It’s always been a dream of mine to explore some of the most remarkable historical and cultural sites around the world. Among them, the UXMAL ruins in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula stand out as a true gem and I had the honour of seeing them up close and personal on the day of our Ring of Fire eclipse! In this guide, I’ll take you on a journey to this ancient Mayan wonder and share my first-hand experience to help you make the most of your visit.
UXMAL is more than just a set of ruins; it’s a window into the incredible world of the Mayan civilization. With its stunning architecture, rich history, and captivating legends, UXMAL is a must-visit destination for anyone with an interest in the past. I’ll walk you through the steps to get there, uncover the secrets of its history, and provide practical tips for your trip.
Whether you’re an archaeology enthusiast, a history buff, or simply a curious traveler, this guide will ensure you have a memorable and enriching experience as you explore the UXMAL pyramid ruins. So, let’s embark on this adventure together and uncover the mysteries of this ancient Mayan treasure.
Getting There from Merida to Uxmal
As I set out to visit the UXMAL pyramid ruins, one of the first considerations was how to reach this remote archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula. Here’s what I discovered:
Location of UXMAL in the Yucatan Peninsula
UXMAL is located in the southwestern part of the Yucatan Peninsula, about 78 kilometers (48 miles) south of Merida, the capital of the state of Yucatan. This strategic location makes it accessible, but it’s still tucked away from the bustling cities, surrounded by lush jungle. The isolation of UXMAL adds to its mystique and allows for a serene and immersive experience.
Getting to UXMAL typically involves a combination of transportation methods. Here are your options:
By Car: If you prefer flexibility, renting a car is a convenient choice. From Merida, take Highway 261 south, and follow the signs for UXMAL. The journey takes approximately one to one and a half hours. This is what we did to get to Uxmal from Merida.
By Tour Bus: Many tour companies in Merida offer day trips to UXMAL, providing transportation, guided tours, and often stops at other attractions. This option is hassle-free and informative.
By Public Transportation: Local buses, called “colectivos,” also travel to UXMAL from Merida’s bus terminal. It’s the most budget-friendly option, but be prepared for a longer journey with occasional stops.
Best Time to Visit
The Yucatan Peninsula experiences a tropical climate, so the timing of your visit can greatly affect your experience. To make the most of your trip, consider the following:
Dry Season: UXMAL is most enjoyable during the dry season, which typically runs from November to April. The weather is more comfortable for exploring the ruins, and you’re less likely to encounter rain.
Morning Hours: To beat the crowds and the heat, plan your visit in the morning. UXMAL opens at 8:00 AM, and arriving early allows you to explore in relative solitude before tour buses arrive.
Avoiding Crowds: If you’re looking for a quieter experience, try to visit on weekdays, as weekends can be busier with both tourists and local visitors.
Take my word for it and follow these guidelines. I did everything outside of this and experienced an hour-long line to get in while enduring the blistering heat and humidity of the jungle. Thankfully we had the ongoing eclipse to entertain us.
With these travel insights, you can now plan your journey to UXMAL with confidence. Whether you opt for the adventure of the open road, the convenience of a tour, or the budget-friendly bus ride, your pilgrimage to this Mayan treasure is sure to be a memorable one.
The History Behind the Uxmal Pyramids
Before immersing yourself in the awe-inspiring UXMAL pyramid ruins, it’s essential to grasp the historical context that makes this site so significant. As I explored UXMAL, I was captivated by the rich history of the Mayan civilization and the enduring legacy of this remarkable place.
The Maya civilization, which thrived from around 2000 BCE to 1500 CE, was one of the most advanced and culturally diverse pre-Columbian civilizations in the Americas. The Maya inhabited present-day Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. They excelled in art, mathematics, astronomy, and architecture, leaving a profound mark on the world.
UXMAL, founded around 700 CE, is among the most important Mayan archaeological sites. It’s renowned for its architectural beauty, intricate decorations, and distinct Puuc architectural style. The name “UXMAL” translates to “Three Times Built” in Mayan, which might be attributed to the city’s multiple construction phases. The city was abandoned long before the Spanish conquest, and its detailed carvings and unique layout are a testament to the Mayans’ ingenuity.
The Pyramid of the Magician (Pirámide del Adivino), one of the iconic structures at UXMAL, is a prime example of the city’s historical significance. This pyramid is distinct due to its elliptical base, a rare feature in Mayan architecture. Legend has it that it was built in a single night by a dwarf who hatched from an egg. In reality, it went through several construction phases, each layer built upon the previous one, resulting in its unique form. The pyramid served as a ceremonial and astronomical center.
Understanding the historical context of UXMAL enhances your visit, allowing you to appreciate the cultural and architectural marvels of this ancient Mayan site.
Exploring UXMAL Ruins
As a traveler who’s been there, I can provide you with valuable insights into how to make the most of your time at UXMAL. UXMAL covers a substantial area, and there’s much to see. As I strolled through the ancient pathways, I was in awe of the well-preserved structures, plazas, and courtyards. Here are some highlights to consider:
The Pyramid of the Magician: This is the centerpiece of UXMAL, and its distinctive elliptical shape is a must-see. Unfortunately, the opportunity to climb to the top for a breathtaking view of the entire site has been revoked for safety reasons. But you’ll still be awed by the presence of this pyramid from its base.
The Governor’s Palace: This intricately decorated palace showcases the exceptional Puuc architectural style, with facades adorned in detailed carvings of Mayan motifs.
The Nunnery Quadrangle: Comprising four connected buildings, this area is an architectural marvel. The intricate stone latticework and columns make it a treasure trove for architectural enthusiasts.
UXMAL boasts numerous other structures and landmarks that are worth exploring, such as the Ball Court, House of Turtles, and the House of Pigeons. Each of these structures holds a unique story, and a guided tour can provide valuable insights into their historical and cultural significance.
Tips for a Self-Guided Tour
If you prefer exploring at your own pace, consider these tips:
Arrive Early: Visiting early in the morning allows you to experience UXMAL in a more serene atmosphere, free from the crowds that will arrive later in the day.
Wear Comfortable Clothing: Given the Yucatan’s tropical climate, lightweight, breathable clothing and comfortable footwear are essential. Don’t forget to pack sunscreen and a hat to shield yourself from the sun.
Bring Water and Snacks: Staying hydrated is crucial, so be sure to carry a refillable water bottle. Light snacks can keep your energy levels up during your exploration.
Respect the Site: UXMAL is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, so be sure to follow all posted rules and guidelines. Avoid touching or climbing on the structures to help preserve this historical treasure for future generations.
Exploring UXMAL is an unforgettable experience that offers a profound connection with the past.
Uxmal Entry Fees, Opening Hours and Practical Information
As you prepare for your visit to the UXMAL pyramid ruins in Yucatan, it’s important to have practical information at your fingertips to ensure a smooth and enjoyable experience. Here, I’ll guide you through admission fees, guided tours, and the visitor facilities available at this remarkable archaeological site.
Admission Fees and Opening Hours
The admission fee for UXMAL is currently $520 Mexican Pesos (MXN) for foreigners, with reduced fees for children under 12.
UXMAL opens at 8:00 AM and closes at 5:00 PM. Arriving early allows you to enjoy the site with fewer visitors and milder temperatures. Though if you miss the opening hours, arriving an hour or two before closing is another strategy that may work. When we were leaving the crowd was thin, there were no lines to enter and there was still a good hour left to roam around before closing.
Guided Tours and Their Costs
While exploring UXMAL on your own is a great option, joining a guided tour can provide you with a wealth of information and context. Here are some advantages to consider:
- Historical Insights: Knowledgeable guides can share the rich history and stories behind the structures, adding depth to your visit.
- Access to Restricted Areas: Some guided tours may provide access to areas that are off-limits to independent visitors.
- Group Transportation: Many tours include transportation to and from UXMAL, making your trip even more convenient.
- Language Options: Guided tours are often available in various languages, so you can choose the one that suits you best.
Guides were available for an additional fee of $900 pesos per group. This is the fee for doing the tour in English. It’s not a bad price if you have a group who will chip in but we opted to go without.
Accessibility and Visitor Facilities
UXMAL aims to make the site accessible to all visitors. The main areas of UXMAL are wheelchair-accessible, but the uneven terrain and steps can be challenging for some. It’s advisable to check in advance for specific accessibility information.
UXMAL offers visitor facilities, including restrooms, a restaurant, and souvenir shops. These facilities can be quite handy during your visit.
Make your first stop the information center to grab a map and get an overview of the site’s layout. Here, you can also inquire about guided tours and current events or exhibitions.
Understanding these practical details ensures that you’re well-prepared for your visit to UXMAL.
Completing Your Day Trip to Uxmal
After an awe-inspiring day exploring the UXMAL pyramid ruins, my fellow travelers and I were, without a doubt, a hot and sweaty mess. The Yucatan sun had worked its magic on us, leaving us craving the refreshment of a cenote. However, another enticing option awaited us right across the road from UXMAL’s entrance, a destination that promised not just cooling relief but also a delightful cultural experience – the Choco Museum.
Entrance to the Choco Museum was priced at $180 pesos, which seemed like a small investment for the fascinating experiences that awaited us. Here’s what made this stop the perfect complement to our UXMAL day trip:
Feeding Spider Monkeys
One of the immediate attractions at the Choco Museum was the opportunity to interact with charming spider monkeys. These playful and intelligent creatures made our visit unforgettable. We couldn’t resist feeding them, which was a unique and heartwarming experience. It’s not every day you get to engage with these incredible animals in such a close and personal manner. Make sure to watch the video to see the encounter.
Self-Guided Tour through the History of Chocolate Displays
The Choco Museum isn’t just about monkeys and chocolate; it’s a place where history comes to life. We embarked on a self-guided tour that took us on a journey through the fascinating history of chocolate. The displays were informative and engaging, allowing us to learn about the origins of cacao and its cultural significance to the Mayans and beyond.
Mayan Ritual Ceremony and Chocolate Drink Demonstration
The highlight of our visit to the Choco Museum was a live Mayan ritual ceremony. It was a truly immersive experience, as we observed a traditional Mayan ritual that centered around cacao. This cultural performance shed light on the spiritual and social significance of chocolate to the Mayan civilization.
As the ceremony unfolded, we were treated to a chocolate drink demonstration. We watched as skilled artisans prepared a traditional Mayan chocolate beverage, and we had the delightful opportunity to taste this ancient elixir. The rich, authentic flavors were a delightful revelation, and the demonstration added a sensory dimension to our understanding of cacao’s significance.
Choosing to explore the Choco Museum was a fantastic way to round out our UXMAL day trip. It offered not only a chance to cool off but also a deeper understanding of the Mayan relationship with chocolate. This cultural and educational experience was a memorable addition to our Yucatan adventure.