You’ve probably heard of Chichen Itza; the wonder of the world in Mexico that Karl Pilkington said was “alright”. It’s better than alright, but it’s definitely not the only set of ruins worth visiting on the Yucatan Peninsular. This area is packed with ancient sites full of pyramids, plazas and ball courts, and Uxmal is rated as one of the “best of the rest”. Many people claim they enjoyed Uxmal more because it sees far fewer visitors than its more famous friend. I wouldn’t quite go that far (Chichen Itza is still my favourite), but I really enjoyed exploring this ancient Maya city. Here are some highlights.
The Pyramid of the Magician
Uxmal doesn’t mess around. As soon as we entered the archaeological site we were greeted by a massive, spaceship-esque pyramid. Its round shape makes it one of the more unique pyramids in Mexico. We got there early and it was almost empty. Tour buses frequent Uxmal but not to nearly the same extent as Chichen Itza, which means it’s pretty quiet at most times of the day. We spent a lot of time at The Pyramid of the Magician, but it was a shame that climbing it has now been banned.
The Governor’s Palace and the Great Pyramid
After a short walk through the atmospheric grounds of Uxmal, we arrived at The Governor’s Palace. The carvings on the walls and ceilings of this building are some of the most impressive examples of ancient Maya art in Mexico. We walked around the well preserved palace and took a rest in the shade as the mid-morning heat started to take its toll. We braved the heat a little longer as we climbed to the top of the nearby Great Pyramid, where we saw the city of Uxmal resting quietly below us.
Exploring the less popular spots
We saw lots of other small buildings at Uxmal; it was fun to explore the less popular ruins and we had them almost all to ourselves. We walked through the tiny houses of Uxmal’s former citizens and saw the graveyard in which they were buried. We also found a crumbling wall that was completely deserted.
We walked back towards the Pyramid of the Magician, passing lizards and birds. We knew we had one more site to visit, the Nunnery, but we didn’t know it was going to be so impressive. It’s referred to as a quadrangle (it was the first time I’d heard that word), but basically it’s a small plaza surrounded by buildings full of detailed sculptures. As I started to take photos I realised the focus on my camera wasn’t working. I spent the next half an hour trying to fix it, but I would eventually come to learn that the auto-focus often breaks on Canon lenses. It kind of distracted me from the incredible place that I should have been immersed in, but I quickly snapped out of it and explored every inch of the Nunnery (and it turned out I didn’t need to replace the lens; I’ve been using manual focus ever since and I think my photos have improved).
The History of Uxmal
Most of the buildings at Uxmal date back to between 600 and 900 AD and are some of the finest examples of the Puuc architectural style (I won’t bore you with the details of what exactly that is though). The town once housed up to 20,000 people and was abandoned, along with a lot of other Maya cities, in the 10th century AD. Watch the movie Apocalypto to see what a Maya city like Uxmal might have been like; I’m pretty sure it isn’t historically accurate but it’s cool to see this kind of city come to life on screen.
Getting to Uxmal
It’s really easy to get to and from Uxmal, assuming you’re staying in Merida. We went to the bus station the day before and booked a return ticket to the archaeological site. It was cheap (a few dollars from memory) and took about an hour. The return ticket was open ended, so we weren’t rushed at all. You can take a tour but I don’t think there’s much point, especially if you’re staying in Merida for a day or two.
The Entrance ticket to Uxmal
We paid around 200 pesos to enter Uxmal. Archaeological sites in Yucatan are often more expensive than in other parts of the country; Teotihaucan, the massive pair of pyramids near Mexico City, only cost 64 pesos!
Merida isn’t my favourite city in Mexico but it’s a decent place to spend a couple of days. We walked around the town for an afternoon and saw some low-key colonial architecture. It was interesting enough, but I enjoyed Oaxaca, San Cristobel de las Casas and Puebla a lot more. You can explore Uxmal and the Ruta Puuc (a series of ruins featuring the same architectural style) easily from Merida and there also some cenotes nearby.
If you have any interest in history and architecture you’ll want to visit as many of the Maya archaeological sites as you can. Uxmal is definitely worth going to, even if you’ve already been to Chichen Itza.
Further reading: The Wonders of the World: Chichen Itza
Have you been to Uxmal? What are you favourite Maya ruins in Mexico? Let me know in the comments below!
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