Ticul, 30km east of Uxmal, is the largest town in this ruin-rich region. It’s dusty and quiet, with few signs of nightlife other than perhaps a few watering holes. But it has hotels, restaurants and transportation, so it's a good base for day trips to nearby ruins. (It's not as attractive a jumping-off point as nearby Santa Elena, though).
These ruins, 23km southeast of Uxmal, are right astride Hwy 261. The guard shack/souvenir shop/office sells snacks and cold drinks. The bulk of the restored ruins are on the east side of the highway. On entering, head to your right to climb the stairs of the structure closest to the highway, El Palacio de los Mascarones (Palace of the Masks).
The Ruta Puuc (Puuc Route) meanders through rolling hills dotted with seldom-visited Maya ruins sitting pretty in dense forests. A road branches off to the east (5km south of Kabah) and winds past the ruins of Sayil, Xlapak and Labná, eventually leading to the Grutas de Loltún.
Ticul to Tihosuco
The route from Ticul to Tihosuco, in Quintana Roo, is seldom traveled by tourists. Some might say there’s nothing to see. But others will welcome the opportunity to travel through farmland and jungle and see glimpses of Maya life that have remained the same for centuries.
Grutas de Calcehtok
The Calcehtok caves are said to comprise the longest dry-cave system on the Yucatán Peninsula. More than 4km have been explored so far, and two of the caves’ 25 vaults exceed 100m in diameter (one has a 30m-high ‘cupola’). The caves hold abundant and impressive natural formations, human and animal remains and plenty of artifacts, including cisternlike haltunes.
Cenotes de Cuzamá
Three kilometers east of the town of Cuzamá, accessed from the small village of Chunkanan, are the Cenotes de Cuzamá, a series of three amazing limestone sinkholes accessed by horse-drawn railcart in an old henequén hacienda. The fun, horse-drawn ride will jar your fillings loose while showing you attractive scenes of the surrounding, overgrown agave fields.
The church in Tekax has been looted a couple of times, initially during the Caste War and later during the Mexican Revolution. The Tekax area is increasingly prosperous (due to a successful crop switch from corn to sugarcane and citrus), and its residents recently replaced the church’s damaged floor with a beautiful tiled floor and added a lovely new stone altar.
Oxkutzcab is renowned for its daily produce market and colonial church. Markets were the principal means of trade for the ancient Maya, and the peninsula’s indigenous people still travel from the countryside to central communities to exchange produce at stalls beside a main square. Oxkutzcab is such a community.
Archaeologists have been excited about the ruins of Oxkintok for several years. Inscriptions found at the site contain some of the oldest known dates in the Yucatán, and indicate the city was inhabited from the Preclassic to the Postclassic period (300 BCE to AD 1500), reaching its greatest importance between AD 475 and 860.
Ruinas de Mayapán
Though far less impressive than many Maya sites, Mayapán is historically significant – it was one of the last major dynasties in the region. The site’s main attractions are clustered in a compact core, and it is one of few sites where you can ascend to the top of the pyramid. Visitors usually have the place to themselves.
Located inside the state of Quintana Roo, Tihosuco, was a major military outpost for the Spanish during the late 16th century and for 300 years thereafter. During this time the town came under numerous Maya assaults, and in 1686 it was attacked, though not sacked, by pirates led by legendary Dutch buccaneer Lorencillo.