Are you staying at The Royal Islander? Did you know that you have an ancient Mayan temples and a museum on your doorstep? That’s right, the San Miguelito archaeological site is in the jungle in front of the resort and the Cancun Maya Museum is a fascinating introduction to the Mayan civilization. It is well worth a visit during your stay.
Designed by leading Mexican architect, Alberto García Lascurain, the Cancun Maya Museum has more than 1,350 square meters of exhibition space divided into three galleries.
The first gallery focuses on the history of ancient settlements in the state of Quintana Roo and begins with exhibits on the region’s earliest inhabitants, thousands of years before the Maya. It features a video representation of what life must have been like for nomads like the Woman of Naharon whose 13,499-year-old skeleton was found in a flooded cave in the Tulum area, along with the remains of sabre tooth tiger and other creatures that the men of the tribe would have hunted. This find, and others like it, are offering a glimpse of life in the Yucatán Peninsula in prehistoric times when sea levels were lower, temperatures were colder and the caves were dry. They are forcing experts to rethink their ideas on how and when the Americas were first settled and where the clans of hunter-gatherers came from.
The remainder of the gallery’s exhibits showcase the state’s most important ancient Mayan sites, from the great city-states of the golden age of the Maya such as Dzibanche, Kohunlich, Cobá and Chacchoben to the later ports and trade enclaves of Tulum, Pole and the sacred island of Cozumel. Displays feature artifacts unearthed during excavations, including ceramics, stone and jade carvings from the pre-Classic, Classic and post-Classic periods of Mayan history and objects dating from the Colonial period and the 19th century Caste War. Items to look out for are polychrome vases from the Temple of the Owls at Dzibanche in southern Quintana Roo, jade and gold trade goods found at Tulum and clay figurines depicting the diving god, jaguars, turtles and birds.
The second gallery is dedicated to different aspects of Mayan culture such as art and architectural styles, religion and rituals, warfare, agriculture and the importance of cacao, hieroglyphic writing, and trade throughout the Maya World and Mesoamerica. It features exhibits of sculptures, ceramics, masks and jewelry from archaeological sites in the neighboring states of Yucatán and Campeche and further afield in Chiapas and Tabasco. Of note are stone figures from Chichen Itza, incense burners from the Site Museum in Palenque in Chiapas and clay tiles covered in ancient graffiti from Comalcalco in Tabasco, the westernmost city in the Maya World and the only one built with clay bricks, not stone.
The third hall hosts seasonal exhibitions of Mayan art.
Located in the Hotel Zone at Kilometer 16.5 of Kukulcan Boulevard opposite Captain’s Cove restaurant, the Cancun Maya Museum is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., closed on Monday. Admission includes entry to San Miguelito.
On departure from the museum, it’s a short stroll to the site of San Miguelito in the jungle. Dating from AD 1250-1550, it consists of four clusters of stone platforms that would have been crowned by thatched dwellings, palaces, the vestiges of a temple with traces of the original decoration and a pyramid that is thought to be associated with the larger site of El Rey nearby.