Ruinas Xel-Ha

Nestled in the jungle across from the lagoon of the same name, the ruins of Xel-Ha offer a secluded peek into a small, but significant coastal Mayan community.  The name “Xel-Ha” means “lagoon”, or “mixing of the water” in Mayan, and was once an important maritime port, serving as the starting point for frequent Mayan pilgrimages to the island of Cozumel, accessible only by canoe.  Originally named for Ixchel, the Mayan goddess of fertility, young men and women traveled to the island of Cozumel prior to marriage to perform ceremonies for abundant fertility.   

The earliest structures in Xel-Ha date as far back as 100 BC, but most development took place between the Early and Middle-Classic periods (300-700 AD).  Structures and artifacts from the Late Post-Classic period (700-1200 AD) reveal ties that developed between the community and other cities of the inner Yucatan.  Xel-Ha probably remained a thriving village until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1527. 

The ruins themselves stretch through an expanse of jungle among a variety of flora, interspersed with abundant ceiba trees.  This tree, easily identified by its thorny bark, was considered sacred in Mayan culture as the tree of life; it’s sprawling surface roots representing our connection to the underworld and wide-reaching branches signifying our connection to the world of god and space above. 

The ruins consist of several widely spaced groupings.  A circular bath area boasts a painting of the feline honey god, Ah mucen kab; while much of the painting has worn away, some of the original red paint is still visible.  Two other similar murals can be viewed at another grouping. 

The original sacabe, or white road, is a beautiful walk which still stretches from within the ruins out towards the first of two beautiful cenotes.  Along side of this first cenote lies a small cluster of structures, highlighted by the painting of a descending jaguar.  This figure represents the descending god of the underworld, or Xibalba, linked by Mayans to cenotes and oceans. 

The real magic of ruinas Xel-Ha, though, lies in their seclusion; here you will often find yourself the only visitor, and feel as if you have discovered a treasure of the ancient world.  Wander the shady paths and watch for the large iguanas which bathe in the sun or skitter along the ground; look towards the trees for an abundance of birds which populate the area.  Be sure to treat yourself to a cooling dip in one of the freshwater cenotes, and lose yourself in the beauty of the jungle!