People use ropes to scale the stairs at the Becan Maya Ruins.


The Maya word for ‘canyon’ or ‘moat’ is becán, and indeed a 2km moat snakes its way around this must-visit Maya site. Seven causeways provide access across the moat to the 12-hectare site, within which are the remains of three separate architectural complexes. A strategic crossroads between the Petenes civilization to the south and Chenes to the north, Becán displays architectural elements of both, with the resulting composite known as the Río Bec style.

The elaborate defenses surrounding the site allude to the militaristic nature of the city, which, from around AD 600 to 1000, was a regional capital encompassing Xpujil and Chicanná.

Enter the complex via the western causeway, skirting Plaza del Este on your left. Proceed through a 66m-long arched passageway and you will emerge on to the Plaza Central, ringed by three monumental structures. The formidable 32m Estructura IX, on the plaza’s north side, is Becán’s tallest building – though the sign says not to climb it, a rope is provided and there's a steady stream of visitor traffic ascending and descending. Estructura VIII is the huge temple on your right, with a pair of towers flanking a colonnaded facade at the top. It’s a great vantage point for the area; with binoculars, you can sometimes make out Xpujil's ruins to the east. Across the plaza from VIII is Estructura X, with fragments of an Earth Monster mask still visible around the central doorway. You can climb Estructura X, but it's tricky to descend it on the other side, so if you're facing Estructura X, walk to your right around it, which will take you on to the west plaza, with a ritual ball court. Walk through the ball court and go left to check out the encased stucco mask on display.

Follow around the right side of the mask to another massive edifice, Estructura I, which takes up one side of the eastern plaza. Its splendid south wall is flanked by a pair of amazing Río Bec towers rising 15m. Ascend the structure on the right side and follow the terrace alongside a series of vaulted rooms back to the other end, where a passage leads you into the Plaza del Este. The most significant structure here is Estructura IV, on the opposite side of the plaza; experts surmise it was a residence for Becán’s aristocrats. A stairway leads to an upstairs courtyard ringed by seven rooms with cross motifs on either side of the doorways. Finally, go around Estructura IV to complete the circle.

Becán is located 8km west of Xpujil, 500m north of the highway.