Meaning "the place with writing on flat stones," Dzibilchaltún (dzi-bil-chal-toon) isn't 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 way, interesting. More than 16-square km (6-square miles) of land here is cluttered with mounds, platforms, piles of rubble, plazas, and stelae. Although only a few buildings have been excavated to date, scientists find Dzibilchaltún fascinating because of the sculpture and ceramics from all periods of Mayan civilization that have been unearthed. 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 here.
The site's most notable structure is the tiny Templo de las Siete Muñecas ("temple of the seven dolls"). 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 preclassic 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. Studies have found that a similar phenomenon occurs at the full moon between March 20 and April 20.
Another attraction is the ruined open chapel built by the Spaniards for the indigenous people. Actually, to be accurate, the Spanish forced indigenous 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, though, is Xlacah Cenote. The site's sinkhole, with crystalline water the color of smoked green glass, is ideal for a cooling swim after walking around the ruins. Before leaving, visit the small but impressive Museo Pueblo Maya, which contains the seven crude dolls that gave the Temple of the Seven Dolls its name. It also traces the area's Hispanic history, and highlights contemporary crafts from the region.
To reach Dzibilchaltún from Mérida, drive north on Carretera Mérida-Progreso; after 10 km (6 miles), turn right at the sign for the ruins and continue another 3 km (2 miles) until you reach a village. Just after you pass the village, take your first right toward the archaeological site. If you don't have a car, you can come by cab from Mérida (about M$350 one way) or Progreso (about M$1130, including round-trip transport and two hours at the ruins): alternatively, you can catch a colectivo (shared van) from Mérida's Parque San Juan or Progreso’s main dock.