Sian Ka'an Float

Quintana Roo, Mexico


It is often referred to as Muyil float because the river trip begins at the back of the Muyil ruins. The ruins are about 20 minutes' drive south of Tulum.


On the Chunyaxché river in Sian Ka'an with my husband in 2015.

On the Chunyaxché river in Sian Ka'an with my husband in 2015.

 

The ancient Muyil site sits on the inner of two interconnected lagoons, called Muyil and Chunyaxché. Chunyaxché (which is the older name for Muyil) means wide trunk of the ceiba tree. The Maya connected the lagoons to each other by a short canal; access from Boca Paila on the coast was through a river, which made Muyil an important inland port.

The canal was in parts natural and in parts built and remodelled by the ancient Maya right through the nature reserve Sian Ka'an, with wetlands and mangrove around it. It is maintained by their descendants today and these locals manage the tourism in this protected area as well; they are the only people who are licensed to take you on a boat trip here. Sian Ka’an, which means 'where the sky was born', is a truly pristine home to protected tropical vegetation and wildlife.

 
 

If you start with a tour of the Muyil ruins, you can then take a very attractive boardwalk through the jungle, all the way to the lagoon. If you decide to skip the ruins, you can reach the boats on an unsignposted dirt road just after the (well signposted) entrance to the ruins. It is a short 3-minute drive or 15-minute walk. You can also combine Muyil with a visit to Tulum ruins. In fact, you can take an ADO bus from Tulum right to Muyil.

 
With my son on the trip across the large lagoon at Xian Ka'an, on the way to Boca Paila inlet. 2015.

With my son on the trip across the large lagoon at Xian Ka'an, on the way to Boca Paila inlet. 2015.

 

The toll booth at Xlahpak point

Here the ancient sea traders would stop and pay a tribute (of goods) to the port of Muyil. But I read a couple of travel blogs where the authors claim that they were told by their local guides that this building was in fact used as a jail.

I can imagine that leaving the culprits to themselves in this wilderness may have been effective (although the prisoners could swim away?). In any case, it is intriguing because to my knowledge the Maya did not have prisons (see Tarlton, for example). Any other views?

Mayan judges were swift and the punishments were immediate. The laws covered almost every aspect of life. For example, to protect the class system, a common person was not allowed to decorate his house or dress in lavish clothes as a noble was. Regarding marriage, a man could have as many concubines as he wished, but only descendants of his original wife could inherit his estate. Divorce was allowed; the woman would get half of the couple's assets, and was free to re-marry. If you committed a lesser crime, your hair would be cut short. Short hair was a sign of disgrace. Some crimes considered serious would apparently include stealing crops, public drunkenness (except at a festival, or if you're over 70 years old), and murder. Some of the punishments were fines, or having all the possessions sold, or being sold into slavery.

 
 

While floating, I always try and imagine how the ancient Maya used these waters for canoeing all the way from the sea. They had no sails (they were unknown in Central America). How on earth did they paddle their canoes against the stream on the way into the Muyil site? They must have paddled; the canal is too narrow for oars pointing out sideways.

Did they use slaves for paddling? The intriguing image from Chichén Itzá (third photo below) doesn't tell us much about the structure of their canoes, but who are the dark-skinned passengers? And why is the paddler in the second boat looking at them so disapprovingly?

Well, rich merchants would have been able to buy a slave for 1,000 cocoa beans, and it was certainly cheaper than dragging goods overland, with no pack animals and no wheels. And what food did they take with them on the long sea journeys? Dried fruit and salted meat? Were there any deaths, rebellions and other disasters on the sea journey? And what other stories could the river tell us?

After the float, you will have to walk back to your boat across the wetlands for about 20 minutes. It's a pleasant stroll across the grassy 'savannah'.

 
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The boardwalk across the wetlands back to the boats at Xlahpak point

The boardwalk across the wetlands back to the boats at Xlahpak point

Try to spot a white egret!

Try to spot a white egret!

 

Mix & Match

One of the excellent options is to do the Muyil float trip after visiting the ruins of Muyil (Ruins). You could also come here after the ruins of Tulum (Ruins), if you are not hitting the beach of Tulum (Hammocks, Beaches). Best match options could be found in Where the Sky Was Born (Trips).

Sources:

1. Andrews, Anthony, Role of Trading Ports in Maya Civilization, 1990, University of New Mexico Press, Albuquerque

2. Tarlton Law Library, University of Texas: Aztec and Maya Law