Temple of the Cormorants

An angled shot of Building 2 (Temple of the Cormorants) at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibanché in Quintana Roo, México:

Building 2 and steps

Dzibanché is an amazing little site to visit — it doesn’t get the press of the bigger sites (so there are never crowds), but it still has lots of interesting structures to see.

The Temple of the Cormorants is the site’s tallest structure, but sadly you can’t climb it.  Still, plenty to see from ground level.  This structure contains three burial chambers, one stacked atop the next in its core.  In the bottom one, archaeologists found the tomb of a member of the city’s elite, with a wealth of grave goods — including a polychrome vessel decorated with cormorants (giving the structure its modern name).

This shot’s taken from the northwest of the building — even from here you can see some of the structure’s many layers of construction, and you can just make out the stucco carvings under the sheltering roofs along the steps on its side.

Building 1

At the (fairly small) Maya ruins of Dzibanché in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

Dzibanché's Building 1

This is a nicely restored little pyramid, and since the site of Dzibanché isn’t all that frequently visited, you can have it to yourself for a while. It’s a quick day-trip from either Costa Maya or Chetumal, too — an easy and affordable excursion should you find yourself in the area.

Tulúm shoreline

Looking north along the shoreline at the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

Tulum shoreline

Tulúm may not have the best architecture compared to other Maya sites, but you’ve got to admit that its location can’t be beat for photography! And if you’re lucky enough to show up at low tide, the beach in this picture is open to swimmers and sunbathers.

Temple of the Descending God

A piece of fast construction at the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

Temple of the Descending God

The structure’s named for an odd little head-down figure above the door. Given the lack of cracks in the structure’s wall, it was apparently built leaning the way it currently does — so it’s thought to have been built for immediate use, not as something “for the ages” (much like modern shopping malls).

BTW, this little building is far beyond the ropes at the sight, so you need a longish lens to get any decent shots of it. Bonus points to readers who can spot the iguana in the picture…

Dzibanché’s Eastern Complex

Well, OK — I have a confession to make. I don’t really know what this section of Dzibanché has actually been named. I do know that it’s way out on the eastern end of the site, and has recently been restored.

Eastern complex

Unfortunately, this part of Dzibanché has been restored so recently that it doesn’t yet have interpretive signs, or even show up on maps at the site itself. But it was fun to wander aimlessly through — lots of courtyards and buildings, some still preserving scraps of their original plaster. And few have heard of the place, so should you visit, you’ll likely have it to yourself.

On the beach

At the ruins of Tulúm in Quintana Roo, Mexico:

On the beach

You can’t actually walk on this beach (it’s reserved for nesting sea turtles), but a trail through the site runs right past it — and it makes a great foreground for shots like this! The only real problem is that trash tends to wash up after storms, so you need to clone it out of your shot (since, obviously, you can’t walk out and get it off the beach).

House of the Cenote

At the ancient Maya ruins of Tulúm, México:

Tulúm's House of the Cenote

This was a tricky shot to get — bright sky above, and (dark, cave-like) cenote below. It didn’t turn out well as a multi-image HDR, for some odd reason — but tweaking a single image and running HDR on that did the trick. Amazingly, the structure at the top still has some of its original (500+ year old) plaster, in spite of being close to the cliff’s edge and the Caribbean.

Want to know more about photography in Tulúm? You might want to check this out


Building 6 at the Maya ruins of Dzibanché, near Chetumal in Quintana Roo, México:


Dzibanché is a bit of an odd duck — great things to see, but it’s sufficiently off the “usual” track for tourists that it doesn’t get many visitors. It doesn’t help, either, that basically all the tour guide books describe the road to the site as being a rutted dirt track (it’s narrow and crooked, but has been paved for at least 10 years).

Of course, the good news for those that *do* drive out to Dzibanché is that you’ll most likely have the place to yourself. Oh, and you can climb most of the pyramids here (unlike many of the more-visited ruins).

Building 6, by the way, is the first pyramid you see on your walk into the site. It’s also known as the “Palace of the Lintels” after some carved wood beams that were discovered here (sadly, they’ve been removed and replaced by more modern wood).

12 November update — by the way, if you happen to be planning a trip to the Yucatan, I’m in the process of releasing a set of 12 guides to Maya ruins. Oriented toward photography in the ruins, they only cost a couple of dollars each via Amazon’s Kindle store — the one for Dzibanché and its neighbors is described here. I’ve released two guides so far, the rest of the dozen should be out before the end of the year — so stay tuned!


You may not realize it, but this is a particularly odd structure in the Mayan world:


It’s a pyramid called Xaibe at the ancient ruins of Cobá in Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. The name comes from a Maya term for a crossroads, since it’s at the junction of four Maya roads — and it’s nearly unique in being a Maya pyramid with an elliptical (vs. rectangular) footprint. It *may* have been used as a lookout tower, but I’ve never seen anything resembling an authoritative statement on that.