Which Mayan archaeological sites to visit?
I'll tell you about it in sequence starting from what I liked least to what I liked most, or Palenque.
A small clarification which applies to all Mayan archaeological sites: the use of cameras or machines such as GoPro, used for non-professional shooting, are the subject of a additional fee of 45 pesos. I didn't tell you about it in the post on tips for a trip to Mexico but within the site it never happened that they controlled me.
Probably the fact of being the last Mayan site visited on the itinerary that I had prepared had a great impact on my perception. On the other hand after having seen the Mayan ruins of Uxmal and Palenque, with all due respect it is difficult to find something better.
Another aspect that has contributed to not leaving a mark is certainly the fact that it exists much organized tourism coming from the Riviera Maya. In fact, it is only 2 hours from Cancun and 1 hour from Tulum, it goes without saying that in the late morning several buses full of tourists stop at the end of the line.
One of the characteristics of the Mayan site of Coba is being very vast and completely immersed in the jungle.
You have three ways to visit the Mayan ruins of Cobá:
- On foot: be careful because to get to the farthest point of the entrance you have to walk 2km. The km then become 4 round trip. If you want to visit it all, be forewarned and buy enough water. The heat is torrid and within the site there are no street vendors, much less bars or clubs.
- By rickshaw: I mean a modified bike where instead of the front fender, they put seats. They will take you around the site sitting on these strange bicycles. If you want to invest a few pesos, this is the right solution to visit the Mayan site of Cobà. As for prices, I can only tell you the price of the return from the most distant point at the entrance, that is, from the pyramid of Nohuch Mul. It is around 75 non-negotiable pesos. (just under 4 euros).
- By bike: rent one near the shop that you will find on your left as you enter the park. It allows you to turn the site independently and at your own pace. But I can't tell you the cost of the rental.
There are three main areas on the site.
The most interesting is that of Nohuch Mul where the famous stands Mayan pyramid on which you can still climb. Before leaving I was informed about the danger of these ramps, I found a delirium; there were those who said they were simple, others who said they were quite demanding.
You know I tend to be quite blunt… the steps of this pyramid are not demanding. The steps are big enough to get on and off safely. In the center there is also a rope with which you can help. The only thing I want to emphasize is to leave the flip flops at home, they are not ideal for climbing a Mayan pyramid. And there were a lot of people with flip-flops. I don't know, maybe they thought that on top of the pyramid there was a swimming pool complete with umbrellas ... who knows ...
The view from the pyramid of the Nohuch Mul group is wonderful, the gaze lost to infinity. Jungle on the right, jungle on the left, jungle everywhere. It is the best image of this Mayan site.
Schedule: 8 -> 17.00
Visit time: to visit it all on foot 2 half hours, with much less rickshaw.
Entrance: 65 pesos
Parking: present and bordered by a bar, cost 50 pesos
Chichén Itzá is the Mayan archaeological site more famous, as important as it is known. The main pyramid, The Castle, featured in any brochure / magazine / website relating to Mexico.
The archaeological area is very beautiful and the site is fascinating. The problem is theconstant influx of people, mostly organized tours from the Riviera.
The Chichén Itzá area is also very large. As soon as you enter you will find yourself in front of El Castillo that will make you speechless. If you go to Chichén Itzá in the days ofspring or autumn equinox, you will be even more amazed. On these dates the sunlight, through a play of lights, seems to recreate a silhouette of a snake on a staircase in El Castillo. Obviously on these dates, Chichén Itzá is noticeably crowded.
If you walk around and hear groups of people clapping, don't be afraid, nothing bad is happening. They are simply rehearsing the extraordinary acoustics of the place together with the guides. This happens both near the Mayan pyramid El Castillo and in the field of Juego de Pelota. Here, when you clap your hands, a loud and repeated echo is created.
Il Ball game it is therefore another very interesting point of the Mayan ruins of Chichén Itzá. It is a playing field, a somewhat particular game and in my opinion very difficult.
The field was and is rectangular. On the side walls, at a rather high height, there are stone circles. The game is supposed to be about passing a rubber balloon through these circles. The use of the hands was forbidden and from some representations it seems that the players were equipped with pads on the elbows and knees. In any case, I think it was not easy to "score".
To tell the truth, I wonder how much they really wanted to win the game. Indeed, it is somewhat strange but the captain of the winning team did not lift the winner's cup. Unfortunately, or fortunately, in the Toltec era whoever won was sacrificed in honor of the gods. This was considered an honor as it definitely meant entering heaven.
All the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá is beautiful to see, if it weren't dotted with stalls anywhere in the shade would be even better. There are myriads of stalls along the entire quadrilateral and along the promenade that leads to the cenote that is inside the site. In my opinion there are too many, an exaggeration of prepackaged tourism in a place that should instead preserve its charm and its mystery.
As I told you, within the Mayan site of Chichén Itzá there is also a cenote, nothing special if you have previously seen and swam in the Cenotes of Dnitzup.
To read: Cenotes in Mexico, what they are and where to find them
This is certainly an archaeological site to put on the agenda. You can't miss it. It is now an icon even if it must be emphasized that all this tourism does not allow you to better appreciate the beauty of the place.
Then there is only one solution: arrive as soon as possible and enter the archaeological site when the tourist buses have not yet arrived. For reasons of force majeure I was able to see it only in the afternoon and therefore it was too crowded. My advice is staying near Valladolid and be ready and quick in the morning by arriving on site as soon as possible.
Working Time: from 8 to 16, some sites and guides say until 17 ... in reality I read 16 on the entrance sign, in fact people began to flow around that time. You still have a lot of room because before you leave everyone will probably arrive at 17pm.
Visit time: 2 hours
Entrance: 230 pesos
Parking: present and bordered by a bar, cost 30 pesos
È the most spectacular archaeological site.
The Mayans who built this part of the city knew their stuff; lots of greenery, a cenote and buildings a stone's throw from the sea. Seriously, the Tulum ruins are a feast for the eyes. Appreciating the historical side of Mayan culture against the backdrop of the ocean is priceless.
In itself the ruins don't say much. It is nice that they are placed in a very green context but they are not as majestic as those that can be seen in the other Mayan sites. The archaeological area of Tulum is not far from Tulum Pueblo and also in this case it is a destination for mass tourism. But it is normal, who would not want to see such a show.
The main path winds on the sea side and in a stretch there is a staircase that allows you to go to the super crowded beach under the ruins.
I advise you to organize yourself for water and soft drinks, there are no refreshment points inside and the route is mostly in the sun which, as you well know, can do it in Mexico.
How to reach us: beware that the archaeological area is outside the city, to reach it you have to go beyond the town of Tulum and a few hundred meters later you will find the entrance to the site.
Schedule: 8 -> 17
Visit time: 1 hour and a half
Entrance: 65 pesos
Parking: present and bordered by a bar, cost 120 pesos
I visited Uxmal with no expectations. I had read it was a well preserved site but in my thoughts I imagined it in the shadow of the most renowned sites.
Instead, it was an incredible discovery.
Organized tourism prefers more usable destinations from the Mayan Riviera and Uxmal is spared from this type of tourism. Uxmal is in fact much more distant than Chichén Itza but if you are following the itinerary I told you about, it will be very easy to get there.
The strength of the Mayan site of Uxmal consists of three aspects:
- It is located in the hilly region of Puuc, along the Puuc Route. They are the first and only hills you meet when moving towards the south of the Yucatan.
- It is completely immersed in the vegetation, which gives it a magical and mysterious aspect.
- There are few tourists. This means that you will find yourself wandering around the archaeological site in total tranquility and you will be able to appreciate it to the fullest by enjoying each structure and taking myriads of photos.
Translated from the Mayan language, Uxmal means "built three times“, In reality the city was rebuilt five times. On this site there is a Juego de Pelota smaller than that of ChIchén Itza. On the other hand, there is a Mayan pyramid on which we climbed, on which there was a Mayan indigenous to meditate.
I understand it well, with that view and only the sound of the wind, it's a sight to be up there.
Mine has been a long visit. After seeing Chichén Itza it didn't seem real to be able to be immersed in Mayan history being able to savor every aspect without any rush.
This is also the advice that I would like to give to you who are reading this post. When you go to Uxmal, don't visit in a hurry, let yourself be carried away by the tranquility of this place.
Schedule: 8 -> 17
Visit time: 2 and a half hours calmly, otherwise 2 hours.
Entrance: you need 2 tickets per person due to two different taxes, one of 65 pesos and the other of 148 pesos for a total of 213 pesos.
Parking: present and bordered by a bar, cost 30 pesos
It goes without saying that Palenque is in the very first place of this ranking. The Mayan ruins of Palenque excite e amaze. I think it is absolutely the best Mayan site seen on my trip to Mexico. Among other things, it is the only one I have visited in Chiapas.
Palenque is famous and therefore some organized tours arrive. But don't expect who knows what crowd because, although it is much more visited than Uxmal and does not enjoy the same tranquility, it is still very liveable.
In ancient times, Palenque, which translated means palisade, was not called in this way. His name was Lakamha whose meaning was Great Water.
I have visited this Mayan site with a guide. I was informed and I had read that the perception with a local guide would have been completely different; it was absolutely the right choice. Seeing Palenque with a guide makes it completely different, even better if the guide is a native Mayan, he will tell you and pass on its history much more intensely.
A little mention about the guides
When you park your car (either on the road leading to the ruins or to the small parking lot at the top) there will be a lot of people asking you if you need a guide to the ruins or not. Beware that these are not certified guides. So don't accept and move on. Arriving at the small parking lot you will find many guides with an identification tag, these are official guides who are allowed to be professional guides.
The ones you will find on the street without identification tag they will simply be people who will try to "steal" the customer. Many of these people are prepared anyway. I happened to pass in part to other groups and these non-regular guides seemed to know "their stuff". What I am trying to convey to you is that it is better to use certified guides for many reasons. First, for a speech by truthfulness of the information that they give you, and secondly for enhance their profession.
How much do guided tours to the ruins of Palenque cost?
Let's start by saying that it all depends on the language in which you want to be explained the path. In general, Spanish costs a lot less than Spanish.
To give you an idea, initially for a Spanish tour of:
- 2 hours only for the Mayan Ruins -> 1200 pesos (60 euros)
- 3 and a half hours including forest -> 2300 pesos (115 euros) in total.
There is bargaining, so you will be able to bring them to much lower figures. However, if you understand a few words of Spanish, you may want to take the 3-hour guided tour in Spanish. We were offered this tour in Spanish for 1000 pesos, considerably lower than the Spanish one. We shared the tour with two other Italian girls who got along great with Spanish. Although we were not lightning bolts of war with this language, we understood everything that was explained to us.
I was very happy with our guide, who is also a native Mayan, so if you want to contact him, his name is Efrain and I leave you his address: +0044 9161265088. He has no mail or other contact details, he only speaks Spanish. During the tour he is calm and patient, he does not rush and above all he speaks softly, which is very important, even if in reality the Latin Americans speak more slowly than their European cousins.
The things to say about this site would be many, but I don't want to reveal everything, otherwise what a mystery there would be. Speaking of mystery, the Mayan site of Palenque was only discovered for 5%... if you think that 95% is still covered by meters and meters of vegetation, the mysteries remain!
I have placed two questions to Efrain:
How could the Maya, given their height, be able to build such monumental buildings?
The Mayan people averaged 1 meter and 20 centimeters tall, yet they were very strong. It may be, but I still find it difficult to transport tons of stones and put them in the points where archaeologists later found them. Some perplexities remain.
How come they don't do further research and lay bare other finds?
Efrain rightly replied that there are several reasons why we prefer to keep the situation unchanged.
In the first place: the mystery. The concept is quite understandable, what mystery would fully discovered ruins have?
Secondly: i Costi. It would be too large, too expensive to even discover small parts.
Thirdly: although more important: a strong one respect for nature. That is to avoid wild deforestation.
The site therefore remains so, in this mystical state, and fortunately I would say.
The guided tour continues inside the forest where the guide explains many varieties of plants that do not exist with us, cross different water courses and finally reach a small but beautiful waterfall where you can also take a nice refreshing bath.
Once you have finished swimming you can go up and you will find yourself on the road that leads to the ruins. In practice, you are already outside the archaeological area. If you want to return from the main entrance you can easily do it, theadmission is valid for the current day.
It is undoubtedly the Mayan site on which I advise you to invest a few euros more for the guide, it will be really well spent money.
I also remind you that included in the ticket there is also the entrance to the Museum which is located a few hundred meters after the ruins on the road that leads from the ruins to Palenque. Going towards Palenque you will find it on your left, vice versa, going from Palenque city towards the ruins, you will find it on the right. You notice it as it has a large parking lot.
Schedule: 8 -> 16
Visit time: 2 hours short tour without forest, 3 and a half hours including forest / jungle.
Entrance: 62 pesos
Parking: free parking on the street side or in the small area adjacent to the site entrance.