Inscription year 2002 Country Mexico



The Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul clearly represents exceptional conservation value on both natural and cultural grounds. Culturally, the city highlights the interchange of influences for more than twelve centuries in the Maya region, and includes numerous vestiges, such as royal tombs, of a bygone civilization. The natural component of the property equals the cultural splendour with first-class examples of neotropical forest types and some of the best preserved forests in Mexico. This naturalness goes someway in explaining the high levels of species richness found within the property including several high profile species of conservation concern such as the jaguar Panthera onca and the tapir Tapirus bairdii.




Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche


2002: The Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche was inscribed on the World Heritage under cultural criteria i, ii, iii and iv.

2014: The World Heritage property is extended an inscribed as a mixed site with the additional natural criteria of ix and x. The property is now referred to as the Ancient Maya City and Protected Forests of Calakmul, Campeche.


The UNESCO World Heritage Committee adopted the following Statement of Outstanding Universal Value at the time of inscription:

Brief Synthesis

Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche, Mexico is a Renomination and Extension of the existing 3,000 ha cultural World Heritage property, Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche. The property is located in the central/southern portion of the Yucatan Peninsula, in southern Mexico. The total area of the extended property is 331,397 ha, surrounded by a buffer zone of 391,788 ha, both totals the area of the entire Calakmul Biosphere Reserve.

This property, while nowadays completely uninhabited and covered by tropical forest, is the heartland of the area in which, from the mid-first millennium B.C. to about A.D. 1000, one of the most splendid civilizations in human history reached its climax, but where it also suffered the most dramatic downfall, resulting in an almost complete abandonment of formerly flourishing settlements. Since the area has, thereupon, remained virtually depopulated, it represents an exceptional testimony to a long-living civilization, offering unique possibilities for archaeological research and presentation of its results.

Being located at the core of the second largest expanse of tropical forests in America, only surpassed by the Amazon jungle in South America, the area represents a singular case of adaptation to, and management of, a natural environment that, at a first glance, seems little appropriate for the development of urban civilization. The colonization of the territory, the population growth and the evolution of complex, state-organized societies are attested in a wide variety of material vestiges. Apart from Calakmul, the largest archaeological site, where the Kaan, one of the most powerful Maya dynasties, had its seat during the Late Classic, remains of dozens of other ancient settlements have been found in the area, including several major urban centers with huge architectural complexes and sculpted monuments. Along with settlement remains, the inter-site and intra-site roads (sacbés), defensive systems, quarries, water management features (such as reservoirs and artificially modified aguadas or water ponds), agricultural terraces and other land modifications related with subsistence strategies are also constituent parts of the extremely rich and exceptionally well preserved ancient cultural landscape.

During excavations carried out so far at Calakmul and Uxul, spectacular stucco friezes and mural paintings have been found in some of the massive temple pyramids and palaces, as well as burials of kings and other members of nobility, containing a rich variety of body ornaments and other accompanying objects, such as elaborate jade masks, ear spools and exquisite polychrome pottery vessels. The hieroglyphic inscriptions on stelae, altars and building elements reveal important facts about the territorial organization and political history, and some epigraphic records are entirely unique, providing information that has not been found anywhere else in the Maya Area.

The inscriptional evidence, the characteristics of architecture and urban layouts, pottery styles, tool kits and funerary objects – information collected at a number of sites surveyed in the area, as well as through excavations at some of them – indicate the existence of extensive trade networks and exchange of ideas with the neighboring regions, but they also reflect original and ingenious local developments. While a version of the so-called Peten style prevails in monumental buildings, a peculiar architectural style developed in the northeastern part of the area during the Late Classic period (ca. A.D. 600-900), being characterized by elegant towers and intricate stone mosaic decoration of facades, including the so-called zoomorphic entrances. The far reaching appeal of this magnificent and completely singular style, called Rio Bec, is evidenced in the adoption of its characteristic elements, after A.D. 800, at sites as distant as El Tigre to the southwest, in the Candelaria river basin, and Kohunlich to the east, in the state of Quintana Roo. To what extent the evolution of these diverging architectural expressions reflects the ever changing political geography, including the role of the Kaan dynasty and its alliances and conflicts with the neighboring polities, is obviously a question of foremost importance, which can only be solved by future research.

Finally, due to the exceptionally well preserved and rich archaeological heritage, the potential of the area for clarifying the still poorly understood processes that resulted in the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization in the 9th and 10th centuries cannot be overstated.

For the natural component, the mature forests of Calakmul, with their current structure and floristic composition, are extraordinary evidence of the long interaction between man and nature. Largely the result of ancient agricultural and forestry practices of the Maya, they combine complex processes of human selection and the regeneration of natural systems. Traditional management practices of indigenous communities who still inhabit the region, outside the property, are evidence of ancient Mayan practices.

These humid and sub-humid tropical forests developed in a geological province under seasonal dry conditions, and karst soils. Given the particular environmental conditions, such as reduced availability of water and moisture, presence of fire and hurricanes, and karst soils, here the flora and fauna of wetland ecosystems have developed adaptations to these seasonal dry conditions. For such factors, Calakmul Tropical Forests could be considered as one of the most resilient ecosystems in the continent and these features could be relevant for biodiversity conservation in a climate change context. Still, the site is an important water catchment area, a key factor as it represents a critical habitat for a number of endemic and threatened species. It is also an area with great abundance of wildlife. The Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul, Campeche, hosts rich biodiversity, that were very appreciated by the Mayans and represented in their paintings, pottery, sculptures, rituals, food and arts in general. Several of the species are considered threatened and in danger. The property has the greatest diversity of mammals in the Mayan region. It is home to two of the three species of primates, two of the four edentates and five of the six wildcat species (felines) that exist in Mexico.

The location of the property also increases its importance as the centre of the connectivity of the Selva Maya, with corridors that provide ecological continuity to forests in the region (Mexico, Guatemala and Belize) and allow the conservation of biodiversity and development of dynamic ecological and evolutionary processes of species. They also help maintain populations of species with high spatial requirements, as are the animals with local migrations (butterflies, parrots, waterfowl, bats), and large predators with large displacement capacity, such as the jaguar, puma and several birds of prey.

Criterion (i): As a whole, the area is unique in that it preserves largely intact vestiges of the relatively rapid development of a splendid urban civilization in a hostile environment of a tropical forest. The information available for research is vital for understanding multiple aspects of Maya culture and its evolution in the central lowlands of the Yucatan peninsula. The archaeological sites in the area (13 major urban centers and some 40 secondary centers and minor sites have been recorded so far) constitute remnants of at least 1500 years (from ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 1000) of intensive population growth and evolution of social complexity, conditioned by a successful adaptation to the inhospitable natural setting and accompanied by technological achievements and cultural development in general, which is reflected in splendid architecture, hieroglyphic writing, sculpted monuments and other unique pieces of fine arts.

Criterion (ii): Pertaining to the Preclassic and Classic Maya civilization, the cultural aspects of the property include a mixture of autochthonous developments and exchange of ideas with the neighboring regions. The creative combination of different traditions resulted in specific architectural styles, unique pieces of fine arts and ingenious modifications of natural landscape. While Calakmul, the largest site in the area, displays 120 commemorative stelae with relief carvings, including hieroglyphic inscriptions with important information on regional political history and territorial organization, a number of monuments of this kind have also been found at other major and medium centers, such as La Muñeca, Uxul, Oxpemul, Balakbal, Champerico, Altamira and Cheyokolnah. The date corresponding to A.D. 396, recorded on three stelae at Candzibaantún, is the earliest date known so far on the Maya monuments in Mexico, whereas Altar 3 of Altar de los Reyes, with its 13 emblem glyphs (names of dynasties), not only sheds light on important aspects of the Classic Maya political geography, but is also entirely unique: no other monument featuring so many emblem glyphs is known in the whole Maya Area! Excavations at Calakmul have unveiled stucco facades illustrating important religious concepts (Structure II), extraordinary murals that shed light on the little known and rarely depicted daily life (ChiikNahb acropolis), as well as royal burials with rich accoutrements, including jade masks, polychrome pottery and other objects of outstanding artistic value. As revealed by extensive surveys throughout area, the location of important centers, regularly in the immediate vicinity of seasonally flooded wetlands, obey the latter’s agricultural potential, whereas the astronomical orientations of important civic and ceremonial buildings, recording agriculturally important moments of the year, reflect both practical uses of astronomical knowledge, which facilitated an efficient scheduling of subsistence activities, and its embeddedness in religion, world view and political ideology. Also present at several major sites are ritual ball courts, defensive walls and quarries, as well as water reservoirs and other land modifications related with intensive agriculture and fresh water procurement, which indicate highly sophisticated ways of adaptation to the karst environment of the Yucatan peninsula. Furthermore, the roads (sacbés) connecting different settlements represent another engineering achievement attesting to the importance of communication routes and trade networks.

Criterion (iii): The property witnessed an unprecedented growth of an extraordinary civilization, which came to an abrupt end at the end of the Classic period. Considering that, after the dramatic population decline evidenced in the abandonment of virtually all the settlements in the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., the area has ever since remained practically uninhabited and has suffered little recent intervention (limited to wood and chicle sap exploitation in the 20th Century), it represents an exceptional testimony to a long-living civilization and offering a unique possibility to understand both the foundations of its florescence and the causes of its collapse.

Criterion (iv): The archaeological sites in the property contain some unrivalled examples of Maya monumental architecture, mostly pertaining to the so-called Peten tradition in the core area and the Rio Bec style confined to its northeastern fringes. While the first is exemplified by palaces and huge temple pyramids at sites such as Calakmul, Yaxnohcah and Balakbal, which mirror the growth of social complexity during the Preclassic and Early Classic periods, the second represents a unique in kind Late Classic development, characterized by false pyramid temples, normally in the shape of elegant twin towers, and impressive stone mosaic façade decorations. Since the epigraphic records show that the Classic period political geography of the area was overwhelmed by the Kaan, one of the most powerful royal dynasties, which in the Late Classic moved its capital city from Dzibanché to Calakmul, the protection measures implemented in the property should facilitate future research, which is expected to clarify whether, or to what extent, the political domination of the Kaan dynasty, and its alliances and rivalries with the neighboring polities, are reflected in the diverging trajectories of cultural development.

Criterion (ix): The mature tropical forests of Calakmul provide extraordinary evidence of the long-standing interaction between man and nature, insofar as they display a floristic composition and structure largely resulting from thousand-year old Maya agricultural and forestry practices, which intertwine processes of human selection and regeneration of natural systems, both considered traditional management practices among native communities still inhabiting the buffer zone and surrounding areas. These processes resulted in a complex mosaic of tropical forests communities which allows complex ecological and trophic networks. It is also an important area for water recharging for the whole Yucatan Peninsula, a key factor in the development of the Maya Culture in the Ancient City of Calakmul and its surroundings.

Criterion (x): The tropical rain forest vegetation of the property and the region of Calakmul, developed under particular seasonal dry conditions, contains a rich biodiversity and critical habitats for a number of endemic and threatened species and populations. The species are adapted to particular geomorphological and environmental conditions, such as the reduced availability of water and moisture, the presence of forest fires and hurricanes, and karst soils, conditions that impose strong limitations on the growth of plants characteristic of moister tropical forests. The resulted resilience of this tropical rainforest is a unique and relevant argument for its nomination. The area contains the greatest abundance of wildlife and the highest diversity of mammals in the Mayan Region; it is home to two out of the three species of primates, two out of the four species of edentates, and five out of the six feline species (cats) existing in Mexico.

Integrity\ The property is located in the heart of the second largest extension of tropical forest in America, one of the best conserved in the region and the centre of connectivity in the Selva Maya. These ecosystems are the product of evolution and adaptation under prevailing environmental influences, which in turn were modified significantly by the management practices of the Mayan culture that inhabited the region continually for more than 1,500 years.

The various ecological elements and attributes that it contains make these tropical forests clear examples of biodiversity conservation, in terms of species, structures and ecological functions. The recovery of some of the species has been favoured by the presence of water collecting depressions, the aguadas and "chultunes", a type of water reservoirs used by the Mayans, which today are of vital importance for the survival of these tropical species.

The property has exceptional ecological and cultural integrity, even though there has been no significant human intervention since the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve was established as a natural protected area in 1989, it remains the environment in which developed one of the great ancient cultures of the world, the Maya, whose legacy is present not only in the cities but in the agroforestry practices who made the beautiful tropical forests of Calakmul.

Authenticity\ The region has been continuous occupied for over 1500 years. It constitutes a unique example of the formation and development of a cultural group for which Calakmul can be considered the guiding axis and strategic centre in regard to all the surrounding sites with archaeological evidence, which at some point in history coexisted with the ancient Maya City and its surroundings. Calakmul encouraged symbolic processes that were directly reflected in architectural styles, social, family, political and religious relationships, and the sharing of experiences, ideas and beliefs. The chronological periods represented by the archaeological sites included in the property, demonstrate the space-time relationship of these with comparison to Calakmul.

Calakmul and the other 37 archaeological sites within the property were part of a settlement system that depended on the surrounding ecosystem for its supporting agricultural and forestry activities. Evidence of these still exists in the form of raised fields, channels and reservoirs.

Protection and Management requirements\ The property protection is guaranteed due to its location within the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, established in 1989 as a Natural Protected Area. The management of the whole property and its buffer zone corresponds to the Federal Government, through the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas (Comisión Nacional de Áreas Naturales Protegidas / CONANP), for the Natural Heritage, in coordination with the National Institute of Anthropology and History (Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia / INAH), responsible for the Cultural Heritage.

Legal instruments needed for the management of the property, where cultural and natural elements coincide in the same area, are in place. Almost 90% of the land surface of the site is federally owned and all archaeological monuments that are included in it are already legally protected.


1993: The Region de Calakmul UNESCO-MAB Biosphere Reserve is created.

2002: The Ancient Maya City of Calakmul, Campeche is inscribed under cultural criteria i, ii, iii and iv.

2014: The World Heritage property is extended and inscribed as a mixed site with the additional natural criteria of ix and x. The property is now referred to as the Ancient Maya City and Protected Forests of Calakmul, Campeche.


VI Protected area with sustainable use of natural resources.


Campechean (8.1.1).


The property is located in the southern section of the Yucatan Peninsula, southern Mexico. The property is bordered by Guatemala’s Mirador-Rio Azul National Park and is also close to the border of Belize.


1989: The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve is created as a Natural Protected Area.


With regard to the property’s ownership, 88.5% of the site is owned by the Federal Government whilst the remaining 11.5% is community lands that have been abandoned and are in the process of reverting back to Federal Government ownership. The lands in the buffer zone are community owned, and are expected to remain so for the foreseeable future.


The property covers 331,397 ha and is surrounded by an additional buffer zone of 391,788 ha.


The property is on the central plateau of Zoh-Laguna, with an average altitude of 200 – 250m a.s.l.


The Yucatan Peninsula and the Peten comprise thick carbonate rock formations covered by several metres of saltpetre and soils containing organic matter. The wider region of Calakmul is part of the Yucatan and Peten Plains, reaching heights of 380 – 400 m a.s.l. The bedrock within the property was formed during the Early-and-Mid Paleocene (between 36.5 and 66.5 million years ago) and forms a complex subterranean drainage system. This circulating underground water dissolves the limestone and forms underground fissures and caverns. Most of the property’s area has karstic soils derived from limestone. The fluvial and karstic topography leads water to flow in northwest and westerly direction towards the Gulf of Mexico. Due to water scarcity the lagoons, seasonal rivers and aguadas (water holes) are of particular importance. There are three major soils present in the property, the first is a medium textured black Rendzina, which is granular in structure and has a high organic content. The second major soil type is a Vertisol, a clay like soil usually found over one metre beneath the surface at high altitudes, in the Mayan language they are known as ak’alches. The last major soil type is a leptosol, a shallow surface soil which forms on top of hard rocky areas on steep slopes. In Maya these soils are known as tsek’eles.


The climate is hot and humid with a mean annual temperature of 25oC and a range of 21oC to 38oC. During the dry season in-between November and April the monthly average rainfall is 21.4 mm whereas during the rainy season this value rises to 123.3 mm. The average annual rainfall is therefore within the range of 600 – 1200 mm. A rainfall gradient exists within the property, with more rainfall falling in the southern component of Calakmul (Mercer et al., 2005).


The property is the most extensive and well preserved rainforest in Mexico, maintaining widespread good quality forest cover. This extensive forest vegetation is composed of a mosaic of different plant communities. In the wettest areas, usually in the southern part of Calakmul, the vegetation consists of rainforests where trees grow over 25m in height. Comparatively, the drier areas support shorter vegetation communities where trees tend to grow to 5m to 15m. These drier areas do not receive sufficient precipitation to support rainforest and therefore in severe dry seasons plants may lose foliage. Of the nine distinct plant community types recorded on the property described below, the most ubiquitous is medium semi-evergreen tropical forest. Following this community the low and tall semi-evergreen forests cover significant proportions of the site also.

The tall semi-evergreen tropical forests are predominantly located towards the south of the property near Guatemala. The forest is characterised by a dominant and tall canopy which is represented with species such as Aspidosperma spruceanum and Pouteria amygdalina. This forest habitat is also rich in epiphytes of the Bromeliaceae and Orchidaceae families. The medium semi-evergreen tropical forest, the most abundant ecosystem type differs from the tall semi-evergreen forest by a change in arboreal composition to species such as Manilkara zapota and Brosimum alicastrum. This ecosystem type is found in the wetter components of the property. Low semi-evergreen tropical forest, as the name would suggest, has an even lower canopy than the two forest ecosystem above. The canopy is usually only up to 15 metres tall and is dominated by Bucida buceras and Haematoxylum campechianum. The low semi-evergreen flooded tropical forests tend to be flooded between two and six months a year and are locally known as ‘bajos’. The arboreal species remain under 10m due to insufficient drainage and are usually found in low-lying areas at the edge of gullies and waterholes where they associate with hydrophilous plant species. The medium semi-deciduous tropical forest has five distinct subtypes of various botanical assemblages whereas the low semi-deciduous tropical forest has only two. One subtype of particular note is the Beaucarnea piabilis dominated low semi-deciduous tropical forest which remains leafless during the dry season between February and March. The palm groves and savannah plant communities represent additional types of vegetation within the property. There are three main types of palm grove in the property, the coyol palm Acrocomia Mexicana, the corozal Attalea cohune and lastly the tasistal Acoelorraphe wrightii. The savannah on the other hand is mostly sedges.

A total of 1569 species of plants have been recorded within the property covering 726 genera. Of these, 51 species have been new to science. The most abundant botanical families include Fabaceae, Poaceae, Asteraceae and Cyperaceae.


Despite the occasionally severe dry seasons 48 species of fish reside within the boundaries of the property. Of these, one species is considered threatened (Astyanax altior), though the most valued species by local inhabitants are Belonesox belizeans and Poecilia sphenols, amongst others, which are used as a food source.

There are 19 species of amphibian recorded within the property, covering seven families, though the best represented is the Hylidae family with nine species. The most significant limiting factor for amphibian species is the extreme local climate, with the rainy season being responsible for large areas of the forest being flooded whilst in the dry season water can be unfavourably scarce. The reptilian community in the property is more diverse with 84 species spanning 21 families. Amongst the more common species are the swamp crocodile Crocodilus moreletii and tree lizards Anolis spp..

Calakmul is considered a priority region for bird conservation in Mexico as the property supports many bird species with restricted ranges. Of the 1070 species of bird reported in Mexico as a whole (Navarro-Siguenza & Peterson, 2004) 489 species (46%) have been recorded in Campeche, making the site among the ten best localities in the country for avian species richness. Around 60% of these species are residents, with 22% being winter visitors and 15% transients. The best represented of land bird families are the Tyrannidae (the flycatchers) with 43 species, closely followed by the Parulidae (New World warblers), with 37 species and the Acciipitridae (birds of prey) with 31 species. The bird species within Calakmul cover many functional roles in the ecosystem with insectivorous species being dominant but omnivores, carnivores, frugivores and piscivores also being common.

Although mammals are less speciose than the avifauna there are still over 100 mammal species within the property. Of these 107 species, 11 are considered at risk of extinction, 18 as threatened and five are under special protection. Amongst these species of conservation concern are some high profile animals such as the Near Threatened jaguar Panthera onca, the puma Puma concolor and the tapir Tapirus bairdii (EN) (IUCN Red List, 2015).

The property is no less diverse in invertebrates, with one study recording 423 species of butterfly in south western Campeche. Of these, only 129 had been previously reported or collected for Campeche and only 47 for the Calakmul region. Overall, 290 species were recorded for the first time in the Campeche region (Pozo et al., 2003).


The Ancient Maya City and Protected Tropical Forests of Calakmul clearly represents exceptional conservation value on both natural and cultural grounds. Culturally, the city highlights the interchange of influences for more than twelve centuries in the Maya region, and includes numerous vestiges, such as royal tombs, of a bygone civilization. The natural component of the property equals the cultural splendour with first-class examples of neotropical forest types and some of the best preserved forests in Mexico, if not Central America (Vester et al., 2007). This naturalness goes someway in explaining the high levels of species richness found within the property including several high profile species of conservation concern such as the jaguar and the tapir. The property falls within the Mesoamerica biodiversity hotspot, the third largest hotspot in the world and one that encompasses all subtropical and tropical ecosystems from central Mexico to the Panama Canal. The property has been successfully inscribed under both natural and cultural criteria also in recognition of the human-nature interaction over millennia.


The history of the city of Calakmul, from its first foundations until its decline lasted a little over 1.5 millennia. There are several key stages in the property’s history and development, the first of which is the Maya period. Evidence of occupation in the Maya period dates back to at least 1,000 BC but the city seems to have flourished during the Classic period, between roughly 250 and 850 A.D. It is thought that the population hit its historical height in this period, with most inhabitants congregating in urban centres such as Calakmul. The intensive land use and high population densities of this period have undoubtedly led to a historical footprint on the landscape. It is thought that the unity of the civilisation began to unravel around 750 A.D. after the death of King Pakal and the old alliances between the different groups began to crumble. The collapse of the Maya civilization remains a mystery and although many theories abound there is no one universally accepted explanation. Despite the collapse of the civilization, many artefacts and tombs remain from this period (Carrasco et al., 1999; Vargas et al., 2009) enabling crucial insights into Mayan culture. The decades after the collapse witnessed a significant reduction in the region’s population and by the turn of the first millennium the population has been estimated to have fallen from around 4 million to around 1 million.

Centuries later, during the Colonial period another large population decrease took place, largely as a result of the contact with Europeans. This interaction was exacerbated by a series of natural disasters such as plagues and adverse weather events which reduced crop yields and led to another famine. Although certain populations took up elements from both the Hispanic culture and from the Cehaches and Itzaes, Maya populations from the region of El Peten, other areas, such as Calakmul, remained out of Spanish control. Independent Maya, the Huits, had minimal contact with the ‘white’ population and continued to preserve a traditional subsistence production system. This production system was complimented by a localised bartering system of local goods such as honey, beeswax, cotton and tobacco.

From 1700 to 1840, economic activity on the Yucatan Peninsula was concentrated in the north. The south was affected by an increase in planting activities particularly in crops such as rice and sugarcane. Unrest led to the so-called war of the Castes which lasted for roughly five decades, and the south became the stronghold for the pacifists (los Pacificos), a group of Maya who were willing to negotiate with the government. These pacifists, who came from all over Campeche were able to strike a deal with the government in exchange for a certain autonomy. By the second half of the 19th Century Campeche has become a region of international economic importance. The cultivation of bastard logwood Haematoxylon campechianum, a tree used for dye fixing, expanded in response to a growing textile industry in England. In 1931, Calakmul, one of the most important cities of the Maya civilization was re-discovered. From the 1930s to the 1990s, the grounds of these ruins were rarely visited by the rubber tappers who had been utilising the area. This facilitated the ruins remaining intact until systematic archaeological excavation and conservation programmes could start. Certain cultural activities, such as hunting, still continue to this day, though now outside the property and in the broader region (Reyna-Hurtado & Tanner, 2005), which continues the historical interplay between cultural and natural actors.


Towards the end of the 1860’s, only two population centres subsisted: Xkanha and Icaiche, and it is estimated that the population had dropped to about 12,000 people. By 1900 this had dropped further to around 8,000 people, with Xkanha being the major conurbation. By the beginning of the 20th Century the government had declared the region as an unpopulated area.

In the buffer zone there are an estimated 2,625 inhabitants although in recent years local communities have migrated from rural areas to existing villages and key cities, particularly Merida. These communities (ejidos) consist of families who each have equal rights to the use of communal forest and agricultural land. Ejidoes usually control a land area ranging from 500 to 50,000 ha and have between 10 and 150 members. Within the ejidos the local population uses slash and burn techniques (locally referred to as milpa) to grow grains, corn, beans and squash. In addition to these crops, cash crops such as jalapeno chilli Capsicum anuum threaten to replace local forests. The local forests have a long history of human interaction, and extraction, affecting especially important timber species such as Honduran Mahogany Swietenia macrophylla (VU) (Mercer et al., 2005). Recent years have seen an increase in the interaction of the local residents in the workings of the property’s management, a fundamental step in creating sustainable and effective management decisions (Ericson, 2006).


A Culture for Conservation Centre has been built, which has four rooms for permanent exhibits ranging from the pre-Hispanic era into the Maya era. A path runs from the centre to the archaeological site itself, which can be visited via a series of different routes. As of 2012, the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve receives around 25,000 visitors a year, a number which is still considered manageable and sustainable. Visitor numbers are rising annually with an annual increase of almost 10,000 visitors since 2006.


The major natural research themes within the property are focussed on land use and conservation, ecosystem management and restoration and lastly biological/ecological interaction. Cultural research is predominantly anthropological in nature as well archaeological. Researchers and students at the property for the purpose of field work are given a temporary permit issued by the Reserve Headquarters which specifies the remit of their work in the property. As of 2011, the property has been implementing the Adaptive Monitoring programme for the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve with the participation of the NGO Fundacion Deesarrollo Sustentable, the Colegion de la Frontera Sur as a scientific research institute and funding from the Fondo Mexicano para la Conservacion de al Naturaleza. As of 2012, there were 26 programmes working on monitoring key habitats and ecosystems at a regional scale, 17 programmes measuring the efficacy of management practices and 2 programmes gauging the extent to which management objectives are being met.


Since 2000, there has been a management plan in place for the property. In 2010, this management plan was revised and consulted again in 2012 until the current management plan was formed. The State has claimed 150,000 ha of land for the purpose of conservation. The new management plan clearly demarcates a core zone as well as a buffer zone which contains five sub-zones which represent natural resource use, ecosystem use, public use, human settlement and preservation. The management plan establishes an ecological land use plan, which guarantees the permanent protection of the flora and fauna found within the property. Although activities which encourage sustainable development and the improvement of biological protection are encouraged the only activities allowed in the core zones are scientific research and conservation; no new human settlements are allowed. Some regulated activities are permitted in the buffer zone under the current management plan. This plan has the general objective to achieve the conservation of the natural elements which constitute the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, whilst simultaneously advancing sustainable development, the quality of life of its inhabitants and promoting ecological land use planning. This main objective is supported by eight more precise objectives, the first three of which are focussed on maintaining and effectively conserving the genetic diversity of the property and in particular the neotropical ecosystems. The next four secondary objectives focus on the sustainable development of local residents, in terms of fostering ecologically sustainable income pathways and changing the human-nature interaction paradigm. The penultimate objective is to further study the property and its surrounding habitats not just in an ecological sense but within the context of archaeological, anthropological and economic viewpoints. The last secondary objective is focussed entirely on the cultural capital of the property and how best to expand the impact of the site in terms of interpretation, recreation and communication.


Over the last 1000 years the property has been free of human occupation and has only been subject to occasional selective logging of high value trees. The extent of this in the 20th Century was such that certain species such as Honduran mahogany S. macrophylla and Spanish cedar Cedrela odorata (VU) became virtually eliminated from the property (Vester et al., 2007). The most significant threat to natural values stems from climate change. The lack of altitudinal variation at the site and the limited water sources in the dry season mean that drought pressures need to be considered. Another potential management threat is the increasing numbers of residents within the buffer zone and the number of visitors to the site. This could act as a potential threat as the management constraints manifest themselves in the form of water pollution in the few viable water sources, the overuse of agrochemicals and dam sedimentation. Another threat to the site’s ecosystems is the conversion of land to agriculture or livestock farming or the development and maintenance of highways and infrastructure.


The property’s staff consists of 19 employees which range from sustainable engineers and agronomists to biologists and public accountants.


The Calakmul Biosphere Reserve receives an annual budget from the National Commission of Natural Protected Areas. This budget covers operating costs, field expenses, transport maintenance and facility management amongst other criteria. Additionally, other sources of funding are available through grants for specific community programmes for residents within the vicinity of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve. Examples of these funds include the Conservation Programme for Sustainable Development and the Conservation Programme for Native Corn Varieties. The Programme on Conservation for Sustainable Development has had an expenditure of over US\$ 1.4 million between 2006 and 2012, the largest source of funding for the property. Marginally below this sum, the Secretary for Tourism has been a source of US\$ 1.2 million between 2006 and 2012.


National Commissioner, National Commission of Natural Protected Areas, CONANP.

Direccion de la Reserva de la Biosfera Calakmul, Calle Viveros s/n, Col. Del Vivero, Zoh Laguna, Calakmul, Campeche, C.P. 2467.


The principal sources for the above information were the original nomination for World Heritage status, the IUCN evaluation report and the site’s management plan.

Carrasco, R., Boucher, S., González, P. A., Tiesler, V., Vierna, V. G., Moreno, R. G., Palacios, J. (1999). A Dynastic Tomb from Campeche, Mexico : New Evidence on Jaguar Paw, a Ruler of Calakmul. Society for American Archaeology 10 (1), 47–58

Ericson, J. a. (2006). A participatory approach to conservation in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Campeche, Mexico. Landscape and Urban Planning, 74, 242–266. doi:10.1016/j.landurbplan.2004.09.006

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2014.3. <>. Downloaded on 11 February 2015.

Mercer, D. E., Haggar, J., Snook, A., & Sosa, M. (2005). Agroforestry adoption in the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, Campeche, Mexico. Small-Scale Forest Economics, Management and Policy, 4 (2), 163–183. doi:10.1007/s11842-005-0011-z

Navarro-Sigüenza & Peterson. 2004. An alternative species taxonomy of the birds of Mexico. Biota Neotropica 4 (2).

Pozo, C., Martínez, A. L., Uc Tescum, S., Salas Suárez, N., & Martínez, A. M. (2003). Butterflies (Papilionoidea and Hesperioidea) of Calakmul, Campeche, México. The Southwestern Naturalist, 48 (4), 505–525. doi:10.1894/0038-4909(2003)048<0505:BPAHOC>2.0.CO;2

Reyna-Hurtado, R., & Tanner, G. W. (2005). Habitat preferences of ungulates in hunted and non hunted areas in the Calakmul Forest, Campeche, Mexico. Biotropica, 37(4), 676–685. doi:10.1111/j.1744-7429.2005.00086.x

Vargas C., López, R. & Martin, S. (2009). Daily life of the ancient Maya recorded on murals at Calakmul, Mexico. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 106(8), 19245–19249. doi:10.1073/pnas.0904374106

Vester, H., Lawrence, D., Eastman, R., Turner II, B., & Calme, S. (2007). Land change in the Southern Yucatán and Calakmul Biosphere Reserve: Effects on habitat and biodiversity. Ecological Applications, 17 , 989–1003.


January, 2015.