The most Complete Guide to Uxmal

Uxmal

Uxmal is surrounded by legends, myths, and anecdotes; poetic in its name and its history. The occupation of Uxmal dates back to 500 BCE., but it was a political and economic power in the Mayan Peninsula Puuc region during the IX and XII centuries. 

Uxmal was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO in 1996, and it’s considered one of the most important archaeological sites in the Mayan Peninsula. 

It is located in the valley of Santa Elena, 62 kilometers from Mérida in the region known as Puuc, which means “hills” in Mayan, and it’s made up of 15 groups of buildings around courtyards known as the civic-administrative area, which is walled and occupies an area of 1 km from north to south and .6 km from east to west. 

Interesting Facts

  • There’s a legend that says that the main building in Uxmal called the Pyramid of the Magician was built in a single night by a dwarf that was born in an egg.
  • The name Uxmal comes from the Mayan Óoxmáal and means "three times built" or "three harvests".
  • There’s a Sacbé that goes from the Platform of the Jaguars in the Governor’s Palace’s main platform to the city of Kabáh.
  • The Pyramid of the Magician was built by several governors along 400 years, so what you see now is the outer layer of 4 substructures.
  • The mosaic façade on the Governor’s Palace is one of the longest in pre-Columbian Mesoamerica, with more than 100 stone masks of the rain god Chac.

Uxmal is open daily from 8am to 5pm.

When visiting most of the Mayan archeological sites you need to pay 2 fees, one for the Yucatán Tax Administration Agency, and a second one for the National Institute of Arts and History.

Uxmal General Admission
Total: $223 MXN

Mexican Citizens
Total: $157 MXN

Yucatán State Citizens
Total: $70 MXN

Uxmal is the second most visited archeological site in Yucatán with more than 1 million visitors a year, with the busiest months being November – April.
The months with fewer crowds are May – June, and September – October
The perfect month to visit this archeological site because of good weather and fewer tourists is May.
The best time during the day is between 8 and 11 am, and if you’re not an early bird, you can get there between 2 and 3pm.

Relax: You can walk around the main Buildings near the Pyramid of the Magician: The Nunnery Quadrangle, the Quadrangle of the Birds and the Ball Court in under an hour.
Tourist: If you want to see everything stopping only to take pictures, it may take between 2 and 3 hours.
Archeologist: If you already read about Uxmal’s history and its buildings, you might want to really explore the architecture and engravings around the monuments. This may easily take between 3 to 5 hours.

Recommendations

  • Plan your route. If you’re just looking to take a couple of amazing pictures in front of the main pyramid, and other nearby constructions, there’s no need to plan the route; but if you want to see everything, it’s best to plan ahead so you know what you want to see, and where it is.
  • Wear comfortable shoes. You may wear sandals, but it’s best to take your hiking or tennis shoes. The pathways are a bit uneven unpaved, also you’ll have to keep an eye out for errant rocks and sticks.
  • Protect yourself from harmful UV rays. You may find some shades under the trees, but most of the time, you will be under direct sunlight, so make sure to use sunscreen, a hat, and it may also be a good idea to take an umbrella with you.
  • No drones or tripods allowed. You may freely take pictures and video with your handheld camera or smartphone, but you have to pay a small fee for shooting video with a pro camera. Also, keep in mind you can’t use drones. If you really need to use a tripod, there’s a special permission to use one, but it might take some valuable time out of your visit to get it.

Short Uxmal Video

(3:29 minutes)

Learn about Uxmal and

From Mérida it’s 85km and you get there in approximately 1 hour and 10 minutes.

From Valladolid it’s 240km and you get there in approximately 2 hours and 40 minutes.

From Cancún it’s 380km and you get there in approximately 4 hours.

From Tulum it’s 340km and you get there in approximately 4 hours.

You shouldn't miss...

When you come to Uxmal don’t forget to visit:

Pyramid of the Magician

Legend has it that the Pyramid of the Magician was built in a single night.
Learn more

The Nunnery Quadrangle

It was built from 900-1000, and the name related with nuns was assigned in the 16th century because it resembled a convent.
Learn more

Governor's Palace

The Governor’s Palace in Uxmal is one of the most beautiful examples of Mayan sculpture and architecture.
Learn more

If you’re up to the walking challenge, you should also take a look at the Great Pyramid, a tall building that you can still climb all the way to the top to get an amazing view of Uxmal and its surroundings.

More about Uxmal

Little is known about the history of Uxmal, although the truth is that the key monuments, as well as the periods of maximum power and population, were from the late Classic period, although there are indications that it was inhabited in very long periods previous to the buildings we now know.

The occupation of the Archeological Site of Uxmal dates back to 500 BCE., but it was a political and economic power in the Mayan Peninsula Puuc region during IX and XII centuries.

The oldest references are those collected in the Chilam Balam of Chumayel (written in Mayan with Latin characters where the history of the Maya is related). With this base, and with the interpretations of the inscriptions of the rings of the Ball Court, it is estimated that Uxmal was founded in the seventh century, during the first occupation, in the classical period.

The second occupation was also registered in the Chilam Balam that took place in the 10th century by emigrants from the central lands of the Tutul Xiúes ethnic group, a trace of this can also be found in the buildings. The annals in Mayan language date the arrival of the Xiues to Uxmal between the year 987 and 1007. This group introduced the Nahua component and with them the cult to Tlaloc and Quetzalcoatl; the god of rain Chaac is present since before the arrival of the Nahuas and the great dependence on the rain that the inhabitants of the entire Puuc area had.

Pyramid of the Magician

Sorcerers pyramid long

Legend has it that the Pyramid of the Magician (Pirámide del Adivino) was built in a single night. Very unlikely because it consists of 5 structures from different eras, perhaps only the last and smallest structure on top was built in one night and that turned later on turned into the legend.

Read more about the Pyramid of the Magician.

The Nunnery Quadrangle

The nuns building long

The Nunnery Quadrangle was built from 900-1000, and the name related with nuns was assigned in the 16th century because it resembled a convent. The quadrangle consists of four palaces placed on different levels that surround a courtyard.

Of the different buildings that make up this palatial complex, several vault tops have been recovered, they are painted and represent partial calendrical dates from 906 to 907 AD, which is consistent with the Chan Chahk’ahk Nalajaw period of government.

Read more about the Nunnery Quadrangle.

Quadrangle of the Birds

Birds buildings Uxmal long

The Quadrangle of the Birds is a courtyard bounded by four other structures that frame the Pyramid of the Magician, this set of structures was built in various stages throughout the life of Uxmal. The name Quadrangle of the Birds was given because of the figures of macaws decorating the west building.

Read more about the Quadrangle of the Birds.

The Ball Court

Ball game in Uxmal long

Its condition is very deteriorated, and it’s made of two constructions of medium dimensions that make up the sides of the court with the rings by which the ball was to be introduced. The originally carved stone rings were removed to protect them from the elements and were replaced by reproductions.

Read more about the Ball Court.

Governor’s Palace

Governors Palace Umxal long

The Governor’s Palace in Uxmal is one of the most beautiful examples of Mayan sculpture and architecture, and one of the must-see buildings in the city together with the Pyramid of the Magician and the Nunnery Quadrangle.

It’s placed on top of a hill, characteristic of the Puuc region on a large platform that makes up three terraces. It was divided into 3 parts separated by very high transverse vaults.

Read more about the Governor’s Palace.

Uxmal Museum

The Uxmal museum is a small space with cultural elements that have been recovered during the archaeological exploration and gives an idea of what the visitor is going to contemplate inside the archaeological site.

It emphasizes objects of domestic and ceremonial use as well as sculptures and decorative elements that stand out in the architectural style of Uxmal and the Puuc region.

Temple of the Turtles

Turtles building Uxmal long

The Temple of the Turtles in Uxmal is one of the simplest decorated temples in the city, named because of the carefully carved turtle statues that adorn its cornice on the four sides of the frieze of the building.

This Temple was built in the late phase of the flourishing Puuc style or late Uxmal period between the years 800 and 900 and it is thought that it was part of the first substructure of the Governor’s Palace.

Read more about the Turtles.

Chenes Buildings

Chenes building Uxmal long

There are a couple of buildings known as Chenes Buildings that are on the west side of the Governor’s Palace. These 2 buildings are older than the platform, so they’re in very bad shape and seem to be set into the ground.

Their name comes because of the type of construction known as Chenes, an oddity for cities built in the Puuc region.

The Great Pyramid

Great Pyramid Uxmal long

The Great Pyramid in Uxmal is one of the few large Mayan buildings that you can still climb. It has nine stepped bodies and a stairway facing north that must have been a pyramid of similar magnitude to that of the Pyramid of the Magician.

There are four last steps to reach the top of the Temple of Great Pyramid in Uxmal named Temple of the Guacamayas, where there’s an entryway with a large mask of Chac. This Temple was built on the VIII century and it was decorated by a cornice, frets and a decoration of birds, specifically macaws, which gives the temple its name.

Read more about the Great Pyramid.

The Dovecote in Uxmal

Doves group uxmal long

The Dovecote is a building located next to the Great Pyramid towards the west that closes one side of a rectangular patio of 140m². This structure has a very remarkable tall crest resembling a Dovecote, hence its name. In one of the corners, there is a small pyramid crowned with a temple.

It is made up of nine staggered triangular units that rest on a row of pillars. This cresting is known to be of a specific peninsular type in early Puuc architectural, dated between years 670 and 770 a. C.

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