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Mayan Ruins Will Open To Visitors For The First Time Ever, Thanks To New Maya Train

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Officials are preparing to open the Ichabal Maya site for tourists in an unprecedented move, granting visitors the chance to explore the vast ruins for the first time ever. The Maya Train, the Mexican government’s flagship infrastructure project, will make it easier than ever before for tourists to gain access to the ancient site. The official opening is slated for sometime in mid-2023, just before the Maya Train is expected to be completed.

Aerial view of the ancient Ichkabal Maya site and forest

Ichkabal is a massive Maya archeological site in Bacalar, situated in the southern part of the Mexican Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, some 20 kilometers from the state capital, Chetumal. Authorities are currently busy sprucing up the area and conducting restoration efforts to prepare the site for mass tourism. Meanwhile, the arrival of thousands of visitors is expected to generate a steady revenue stream for the region, helping to further conserve the invaluable ruins.

Close-up of an ancient Maya site in Mexico

It’s all thanks to the Maya Train, a massive yet controversial infrastructure project which will see 1460 kilometers of train tracks built across several Mexican Caribbean states, including Quintana Roo. The ambitious plan is meant to boost tourist mobility in the region, giving visitors the chance to visit historical places like Ichkabal which have thus far remained off the beaten path.

According to the National Institute for Anthropology and History (INAH), workers are currently conducting extensive preparations to ensure the site meets the necessary conditions for mass tourism. Until now, the site has been closed to the general public, but this is set to change in the near future once the Maya Train is complete. 

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New Maya Train Track under construction

Ichkabal is one of 26 archeological sites included in the government’s Archeological Zone Improvement Program, also known as Promeza in Spanish, which is aimed at improving conservation efforts across some of the most important Maya monuments and ruins. Diego Prieto, the general director of the publicly-led initiative, says the main goal is to improve infrastructure and provide visitors with necessary services. 

tulum mayan ruin

Once complete in late 2023, the Maya Train is expected to bring thousands of daily visitors to some of the region’s most impressive Maya sites, including Ichkabal. As such, authorities have a tight timeline to complete conservation and restoration efforts, and officials are investing millions of dollars in ensuring everything is in order. 

The Maya Train is also expected to distribute tourism across the region, which is home to several dozen impressive historical sites. Currently, Tulum’s archeological site is the country’s third most visited, and authorities are concerned about the destination’s ability to cope with record visitor numbers. 

transport vans parked outside of Cancun Airport on a sunny day.

Ichkabal is located only 30 kilometers from the Bacalar station, where the 6th segment of the Maya Train begins. According to the INAH, Ichkabal is one of the oldest Mayan historical sites, reaching its maximum size in the first millennium, until it was eventually abandoned in the 14th century. Aside from Ichkabal, officials are currently improving a number of archaeological sites around Quintana Roo, including Palenque, Uxmal, Cobá, and Kohunlic, among others. 

Overview of several ancient Maya buildings and greenery

Although the Mexican Caribbean is best known for its stunning white-sand beaches and luxurious all-inclusive resorts, the region is also one of the most historical in Mexico and the Americas. Once home to the ancient Maya civilization, visitors can admire dozens of archeological sites and museums dedicated to the lifestyle, culture, and habits of the highly-advanced civilization.

Aerial view of the Ichkabal site in Mexico

History lovers should consider heading to Tulum, by far the most popular destination for Maya ruins, as well as Bacalar. Both locations are good bases for discovering the region’s vast history, although those staying in Cancun can opt for the Maya Museum

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Dee

Tuesday 3rd of January 2023

I'm very excited to hear about all the great destinations I want to see. I'm looking forward to the Mayan ruins. I can't wait to ride the Maya Train. 🇲🇽

Sue M

Sunday 11th of December 2022

I strongly oppose the Maya Train. It has destroyed native habitat, plants and animals that many visitors come to see. Those who planned and built the transportation routes ran it through and over fragile archaeological sites. What has been eliminated forever, in the name of Progress and easy accessibility can never be replaced. The cultural and natural heritage of the region is priceless, and going going, Gone! Flying in Cancun, every person who looks out of the airplane windows can see the increasing environmental destruction.

When I first came to the Yucatan, more than 30 years ago, I saw a flock of toucans at a then-undeveloped archeological site. They may still be around, though I've not seen them since. I prefer Natural magic to Theme-park magic.