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Balamku

Balamku is a small Mayan archaeological site located in the Mexican state of Campeche. Balamku is located 50 km north of the ruins of the great Maya city of Calakmul, approximately the same distance west of Becan and 60 km west of Xpujil.

The ruins lie within an area referred to by archaeologists as the Campeche Petén, upon a poorly drained karstic plateau. The ruins are bordered on the east and west sides by seasonal swampland, known as “bajos”.

The ruins are 3 km north of the highway running from Chetumal to Escárcega.

The ruins fall within a zone that is poorly understood by archaeology, to the west of the Río Bec stylistic region; the architectural style of Balamku has more in common with the Petén tradition to the south, although Río Bec influences are also evident.

It features elaborate plaster facades dating to the Early Classic period. It has one of the largest surviving stucco friezes in the Maya world. Its most important buildings date from CE 300–600.

The most outstanding discovery so far at Balamku is an almost intact 16.8-meter-long painted stucco frieze dating from CE 550–650.

Etymology

“Balam” means “guardian”, “protector”, “supernatural being”, and also means “jaguar”.

“K’u” means “temple”.

History

Balamku was occupied from about 300 BCE, in the Late Preclassic, through to the Terminal Classic period, between 800 and 1000 CE. The earliest architecture on the site is found in the Central and South Groups, dating to the Late Preclassic to Early Classic transition.

The ruins were discovered in 1990 by Mexican archaeologist Florentino García Cruz in the company of INAH custodians when they investigated a report of archaeological looting.

They found a looters’ trench that had partly uncovered a painted stucco frieze that had originally formed part of the upper facade of an Early Classic building.

After initial rescue work, the site was formally excavated from 1994 to 1995 by a team headed by Mexican archaeologist Ramón Carrasco including two French archaeologists, Claude Baudez and Jean Pierre Courau.

Carrasco and his Mexican team concentrated on the Central Group while the French archaeologists investigated the South Group.

The site

The ruins of Balamku cover an area of approximately 25 hectares. The site features a very low density of peripheral architecture around the principal groups; 100 meters away there are practically no further buildings.

Architectural Groups

The ruins are distributed in four major architectural groups. The Central and North Groups are situated close to water sources.

Central Group

The Central Group comprises three plazas, labeled Plaza A, B, and C.

Plaza A is situated at the southern extreme of the Central Group. It supports a Mesoamerican ballcourt and a number of mounds that have not yet been investigated archaeologically.

Plaza B is located in the northwestern sector of the Central Group. It is enclosed by Structure I on the north side, Structure IV on the south side, and structures V and VI on the east and west sides respectively.

Test pits have uncovered architectural remains dating back to the Late Preclassic, the earliest phase of operation at the site.

Plaza C is separated from Plaza B by Structure V. It is bordered by Structure II on its north side and Structure III on its west side. It is enclosed on its south side by a number of unexcavated structures.

South Group

The South Group comprises four plazas, labeled A through D.

Plaza A is enclosed by Structure D5-5 on its north side. Structure D5-10 limits its western side and Structure D5-11 encloses it on the south side.

Plaza B has Structure D5-5 on its eastern side. Structure D5-10 is on the south side of the plaza and Structure D5-7 encloses the northern side of the plaza.

Plaza C is bordered by Structure D5-4 and Structure D5-6 on its east and south sides respectively.

Plaza D is enclosed by Structure D5-1 on its eastern side. Structure D5-2 limits the south side of the plaza and Structure D5-3 closes the plaza on the west side.

Southwest Group

The Southwest Group consists of two structures that together form an E-Group astronomical complex.

North Group

The North Group has not been excavated by archaeologists although it has been mapped. It consists of six plazas bordered by structures, some of which are over 15 meters tall.

Structures

Structure I is located in the Central Group.

Excavations of an earlier substructure (Sub I-A) have uncovered a stucco frieze stylistically dated to between the 4th century BCE and the middle of the 6th century CE, although radiocarbon dating of the lintel of the structure returned a date of 631 AD ± 30 years.

The frieze was first uncovered by looters and was fully excavated under the direction of INAH.

The complete frieze measured 16.8 meters long when excavated and stood 1.75 meters high. The frieze combines the imagery of rulers with that of a sacred mountain. The frieze is preserved almost intact; it is protected by roofing and is accessible to visitors.

Structure D5-5 is located in the South Group between plazas B and C. Two burials were excavated in the structure, one of them was an elite status individual.

Structure D5-10, in the South Group, is built over two earlier structures dating to the Late Preclassic.

Structure D5-11 is located in the South Group, on the south side of Plaza A. It dates as far back as the Late Preclassic and is one of the earliest known buildings at Balamku.

How to get there

There is a bus from Escarcega (1,5 hours) or from Chetumal (around 3 hours).

Also is possible to reserve a tour with a transfer from Campeche or Chetumal local agencies.

Balamkú is located in the state of Campeche 5 km from the highway entrance into the Calakmul Ruins on Hwy 186.

The ruin entrance is 3 km from the highway. You can access Hwy 186 from either the City of Campeche (Hwy 180 to Hwy 186) or from the Riviera Maya and Costa Maya (Hwy 307 to Hwy 186)

This is an overnight visit if you are traveling from the Riviera Maya. Tulum is 390km from the site, Playa del Carmen is 450 km from Balamkú. In the Costa Maya, Bacalar is 175 km, and Mahahual is 270 km from the Balamkú site.

Entrance & Tourist tips

Entrance

Monday through Sunday from 8:00 to 17:00.
Entry price: 45 pesos for a person.

Recommendations

Wear light clothing. Hormiguero is in the jungle, so can be hot and muggy.
In the months of June, July, and August, it is a good idea to use insect repellent and bring rain gear.

Please plan to arrive at the site one hour before closing in order to have enough time for your visit.
Suggested visiting time: 2 hours

It is possible to combine Balamku with a visit to Xpuhil, Rio Bec, Hormiguero, Becan, and Balamku as all 5 sites can be easily visited in one day.

Services

Parking, sale of publications, service unit, toilets, palapas, grills, and camping área.

Tourist Assistance + Emergency Numbers

You can dial 078 from any phone, where you can find free information about tourist attractions, airports, travel agencies, car rental companies, embassies and consulates, fairs and exhibitions, hotels, hospitals, financial services, migratory and other issues.

Or dial the toll-free (in Mexico) number 01-800-006-8839.

You can also request information the email correspondencia@sectur.gob.mx

MORE EMERGENCY NUMBERS:

General Information: 040 (not free)

National Emergency Service: 911

Radio Patrols: 066
Police (Emergency): 060
Civil Protection: +52(55)5683-2222
Anonymous Complaint: 089

Setravi (Transport Mobility): +52(55)5209-9913
Road Emergency: 074

Cruz Roja: 065 o +52(55)5557-5757
Firefighters: 068 o +52(55)5768-3700

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