Today, we’re checking out Xpujil in Campeche, a Mexican state with no shortage of dazzling remains of the Maya civilization. Although not quite as well-known as Calakmul, Xpujil has been gaining in popularity in recent years. Let’s take a closer look at this hidden gem!

The nearby modern town is of no particular interest, except for its proximity to the borders of Quintana Roo and Guatemala. It is easy to reach via Federal Highway 66 from the city centers of Chetumal and Escárcega.

Xpujil is a welcoming town with a population of just a few thousand; it's the perfect home base for exploring the many Maya sites nearby. There’s no shortage of them in the region. We're going to focus on the one that gives the town its name, but enthusiasts will also enjoy places like Balamcan, Chicanná, Becan, and Hormiguero.

A bit of history

Archaeologists believe that Xpujil may have been inhabited from the early Classic Period of Maya civilization, but most of the site’s architecture and artifacts seem to date from the end of the Classic Period. It began to decline in the 12th century, so by the time the Spanish arrived, there was hardly anyone left.

So far, no stele or other indication of the power relationship between the city and its neighbors has been found. People only began to explore long-forgotten Xpujil in the 20th century. To date, 17 structures are known, divided into 5 main groups. The site is relatively small compared to other Maya ruins but has yet to reveal all its secrets. The city gets its name from a native plant that means “cat’s tail.”

Unique architecture

Xpujil is considered to be in the Rio Bec style, distinguished by the presence of false temples in trompe-l'oeil, with steep, non-functional stairways and doors whose impractical construction remains a mystery to this day. The name comes from that of a Maya ruin in Campeche. While most Rio Bec constructions date from the 7th to 12th centuries AD, the region was occupied as far back as six centuries BCE, making it one of the earliest population centers of the Maya civilization.

Xpujil is unique in that it features a building, Structure I (also known as the Building of the Three Towers), which is not in the Rio Bec style. Although it has lost much of its original glory, it remains quite impressive, and is unquestionably one of the most beautiful towers in the region. An especially steep staircase makes it possible to climb to the top. It is now believed that the stairs were hidden and used during religious rituals to “magically” bring Maya priests to the top.