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Tulum Mayan Ruin – Read about our Trip Plus Pictures and Advice for Planning your Visit

The Mayan ruins of Tulum are probably the most photographed ruin in Mexico other than Chichen Itza. The iconic image of the structures of Tulum on a cliff above the azure waters of the Caribbean is certainly gorgeous and make Tulum the worthwhile visit that it is.

Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the God of the Wind
Temple of the God of the Wind

Tulum – Walled City

Tulum is also the Yucatan Mayan word for fence or wall, and its name indicates the nature of the ancient city. Situated on 40 foot high cliffs against the sea, it was likewise surrounded by a wall that was 10-15 feet in height, 26 feet thick and 1,300 feet long on the western wall parallel to the sea. Defense was obviously important to the founders of Tulum and it was a major trade hub for the city of Coba further inland. A ‘young’ city, it reached its height in the 13th to 15th centuries with about 1,000-1,600 inhabitants and managed to survive about 70 years after the Spanish began their conquests. Old world diseases appear to have been the major cause of the cities abandonment.

Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
El Castillo (Castle) or The Lighthouse

The Castle (Lighthouse)

The structures are in excellent shape.  While you cannot climb on any of them or enter the structures, you are free to walk about and look at them from pretty close-up. The most famous structure is the Pyramid El Castillo – it seems every Mayan site has a structure so named. Also called the Lighthouse, this building is 25 feet tall and appears to have been used as a beacon for incoming canoes as here is a break in the barrier reef opposite the structure. That break in the reef as well the defensive nature of the site likely is the reason this site was chosen for the city. Artifacts found on-site show that trade was practiced throughout the Yucatan as well as Central Mexico and Central America.

God of Wind

Another important structure is the Temple of the God of Wind (Templo del Dios del Viento), a smaller structure located right along the picturesque coast and right over the landing site for visiting canoes. The god of the wind, Ehecatl from Central Mexico, was related to Kukulcan.

Descending God

Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the Descending God
Temple of the Descending God

The Temple of the Descending God comes from the relief above the door featuring a figure with its head pointed down. Tulum appears to be the center of the god’s cult as more carvings of him are found in other buildings. The descending god was also called the diving god and was also tied to the bee, an important insect to the Maya. The temple is brightly lit by the setting sun on April 6th – the birthday of the descending god. The planet Venus was also associated with the descending god and while images of him have been found elsewhere, this is the only known temple to him.

Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the Frescoes
Temple of the Frescoes & El Castillo

Temple of the Frescoes

The Temple of the Frescoes was used as an observatory tracking the movements of the sun. It is filled with murals that have aged poorly. The House of the Columns is more complex than most of the structures on site and had a palace-like four rooms with six columns supporting the roof of the main room.

Since we stayed the night before in Tulum, we were able to arrive as the door was opened and beat the crowds that arrive later in the day. Most visitors to the ruin come via tour bus form other cities, so the crowd arrives a bit later. It is the most visited of all Mayan sites so site can get a bit crowded at peak times.

Besides the crowds, the only thing I have against Tulum is the lack of large pyramids. None of the structures here are particularly large. If you are at all able, spend some time visiting some of the wonderful cenotes in the area or some other Mayan ruins. They are worthwhile.

Read advice from me on how to see Tulum here.

To see a gallery of hi-res pictures from our trip, go here.

My list of favorite cenotes in the area is here.

To see where Tulum fits in my ranking of favorite Mesoamerican ruins, go here.

Tulum Mayan Ruin – Advice on How to See this Nice Site, Tours or Driving

The Mayan ruins at Tulum is probably the easiest ruin to see in all of Mexico and consequently is the most visited ruin in the Yucatan. Located right next to the ocean next to the nice resort town named the same, it is accessible to anyone in the Riviera Maya. Arrive early if you can arrange it to beat the crowds. Tulum is located 64 km south of Playa del Carmen and 131 km south of Cancun. The shear abundance of things to do in the area should make it a high-priority travel destination (more on that below).

Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
the Castle or The Lighthouse

Most people seeing Tulum will see it via a tour. Tulum tours are available from Cancun, Playa del Carmen and even off of a cruise ship to Cozumel. Usually it will be included with additional stops, either a Mayan ruin like Coba or Chichen Itza or one of the many great cenotes in the area. Tour length will vary from a few hours to all day depending on what else is included.

If you are staying in the Tulum hotel zone, a short taxi ride will get you there or you could bike or even walk. If you rent a car, access is equally easy and you can control your itinerary and make sure to see other ruins, cenotes or the other natural beauty in the area. I can’t speak highly enough of cenotes or the wonder of the larger Mayan ruins in the area.

Tulum is a pretty compact site, and the walking is mostly level with decent walkways. If you want to go down to the ocean (recommended), you will have to traverse steps to go down to the beach 40 feet below the cliffs. The stairs down are well-constructed. Swimming is allowed in the ocean when sea turtles are not present, so bring your swimsuit and a towel if that interests you.

Tulum Mayan Ruin
Tulum Wall

Unlike some Mayan sites, climbing the pyramids or temple steps in Tulum is strictly prohibited. Likewise, you won’t be able to enter any of the buildings.

Entrance fees is 59 pesos at the time of this writing. You will spend more if you use dollars as the exchange rate is typically poor. If you use a traditional hand-held video camera expect to pay another 30 pesos or so for an extra tax. Videoing with a phone or a DSLR doesn’t cost. Go figure.

With so much to do in this area, you could easily spend a week or more even without relaxing  on the beach. There are literally dozens of cenotes in the area of Tulum, with as many more between Tulum and Playa del Carmen. Also in between these two cities are eco-adventure parks like Xel-Ha, Xcaret and Xplor. These parks are a mixture of natural and artificial experiences and will feel a little more like an amusement park than the natural cenotes, with increased attendance.

Noteworthy Mayan ruins in the area include Coba, Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and Muyil.

A detailed description of our visit is here.

To see a gallery of hi-res pictures from our trip, go here.

My list of favorite cenotes in the area is here.

To see where Tulum fits in my ranking of favorite Mesoamerican ruins, go here.

Tulum Mayan Ruin Gallery of Pictures from My Trip plus Advice on How to See it

Tulum is the most visited of all Mayan ruins and is easily accessed from the Mexican Riviera Mayan town of Tulum. The site is certainly scenic, being right on the Caribbean where azure blue water makes for a wonderful contrast to the ancient city. Below are pictures from our trip for you to enjoy. After the pictures, you’ll find some useful links to a detailed article about the site, an article with advice on how to see it and what to expect, and links to articles about my favorite centotes and Mesoamerican ruins.

Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the God of the Wind
Temple of the God of the Wind

Tulum Mayan Ruin

Tulum Mayan Ruin

Tulum Mayan Ruin
Tulum Wall

Tulum Mayan Ruin

Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
El Castillo (the Castle) also called The Lighthouse

Tulum Mayan Ruin

Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the Frescoes
Temple of the Frescoes (left) & The Castle (Right)
Tulum Mayan Ruin Beach
Beach below ruin
Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
Ocean facing side of the Castle
Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
Ocean facing side of the Castle
Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
Ocean facing side of the Castle
Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
the Castle

Tulum Mayan Ruin

Tulum Mayan Ruin - the Castle or The Lighthouse
the Castle
Tulum Mayan Ruin - Temple of the Descending God
Temple of the Descending God
Tulum Mayan Ruin - House of the Columns
House of the Columns

A detailed description of our visit is here.

Read advice from me on how to see it here.

My list of favorite cenotes in the area is here.

To see where Tulum fits in my ranking of favorite Mesoamerican ruins, go here.

Coba Mayan Ruin – Climb Up the Huge Pyramid, Read about Our Visit and Get Advice

Coba Mayan ruin has grown in popularity recent years, predominately due to its proximity to the Mexican Riviera Maya. Its claim to fame is the 137 foot high Nohoch Mul Pyramid, which is technically the tallest Maya pyramid in

Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Mexico (there are taller Maya pyramids in other countries, and there are taller pyramids in Mexico, just not Mayan ones). What is equally attractive is that you can still climb this pyramid.

Coba is a sprawling site and once housed more than 50,000 people. 70 square kilometers of the city has been identified with an estimated 6,500 structures. Less than 5% is excavated to date. Coba was founded between 50 BC and 100 AD. By 201, it must have dominated the entire region with extensive farmlands and a vast trade network including the site of Tulum. After 600, it started losing influence to the Puuc culture (e.g. Uxmal) and eventually lost most of its dominance about 1000 to Chichen Itza. But Coba continued to be inhabited up until about the time the Spanish conquered the Yucatan around 1550.

Coba was connected to the other influential cities and trade ports (like Tulum) via sacbes, which are raised pathways usually of stone that were mostly travelled at night for the cooler temperatures where the light colored stones would be easy to see in moonlight.

Because of the great distances between the structures in Coba, you have to plan on how to cover the distances – it is 3 km from the entrance to the Nohoch Mul pyramid. The path is more like a dirt road and there are three options available to you to traverse it. One is to walk, another is to rent bicycles and the final is to hire a pedicab which includes a driver and seats two.

Coba Mayan Ruin - Temple Conjunto de Pinturas
Temple Conjunto de Pinturas

As you journey through the jungle, you come to structures intermittently. The most impressive is the Temple Conjunto de Pinturas, which has rounded sides and actual Mayan paintings on the temple top. Another highlight is a nice ball court, which is in good shape.

The Nohoch Mul Pyramid will be the terminus of your walk/ride. Many pyramids have become off-limits to climbing due to wear-and-tear and injuries – a San Diego woman died in on Chichen Itza’s Temple of Kukulkan in 2006 when she slipped and fell down the stairs. While steep, the stairs up Nohoch Mul Pyramid are open, and offer a view of the surroundings that is memorable. Climb it now before the opportunity disappears forever, as it inevitably will.

Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid

The stairs are much steeper than the ones you are used to, and being of stone, falling would be injurious. There is a heavy rope attached to the center of the stairs all the way up that provides a helpful grip. There will be others on the stairs, perhaps a pretty good crowd depending on the time you arrive. Take the climb if you are able, it is worth it. The view from the top is nice, revealing the Yucatan jungle all about. You can also see the other three sides of the pyramid, still overgrown with plants and covered with dirt – you can easily see why it takes so much effort to restore ancient ruins to good shape. Even after removing all the foliage, the stones have to be put back together like a giant puzzle and cemented in place with materials similar to the ones the Maya would have used.

Read my helpful tips on how to see Coba here.

You can see a hi-res gallery of pictures from my trip here.

A ranked list of my favorite Mayan ruins is here.

Coba Mayan Ruin – Advice on How to See by Tour or Driving Yourself

Coba Mayan ruin is an ice Mayan ruin near Tulum in the Mexican Riviera Maya. While not as interesting as Chichen Itza, it is much less busy. It costs about 55 pesos to enter and a tour guide can be arranged for about 250 pesos extra. You can share this guide with others to lessen the cost.

Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid

The signature experience in Coba is climbing the 137 foot high Nohoch Mul Pyramid. Its 120 steps are steep and a bit of a challenge to climb. Many pyramids have become off-limits to climbing due to wear-and-tear and injuries – a San Diego woman died in on the Temple of Kukulkan in 2006 when she slipped and fell down the stairs. These stairs are open for now, and offer a view of the surroundings that is neat. The stairs are very steep and it might be a challenge for some to navigate. There is a rope anchored along the stairs that helps, and going down is tougher, such that many resort to a crab-like crawl by sitting on each step during the descent.

Coba is very spread out. The Nohoch Mul Pyramid is 3 km from the entrance. While the jungle is nice to look at and the ground is mostly flat, this makes for a long walk that only has an occasional structure to stop and look at. The biggest detriment to the walk to me is the time. If you have plenty of time, walking is fine if you are able.

Coba Mayan Ruin - pedicab
Coba Pedicab

Because of the distance, you can rent bicycles at the entrance to ride or you can hire a pedicab, which is a three-wheeled bike where two guests sit in the front on a padded bench and a nice Mexican will peddle you about. Depending on their language skill, they will act as a guide of sorts and will take you to all the sites along the way. You may feel a little lazy when you get whisked past walkers, but it is a fast option if time is a concern (like it was for us – we only had 1.5 hours to see it all). There are usually pedicabs waiting at the pyramid also if you decide to ride back after walking out. The cost of a pedicab wasn’t much different than the bicycle rentals since the pedicab seats two. Make sure to leave a nice tip to your pedicab guide if you go this route.

There are many tours being offered now from Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum that include Coba. Most tours also stop at the Tulum ruins, a cenote or one of the adventure parks like Xel-Ha. You can also find ones that do Coba, Chichen Itza and a cenote like Ik Kil, which would be a long but worthwhile day.

Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid

Including Coba as part of a multi-day road trip is a great way to see it and myriads of other worthwhile locales. Coba is 47 km from Tulum and 60 km from Valladolid. Chichen Itza is an additional 42 km further on past Valladolid. The area between Playa del Carmen is loaded with great cenotes, and there are more inland near Valladolid.

There are many good choices for spending a night or two in the interior of the Yucatan, including the nice colonial town Valladolid, which has its own cenote Zaci as well as the nearby Dzitnup cenotes. Lodging is available at cenote Ik Kil and over next to Chichen Itza or the town of Piste. More nice ruins and cenotes are over on the west side of the Yucatan where Merida and Campeche makes great bases from which to strike out daily.

You can read about my trip in detail here.

You can see a hi-res gallery of pictures from my trip here.

A ranked list of my favorite Mayan ruins is here.

Coba Mayan Ruin Gallery of Pictures from Our Visit Plus Advice on Seeing it Yourself

Coba is an important ancient Mayan ruin and home of the Nohoch Mul pyramid, the largest Mayan pyramid in Mexico. At 137 feet high, you are still allowed to climb to the top. It also features other pyramids as well as a nice ball court. The site is very spread out – you’ll have to cover 6 km round trip to see the main pyramid.

Located close to Tulum, Coba is accessible to anyone staying in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum. Below ares some pictures from our visit. After the pictures are links to a detailed article from our visit, tips for seeing it yourself and a ranked list of my favorite Mayan sites.

Coba Mayan Ruin

Coba Mayan Ruin - pedicab
Our Coba Pedicab Driver
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Traversing Down Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
From top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid Uncleared Side
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
From Top of Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Nohoch Mul Pyramid
Coba Mayan Ruin - Temple Conjunto de Pinturas
Temple Conjunto de Pinturas
Coba Mayan Ruin - Ball court
Coba Ball court
Coba Mayan Ruin - Ball court
Coba Ball court

You can read about my trip in detail here.

Read my helpful tips on how to see Coba here.

A ranked list of my favorite Mayan ruins is here.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin – Pictures, Descriptions and Advice from Our Driving Trip

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Kukulcan pyramid castillo
Temple of Kukulcan

Mayapan

Mayapan (means The Banner of the Mayas) is a relative child when it comes to ancient Mayan sites. Founded fairly late in Mesoamerican history (about 1000), it reached its zenith in the 13th century with an estimated 17,000 inhabitants and ruled the area as the last great Maya capital, but fell in the 15th century for still disputed reasons. Clearly patterned after the older Chichen Itza 60 miles to the east, it was not built as well and its buildings are inferior, appearing older now than its nearby neighbors.

Like Chichen Itza, Not Like Chichen Itza

Like at Chichen Itza, the dominant feature of Mayapan is the Temple of Kukulcan (The Castillo). It also features a round observatory like is found at Chichen Itza as well as smaller pilloried buildings that reminded me a smaller version of the Thousand Columns that connect to the Temple of Warriors in Chichen Itza. Mayapan’s structures are much more clustered than many Maya sites and make for an easy, pleasant stroll. The crowds are non-existent. While were were there, we saw one other couple and no vendors at all.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin stucco relief
Stucco Relief

Temple of Kukulkan

Clearly pattered after the structure of the same name in Chichen Itza, this one is still cool. Its poorer quality is revealed in that the steps on one side are off center. At 49 feet high, it is a classical four-sided step pyramid with nine steps. Unlike the one in Chichen Itza, where climbing the pyramid was stopped after a San Diego women fell to her death, you can still climb this one. Standing at the top, you can enjoy a great view of the rest of Mayapan.

Stucco Reliefs

At the base of Castillo de Kukulkan are some nice stucco reliefs. These show Mayan figures, some of which still retain a bit of their original paint. One figure has a hole where a head should be. When initially discovered, there was a human skull in this niche.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Temple of Painted Niches
Temple of Painted Niches

Temple of the Painted Niches

You can walk into this temple and see 5 murals on the wall. The paintings were done in a style which depicts three dimensional objects on 2 dimensional walls. This illusion must have been amazing when they were created.

Observatory (Caracol)

Mayapan Mayan Ruin observatory
Chaac & Observatory

Mayapan, like Chichen Itza, has a circular observatory known as a caracol. It allowed for astronomical tracking of the planet Venus. Mayan held Venus in high regard and tracked its location with observatories in most cities. You can enter the observatory here.

Chaac

Some of the nicest preserved art on site are images of Chaac, the Mayan god of rain. His ugly face with its ever-present long nose is a common image at Mayan sites. You can walk right up to this one and give it a good look. Have some fun posing for pictures, but please treat it with respect. I’d hate to see such easy access result in damage.

Cenotes

26 cenotes are in or around Mayapan and provided the water necessary for the city. One is clearly seen near the observatory as you explore. While you cannot explore this cenote, there are many others in the area around Merida and throughout the Yucatan. I heartily recommend exploring a few cenotes if you have the opportunity. I discuss them and offer reviews of many I’ve visited here.

4,000

Mayapan Mayan Ruin observatory
Observatory (Caracol)

Mayapan also has three round temples, which is unusual for the Maya, but has no ball court. There are smaller round observatories and platforms that were once homes or government buildings for the Maya. There were once an estimated 4000 structures within the wall of the city but many remain un-restored. It is fun to climb over them and imagine things as they were in the cities hayday.

Mayapan is not nearly as impressive as some of its neighbors like Chichen Itza, Uxmal or Ek Balam, but it is still worth the visit if you are in the area or have a fascination for ancient civilizations like I do. The lack of competing visitors is a huge plus and it is well worth your time.

I’ve but some advice on how to see it yourself here.

To see high-res pictures from our trip, go here.

Want to see where Mayapan ranks in all the Mesoamerican sites I’ve been to? Go here.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Logistics – Tips and Advice on How to See it for Yourself

Lonely Mayapan

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Kukulcan pyramid castillo
Temple of Kukulcan

Mayapan is a lesser known ancient Mayan ruin that is a nice visit. If you have visited other Maya sites, especially Chichen Itza, one of the things you will appreciate most is the lack of visitors and zero vendors. There is nothing  in the way of infrastructure other than restrooms. The ground is mostly flat but there is no paving – you’ll be walking on grass or dirt. The site is very compact and easy to move about. There are steps to various platforms and the pyramids can be climbed here. Please take care not to fall while doing so.

There are a few vendors offering guided tours to Mayapan now from the nearby city of Merida. Most tours include other stops as well. I doubt there is anyone offering trips from Cancun or Playa del Carmen – it is a good three hour drive each way. I recommend seeing it as part of an overnight in Merida or part of a longer multi-day trip. There are many neat sites in the area including cenotes that are great fun to visit.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Map
google maps 2017

Puuc Loop

Mayapan Mayan Ruin observatory
Chaac image & Observatory

The so-called Puuc loop would include Mayapan along with other Mayan sites like Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna. The cave Grutas de Loltun is also on the loop. Doing all of this in one day is likely not possible, but all of these are worthy stops and you’ll need at least two days to do it all. Uxmal would be my priority of all of these.

There are public busses from Merida that will get you close, but renting a car seems better to me. It is 48 km from Merida. If driving yourself, please don’t confuse the Mayapan ruin with the small town of Mayapan. The ruin is located off of highway 184 a few miles south of the town of Telchaquillo. To find it in google maps, look for ‘Zona Arqueologica Mayapan’. When we went, hwy 184 was being worked on and we drove by it twice before we saw the pathetically small home-made sign to the site in a tree.  Hopefully they now have better signage.

The nice colonial town of Campeche is an overnight option that would allow you to also see the Edzna ruin en route and can be a springboard for going further south to the wonderful Mayan ruin of Palenque.

It is always hot in the Yucatan, so please take some water and cover your head. The sun will burn unprotected skin quickly as well. It costs 35 pesos per person to visit Mayapan at the time of this writing.

To read details from our visit to Mayapan, go here.

To see high-res pictures from our trip, go here.

Want to see where Mayapan ranks in all the Mesoamerican sites I’ve been to? Go here.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin Gallery

Mayapan is a little known ancient Mayan ruin near Merida in the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. We had a nice visit and one of the best parts was that we had it almost to ourselves – we only saw one other couple there the whole time of our visit. Mayapan was the last great Maya capital that fell just a few years before the Spanish conquest of the area.

Below are pictures from our trip. After the pictures, you’ll find links to more information, including a detailed description from our visit and tips on how best to see it yourself. I also provide a link to a page where I rank Mayapan in amongst all the other ancient Mesoamerican sites I have seen. Give them a look.

Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Smaller Temple

Mayapan Mayan Ruin

Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Observatory and Temple of Kukulcan

Mayapan Mayan Ruin

Mayapan Mayan Ruin observatory
Observatory (Caracol)
Mayapan Mayan Ruin chaac
Chaac Face with Equally Scary Visitor
Mayapan Mayan Ruin observatory
Chaac and Observatory
Mayapan Mayan Ruin painting
Painted Stucco Facade
Mayapan Mayan Ruin stucco relief
Stucco Relief – a Skull was in the Hole when Discovered
Mayapan Mayan Ruin Kukulcan pyramid castillo
Temple of Kukulcan (Castillo de Kukulkan)
Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Pillars Viewed from Top of Temple of Kukulcan
Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Mayapan from Top of Temple of Kukulkan – Temple of Painted Niches on Right
Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Observatory from Top of Temple of Kukulkan
Mayapan Mayan Ruin Temple of Painted Niches
Temple of the Painted Niches
Mayapan Mayan Ruin Kukulcan pyramid castillo
Temple of Kukulkan
Mayapan Mayan Ruin Kukulcan pyramid castillo
Temple of Kukulcan from Temple of the Painted Niches
Mayapan Mayan Ruin
Room with Corbel arches

To read details from our visit to Mayapan, go here.

I’ve but some advice on how to see it yourself here.

Want to see where Mayapan ranks in all the Mesoamerican sites I’ve been to? Go here.

Ek Balam Mayan Ruin – New Site with Largest Yucatan Pyramid and Great Art

Ek Balam Mayan Ruin was a bit of a surprise for me. I hadn’t expected it to be as worthwhile as it was, and I found it difficult to believe the quality of one of the facades. This façade is the best preserved Mayan architecture of anything I have seen. Also notable is the Acropolis, its largest pyramid.

Ek Balam Mayan ruin facade winged warrior Yucatan Mexico
Winged warrior on facade

Upon arrival, it was quickly clear that Mexico has invested in this site. The entrance area was nicely constructed and the grounds were well maintained with nice landscaping that added to the experience. I was also pleased to see how empty the site was – we arrived first thing in the morning and had the site almost to ourselves the entire time. I’m sure that busses of visitors from Cancun and Playa del Carmen would arrive later in the day, but we were done and on our way before that happened.

Entrance Arch

Entrance Arch Ek Balam Mayan ruin, Yucatan Mexico
Entrance Arch

The ancient Mayan world was a surprisingly connected world, with sacred roads (called sacbes). Ek Balam has these roads leading off in all four directions. When we walked into Ek Balam, we traversed along one of these roads and came to the Entrance Arch. This arch was part of an interesting little building featuring four corbel arches facing in opposing directions. It was a neat way to enter the main portion of the city.

Oval Palace

Next to the Entrance Arch was the second most interesting structure of Ek Balam – the Oval Palace. This was the only place other then Uxmal where I saw extensive construction using rounded corners. The Oval Palace has a series of circles one atop another leading to the top.

Oval Palace Ek Balam Mayan ruin, Yucatan Mexico
Oval Palace

There were several other nice pyramids besides this of varying size and restored quality. Most can be climbed. There was also a ball court, small compared the the massive one at Chichen Itza, but sized about the same as the other ones I’ve seen at Yucatan Mayan sites.

Acropolis

Throughout our exploration the giant pyramid of Ek Balam rose in the distance. We resisted rushing off to see it first, but came to it finally. Sometimes called the Acropolis, excavations on this amazing structure didn’t begin until 1998 when it was just a mound. At 480 feet long, 180 feet wide and 960 feet tall, it is the largest pyramid by volume in the Yucatan. It rises up with 6 levels and has 72 rooms discovered within. The Acropolis can be climbed and the stairs are not as steep as those at Coba. Climbing the steps was one of the highlights of my visit there. From up there, we could see a wide view of the Yucatan jungle around us as well as the other structures of Ek Balam far below us.

AcropolisEk Balam Mayan ruin, Yucatan Mexico
Acropolis

Along some of the levels of the Acroplis are palm-thatched roofs that were not part of the original structure and looked appropriately out of place, but these protect the most amazing part of Ek Balam. We went under these palm-thatched structures and found an amazing site – a façade in apparently perfect condition. Having not studied up on all of the site ahead of time, I was surprised to find that these are as they were originally built. No reconstruction has been done on these at all!

The ancient Maya preserved this stucco themselves by carefully filled the passages of the tomb and the entire façade with rocks and powdered limestone not long after construction. Why they would do this I have no idea, but it enables us, the visitor nearly 1500 years later, to enjoy their handiwork. Even the whiteness was natural – scientists believe it was never painted.

Jaguar Altar

One of the most striking portions of this façade was the Jaguar Altar. Looking like a massive mouth with a door beyond, on-going excavations have revealed this to be the burial site of the greatest ruler of Ek Balam and the builder of the Acropolis. Known as Ukit Kan Lek Tok, he ruled from 770 and presided over the city at its height. The city appears to have wrestled control of the region from the nearby Coba during this time. Ek Balam, being in such good shape, is revealing much about the Maya of that time. The rest of the façade about the tomb is equally beautiful. Featuring winged Maya warriors, snakes, glyphs and many geometric shapes, it is mesmerizing to study.

Ek Balam Mayan ruin facade Jaguar Altar, Yucatan Mexico
Jaguar Altar

Excavation work has only revealed about 10% of Ek Balam, and much more is still to be discovered. The newness of the site explains why it isn’t more known and, consequently, more visited. But its relative closeness to Cancun and its overall quality ensure that it will not remain unknown for long. I’m glad I got to visit this beauty of a site soon before it gets too busy.

You’ll find advice for seeing Ek Balam yourself here.

Pictures of our trip are here.

A listing of my favorite Mesoamerican ruins is here.