Naj Tunich

Cave in El Petén

When they were discovered in 1979, these caves created a stir in the archaeological world. Measuring 3km long, they're packed with hieroglyphic texts and Maya murals depicting religious ceremonies, art education, ball games and even sex scenes – though whether they're of a gay nature is a question still being disputed by anthropologists.

In all, there are 94 images, completed during the Maya Classic period. Scribes and artists traveled from as far away as Calakmul in Mexico to contribute to the murals.

The caves were closed in 1984 due to vandalism, reopened briefly, then closed permanently a decade later for conservation purposes. Fortunately, a superb replica has been created in a nearby cave. Reproductions of the murals were painted by local artists under the supervision of archaeological and cultural authorities.

Finca Ixobel runs tours to Naj Tunich and the replica site, traveling by Land Rover to the nearby community of La Compuerta, then continuing on foot to the cave. Proceeds from the tour go to development projects in local communities.

It's a tough call as to whether visiting a replica site is worth the extended journey to get there.


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