Less crowded than its neighbor Chichen Itza, Ek Balam is worth the trip. Easily accessible from Valladolid, this ancient Maya cities is a must-see. You can climb the pyramids, and some of the carvings and sculptures are in an incredible state of conservation.
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Ek Balam’s History
Founded around the third century, Ek Balam was inhabited all through the Middle Preclassic to the Postclassic periods.
At its height (770 to 840), the city spread on 12km² with, at its center, a sacred space reserved for the high classes and protected by three walls reaching around 3 meters.
Ek Balam appeared to have been a capital at some point known as Talol. In the 11th century, the city was invaded by the Itzaes, and lost its power. Sometime during the Postclassic period, Ek Balam was abandoned in haste by its inhabitants, no one is really sure why, but probably because of an attack.
Ek Balam means Black Panther or Star Panther in Mayan.
Ek Balam’s structures
The first structures you’ll notice is the brick city wall and the Entrance Arch, with a door for each cardinal direction. One the right side, the Oval Palace which served as a temple, notice on top, how the door is low, to make people bow in front of the gods. The snake and the panther were the main Gods in Ek Balam.
Next to the Oval Palace, are the Twins, several rooms were found inside, and the space between the two structures align perfectly with the sun during the equinox.
There’s also a ball court with a platform for the kings and higher castes to sit. To play, you could only use your head, elbows, and knees. The goal was to throw the ball into small loops. In places like Chichen Itza, the captain of the winning team would get sacrificed to honor the Gods. In Ek Balam, they didn’t practice human sacrifices.
The main building, El Trono (the throne), was the royal palace and is one of the highest Maya structures. There are a lot of rooms there and some passageways. The King couldn’t use the main stairs, so he had special stairs inside the building, and of course, he had people carrying him each time. Another interesting feature of this pyramid is the Mausoleum of Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ. You cannot enter it, but the carvings at the entrance are spectacular.
From the top, the view over the surrounding jungle is amazing, on clear days you can even see Coba and Chichen Itza.
Excavation work is not complete and is on hold due to a lack of fundings. You’ll notice two big hills on each side of the site, it’s actually structures buried under the vegetation.
Ek Balam Cenote: Xcanche
After visiting the ruins, you can relax in the freshwater of cenote Xcanche. It’s a mile away from the visitor center, you can rent a bike or take a « bicycle-taxi.» The entrance fee is 70 pesos for foreigners. At the cenote, you’ll find a restaurant and changing rooms.
The cenote is below ground level with a large opening on top. The water is clear with many black catfishes swimming around. There are several jumping platforms and a Tarzan rope.
Tips for visiting Ek Balam:
- Try to come early or later in the afternoon to avoid the hottest hours;
- Bring sunscreen, mosquito repellent, a hat, plenty of water and some snacks;
- Hire a guide, your visit will be ten times better with someone explaining everything to you;
Entrance fee: 413 pesos for foreigners
Guide: 500 pesos for a Spanish-speaking guide, 600 for other languages
How to get there: You’ll first need to get to Valladolid, from there take a shared taxi, you’ll just have to wait for it to be filled, same for the return. It costs 50 pesos one way. They leave from the corner of Calle 44 and Calle 37. You can also take a regular cab.
If you want to take a tour from Cancun or Playa del Carmen, you can check out these options:
Related articles to help you plan your trip to the Riviera Maya:
- Great places to visit in Mexico
- Things to do in Holbox: farniente and wildlife watching
- Things to do in Valladolid: cenotes and colonial charm
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