The Mayans started constructing cities over 4000 years ago. Their knowledge on maths, astronomy, engineering and art still amazes nowadays experts and part of their language is yet to be translated. Expanding through Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Belize, these populations were thriving and left a whole world for us to explore.
Over 1 million visitors enter Chichén Itzá (Mexico) every year and the numbers are growing (see my latest blog post on Chichén Itzá http://onemoreday.blog/?p=662). Other popular sites are Tikal (Guatemala) and Copán (Honduras), together with big cities like Teotihuacan in Mexico and the largest city ever discovered, El Mirador in Guatemala.
During my time in Mexico I had the chance to visit less popular Mayan cities and it was very much worth it.
I stayed in Valladolid for 4 days, a place many people bypass or just visit for one day as a stop on the way to Chichén. Tourists don’t realise that not far from Valladolid there is another stunning site, Ek Balam. I was very uncertain as whether to go or not, but I am glad I did. Ek Balam sits in the middle of an endless patch of green which makes the climb up the tallest building an incredible experience. You can reach the site with a colectivo on Calle 37, between Calle 42 and 44 (Valladolid), it takes just over an hour and costs 200 pesos for the whole taxi, so your best shot is to go with as many people as you can and only pay 100 pesos (€4.70/$5.30) for a return trip. The entrance to the site is not cheap, 413 MXN (€20/$22), but I do think it’s worth every penny. You can agree on a pick-up time with the driver as there are not many colectivos departing from there and you may end up paying more for a nearly empty taxi. Most people reach the site by car, so you could get a lift if you’re lucky.
There are not many tourists, making it a lot more peaceful and pleasant than Chichén Itzá. There are also more trees around, so you’ll still need sunscreen, but there is less of a chance to melt under the strong Mexican sun.
If you suffer from vertigo be careful while climbing the pyramid, it is very steep! But the view from up there…
[Tip: the best way to descend a Mayan pyramid is to walk down sideways and heading diagonally instead of straight down]
There is a cenote 1.5 km (1 mile) away, you can rent a bicycle to get there (40 MXN), get a taxi or simply walk. The entrance to the cenote costs 50 MXN and it is the perfect way to cool down after a hot and humid day at the site.
When staying in Mérida you cannot miss a trip to Uxmal, the most important city of the Ruta Puuc and the only city where a rounded pyramid can be found.
You can take an ADO bus from the city terminal or grab a colectivo to Muna and a taxi from there to Uxmal. If you negotiate the prices you can spend the same as for a first class bus (70 MXN), but you can have lunch at the square in Muna, which contributes to an authentic Mexican experience. The entrance to the site is 413 MXN, less than Chichén and still giving you access to a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
As soon as you enter you will be greated by the Pyramid of the Magician which stands 40 m high (131 ft). Just like in Chichén Itzá you can clap your hands in front of the staircase and listen to the “response” the pyramid has for you.
This was perhaps the place with the largest amount of iguanas I’ve seen in Mexico, so if you like these lizards you will love the grounds of Uxmal.
At night they perform a light&sound show just like in many other places in Yucatan. It has an additional cost and you can’t stay inside the site after closure to wait for it.
People normally spend a couple of hours in Uxmal. I enjoyed every minute of it and stayed longer to just sit down, listen to the sound of the wind and mindfully look at the trees around me. It is magical!
In the next article you’ll learn about one of the largest and most famous sites in Mexico, as well as two smaller ones where I’ve seen very few non-Mexican tourists (and were really good!).
Ready for PART 2? 🙂