Xel ha Travel Blog

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Xelha "inlet" is a small Maya site, south of the modern town of Playa del Carmen, Quintana Roo, Mexico and north of Tulum by approximately 11 miles on Highway 307. There are surviving Maya murals that should not be missed.

The area around Xelha was first occupied prior to 400 BC by farmers and fisher people forming small hamlets. Xelha grew into a locally important trading center by 100 AD. The first dwellings in Xelha date from 400 BC through 400 AD and were not monumental, but consisted mostly of houses made of thatch and wood. Later, between 400-700 AD a more complex and organized society developed that began to create masonry buildings in the style of the Peten and Belize regions. These buildings formed closed plazas and also several elite residential structures.
At that time, Xelha was a populous pre-Hispanic village. The archaeological evidence is inconclusive concerning a founding date for Xelha. It remained occupied until the 19th Century.

Xelha was one of several key ports controlled by Maya city of Coba; others included Tancah and Tulum. Tulum became a center of intercultural exchange between the Maya and other sea-navigating peoples between 600 AD and 700 AD. Spanish navigational records used Xel ha and it beacon  as a navigational aid.

Between 700 AD and 1200 AD Xelha had connections with other inner cities of central Yucatan. These ties are clearly displayed in the pottery and the styles of architecture of the site. From these periods until the arrival of the Spaniards in 1527, Xelha became part of the province Ecab.

Mural 1 is a series of red panels which frame two scenes separated by a column which you can see the glyph "Ahau" which means chief or lord and is the name of a day.
The composition includes two types of birds flying over a cage like building. One group of these birds belongs to a species of yellow parrots having short tails and yellow beaks; the other shows red birds with yellow wings, long tails and black beaks. This mural was done during the Early Classic (300 AD to 600 AD)

Mural 2 is divided into four rectangles. The first rectangle looks like a checkerboard with red, gray and yellow squares. The main motif is a huge anthropomorphic figure shown from the chest up and painted red, turquoise blue, white and yellow. The front view head is depicted with a headdress that has a horizontal strip with attached feathers and a spiral in the middle. The figure is wearing bracelets and necklaces. This composition is thought to have Teotihuacan style traits and dates from the Early Classic (300 AD to 600 AD)

The El Palacio encloses the southeast side of the plaza.
It is the result of several construction phases. The first is a rectangular base with rounded corners and sloped walls. There are two rooms that sit on this base. The west room has an entrance with two wide pilasters which form three door openings. The ceilings in both rooms were vaulted, but both are collapsed. Later two interconnecting rooms were added on the north side. The final construction phase is all of the rooms were walled over with large stones transforming the building into a large platform.

There are 2 cenote in the Xel-ha archaeological site. The larger of the two is toward the western edge of the ruins and has interesting ruin structures right next to it.

Xelha was used as a base camp by Spanish forces, during the unsuccessful first expedition (1527 to 1528) led by the conquistador Francisco de Montejo (the Elder).
Francisco de Montejo, had obtained a charter from the Spanish Crown in 1526 to pacify the Yucatán Peninsula. Francisco de Montejo and his small force crossed over from Cozumel and made it ashore at the at Xelha lagoons.

Francisco de Montejo started establishing the first Spanish settlement on the Yucatan Peninsula. Francisco de Montejo named this new settlement "Salamanca de Xelha" after his birthplace in western Spain. Francisco de Montejo planned poorly, soon the supplies he brought were inadequate for sustaining the venture.  Francisco de Montejo attempted to trade with and raid neighboring Maya settlements for food. His settlement lost fifty men within the first two months to disease and starvation.
  Francisco de Montejo ordered the scuttling of his ships forcing the group to remain. Eventually Montejo's group learned to supply themselves from the land sufficiently to start explorations expeditions from Xel Ha. Francisco de Montejo heading out with 125 men north towards Ecab near Cape Catoche. He returned after several months to Xel Ha with less than half of his men.  Francisco de Montejo found Xel Ha in similar number losing half their men in battles with the Maya or disease. These loses left Montejo with only about a third of his original complement.  Francisco de Montejo was saved by the timely arrival of his supply ship from Santo Domingo with provisions and reinforcements.  Francisco de Montejo sent out another expedition to the south towards the Maya township of Chetumal. This expedition also failed to gain any foothold, and within eighteen months of Montejo's first landfall on the Yucatán,  Francisco de Montejo abandoned Xel Ha.

In 1841, Stephens and Catherwood documented a stela dated 564 AD.
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Xel ha
photo by: Johnb42