Travel fatigue hit me hard in Valladolid, meaning Ek Balam got dropped off my list just like that, which was too bad because it was so close. There was also a cenote five minutes away from my Airbnb place where you can actually swim, but I just decided to chill, lest I ruin my entire Yucatán itinerary. Valladolid is okay, but too much of a small town feel for a city boy like me. Maybe that’s the reason why I immediately liked Mérida right after I arrived. It looks like a small town, but the party atmosphere was a good bonus.
I should have separate blog entries for both Valladolid and Mérida, but I opted to just mention them in passing because I did not really have the energy to run around and get to know them better. The two just served as host cities for me, and for a stay of less than a week, I didn’t feel that bored. Food options were great. Pollution levels were down. I did not feel unsafe either, so that’s a relief. What is left to write about, then? Well, Uxmal.
The trip took an hour and twenty going south. You ride a Sur bus for MXN59 (~PHP150) one-way leaving from TAME, as opposed to CAME where the Valladolid – Mérida buses stop. In any case, those two terminals are just right next to each other. I went to Uxmal on a Monday, the day of my flight. I do not recommend such an itinerary because buses to and from Uxmal are not that regular, and sometimes they don’t arrive at the designated time at all. Good thing I still made it to the airport!
Uxmal is the other UNESCO World Heritage Site I was talking about. The place lacks the popularity of Chichén Itzá, and because of that it has more spots that you can enjoy and call your own. If not for the school excursion that was also there when I visited, the place would have been almost empty. The admission fee will not exceed MXN200. Again, I got in for free because of my UNAM ID. It pays to ask for discounts if you are still a student and you have your school ID with you.
Uxmal is smaller than most ruins I’ve been to. The atmosphere is like Xochicalco’s. They both give off a relaxed and mysterious kind of vibe because all you ever see are ruins from a bygone era, interesting carvings, and lots of greenery. You can easily find a shaded area where you can rest or take a nap. What it shares with Chichén Itzá is the location of its main pyramid right smack at the entrance of the vicinity. I liked Uxmal’s pyramid way better, though.
Referred to as Pyramid of the Magician, this must be one of the taller pyramids I have seen in this lifetime. Those in Teotihuacán seem larger, but this one has really steep steps, the kind that will result in death if you happen to tumble all the way down. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why climbing said pyramid is no longer permitted. Because of its height, taking photos of the thing up close was quite challenging; a selfie, even more so. More noteworthy, though, is the pyramid’s weird design.
Unlike Chichén Itzá’s El Castillo, the Pyramid of the Magician has rounded edges, which makes it look weird for a pyramid. There is another one which I didn’t see because I did not check the map well. Uxmal’s pyramids love defying Mayan conventions, which is probably why they made it to the UNESCO list in the first place. The predominant architectural design here is that of the Puuc culture, and the place itself was considered quite significant back then.
Right next to the pyramid is the Nunnery Quadrangle, a nickname the Spanish gave to the site which was actually a government related structure. Or so they say. The quadrangle hides a huge rectangular space covered in grass within its walls. The abundance of green on the ground is complemented by the beige carvings on the walls, which were supposed to pay homage to one of their gods. This is a good chill spot if you want to just sit down and rest for a bit, because the remaining attractions require some climbing.
Go down the steps and traverse the area where the ball court is. Compared to other Mayan ball courts I’ve seen, this one doesn't have much left, except for the two rings on both walls which gives you some Quidditch sort of vibe. From there, the Governor’s Palace is visible atop the hill. And then the Adivino pyramid is farther back, effectively hidden from plain sight because I did not even know where it was. I’m still kicking myself for missing that one. It looks impressive on Google images!
The Governor’s Palace felt a bit out of place for me. I don’t know why but its design felt more like Roman rather than Native American. But then again, I don’t have sufficient knowledge of archaeology to give an informed opinion. Hey, I’m simply sharing my opinion here. There is a spot where you can capture both this palace and the Pyramid of the Magician in the background. The photos are stunning especially if taken on a sunny day.
If ever you get hungry, there’s a restaurant within the vicinity. You can also find a lodge in case you want to spend the evening. The Chocolate Museum on the other side of the highway is another option if you finish your tour early. Again, the buses going back to Mérida are unreliable, so make sure you don’t have a flight to catch on the same day. As for me, I just got lucky, but I hate stress nonetheless.
[SANTE ELENA] The Ruins of Uxmal