Dzibilchaltún (dzi-bil-chal-tun), which means "the place with writing on flat stones," is not a place you'd travel miles out of your way to see. But since it's not far off the road, about halfway between Progreso and Mérida, it's convenient and, in its own small way, interesting. Although more than 16 square km (6 square mi) of land here is cluttered with mounds, platforms, piles of rubble, plazas, and stelae, only a few buildings have been excavated. According to archaeologists, the area may have been settled as early as 500 BC, and was inhabited until the time of the conquest. At its height, there were around 40,000 people living at the site.
Scientists find Dzibilchaltún fascinating because of the sculpture and ceramics from all periods of Mayan civilization that have been unearthed. Save what's in the museum, though, all you'll see is the tiny Templo de las Siete Muñecas ("temple of the seven dolls," circa AD 500), one of a half dozen structures excavated to date. It's a long stroll down a flat dirt track lined with flowering bushes and trees to get to the low, trapezoidal temple exemplifying the late pre-classic style. During the spring and fall equinoxes, sunbeams fall at the exact center of two windows opposite each other inside one of the temple rooms, which is an example of the highly precise mathematical calculations for which the Maya are known. Studies have found that a similar phenomenon occurs at the full moon between March 20 and April 20.
Dzibilchaltún's other main attraction is the ruined open chapel built by the Spaniards for the Indians. Actually, to be accurate, the Spanish forced Indian laborers to build it as a place of worship for themselves: a sort of pre-Hispanic "separate but equal" scenario.
One of the best reasons to visit Dzibilchaltún is Xlacah Cenote, the site's sinkhole, whose crystalline water is the color of smoked green glass and is ideal for cooling off in after walking around the ruins.
Finally, also consider a visit to the Museo Pueblo Maya : small, yet both attractive and impressive. The museum (closed Monday) holds the seven crude dolls that gave the Temple of the Seven Dolls its name, and outside in the garden rest several huge sculptures found on the site. Museo Pueblo Maya also traces the area's Hispanic history, and highlights contemporary crafts from the region.
The easiest way to get to Dzibilchaltún is to get a colectivo (taxi-van) or a regular taxi from Mérida's Parque San Juan or from the main dock in Progreso, depending on where you are staying. In Mérida, the colectivos depart whenever they fill up with passengers or you can take a regular taxi which will cost about $15 one way. A taxi from Progreso will cost about $70 which includes round-trip transportation and two hours at the ruins.