Uxmal: The Prettiest Mayan Ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula
Visiting Uxmal Mayan Ruins was for us a highlight of traveling on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Are you planning a one-day trip to Uxmal ruins from Merida? Here's a detailed guide on how to do it.
We arrived in Merida for three reasons.
To see the colonial city well-known for its colorful houses and narrow streets (and great ice cream on the main square's corner), to swim in picturesque cenotes nearby Merida, and to visit Uxmal Mayan Ruins, the most famous ruins on Ruta Puuc, and what we found out later, the prettiest ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula.
Yes, we liked Uxmal Ruins better than Mexico's tourist attraction number one, Chichen Itza.
Personally, although we, of course, don't want to disparage the exceptionality of Chichen Itza, we think it is so popular because of its closeness to resort towns along the coast.
You need to work a bit to get to Uxmal but believe us it's well worth it.
Uxmal Ruins is a very impressive site only 80 kilometers from Merida, roads are well-made, so it makes it for a pleasant one-day trip. Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, same as Chichen Itza or other Mayan Ruins in Mexico, but we were pleasantly surprised that we did not meet here that many visitors and our time walking around the archeological place was peaceful. Fewer people also means fewer vendors, they are probably banned from the grounds here, but there were not even that many of them outside.
Usually, we don't mind, but after a year traveling in South and Central America, we felt a bit tired to say ‘no gracias’ million times a day, so Uxmal Ruins was a welcome change.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF UXMAL
Uxmal was once one of the most famous and powerful Mayan cities not only on the Yucatan but in the entire empire.
Most of the construction work took places in the classic period between the 7th and 9th century, and in its peak, around 25 000 people lived on the site. The name Uxmal comes from word Oxmal, which means three times built, and it suggests that the place has been rebuilt numerous times during centuries until it got appearance we can more or less see today.
Uxmal was a powerful site altogether with Chichen Itza (the importance came from a favorable location on a trading path), but it seems the city lost its power around 1200 because no new building was constructed after that.
Unlike Chichen Itza, Uxmal was inhabited, although not that densely until the arrival of Spaniards in the 16th century.
WHAT CAN YOU SEE AT UXMAL RUINS
Right after we entered the archeological site, we saw one of the most awe-inspiring structures at Uxmal, Pyramid of Magician.
It is also one of the few structures you cannot climb, so admire the place only from a distance. The well-preserved pyramid with rounded corners is the highest here with 35 meters, and it is one of the most beautiful Mayan structures we've seen in Mexico.
Here you can decide if you go left or right as there is no designated path.
We turned left and emerged in front of almost abandoned Governors Palace, a one-story platform decorated with masks, pictures of animals and flowers. We climbed this building and walked around the platform. Although it is not super high, we had a nice view of the Pyramid of Magician from here.
Then we carried on to the Great Pyramid, possibly the most crowded place on the grounds.
Who would want to miss climbing it up, right?
The Great Pyramid was also a place where we spent most of our time because we wanted to take in the views.
After we climbed down the pyramid, we headed to House of the Doves on our left, one of the less repaired buildings, but it still for sure keeps its magic.
Then, we walked to the House of the Turtles, and later to the Ball Court.
You can find Ball Courts in every Mayan Ruins in Mexico. Maya people played a sport which was a bit cruel, as usually team of losers was sacrificed. Players could not use hands or feet, but their goal was to put a small rubber ball through a ring-shaped stone hoop which was high on the wall.
When we walked through the court, we emerged near Nunnery Quadrangle, a large square lined with massive buildings with wide staircase and decorations on the walls.
This part of the Uxmal Ruins is getting a new facelift, and sometimes we had a feeling it looks way too nice.
IT IS POSSIBLE TO CLIMB RUINS AT UXMAL
Although climbing structures within Mayan Ruins is often off limits, we were still able to get to the top of Great Pyramid at Uxmal Ruins in May 2019.
And same as in Coba Ruins or Tikal Ruins in Guatemala, it was one of the highlights of our visit. From the top of the high pyramid, we got an astounding view of the surrounding area, and if there is one thing you should not miss at Uxmal, it is the climbing up the pyramid.
Steps to the top are uneven, but nothing an average adult, kid or elderly could not vanquish.
Generally, the rules at Uxmal Ruins were not that strict as for example in Chichen Itza, and we could have climbed more (although lower) structures within the archeological site as well.
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HOW MUCH IS THE ENTRANCE FEE TO UXMAL RUINS
Entrance fees to Mexican tourist attractions have grown significantly in 2019, so note that ticket to Uxmal Ruins for foreigners costs Mx 413.
We were actually unpleasantly surprised by the admission increase, and only hope future visitors will see some improvement in facilities, which we, maybe naively think, the extra money will be used for. The fee consists of two charges, Mx 338 stays in the Yucatan, while Mx 75 is a government fee.
You can pay with a credit card at Uxmal, but the government fee must be paid in cash.
HOW TO GET TO UXMAL RUINS FROM MERIDA
You have several options on how to get from Merida to Uxmal and back on a one-day trip.
Rental car | As we could see with our very own eyes, traveling by a rental car is the most popular way how to get around Mexico. It is not expensive, and you will save plenty of time. You can rent a car only for a couple of days to explore ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula or drive around the whole of Mexico. The road from Merida to Uxmal is well-paved, and you should reach the site within an hour. There is a parking lot in front of the entrance for Mx 30, or you can try to park your car in front of the Chocolate Museum for free.
Public Transport | The cheapest way how to get to Uxmal from Merida is by bus. Note that you cannot travel to Uxmal from Merida's ADO bus terminal but from second class bus station TAME. Luckily, they are close to each other. The ticket costs Mx 76 per person one way, and the journey takes an hour and a half. We recommend you to buy a return ticket straightaway, although there is no discount. We don't remember timetable of this bus, but it changes seasonally, so ask one day in advance. We had around two and a half hours to explore the site, which was enough. There is no bus station at Uxmal, so you need to wait on the side of the road for an often delayed bus.
Tours | The most comfortable way on how to visit Uxmal Mayan Ruins is with a tour. You don't need to take care of anything but be ready on departure time in your hotel for pick up. There are many tours available you only need to choose your favorite one.
Taxi | Unless you are in a hurry, we don't recommend going to Uxmal Ruins by taxi, as it is too expensive (Mx 2000), and there are other, much cheaper ways of transport.
WHERE TO STAY IN MERIDA
Merida is a great base for exploring Uxmal Ruins as you can easily find here a large number of hotels and hostels for every budget, and the best thing is most of them are conveniently located near the city center. We've handpicked here three best hotels for evet budget where you can enjoy your stay in Merida.
Budget | Hostel Le Juj - This high-rated hostel offers both dormitories and private rooms, free breakfast, and outdoor swimming pool. All of that for very cheap rates.
Mid-range | Hotel Merida - Spacious and beautifully designed rooms with high ceilings, great location and peaceful courtyard with a pool are the main reasons why to stay in this hotel.
Luxury | The Diplomat Boutique Hotel - Within the historic center lies a marvelous boutique hotel with beautiful design touches, complimentary breakfast, swimming pool, and rooms with personalized attention to the guests.
WHAT TO PACK FOR VISITING UXMAL RUINS
It depends on when you plan on visiting Mexico, but it can be too hot, too wet or both at Uxmal. When going to Uxmal on a one-day trip, here are five essentials you should pack.
Camera | Although we know many travelers nowadays use only a mobile phone for taking pictures, for those oldfashioned among us, we still recommend a proper camera.
Rain Poncho | Closer to rainy season you visit Mexico, you should always pack rain poncho as it is nowhere to hide on the site.
Water Bottle | When we say it was too hot, trust us and do not underestimate drinking regime. Mexico was an exception among Central American countries as we always got water in a hotel, so pack only your reusable water to reduce your plastic footprint.
WHEN TO VISIT UXMAL RUINS
Uxmal Ruins are an all-year-round destination, but each season has its specifics.
The dry season runs from November to April, and during those months you can expect long periods of time without rain, but it is too hot.
The rainy season is from May to October, and not only it rains more often but it is still hot like hell. You don't need to avoid entirely the wet season it often rains later in the afternoon, but it is hard to deal with heat and humidity.
If you can, try to avoid visiting Uxmal (or any other ruins) on Sundays, because Mexican citizens have free entry on that day, and they usually arrive to spend a day off with their large families.
We did not have the feeling that Uxmal was crowded at all, but if you prefer having the site only for yourself, arrive either early in the morning when gates open at 8 AM, this will give you an hour or two before groups, and lazier individual travelers start arriving.
Another option is to arrive late in the afternoon (the site closes at 5 PM), but it can be unbearably hot.
OTHER THINGS TO DO AT UXMAL
If you have time after visiting the ruins, you can stop by at Choco-Story Museum near the entrance to the archeological site, and for a small amount of money enjoy the museum and learn about the Mayas and their connection to chocolate.
We did not visit this place as we've already been to similar museums and manufactories, for example in Mindo in Ecuador, but we've heard it is must-visit when at Uxmal, especially if you hadn't been to a place like this before.
If you decide on staying right at Uxmal, there are several hotels where you can spend a night. It is also a great option on how to beat the crowds in the morning.
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