The Ruta Puuc — “the Puuc route” in plain English — was a fuzzy concept in my mind until I was actually on the ground in the Puuc region, at which point all was revealed. So let me clear it up for you if there’s any doubt in your mind. The Puuc region is an area in the northeast of the Yucatan Peninsula. It’s crammed full of Mayan ruins, including Uxmal, one of the major archeological sites of the Peninsula. Puuc is also the name of a specific architectural style developed in that area. Here’s the skinny from the Wikipedia page on the region (here):
Puuc is the name of either a region in the Mexican state of Yucatán or a Maya architectural style prevalent in that region. The word “puuc” is derived from the Maya term for “hill”. Since the Yucatán is relatively flat, this term was extended to encompass the large karstic range of hills in the southern portion of the state, hence, the terms Puuc region or Puuc hills. The Puuc hills extend into northern Campeche and western Quintana Roo.
The term Puuc is also used to designate the architectural style of ancient Maya sites located within the Puuc hills, hence, the term Puuc architecture. This architectural style began at the end of the Late Classic period but experienced its greatest extent during the Terminal Classic period.
Just to be clear about where the region lies, here’s a map:
Everywhere you see a triangle in the map there’s a Mayan ruin. The orthography doesn’t indicate relative size, however — Uxmal is the Big Deal in the region, so it should have letters twice the size of any other site. Be that as it may, you can see from the number of triangles that there are Mayan ruins all over the place. That’s one of the attractions of the area. It’s certainly what drew me there.
The Puuc hills are exactly that — geological prominences that take on far more significance as hills than they otherwise would if they were not exceptions to the rule of land as flat as the proverbial pancake over most of the Yucatan Peninsula. I grew up with mountains and have always loved mountainous landscapes with an affection differently pitched than any attachments I may form to flatlands. When I drove from Merida (flat as a pancake) down to the Puuc region to begin my explorations of the Mayan sites I came at last to the hills — real hills! — and nearly stopped the car just to gawk at them. Contour in the landscape! Wow! How cool is that! I was immediately a fan and the Puuc region is my favorite of any area I visited during my two-week trip, even without the Mayan sites, which are also top-notch.
The “Ruta Puuc” is a tourism term that I thought originally in my ignorance applied to all the Mayan sites in the region. Wrong. It applies to four sites south of Uxmal — one along the main highway (No. 261) and three along another highway that branches off 261 south of Kabah. From the Wikitravel site on the Ruta Puuc (here) comes this handy list:
Mayan archaeological sites on the Ruta Puuc
- Uxmal – important Mayan spiritual center, it features the Pyramid of the Magician
- Labna – famed for its entrance arch, its Palace of Columns, and for an obelisk (Stele 9) that is believed to be a huge phallic symbol
- Loltún – a system of underground caves (cenotes) in which one can see evidence of Mayan ceremonial practices
I’ll fess up right at the beginning — I didn’t go to Kabah, which is right on the main highway. I spent so much time — and destroyed one pair of shoes — going through Labna and Sayil that I contented myself with seeing of Kabah what’s visible from the parking lot on the highway. Although I was tempted to go see the “Codz Poop” just to snigger at the name, the morning grass drenched with dew and the fact that I had only one pair of shoes left to last me through the rest of the trip made me think twice and choose to view things from the sidelines. Neither did I go to X’lapak, which seemed after the massively interesting time spent at Labna and Sayil bound to induce anticlimax. Besides, it’s nice to leave something unseen to give yourself an excuse for going back at some point in the future, right? I didn’t go to Loltun because I’d done the cenote thing and I’m not a spelunker. I like the sky above me and the sun shining, thank you very much. All these evasions turned out to be strategic, however, because both Labna and Sayil are astonishing sites providing such unique experiences that I easily spent all the time I had going through them. I don’t regret for a single moment having devoted all my time to them. The investment returned more than ample gain from both the aesthetic and experiential points of view. So, let’s begin at the beginning: Labna.
To tee things off I’ll provide some useful information from themayanruinswebsite.com, my go-to source for info on individual Mayan archeological sites:
Labna is a stunning, small Classic Maya site (600-900 A.D). It features pure Puuc style architecture such as colonnettes and mosaic designs. There was a reduction of population during the Post Classic(900-1200 A.D.), though some construction was undertaken. The site was abandoned around 1200 A.D.
The site was rediscovered by those intrepid explorers John Lloyd Stevens and Fredrick Catherwood in the 1840’s. Edward Thompson, American Counsel in Merida, conducted the first excavations at the end of the 19th century. Exploration, excavation and restoration work continues to this day.
I agree 100% with the word “stunning” in the first sentence. And I point out the last sentence: “… restoration work continues to this day.” There’s ample evidence of that fact, something I’ll point out in the pics.
I arrived at Labna from my hotel in Uxmal at opening time, about 9AM. I was the only visitor — something I hardly expected but welcomed with delight after dashing about Uxmal the day before skirting my way past the tour groups. Even more delightful is the ability to get right up to the buildings, something not possible at Uxmal. Once past the entrance and in sight of the first group of buildings I left the gravel path and crossed the grass to it. My feet were immediately soaked, since heavy dew collects on the ground during the night in the Puuc region. The pair of shoes I was wearing became the sacrifice I offered to Chaac :-). They certainly didn’t survive the experience, so I hope he was happy.
To the pics, at long last — here’s the first group: