You now can have Mayan ruins, once crowded with cruisers, all to yourself

Jun 30, 2021

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

This can’t last long. That, I know.

But, for the next few weeks at least, and maybe months, there’s an unusual experience to be had along the southern coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

As I saw firsthand on Tuesday during a visit to Costa Maya, Mexico — the normally bustling cruise port near Mexico’s border with Belize — you can have an entire Mayan ruin site almost to yourself.

I’m talking about Chacchoben, the still-being-excavated complex of large Mayan temples and massive platform groups about 43 miles inland from Costa Maya.

For more cruise news, reviews and tips, sign up for TPG’s new cruise newsletter.

Open to visitors since 2002, it’s normally jammed with cruise tourists on half-day tours from cruise ships visiting Costa Maya. But when I visited it on Tuesday, it was almost empty.

I was one of only 26 people to visit the site all day. In fact, I was also one of just 26 people to have visited the site all year.

There have been so few tourists to this part of the Yucatan since cruise ships shut down operations in early 2020 that they didn’t even bother to reopen Chacchoben to visitors until Tuesday.

The return of cruise ships

I arrived at Costa Maya on Tuesday morning aboard Celebrity CruisesCelebrity Edge — the very first cruise vessel to stop at the port since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.

In a normal year, Costa Maya is the second-busiest cruise port on the Caribbean side of Mexico, drawing more than 1 million cruise visitors a year. But right now, it’s essentially a ghost town.

A small tour group from Celebrity Edge had the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben entirely to themselves on Tuesday. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

More than almost any other tourist area in the Caribbean, Costa Maya and its environs rely almost entirely on cruise ships to deliver visitors. When cruise ships stopped arriving last year, the area’s entire economy essentially shut down. It’s now just starting to ramp back up in a very modest way.

For all of July, the port only is expecting only three cruise ship visits — two from Celebrity Edge and one from a Carnival Cruise Line vessel, Carnival Breeze.

In pre-coronavirus days, it often would get three cruise ship visits in a single day.

Nearly alone at a Mayan historical site

It wasn’t until we arrived at Chacchoben that I realized we would be the only people there.

The tour bus that had taken me and 25 of my fellow Celebrity Edge cruisers from the port of Costa Maya pulled up to a mostly deserted entrance area carved out of a jungle. There was a small, open-air souvenir shop that had opened just for us, with only a few sales people, and a bathroom with an attendant. But there were no other tourists in sight.

Our guide, Leticia Alonzo, led us down an empty path through stands of sculpture-like strangler fig trees to a clearing in front of a soaring, pyramid-like temple. Again, the area was completely devoid of tourists.

There was only a single small tour group at the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben on Tuesday. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

Stopping for a moment to let us soak in the magnificent structure, Alonzo talked about the complex culture of the Mayans who lived here more than 1,000 years ago, and the ritual practices of sacrifice that took place here.

Leading us farther into the site, down another jungle path with no signs of other humans, she pointed out large, tree-covered mounds that we learned were additional temples yet to be excavated. Nearby, she showed us low-lying structures that were the homes of Mayan nobles.

TPG’s Gene Sloan was one of just 26 visitors at the Mayan ruins of Chacchoben on Tuesday. The Mayan ruins of Chacchoben near the port of Costa Maya, Mexico. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

In the ruin complex’s most spectacular area, an opening in the jungle that was home to two large temples, she let us roam for a time on our own. We had the place completely to ourselves.

“This site really depends on cruise ships. We don’t really have tourists coming from other places,” Alonzo told me as the rest of our group wandered around the structures. “Unless we have cruise ships, we don’t really have tourists in Chaccoben.”

Alonzo suggested the area finally was waking up from a long, dark winter.

Celebrity Edge passengers depart the ship for a tour to a Mayan ruin. (Photo by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy)

“Many people lost their jobs,” she said of the months when no cruise ships came. “They did anything they could do to survive.”

For now, as I was seeing firsthand, the tourist arrivals here are just a trickle. Alonzo said Chacchoben used to get nearly 20 buses full of tourists a day.

“Today, we only had one,” she said. “But we had to begin with something. One was enough. One was good.”

TPG’s Gene Sloan is reporting live from Celebrity Edge this week as it sails to Mexico and the Bahamas. You can find all his dispatches from the ship at his author’s page.

Planning a cruise? Start with these stories:

Featured image by Gene Sloan/The Points Guy.



Delta SkyMiles® Platinum American Express Card

Earn 90,000 bonus miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new card in the first three months of card membership. Offer ends 11/10/2021.

With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.

Apply Now
More Things to Know
  • Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles and 10,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months. Offer expires 11/10/2021.
  • Earn up to 20,000 Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) with Status Boost® per year. After you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, you can earn 10,000 MQMs two times per year, getting you closer to Medallion® Status. MQMs are used to determine Medallion® Status and are different than miles you earn toward flights.
  • Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
  • Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
  • Earn 1X Miles on all other eligible purchases.
  • Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
  • Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
  • Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
  • Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees.
  • $250 Annual Fee.
  • Terms Apply.
  • See Rates & Fees
Regular APR
15.74%-24.74% Variable
Annual Fee
Balance Transfer Fee
Recommended Credit
Terms and restrictions apply. See rates & fees.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.