Kohunlich lies only a few kilometres west of Chetumal.
The place got its name from the North American Raymond Merwin, who rediscovered the Mayan ruins 69 km west of Chetumal in 1912. It was first a composition of Cohoon, the English name of the corozopalm, which is common here, and the term ridge for the typical landscape formation here. The archaeologist Victor Segovia, who worked here in the seventies, finally transformed “Cohoon Ridge” into Kohunlich.
Kohunlich is famous above all for its large stucco masks, which are protected by thatched roofs in the Temple of Masks. Moreover, it lies beautifully in a shady wood so that one is not exposed to the scorching sun during the visit – unlike in many other Mayan ruins. On most days very few visitors come here and you have the place almost to yourself.
The first settlement of Kohunlich dates back to the late Pre-Classic period (300 BC – 250 AD). During this period low platforms were built around Plaza Ya’axná, which were covered with monumental buildings during the early classical period. Kohunlich’s most famous building, the Temple of Masks (Templo de los Mascarones), also dates from this period. It takes its name from the eight large stucco masks painted in black and red on a mampostería-style base, five of which have been preserved. Four of these masks seem to represent human figures with attributes associated with the sun god, while the fifth represents a jaguar. However, the majority of the buildings and structures still preserved today date from the late classic period (around 600-900 AD), when Kohunlich also reached its largest population.
These buildings include the Plaza de las Estelas, the Las Vías complex (Conjunto de las Vías) of civil and ceremonial buildings, the Conjunto Noroeste (Conjunto Noroeste), and two residential buildings called Conjunto Pixa’an and Conjunto de Los 27 Escalones (group of 27 steps).
At or near the main road 186, which connects Chetumal in east-west direction with Escarcega, there are some Mayan sites worth seeing. These include (from east to west) Rio Bec, Xpujil, Becan, Chicanná, Hormigüero and Calakmul. Kohunlich is the easternmost, i.e. closest to Chetumal. For those interested in the Maya, this region is an inexhaustible treasure trove, as here, in a relatively small area, one can visit important Mayan centres of the various historical epochs and architectural styles, which are located far away from the tourist flows and yet can be reached in a short time by rental car. While Calakmul is the most important as well as the most remote of the sites, for which one should estimate a whole day, Chicanná and Xpujil are directly at the main road and are ideal for a visit in the late afternoon.