Those who prefer to explore archaeological sites without the crowds—or those looking for an alternative site to Chichén Itzá—should make time to visit Ek Balam.

Here, unlike at some of the more popular sites in the region, you are allowed to climb the pyramids and get up close and personal with the structures while taking in the impressive views from the top.

Ek Balam’s intriguing name means Star Jaguar or Dark Jaguar and there is still much of the site that has yet to be excavated and understood. Probably the most impressive structure is the Palace, the façade of which takes the form of an intricately carved serpent. Look out for the tomb of Ek Balam’s former ruler located under a thatched roof near the top of the temple.

Around a mile from the Ek Balam ruins is the X’Canche cenote. This sinkhole is surrounded by sheer rock walls and tree roots dangling into the turquoise water, which is home to black catfish. Take some time to walk along the wooden boardwalks and listen to birdsong before taking a swim.

Ek Balam is located about 15 miles from Valladolid or a two-hour drive from Merida and makes a great place to stop if travelling between the two cities. If you want a guided tour of Ek Balam, it is best to hire a guide in Valladolid or Merida and travel to the site together, since the quietness of Ek Balam means that guides are not always waiting at the site.

Mexico Yucatan archaeological zone of Ek Balam

Ek Balam, one of Mexico's lesser-visited archeological sites

How to get to Ek Balam

You can easily drive to Ek Balam from nearby Valladolid or from further afield locations such as Merida or Cancun, both of which are a two hour drive from the site. There is a small parking lot on site. Getting to the site by public transport is possible from Valladolid. Wait for collectivos (shared taxis) on the corner opposite Hotel Zaci. These taxis often overfill with passengers so if there are a few of you you might want to negotiate to have the whole taxi to yourself which will likely cost around $160 pesos ($7/£5). The collectivo will take around 35 minutes. Tours also run to the site, leaving from Valladolid, Merida, Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

The entrance fee to Ek Balam is $413 pesos ($20/£15). Onsite guides (when available) charge around $500- 600 pesos ($30/£20) for their services and are well worth hiring to really understand what you are seeing. Tours running from Cancun, including a trip to the nearby Samula cenote, start at around $70/£50.

You will need around two hours at Ek Balam to really explore it fully.

Since you are allowed to climb the temple at Ek Balam, make sure you come wearing good walking shoes or sandals.

To visit the X’Canche cenote you can hire a bicycle taxi from the entrance to Ek Balam to take the ten minute journey.

About the author

Visiting The Ruins At Ek Balam

Susannah Rigg

Susannah Rigg is a freelance writer and Mexico specialist based in Mexico City. Her work has been featured by Condé Nast Traveller, CNN, BBC Travel and AFAR among others. She has visited 26 of Mexico’s 32 states and is captivated by Mexico’s rich Mesoamerican history.

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