Ek' Balam

Ek' Balam (Mayan for Black Jaguar) is the perfect archaeological site for those looking to escape the crowds of Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Coba. The ruins are beautiful and well preserved because the excavation did not begin until the late 1990's when the site was unearthed from the surrounding jungle.

Ek' Balam (Mayan for Black Jaguar) is the perfect archaeological site for those looking to escape the crowds of Chichén Itzá, Tulum and Coba. The ruins are beautiful and well preserved because the excavation did not begin until the late 1990's when the site was unearthed from the surrounding jungle.

As you enter the grounds you will cross through two very low cobble stone walls. Traditionally walls were built as a first line of defense but given the height of those at Ek' Balam, some historians believe that they served as a barrier between social classes.

As you enter the grounds you will cross through two very low cobble stone walls. Traditionally walls were built as a first line of defense but given the height of those at Ek' Balam, some historians believe that they served as a barrier between social classes.

Ek' Balam's origins date back roughly to 300BC. It was inhabited for approximately 1000 years and the city was regarded as a powerful commercial center. Its most influential time period was from 600-900 AD.

Ek' Balam's origins date back roughly to 300BC. It was inhabited for approximately 1000 years and the city was regarded as a powerful commercial center. Its most influential time period was from 600-900 AD.

Forty five structures have been mapped thus far. The grounds span 12 kilometers but only the center is open for viewing. There are several temples, a large pyramid (El Torre), ball court and two palaces. I would give yourself about two hours to see it all.

Forty five structures have been mapped thus far. The grounds span 12 kilometers but only the center is open for viewing. There are several temples, a large pyramid (El Torre), ball court and two palaces. I would give yourself about two hours to see it all.

Ball courts were a fixture in Mesoamerica as you will find them throughout the region. The ball games that were played may have had religious or political significance. They would often end in sacrifice (one member or a whole team) to the gods and were true games of life or death. Go here for a fascinating read and more information on them.

Ball courts were a fixture in Mesoamerica as you will find them throughout the region. The ball games that were played may have had religious or political significance. They would often end in sacrifice (one member or a whole team) to the gods and were true games of life or death. Go here for a fascinating read and more information on them.

The main tower, El Torre, is one of the largest structures in the Yucatan. It measures 480 feet across, 180 feet wide and 96 feet tall. Unlike Chichén Itzá, visitors are able to climb the ruins. I highly recommend doing so. You will be rewarded with beautiful artwork along the way and stunning views from the top of the tower.

The main tower, El Torre, is one of the largest structures in the Yucatan. It measures 480 feet across, 180 feet wide and 96 feet tall. Unlike Chichén Itzá, visitors are able to climb the ruins. I highly recommend doing so. You will be rewarded with beautiful artwork along the way and stunning views from the top of the tower.

Ornate limestone and stucco facades decorate the main tower. These are some of the most intricate remaining in the Yucatan. The winged figures depict high priests or nobility. You will notice that the center figure has a deformed arm and hand. The Mayan believed that deformities were a sign of divinity and that they were bestowed upon them by the gods.

Ornate limestone and stucco facades decorate the main tower. These are some of the most intricate remaining in the Yucatan. The winged figures depict high priests or nobility. You will notice that the center figure has a deformed arm and hand. The Mayan believed that deformities were a sign of divinity and that they were bestowed upon them by the gods.

The stunning 360 degree views and open sky are well worth the climb up El Torre (96 feet, 106 cobblestone steps, no rails). It is the perfect place to reflect on the magnitude of what you just saw and take it all in.

The stunning 360 degree views and open sky are well worth the climb up El Torre (96 feet, 106 cobblestone steps, no rails). It is the perfect place to reflect on the magnitude of what you just saw and take it all in.

 

Practical Information:

Ek' Balam is located about two hours from Tulum (our starting point) or 30 minutes from Valladolid. We had a rental car and found the drive to be very pleasant and straight forward. When you arrive at Ek Balam, there is a lot with free parking. Some locals do hang around and will "protect" your car if you provide them with a couple of pesos. That, however, is totally up to your discretion and we were told, by staff, that your car will be safe either way.

The cost of entry for the site, per person, is comprised of a 123 pesos federal fee and a 64 pesos state fee. In addition to the entry fee, we chose to hire an English speaking guide for a 1.5 hour private tour (600 pesos).  Our guide, Juan, was wonderful. He was full of information and did a great job painting a picture of Ek' Balam in its prime and answered the many questions that we had. He was also a master at navigating the shade and keeping us cool on a very hot day.

Arrive early! The site is open from 8am to 5pm. We arrived about 8:30 and we were virtually the only people there.

Make sure to bring water, sunscreen, pesos and to wear sneakers!

Cenote X'Canche is located in close proximity to Ek' Balam. We did not have the time to visit but through research and conversation it was recommended to rent a bicycle or go with a bicycle taxi. The cenote is about a mile walk down a gravel path (remember you have to walk back). The fees are: 30 pesos entrance, 70 pesos for a bicycle rental or bicycle taxi (two person).

Remember to always have pesos when visiting a cenote and bring a mask and snorkel if you have them.