Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Yucatán archaeological site has been abandoned, residents claim

An archaeological site in northeastern Yucatán that state authorities believed would spur tourism has been forgotten, according to residents of nearby communities.

The Yucatán government announced in early 2018 that the commencement of the final stage of restoration work at Kulubá – an ancient Mayan city set amid jungle in the municipality of Tizimín – was imminent. The site opened to the public later the same year, but more than four years later, not all of the planned work has yet been completed.

“Kulubá will be the 18th archaeological zone that Yucatán will have, and we will allocate significant investment to it because we hope that it will spark the tourism potential of the east of the state,” Saúl Ancona, the state’s former economic promotion minister, said in January 2018.

Rolando Zapata Bello, Yucatán governor between 2012 and 2018, said in March 2018 that he expected Kulubá to enjoy similar success to the Ek Balam site, which opened in 2000 and went on to become the state’s third most visited archaeological attraction.

Buildings at Kuluba Maya site in Yucatan
This image of Kulubá was a Photo of the Day on INAH’s website in 2020, but otherwise, it’s not well promoted. Few people know it exists. INAH

But four years later, the only visitors that reach Kulubá are intrepid adventurers because the access road is in poor condition, residents of nearby rural communities told the newspaper Por Esto! 

The residents recalled that Zapata visited Kulubá in 2018 and announced an investment of approximately 18 million pesos (about US $877,000 at today’s exchange rate) to carry out restoration work at the site, which includes structures including pyramids and a large palace. At the time, the state government signed an agreement with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) to collaborate on restoration projects at Kulubá and other Yucatán archaeological sites.

The residents also recalled that the then governor said that local Mayan people would benefit from the opening of Kulubá, located about 40 kilometers east of the city of Tizimín. However, the ruins are now forgotten, Agustín Mex, a local agricultural worker, told Por Esto!

While the site is open – entry is free – residents noted that the planned restoration work hasn’t been completed.

restoration at Kuluba Maya site in Yucatan
The site opened to the public in 2018, but more than four years later, not all of the planned restoration work has yet been completed and access is difficult. INAH

They also said that plans to promote Kulubá as a tourist attraction never came to fruition, possibly due to the change of state government in late 2018, when National Action Party Governor Mauricio Vila succeeded Zapata, who represented the Institutional Revolutionary Party. With few tourists visiting, the opening of the site hasn’t generated any employment opportunities for locals, the residents added.

Adventurous tourists who make it to Kulubá will find plenty to explore. There are some 400 structures at the site, which was once within the sphere of influence of Chichén Itzá, the imposing ancient Mayan city near Valladolid. They include 15-meter-high pyramids and a palace east of the main plaza that was discovered just three years ago.

The palace was likely used by the elite of Kulubá, INAH said in late 2019, adding that relics found in and near the structure suggest that it was occupied between the years 600 and 1050 AD. Some of the other structures are still covered by vegetation, including large trees.

INAH archaeologist Alfredo Barrera Rubio acknowledged that more work needs to be done to restore the site and improve access given that the road is currently in terrible condition. The residents didn’t express any optimism that those projects would be completed anytime soon.

Google Earth view of Kuluba archaeological site, Mexico
As Google Earth’s satellite imagery reveals, Kulubá is mostly surrounded by thick jungle. The only way there is an unpaved access road.

With reports from Por Esto!

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