before you go: if you want to explore the ruins properly, set aside a week, because of the time required to travel to and from major airports, and from site to site. get a hepatitis a vaccine and make sure you're up-to-date on all other immunizations, particularly tetanus. pack strong sunscreen and insect repellent, and bring a lightweight, long-sleeved shirt and long pants for further protection from the near-equatorial sun and mosquitoes. also bring good walking shoes or hiking boots.

how to get there: from cancun's airport, rent a car and drive about five hours south along highway 307 to bacalar or chetumal. or fly into belize city and take a first-class bus (call novelos bus line, 011-501-2-77372, or take a taxi to the bus terminal) for the four-hour ride north to chetumal. rent a car there for excursions into the jungle.

taxes and tolls: if you fly into belize, you'll pay a $10 tax to leave the country, and pay another $8 tax before you cross back into belize. also plan to pay a $6 tariff to get into the calakmul biosphere reserve, and another $2 to enter the ruins themselves. other ruins cost between $1.50 and $2 to enter. -

where to stay

in chetumal, the holiday inn ($55; 011-52-983-50400) is predictably tour-ist class and has a traditional mexican breakfast buffet. plus, you can rent a car in the lobby. hotel los cocos ($50; 011-52-983-20542) down the street also has a restaurant, bar, and car agency.

near calakmul, the only accommodations are in the chicanná ecovillage resort ($88; 011-52-5-705-3996). luckily, it's quite nice; 45 rooms are built in the mayan style with palapa roofs, and the pool makes a refreshing post-ruins spot. the food at the hotel restaurant is good (if overpriced), and there's a bar. there's no phone on the property, though, so forget about checking voice mail or e-mail.