Ek Balam, sometimes also spelled Ek’ Balam or Ek’ Balam is an archaeological ruin site that dates back to the end of the Mayan period. The name itself means Black Jaguar but it is more likely that the name was originally probably Talol according to inscriptions found around the site.
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The site boasts many original and rare stucco sculptures that are housed under thatched roofs inside of the Acropolis and is a great glimpse into the past of Yucatan. The site itself does not have a museum but it does have bathroom facilities and many of the nearby towns offer plenty of restaurants and hotels.
Valladolid or Merida
Most tourists to the area stay in towns such as Valladolid or Merida where there are plenty of accommodation options and small shops that allow tourists to get a taste for the local culture. In general, most people can expect to spend most of a morning or afternoon exploring the site. Due to the blazing sun it is best to wear suitable cooler attire.
Also always have a water bottle on hand to make sure that you stay hydrated as the small visitors’ center does not offer any refreshments.
All of the major highways in the area will allow visitors to get to the Ek Balam site without any trouble. It sits between Merida, Chichen Itza, and Valladolid making it easy enough to reach.
There are blue and white tourist signs on the highway that help to point out Ek Balam and these are actually accurate; which is not always the case in Mexico. You will have to take a hire car or a taxi as there are no buses that actually travel to the site.
Cenote freshwater pools
The cost of admission into this site is around 95 pesos which is very reasonable and swimming is also available. This is due to the fact that there is a cenote very close to Ek Balam. Simply take the main entrance path towards it and enjoy the freshwater sinkholes that are many meters deep and a great place to cool off. The Cenote of Ek Balam has stairs down to the water and a boardwalk that extends around it. There is also kayak hire available and a rope swing off of the boardwalk into the water.
Of course, the number one thing that people do while visiting Ek Balam is climb the ruins to the top of the Acropolis. However, the descent can be very disorientating as it is high and sharp, so those with vertigo should stay off the ruins. In general the site is very safe and finding your way around it should not be a problem.
As mentioned, there are no food, drink, or gift shops at the site, so purchase anything you will need to eat or drink in advance at Valladolid which is about 15 minutes to the south of the attraction.
Considering that they are only 106 steps to the summit it is a surprisingly difficult climb. The problem is that the steps are ancient and are heavily worn making them uneven and occasionally unstable. Add to this that the climb is steep and there is not a handrail or even a rope to hang onto as you ascend. This is certainly not a suitable attraction for those who suffer from vertigo, or simply do not like heights. If you can overcome these obstacles you will discover that the climb is certainly worth the amount of effort you have put in.
The view from the top was intended to be suitable for a king, and you will not be disappointed once you reach the summit. Just 1000 years ago this was a hectic city thriving on commerce, trade and Mayan culture. The city was huge for its time, covering approximately 12 km² and was the largest population anywhere in the region at that time.
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Fighting the forest
As you can imagine it is not possible to view the entire city as many are fighting to keep back the forest and continually tries to claim back its land. Of course there are large areas where the forest have been cleared away to allow tourists and many archaeologists the opportunity to step back in time. This fact in itself is interesting as modern man with all his knowledge and technology struggles to keep the forest at bay. Yet a thousand years ago men using simple tools and ancient techniques were able to clear not only enough land for the city but also engaged in relatively sophisticated farming.
In addition, they created quite complex engineering concepts in order to create high buildings. And also deal with the problems of a large city such as the supply of clean water, and the removal of sewage and other human waste. The site along with Chichen Itza is considered to be one of the ‘big six’ ancient Mayan settlements on the Mexican Yucatan northern plains.
More intimate and private
Many visitors consider that Ek Balam offers a more intimate and private visit than some of the other similar sites in the region. Other sites may be more famous and therefore more popular but Ek Balam is said to have far more ‘personality’ than its ancient rivals.
Many visitors refer to the site as being ‘serene and calm’ this is probably because it sees considerably less tourists than its more famous neighbours. There is also a more natural appearance to the area making it look slightly unkempt but you do feel that you are one of only a few privileged visitors.
The standout building is without doubt the Acropolis, this was originally a temple which was then converted into a Grand Palace. There are many intricate carvings to enjoy which adorn the outside of the Tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok. Some have been restored to their former glory giving you an insight into just how spectacular this city in the jungle was in its heyday. This is a site that should be on anybody’s Mexican itinerary.