Mexico Sightseeing

Uxmal: Best of the Maya Part IV

Uxmal: Best of the Maya Part IV October 21, 2014


Less likely to appear in one of those cable channel documentaries, or on the cover of a guidebook or the travel agency poster, Uxmal is the least well known of the Mayan sites mentioned in this series. That does not mean that you will be in any way disappointed in the ruins. Only that you’ll be able to enjoy them without battling the occupants of multiple tour buses.

greg.road.trip's photo of carvings at Uxmal.
Uxmal: Lesser known, but equally impressive. Photo by greg.road.trip.

Got Water?

A visit to Uxmal starts with yet another opportunity to appreciate Mayan ingenuity. Unlike the jungle sites of Palenque and Tikal, Uxmal is located in the relatively dry Puuc region of the Yucatan Peninsula. So building a city here required harnessing that all-important natural resource- water. Visiting Uxmal, one encounters large, lime-stone lined, capped cisterns which were used to capture and store water for use in the long dry season.   Images of Chac Mool, the rain god, are scattered throughout the site, further testament to the importance of water.

Puuc Architecture

Cities of the Puuc region were constructed relatively late in the Mayan era and architectural features reflect the growing influence of the cultures of highland Mexico, which were probable trade partners. Notable elements include carved serpents and intricate geometric designs.


Keith Walbolt's photo of Uxmal.
Carvings at Uxmal. Photo by Keith Walbolt.

 Visiting Uxmal

Uxmal is located about one and one half hours south of Mérida, on the route to Campeche. You can either hop off of the intercity bus enroute, or book a day trip from Mérida (which will likely also take you to the ruins at Kabah). I found the guides to be well qualified and informative. The site is large, but not overwhelming and can easily be seen in a day. Along with the usual fantastic birdlife one sees at Mayan ruins, Uxmal hosts a large population of giant iguanas, who laze in the sun and bask on the warm rocks. One gets the feeling they think the site was built just for them.


Olivier Bruchez' photo of an Uxmal resident.
He’s bigger than you think! Photo by Olivier Bruchez.

Kabah and the Ruta Puuc

The second most important city in the region was Kabah. The thing that struck me about Kabah was an ancient, paved, ceremonial (it passes through an impressive arch) road, which connects it’s Great Pyramid to the Palace. I use the word “road” instead of “path” because the track is quite wide, which is puzzling because to the best of our knowledge the Maya did not use wheels or pack animals.

Continuing south, you can follow the Ruta Puuc which will take you to multiple other late (750-950 BCE) Mayan sites. However, this can be tricky to do without a car, so check bus schedules ahead of time.

Esparta Palma's photo of Uxmal.
Uxmal. Photo by Esparta Palma.