Many a pyramid remains to be uncovered, however, especially in the deep forest along Mexico's southern borders, and reaching many of the ones that have been excavated still requires a vehicle with good shocks and a willingness to expect the unexpected. But once you arrive, exploring the ruins with so little competition from other tourists makes it well worth the drive. And along the way, if you're lucky, you might encounter some of the modern Maya people, many of whom still live in traditional thatch-roofed houses and speak the Mayan language, in their rainforest villages a stone's throw from the magnificent temples their ancestors built.

My family and I start our foray into the Mundo Maya, or Mayan world, with a trip to Calakmul, the granddaddy of recently excavated sites. It covers about 10 square miles and once housed upwards of 60,000 people. Digging continues there; one of the city's twin pyramids has yet to be uncovered completely, so each dry season yields new treasures to explore. Best of all, it's deep in a jungle preserve, where jaguars still roam but few tourists do.

After a four-hour trip on the two-lane Highway 186 from Chetumal, we decide to leave Calakmul until the next morning, and instead spend the evening touring the smaller site of Chicanná and enjoying the pool at the Chicanná Ecovillage Resort. As night falls, basilisk lizards scurry along the resort's stone paths, and we take advantage of the hotel's wine list.

The air is still cool and damp the next morning when construction workers halt us on 186 as they work on one of the high- way projects designed to improve access to the jungle's archaeological sites. A few minutes later, we turn off the main highway into the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve and pay our toll to an attendant.