Mayan Seafarers

Mayan Seafarers

Christopher Columbus

During his fourth voyage to the New World in 1502, Christopher Columbus came across a heavily laden Mayan trading canoe near the Bay Islands in Honduras. Packed with cotton from the Yucatán, cacao from Belize and a variety of other goods from faraway places, the canoe is testimony to the size and importance of the Mayan trade empire.

The Maya were shrewd merchants who forged trade links with other Mesoamerican cultures in the Mexican highlands such as the Aztecs, and with their Central American neighbors, as far south as Panama.

One of their principal trade routes was the maritime route that skirted the Yucatán Peninsula and extended south into the Caribbean. Merchants used a network of overland routes and rivers to transport their cargo from the coast to cities far inland. During the Post-Classic period (A.D. 1200-1521), ports on the Mexican Caribbean coast including Tulum, Xaman-Há, Polé, Xel-Há, Muyil and Cozumel controlled the traffic of goods to and from the area.

Archaeologists have identified at least 75 trade goods, including honey, beeswax, salt, cotton, cacao, henequen, stingray spines, cinnabar, natural dyes, shells, jade, quetzal feathers, animal hides and ceramics. Mayan traders obtained obsidian and basalt, used to make knives and grinding stones, from central Mexico; turquoise came from the far north and gold was introduced to the area from Costa Rica and western Panama.

The Mayan deity associated with trade, cacao cultivation and war is Ek Chuah.

Archaeological Sites in Quintana Roo

Admission Fees

Tulum $51 pesos
Coba $51 pesos
Xel-Ha $37 pesos
Muyil $31 pesos

Source: INAH, subject to change without prior notice.