The remains of a once prosperous Mayan city lie within the southern hotel zone of Cancún. It is an ideal destination for those who wish to sample the historical delights of the area without travelling for hours. The whole site can be covered in half an hour, though many like to take their time amidst the peacefully magnificent surroundings. Animal lovers and children alike will adore the wild iguanas and exotic birds, which make their homes there.
The ruins of this Mayan city lie within the grounds of the Hilton Cancún to be precise, though it is open to the general public too. Stretching over two plazas, visitors can stroll amongst 47 structures, reading plaques in English and Spanish, which describe precisely how it would have looked in its pre-Hispanic hey-day. Existing murals show life as it was when this was a bustling city; while a glyph has been identified as Ahau, denoting nobility. The most stunning feature is the temple. The largest building remaining, it is shaped as a pyramid, topped with a platform, and it was here that the site's most significant discoveries were made.
The original name of El Rey is unknown. Its current name derives from the greatest artifact found there, El Rey (The King), which now resides a short distance away in El Museo Arqueológico de Cancún (The Archaeological Museum of Cancún). The eponymous sculpture depicted a human face complete with an elaborate head-dress. It was buried along with several precious stones, jade, ceramic pieces, copper, shell and bones. As recently as 2006, the skeleton of a Mayan male was uncovered in the outskirts of the park.
Research at the the El Rey ruins suggests that the town was first settled around 300 BCE, but there is little evidence left of those wood and palm buildings. Between 200-1200 CE, the area was home to several small settlements, which possibly traded salt and fish throughout the Caribbean Sea. The ruins seen today date from 1330-1500 CE, the Late Post Classic era, when trade boomed, bringing wealth along the Eastern Coast of Mexico. El Rey was now a small city, boasting of three palaces.
However, the 16th century brought Spanish invaders and the dismantlement of the trade routes. It is believed that El Rey was left to the mercy of pirates, in the unhabited, unprotected ocean. Western visitors had also brought with them plague and other unknown viruses. Survivors would have fled further in-land and their city was left to ravages of nature. This ancient jewel of Cancún was only rediscovered in the 20th century, when developers took their machetes to the jungle and found the ruins underneath.
Nature still has its place in El Rey. The site is home to wild iguanas, those number can rise to over 100, depending upon the time of year. They are friendly and visitors with children may wish to bring food to feed the iguanas.
Recommended items to take:
* Money. It costs approximately 37 pesos ($3) to gain entrance. A optional extra is the hiring of a tour guide within for 148 pesos ($12), who can give a detailed history of the area, as well as demonstrating a vast knowledge of the Mayan people generally. Tours last for around an hour. Without the tour guide, the site can be easily covered within half an hour by reading the plaques in front of each of the ruined buildings. There is no time limit on how long you can stay in there, so rush around or wander to your heart's content.
* Camera. The site has amazing views over the Caribbean Sea, stunning archaeological remains and iguanas. You might want to take a picture.
* Refreshments. The ticket shop does sell bottled water, but there are no cafes nor tourist shops. There is a free public washroom though.
* Treats to feed the iguanas. The Green Iguana Society has an excellent food chart to advise on the best fruit or vegetables to take. Many sites advise bananas, but while the iguanas will flock to devour these, they may not be the best choices for their on-going health. Especially if every tourist feeds them with banana. Better choices are: Alfalfa; peeled, cored and shredded butternut or kobocha squash; chopped catcus leaves (pickly pear); chicory greens (escarole), endive leaves, turnip or dandelion greens cut into strips with their stems discarded; chopped collard or mustard greens; green beans; crushed mango; dahlia or nasturtium flowers and leaves; chopped okra; shredded papaya or parsnips; chopped snap peas; mashed yucca root (cassava); or whole wheat bread. Choose one and take it. The iguanas will love you forever.
* Sunscreen and/or a hat. The site can be quite exposed, so if you are prone to sunburn or overheating, please pack some protection. Sheltered areas do afford some respite from the sun, if you are getting too hot.
* Bug spray or insect wipes. The site has been hewn out of a jungle and nestles now amongst the mangroves, therefore there are mosquitos.
The site does contain some reasonably steep steps, which may be problematic for those with young children in prams or the mobility impaired. However, once the steps are conquered, the lower plaza is relatively flat.
Blvd Kukulcan Km 17
Zona Hotelera Cancún 77500