As often when traveling, it is important to make choices about what you want to do and visit. These choices are necessary to organize your travel itinerary and to diversify the activities / visits during the trip. In Yucatan, there are many different activities: cities, cenotes and Mayan archaeological sites for example. During our 2 week Yucatan road trip , we visited 6 Mayan sites. So as it is difficult to make choices, here is my selection of Mayan sites to visit in Yucatan.
EK BALEM, A RECENTLY DISCOVERED MAYAN CITY THAT IS STILL NOT VERY TOURISTY
Located just 30 minutes drive from Valladolid, Ek Balem is a Mayan archaeological site discovered in 1994. And whose archaeological excavations are still in progress. The site dates from 300 BC. AD and was an important city in pre-Hispanic times. Delimited by three great walls, the city Ek Balem was probably a great religious, political, and economic center.
From this period, there remain many vestiges including the impressive 31-meter high pyramid (the Acropolis). A pyramid of several floors on which it is possible to climb. From up there, the view of the site and the surrounding forest is just magnificent. Even if the climb is not long, you have to be careful because the steps are not all the same height. The Acropolis is the pyramid of Ek Balem in best condition. The other buildings like the Palm playground and the ramparts are more ruins. However, it is possible to climb two other structures which offer a beautiful view of the Acropolis.
Finally, a visit to Ek Balem would not be complete without a swim in the site’s cenote: X’Canche. Located 2km from the site, this cenote is accessible on foot (70MXN) or by bicycle taxi (150MXN) and offers several activities (ropes, possible jumps, zip lines and abseiling). The cenote is well equipped with lockers, showers, changing rooms, toilets and above all a platform that goes around the cenote. X’Canche was the first cenote of our Yucatan road trip and we have very fond memories of it. What could be better than a cool swim in a cenote after visiting a Mayan archaeological site?
The advantages of the Mayan archaeological site Ek Balem:
aAcropolis which is in veryzgood condition and on which one can climb,
Wild environment (forest, jingle, cenotes, …),
Not many people as the site is still “young”, it is not part of the tourist circuits.
the price: 413 MXN,
the size of the site which is quite small (allow 1h-1h30 on site).
WHERE TO SLEEP TO DISCOVER EK BALEM?
The simplest and most practical is to stay in Valladolid . A beautiful little town that allows you to explore the surroundings to discover some of the main tourist sites of Yucatan. Here are 2 hotels that we recommend in Valladolid:
- Hotel Fundadores: large spaces for this hacienda-style hotel in the heart of Valladolid. King bed room with private bathroom, air conditioning, wifi, patio and swimming pool from €48 per night with free cancellation.
- The Muuch Hotel: Immerse yourself in the heart of Yucatan culture with this colorful hotel. King bed room with private bathroom, air conditioning, wifi, terrace, breakfast and swimming pool from €110 per night with free cancellation.
COBÁ: CLIMB TO THE TOP OF ONE OF THE HIGHEST PYRAMIDS IN YUCATAN
Halfway between Tulum and Valladolid is one of the most important Mayan archaeological sites to visit in Yucatan: Cobà. Unlike Ek Balem, the site is vast (some 80 km 2 ). But rest assured, only a small portion of the site is accessible to the public. The Mayan archaeological site of Cobà is divided into 3 groups:
- Cobá: residential with palaces and residences.
- Macanxoc: ceremonial or funerary functions with small temples and altars.
- Nohoch Mul: the main part of the site with the temple of Nohoch Mul (one of the highest pyramids in the entire Maya region).
These 3 parts are accessible either on foot (about 5km A/R) or by renting a bicycle (50MXN) or by renting a bicycle taxi (125MXN for 1h30). As the site is quite large and it is very hot, we opted to hire bikes. Even if the paths are in the shade, the bikes allow you to move more quickly and to go to the more remote parts of the site such as the Macanxoc Group.
OUR VISIT TO COBA
To begin the discovery of the site of Cobá, we went directly to the temple of Nohoch Mul because it is the number 1 tourist attraction of the site. 42 meters high, we feel very small at its feet and as it is in full sun, the ascent promises to be difficult. The steps are not in very good condition and quite slippery but a rope in the middle allows you to help yourself.
Before we start, we look carefully at the technique used by the guides to climb and we apply it. In less than 10 minutes, we are at the top of one of the highest pyramids in Yucatan. The view of the forest is striking but unlike Ek Balem we do not see the other buildings on the site. The next 2 hours, we spend them cycling around the site and discovering other Mayan remains such as altars, frescoes, stelae or even tombs.