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Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico

Things to Know Before You Visit Ekʼ Balam in Mexico

by Tsvete Popp

This post is part of the series Mexico

Other posts in this series:

  1. Is Cancún Worth a Visit or It Is an Extremely Overrated Tourist Trap?
  2. Things to Know Before You Visit Chichen Itza in Mexico
  3. The Best Cenotes Near Valladolid You Can’t Miss ~ Mexico

On our second day of staying in the town of Valladolid, we decided to explore another archaeological site of Yucatan – the ruins of Ek’ Balam! Ek’ Balam is a unique and lesser-known Mayan site. The ruins include some impressive unexcavated structures with interesting architecture situated among the dense jungle.

 

The ruins of Ek’ Balam are located just north of the colonial city of Valladolid in the centre of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. The archaeological park is surrounded by the dense jungle of Yucatan. I absolutely loved the natural feel of these ruins with plants growing everywhere between the structures. The atmosphere was so peaceful, relaxing and quiet.

 
Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

At some point, I felt even like Indiana Jones on a mission as we were the only people in the early morning of 25th of December. Ek’ Balam was an amazing experience as we fully enjoyed wandering around and exploring the various structures while having almost the entire site to ourselves!

 

The best thing about the ruins of Ek’ Balam is that it is visited by only a fraction of the tourists that visit the more popular sites of Chichen Itza and Tulum!  It is lesser-known, uncrowded and slightly off the main tourist path.  I thoroughly enjoyed the peaceful and quiet atmosphere at the ruins being able to explore the surroundings and enjoy the incredible panoramic views of the jungle from the top of the Acropolis.

 

Is Cancún Worth a Visit or It Is an Extremely Overrated Tourist Trap?

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Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 
Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

Ek’ Balam

 

The word “ek balam” means “black jaguar” in Yucatec Mayan. You will be able to spot numerous jaguars carving on the structures and ruins throughout the site.

 

Ek Balam was active for about 1,000 years and at its peak was from 770 to 840. The ruins were rediscovered in the late 18th century but it was first mapped out a hundred years later. Since the year 1997, the archaeological park was opened to the public.

 

The ruins site was very compact and consisted of some restored structures, pyramids and temples, which were situated fairly close to one another. The main difference to Chichen Itza or Uxmal, is that Ek’ Balam’s decoration is not made from carved stone but from stucco and limestone mortar.  Ek’ Balam is surrounded not only by the dense jungle but also by walls with a defensive purpose. Like many Mayan sites, much of it has yet to be excavated. All in all 45 structures have been mapped, but not all have been excavated.

 
Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

I loved the fact that there were no well-defined paths, signs or maps. At the entrance of Ek’ Balam, the first structure you will see is the beautiful Arched Gate called sacbe that once connected Ek’ Balam to the rest of the Mayan kingdom. Afterwards, you will see the oval Palace “La Redonda” which looks to the observatory of Chichen Itza. Of course, there is the compulsory Ball Court which was well restored but very small in size compared to other Mayan Ball Courts in Yucatan. A temple called Structure X is a temple offering some views of the main building – The Acropolis. There were a variety of other smaller ruins and structures in the central area as well. We had a lot of fun exploring inside the various little rooms, hidden corners and hideouts, and of course – climbing to the top of these structures.

 

The tallest (29 m), most spectacular and impressive structure of all is The Acropolis. The pyramid is very well restored but still gives you the feeling of being in the wildness of Yucatan. The best part is it is still open to climbing!  The staircase in the centre of the pyramid is very steep and the trickiest part of climbing to the top is the combination of the unevenly spaced stone steps, the heat and humidity. Hop back on the stairs, don’t look down, and keep climbing until the top. You must be careful while climbing!

 
Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico

Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

After the exhausting climb, you can finally enjoy the panoramic views of the lush green jungle of Yucatan! They say on a clear day, you can even spot Chichen Itza or Coba in the distance. I was not able to spot these ruins but I could still have the beautiful views over the other structures of Ek’ Balam!

 

Close to the top of the temple, there was the tomb of the former powerful ruler Ukil-Kan-Lek-Tok, the most important official during the city’s peak in 800 A.D.

 
Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico

Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

Things to Know Before You Go

 

When to visit Ekʼ Balam weather-wise: The best months of the year to visit Ekʼ Balam are the months between November and March. It is cooler than during the summer months, it is raining less but you will probably find more crowds. We went on the 25th of December. The temperature was about 27° and it didn’t get crowded as in Chechen Itza.

 

When to visit Ekʼ Balam: The best time of the day to visit Ekʼ Balam is in the early morning or in the late afternoon. We arrived at 9:00, there were almost no people there and the temperature was about 20°. It was absolutely lovely having almost the entire ruins site to ourselves! The busiest and the hottest time to visit Ekʼ Balam is between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.

 

Getting to Ekʼ Balam: Ekʼ Balam is located to the north of Valladolid:  30 km north of Valladolid (30 minute drive), 175 km east of Merida (2 hour drive), 173 km west of Cancun ( 2 hour drive), 156 km west of Playa del Carmen (1.5 hours drive).

 

Opening Hours: The archaeological park is opened between 8 am and 5 pm from Monday to Sunday. The ticket office closes at 4 pm.

Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico

Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 
Good to know: Mexicans can visit Ekʼ Balam on Sunday for free. o, you can expect a bigger crowd on Sundays.
 

Entrance Fee: Tickets are priced at 211 MXNfor foreigners and a little lower for nationals.

 

Good News: You can climb to the Top of the Acropolis!

 

Recommended Length of Visit: 2 to 3 hours is enough time in order to explore Ekʼ Balam at its fullest

 

Parking: There was a large parking lot at the ruins and the parking was for free!

 

Food and Drinks: There is nothing much to eat around the site. There are no restaurants or cafes!  Make sure you bring enough water because it is getting hot during the day!

 

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Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, MexicoVisiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico
 

Swimming in Cenote X’Canche, Ek’ Balam

 

After exploring the archaeological site of Ek’ Balam you can and should definitely visit (probably my favourite) cenote in Yucatan – Cenote X’Canche! Cenote X’Canche is absolutely gorgeous, off the beaten path and lesser-visited underground cenote in this area. There are many other cenotes around Valladolid but Cenote X’Canche is mesmerizing underground cenote that is well-maintained and is not only refreshing but a lot of fun.

 

What you have to do is make your way back to the entrance of the ruin site and you’ll find a path to the cenote! First, you have to buy the ticket from the ticket shop ($50 MXN). And then you have to walk about 2km down the pathway (20-25 min walk). You can also rent a bike or tuk-tuk for a small fee.

 

X’Canche is a large and perfectly round natural pool with gorgeous turquoise water, surrounded by the natural and unspoiled jungle vegetation. The pool was not inside a cave, like other cenotes I’d visited in Yucatan. The pool is huge and open to the sky! The cenote also has a suspension bridge and a rope swing too.

 

Visiting Ek' Balam in Yucatan, Mexico

Things to Know Before You Visit Ekʼ Balam in Mexico

This post is part of the series Mexico Other posts in this series: Is Cancún…

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Cenote X’Canche, Ek Balam, Mexico

Cenote X’Canche

 

Mexico Accommodation:

 
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Mexico Flights:

 
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Mexico Tours

 
If you are the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are all kinds of guided tours around Mexico including Ek’ Balam.
 

 

 
Ek' Balam, Mexico
 
Enjoy the day!
 
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