What to see in Mexico

Uxmal

Tourist attractions Uxmal

One of the most important archaeological remains of the ancient Mayans, Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, located 70 kilometers south of Merida in Mexico’s Yucatan state. Founded around 700 AD, this ancient city reveals many incredible secrets of the Mayan civilisation and their deep knowledge of astronomy. Once a seat of immense power in the Puuc region, the site was abandoned around the 10th-century, left to be slowly devoured by the surrounding forests. 

Around 25,000 inhabitants would have lived in Uxmal. The structures that remain here are considered excellent examples of the region’s dominant architectural styles during the peak of the Mayan period. If you visit Uxumal you’ll encounter towering pyramid-shaped temples, long, low-rise palaces and an array of intricate and endlessly fascinating frieze carvings. 

What makes Uxmal unique is its layout. If you travel to Uxmal as part of a Maya ruins tour you’ll notice that, unlike many other pre-Hispanic cities, Uxmal is not laid out geometrically. Inside, its buildings are aligned with celestial phenomena, such as the path of the planet Venus and the rising and setting of the sun. A tour of Uxmal is the chance to immerse yourself in the belief systems of the ancient Mayans and imagine the elaborate ceremonies that took place at the Pyramid of the Magician or the ritual games once played at the Ball Court. Furthermore, a nightly light show takes place at the Nunnery Quadrangle, giving visitors a different perspective on the ruins after dark. 

The remote location of Uxmal means you’ll likely encounter fewer crowds than some of the other Mayan sites in Mexico. Day trips to Uxmal from the popular resorts of Cancun and the Riviera Maya are possible, although they require a 4-hour drive each way. On the other hand, most who travel to Uxmal prefer to stay in the nearby city of Merida. 

 

Things to see at Uxmal

Understanding the most important structures at Uxmal is key to getting the most out of your visit. On the eastern side of the city, you’ll find the incredible Pyramid of the Magician, the most recognisable and photographed structure at Uxmal. This is the first building you'll encounter as you enter the ceremonial center of the city. A stepped pyramid, with a square temple at its peak, the current structure is thought to have been constructed between 900-1000 AD. Two grand staircases lead up to the temple, but climbing to the top of this pyramid is prohibited. Although, it is permitted to climb to the top of the nearby Great Pyramid for spectacular views of the site and its surroundings.

Another of the best things to see at Uxmal is the huge Governor’s Palace. The ornate frieze carvings and decorative sculptures of this palace make it one of the site's most interesting structures. Carvings include two-headed snakes, glyphs of the planet Venus and masks of Chac, the Mayan god of fertility and rain. Around 100-meters long, the building is located on a small hill beside the Great Pyramid. 

Next up is the incredible Nunnery Quadrangle, so-named in the 16th-century due to its resemblance to a convent. In fact, this structure was most likely a royal palace, dedicated to administrative functions rather than a residence. One of the best things to see at Uxmal, the Nunnery Quadrangle consists of four buildings constructed around a central courtyard. Similar to the Governor's Palace, the four structures are highly decorative and it’s worth spending some time admiring the carvings of their facades if you visit Uxmal.

Whilst these are considered the top sights at Uxmal, other places to explore within this ancient city include the Ball CourtHouse of the Birds, House of the Turtles and the South Temple.

 

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