One of the best preserved archaeological sites in Yucatan is Ek Balam, or “Jaguar from the Stars”. Walls, pyramids, sculptures, friezes and stelae show us the artistry of Maya architecture.
Approximate travel time: One-half day from Merida.
How to get there: Ek Balam is 114 miles east of Merida. If you are traveling by car, head first to Valladolid, following the highway to Cancun. There you will find signs leading to Ek Balam.
If you are traveling by bus, take an ADO leaving out of CAME bus station in downtown Merida, and head to Valladolid; once you are there, ask a taxi to take you to Ek Balam, which is just 20 minutes away from this Magic Town. The total travel time is approximately two and a half hours.
The challenge: Climbing to the top of the acropolis. From above you can see the archaeological site of Coba, in Quintana Roo. Dare to find it!
What you will need: Bring your bathing suit and a towel, as very likely you will feel like taking a dip in the beautiful cenote there.
Don’t forget to bring insect repellent and biodegradable sunscreen. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes if you want to climb the Acropolis pyramid.
What you cannot miss: The X’Canche cenote is just a mile from the archaeological site, where you can swim, practice zip-lining and even go camping.
“The Sultan of the East”, as the archaeological site of Ek Balam is known, is a beautiful survivor of the Maya Classic Period. Although it is not as famous as Chichen Itza, it was once a very important city where up to 15,000 people lived.
Two evidences of this are the excellent connectivity it had with other cities by means of five white roads or sacbes laid out along the jungle, as well as the three walls that protected it from possible invasions.
Ek Balam welcomes you with a magnificent Maya arch, in back of which you will find buildings around the two main squares. Actually, the area open to the public is not very big, but it has very well-preserved and beautiful buildings, therefore it is a good idea to take the time to admire them.
The Acropolis will immediately draw your attention: with its 104 feet, it is the highest building in Ek Balam and one of the bulkiest in all of Mesoamerica. As you climb the stairs, you will be able to admire the entrance to the tomb of an important king, which resembles the mouth of a monster. A huge frieze boasts already restored reliefs and some sculptures in human shapes, although with wings on their backs. From the top, you will be able to admire the Yucatecan horizon, and even that of the neighboring state of Quintana Roo, dominated by the Nohoch Mul pyramid of Coba.
Other important buildings in Ek Balam are The Palace, where it is believed that the nobility of the city lived, the Ball Game Court, and an observatory. Several stelae in a very good state of preservation have also been found. Numerous remains are waiting to be restored, to be able to show the splendor they had centuries ago.
If anything defines Ek Balam, it is that it blends elements from several Maya architectural styles, and this makes it a unique city. Remember that on Sundays, access to archaeological sites is free for Mexicans showing an official ID card.
Don’t leave Ek Balam without having gone to the X’Canche cenote. It is located just one mile from the archaeological site and is the perfect place to cool off and practice some adventure sports such rappelling. You can also cross the cenote on a zip-line, or camp in the surrounding area.
If you like Yucatecan cuisine, be prepared: courteous metizo women (this is the name given in Yucatan to women dressed in the exquisitely embroidered hipiles) prepare delicious dishes at this place. If you are driving a car, you can go to the nearby town of Temozon and order smoked meat. This is a traditional local recipe you cannot afford to miss.
Source: Travel by Mexico
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