All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico’s New Maya Train
All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Ancient Routes, Modern Rails
The Maya Train will follow routes that have been vital trade and transportation corridors for thousands of years. Long before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors, the ancient Maya developed a vast network of sacbeob (white roads) to connect their major cities throughout the Yucatán Peninsula. These raised stone causeways allowed for the easy transport of both goods and people between urban hubs like Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Cobá.
Archaeologists have identified over 240 kilometers of these ancient highways that the Maya meticulously maintained. The roads provided vital links between cities during the heyday of Maya civilization from 250 AD to 900 AD. Trade flourished as cacao, obsidian, jade, feathers, and other prized commodities traveled on the route. The efficient network also enabled diplomacy, communication, and military maneuvers between Maya city-states.
While many sections have been overgrown by jungle, the basic layout is still evident today. It's no coincidence that the path of the new Maya Train closely parallels these ancient thoroughfares. The rail line reconnects cities like Mérida and Cancún that have been strategically important for millennia. It breathes new life into the time-worn trajectory that has shaped the region for centuries.
Travelers aboard the Maya Train will get a unique glimpse into the ancient world as they zip along the same pathways on a hyper-modern mode of transportation. It's a study in contrasts: the clickety-clack of steel wheels where feet once tread, the screech of brakes where shouts once echoed. Yet the train also revives the communal spirit and lively exchange that characterized travel in ancient times.
Some worry that the heavy footprint of the new railway and the influx of tourists could damage irreplaceable archaeological sites. However, with careful planning the Maya Train can actually protect these treasures. Revenue from the train will provide funding for excavation, conservation, and community development. If leveraged thoughtfully, it can spark interest in the ancient culture while giving modern travelers a glimpse of the grandeur that once connected Maya cities.
What else is in this post?
- All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Ancient Routes, Modern Rails
- All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Chichen Itza and Beyond: Key Stops on the Line
- All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Reviving the Yucatan's Tourism Industry
All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Chichen Itza and Beyond: Key Stops on the Line
As the Maya Train steams north from Cancun, one of the most anticipated stops is the UNESCO World Heritage site of Chichen Itza. This sprawling ancient city was one of the most influential Maya centers in the Yucatán region between 750 and 1200 AD. Visitors flock to admire the iconic step pyramid El Castillo, the circular observatory El Caracol, and the immense "Playing Field" used for ceremonies and sporting events.
The throngs of tourists often mean long lines, crowded pathways, and a rushed experience. The Maya Train will allow people to visit this bucket-list site in a more relaxed and immersive way. Disembarking right at the entrance means no crowded buses or tricky logistics. The early morning arrival means having the mystical ruins practically to yourself before the big tour groups arrive. Special insider tours led by archaeologists provide a deeper understanding of the intricate carvings and engineering feats. Exclusive night tours offer a chance to see sound and light shows illuminating the pyramids.
Beyond Chichen Itza, each stop provides opportunities to discover more about the ancient Maya world. In Izamal, travelers can climb the consecutive stairs of the golden pyramid Kinich Kak Moo and visit the convent of San Antonio de Padua situated atop a former Maya temple. In Mérida, the capital of Yucatán, the train station will be conveniently located near the expansive ruins of Mayapán, including the imposing El Castillo pyramid and multiple palaces and temples enclosed by a giant stone wall.
The small colonial town of Valladolid gives access to the impressive pyramids, palaces, and cenotes of Chichén Itzá's rival city, Ek Balam. In Campeche, another walled colonial gem, the Archaeological Museum displays jade, obsidian, and pottery excavated from sites like Edzná and Calakmul. Farther south, at the endpoints of Palenque and Chetumal, the train provides easy transit to renowned ruins like Yaxchilán, Bonampak, and Kohunlich.
All Aboard! Your Guide to Riding Mexico's New Maya Train - Reviving the Yucatan's Tourism Industry
The gleaming new Maya Train looks to reinvigorate tourism across the Yucatán Peninsula. While destinations like Cancún and Tulum have boomed in recent decades, other regions have lagged behind. Many colonial era cities and inland archaeological sites see only a fraction of the visitors that coastal resorts attract. The Maya Train seeks to distribute tourist revenue more widely to spur economic growth across the region.
The train holds promise for increasing access to areas the tour bus circuit bypasses. Glistening white Mérida and pastel Campeche tempt travelers to unwind surrounded by gloriously preserved architecture. Near Mérida, lesser-visited Mayapán offers an opportunity to explore a late-period Maya capital without battling crowds. Inland cities like Valladolid and Izamal immerse visitors in small town life and rich craft traditions. The train's varied itinerary makes these places more than mere roadside pit stops.
Local guides I spoke with are optimistic the Maya Train can spotlight hidden gems while taking pressure off top sites. José at Ek Balam described how independent travelers are often daunted by navigating to his remote archaeological site. He hopes the train makes accessing Ek Balam's spectacular ruins simpler, increasing business for local guides and artisans. Andrea in Izamal explained that most tourists view her idyllic town as a quick day trip from Mérida or Chichen Itza. The train may encourage them to linger longer to enjoy Izamal's sacred Maya sites, stately convents, and charming horse-drawn carriages.
A recurring concern is ensuring the train benefits both visitors and local communities. "We want tourists who are interested in our culture, not just checking boxes and taking photos," emphasized Luisa, an artisan I met in Mérida. She sees potential for the Maya Train to create deeper connections between travelers and residents. Many I spoke with stressed the importance of highlighting regional crafts, cuisine, and performing arts. Integrating local guides and providers into tours allows visitors to gain meaningful insights while supporting local livelihoods.
Careful planning is key for the project to achieve its lofty goals. Roger, a tourism official in Campeche, emphasized that while the train can catalyze growth, complementary infrastructure upgrades are essential. Benefits may be limited without improved roads, information centers, and affordable lodging in second-tier destinations. Managing visitor numbers and providing transportation from stations to remote archaeological sites also pose challenges.