the rear chamber exhibiting an altar/bench. It has a west facing entryway. The stairway leading up to the temple terrace is divided into two sections. The structure was once brightly painted in blue, red and yellow colors.
The other two structures of Group F are small, one-chamber shrines with one facing to the South, and the other towards the West. Both no longer display their roofs.
Running next to the two small shrines of Group F is a modern pathway overlaying an original sacbe that leads 595 feet/180 meters due East past Group G and ends at Group H on the coast.
Group G is a Spanish colonial chapel that still retains its low, masonry foundation walls. This chapel was once covered by a thatched roof. The upper walls were most likely constructed of wood poles and stucco. It runs on a southwest to northeast axis, with the main altar in the northeast end of the structure. The structure was built atop an early Maya platform and consisted of a single nave, with a semi-circular apse, and three altars. Over 160 colonial-era burials were located within the nave. It is considered one of the earliest colonial structures in Mexico.
Other 16th century religious structures have been identified on Cozumel Island, and at Cape Catoche. The church at Cape Catoche, Boca Iglesia ,was the first church (and settlement) built on mainland North America by the Spanish. It is currently in a ruined, but still architecturally appreciated state. A late 16th century church is also still standing within the Maya site of Oxtankah.
Group H is an intact, single-chamber, temple structure on the shoreline of the Caribbean Sea. It is a beautiful example of “East Coast” style construction. The temple sits on an axis of about 128 degrees east of North on a probable astronomical alignment. The structure rests atop a platform base about 30 feet/9 m x 36 feet/11 m, and 3.25 feet/ 1 meter in height. The single entryway faces to the sea and was accessed by an extended, central stairway demarcated by large limestone slabs. The weathered remains of a decorative element, possibly a mask are set above the entryway.
Group K is a single-chamber structure set on a low platform base. It is in a ruined condition featuring a portion of a corbeled vault. It is located close to the shoreline, and about 482 feet/147 m southwest of Structure A-1.
Group P/Calica/Rancho Ina
This area is on private commercial property and closed to the public unless advanced reservations are arranged, though not always granted. There are several groups and single structures located on the property, as well as fresh and salt water cenotes.
The most important group is Group P located inland about 1 mile/1.9 km to the west from Structure A-1. The group consists of three sets of structures that ring a large plaza.
The most notable structure is Structure P-1, Temple of the Columns. This structure is set on the southeast side of a large, raised platform that measures about 177 feet/54 m x 164 feet/50 m and includes two other structures. It is a three-chamber temple accessed between two now fallen columns. The inner shrine chamber is known as the Blue House. It is in excellent condition with the third chamber/sanctuary located within the shrine. The outstanding feature of the Blue House is the partially preserved, painted mural on the façade of the outside walls of the shrine which still exhibits colorful geometric designs and the remains of figures. Very impressive!
Three small shrines are located in the plaza in front of Structure P-1. Two multi-tiered platform structures, Structures P-4 & 5, make up the rest of the Structure P-1set. A large, fresh water cenote, Kaahú Hum, is located to the west of the plaza. A residential platform group known as the Cenote group is located in this area.
Across the plaza about 164 feet/50 meters to the east of Structure P-1is a 31 foot/9.5 meter high, five-tiered pyramid, Structure P-3, with a ruined temple atop its summit. A plaza-facing central stairway leads up to the summit temple. A small platform, Structure P-8, extends from the northeast side of the pyramid.
On the south side of the plaza is an irregular, large platform base roughly 228 feet/70 m square that houses five platform mounds.
Group M is a single chamber temple structure located due east of Group P on the coast. To the northeast of Group P is the Kisim nah/Stela Group. This single-chamber temple is set above a cave which would have held important ritual significance.
The Mulxchu Group/El Pueblito is a large residential area that dates back to the Preclassic. It is located across the Highway 307 from Group P, and contains sixteen principal platform structures, some housing masonry superstructures, such as temples.
Whether you are spending the day at the theme park, or just on a Road to Ruins adventure, Xcaret is easily reached, and well worth the visit.
structures A-1&2 steve mellard
group H david de la garza
group C north structure steve mellard
group G chapel altar steve mellard
structure F david de la garza
group B overview google earth
structure B-3 interior shrine steve mellard
structures A- 6 & 7 steve mellard
group C north end david de la garza
group A sub plaza francisco ortega
structure P-1 detail karl herbert mayer
structure A-3 steve mellard
group G chapel david de la garza
structure A-8 steve mellard
structure B-3 chambers steve mellard
structure A-1 steve mellard
group A structure A-3 erik hursever sanchez
structure E-4 steve mellard
stucco fragment museo cancun steve mellard
structure E-3 steve mellard
sacbe to group H steve mellard
structures E-3&4 steve mellard
group H steve mellard
structure E1 steve mellard
xcaret site map steve mellard
ceramic museo cancun inah
structure P-1 interior temple karl herbert mayer