Visiting the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam Valladolid is definitely worth adding to your Mexico bucket list. It is easily accessible from Valladolid or other areas in the Riviera Maya making it the perfect day trip.
We personally found our visit to Ek’ Balam to be as amazing and as special as Chichén Itzá. This was in part due to the fact that we were able to spend hours wandering around and exploring the various structures while having virtually the entire site to ourselves. This gave us the opportunity to try and picture how this stunning Mayan city looked around 800AD when it is said to have been home to over 20,000 people.
Ek’ Balam is one of the more mysterious Mexican ruins as only its centre has been excavated and uncovered. Although the site is quite small compared to Chichén Itzá, the ruins are still extremely impressive and some of the carvings and sculptures are in an incredible state of conservation.
One of the highlights of a visit to Ek’ Balam is being able to climb to the top of the largest structure on the site, the ‘Acropolis’. As soon as you reach the upper platform (31 metres high), you’ll have an amazing overview of both the ruins and surrounding jungle.
This guide will provide you with everything you need to know for an amazing visit to Ek Balam Valladolid.
Did You Know?
- Ek’ Balam is Mayan for ‘Black Jaguar’
- The archaeological site of Ek’ Balam covers an area of 12 square kilometres, however, you can only view 1 square kilometre
- Archaeologists have been able to map 45 structures in Ek’ Balam
“A millennium before Europeans were willing to divest themselves of the Biblical idea that the world was a few thousand years only, the Mayans were thinking of millions and the Hindus billions.”– Carl Sagar –
Ek Balam Valladolid – Visitor Information
Ek’ Balam is a Yucatec-Maya archaeological site located within the municipality of Temozón, Yucatán in Mexico. It lies in the Northern Maya lowlands, 25 kilometres north of Valladolid and 56 kilometres northeast of Chichén Itzá.
How to Get to Ek’ Balam Ruins
Personally, we choose to rent a car when we travel in Mexico as we love the freedom that having our own car allows us and the ease with which we can travel to the attractions we want to visit.
N.B. If you also like to rent a car when you travel, please note there are no car rental agencies in Valladolid so you’ll want to organise for pick up at the Cancun Airport, Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Mérida.
Valladolid to Ek Balam
For independent travellers, we recommend staying in the nearby colonial city of Valladolid. From Valladolid, you have two options to get to Ek’ Balam – a shared taxi (colectivo) or self-drive on a scooter or in a car.
Colectivos (Shared Taxi)
Catch a shared taxi or colectivo on Calle 37 between Calle 42 and 44 near Hotel Zaci. The taxi will charge 50 pesos / USD$2.50 / AUD$3.50 per passenger one way and will wait until all 4 seats have been filled before it leaves (a whole taxi will cost you 200 pesos).
The best time of day to catch a shared taxi without waiting to long for it to be filled is early in the morning (early in the afternoon for your return trip). If there are no other people wanting to go to Ek’ Balam, you might want to negotiate a price for a private ride.
The drive will take about 25 minutes each way and to return to Valladolid, taxis wait in the same place you were dropped off. Ek’ Balam is often not very busy so be prepared to either wait to fill the taxi or pay for the extra seats.
Rental Car / Scooter
From Valladolid, head north along Mexico 295 directly out of town. Ek’ Balam is only 28 kilometres from the city centre and will take you about 30 minutes.
The most difficult part of the trip was navigating out of the city centre as there are lots of one way streets and strange and confusing turns (yes, we did get lost but enjoyed the drive through a residential area). Just pay attention to the signs and the flow of traffic. We would also highly recommend having a route to Ek’ Balam downloaded offline.
Cancun or Mayan Riviera to Ek’ Balam
Bus + Shared Taxi
The cheapest way to get to Ek’ Balam from either Cancun, Tulum or Playa del Carmen is by catching an ADO bus to Valladolid. Upon arrival in Valladolid, you will then need to take a shared taxi or colectivo (see details above).
ADO buses are inexpensive, clean, comfortable, and reliable. See below for approximate cost and travel time to selected destinations. Check the ADO website for bus timetables.
Cancun to Valladolid
Cost: From 192 MXN / USD$10 / AUD$13 per person
Travel Time: Approx. 2 hours 15 minutes
Tulum to Valladolid
Cost: From 130 MXN / USD$6.50 / AUD$8 per person
Travel Time: Approx. 1 hour 30 minutes
Playa del Carmen to Valladolid
Cost: From 206 MXN / USD$10 / AUD$14 per person
Travel Time: Approx. 2 hours 30 minutes
N.B. You cannot book your tickets online unless you have a Mexican Credit Card, so plan on arriving at the bus terminal early to buy tickets.
To drive from the Riviera Maya to Ek’ Balam will take just under 2 hours, and there are several ways of getting there. We chose to follow the well maintained toll highway or 305 Federal Highway as it takes half the time of the alternative which takes you through small villages and their endless string of topes (suspension-killing speed bumps – anyone that has driven in Mexico knows exactly what I mean!).
Follow the signs for Merida, which veers to the right. At the tollbooth, you’ll need to pay approximately 250 pesos /USD$12.50 / AUD$17 (toll will depend on the size of your car). Once you get to the intersection of Highway 180 and the turn off for Valladolid, follow signs to go north on Highway 295 to Tizmin. You will pass through the small town of Temozón (great spot for lunch). Once you have passed through Temozón you will see signs for Ek’ Balam and you will turn right. Once on this road, look for the signs for Zona Arquelogica de Ek’ Balam (it is clearly sign-posted).
Cost of Parking at Ek’ Balam Ruins
When you arrive at Ek’ Balam ruins, you will enter into is a small parking lot and see children that work there as “parking guides” and “watch your car” for you. Officially, there is no cost for parking at the ruins (unlike other sites) but these young entrepreneurs will offer their services regardless. The car parking area is a safe place to leave your vehicle however, a tip of 5 or 10 pesos goes a long way for these local families of Mayan descent.
Tours to Ek’ Balam Ruins
There are a number of organised tours to choose from for Ek’ Balam. Generally, these tours will combine the Mayan ruins of Ek’ Balam with a cenote, and either a tour of Valladolid, Chichén Itzá or Rio Lagartos.
Ek’ Balam is open every day from 8:00am to 5:00pm.
N.B: Ek’ Balam is in Yucatán state and there is one hour time difference in the winter months. They are one hour behind Quintana Roo state.
- 413 pesos / USD$21 / AUD$28 per person for foreigners
- N.B. Ek’ Balam has imposed the state tax for ruin visitors. One payment is for the INAH entrance fee, and another payment at a separate window is a state tax fee. Both tickets are required for entrance into the ruins.
- Sundays are free to nationals (all archaeological sites in Mexico)
- “Official Price” is 500 pesos for Spanish speaking guide and 600 pesos / USD$25 / AUD$34 for the other available languages
- The price will be more for a larger group
- Guide prices are negotiable
Food and Drink
There are some small shops selling drinks and snacks on the premises but they do charge ‘tourist’ prices. If you are looking to eat a meal before or after the ruins, we recommend:
- Restaurante Familiar Temozón – They have friendly service and offer a range of tasty Mexican dishes and icy cold drinks. Look for a large round palapa roof close to the road on the north side of the small town of Temozón on the 295 road that goes from Valladolid to Ek’ Balam. Approximately 9 kilometres from Ek’ Balam.
- Restaurante Dolce Mente – Call in advance (986-106-8086) for lunch and enjoy amazing Italian food using organic produce in the heart of the village of Ek’ Balam.
- The colonial city of Valladolid has a huge range of food options to suit all tastes.
- Free Car Parking
- Tourist Shops
Top Tips for Visiting Ek’ Balam
- Arrive early or later in the afternoon to avoid the hottest hours.
- Plan for about 1.5 – 2 hours on site.
- Hire a guide as your visit will be a lot better with someone explaining the history of Ek’ Balam to you.
- Wear comfortable clothes and shoes (lots of walking and climbing), sun protection i.e. a hat and sunscreen, bring mosquito repellent, plenty of water, snacks, and don’t forget your camera. Also bring a swimsuit and towel if you planning on visiting Cenote X’Canche.
- Be very careful when descending steps on the ruins as they are very steep and can be slippery, especially when wet.
- You can escape the heat and find lots of shade on the grounds under one of the many giant Ceiba trees, or sacred Mayan ‘Trees of Life.’
- Alcoholic beverages or food is not allowed in the ruin site.
The Mayan Ruins of Ek Balam Valladolid
Ek’ Balam is an ancient Yucatec-Maya name that translates to “Black Jaguar”, “Sun Jaguar” or “Bright Star Jaguar”. The archaeological site of Ekʼ Balam is located in the Yucatán, Mexico. It is situated 25 kilometres (16 miles) north of the colonial city of Valladolid and 56 kilometres (35 miles) northeast of Chichén Itzá.
The History of Ek’ Balam
Founded around the third century, the city of Ek’ Balam was inhabited from 600BC to 1600AD (over 1000 years). However, the city was at its height from 770AD to 840AD. It served as an economic epicentre for the empire and may have even had more influence than its famous neighbour, Chichén Itzá.
Sometime during the Post Classic Period (900AD to 1500AD), Ek’ Balam was hastily abandoned by its inhabitants. There are several theories as to why the city was abandoned but no one is completely sure as to the reason why.
There are glyphic carvings and stelae (carved stone commemorative slabs) that provide a bit of the site’s history containing names of a series of rulers beginning with Ukit Kan Le’k Tok in 770AD through Tz’ihb am Tuun in 841AD.
In the late 1980’s, the site of the ruins of Ek’ Balam was mapped, and research continued into the 1990’s. It was only fairly recently, in 1997, that restoration on Ek’ Balam began. Today, Ek’ Balam is an active archaeological site, and only a fraction of the site has been excavated. Approximately 80% of the city still remains beneath the jungle.
Exploring the Structures at Ek Balam Valladolid
The entire site of Ek Balam Valladolid covers approximately 16 square kilometres (10 square miles) but only 2.6 square kilometres (1 square mile), the centre of Ek’ Balam, has been excavated. Today, 45 structures within the walled enclosures on the site have been mapped comprising several temples, two palaces and a large pyramid (El Torre) which is located in the centre of the city. These structures are laid out on a north / south axis forming two plazas, the North Plaza and the South Plaza.
The city was surrounded by two three-metre high defensive walls which end on both sides at an unsurpassable, steep sink hole. The interior of the city also has lots of smaller walls. The carved stone of the inner walls were 2 metres (6.6 feet) tall and 3 metres (9.8 feet) wide, and covered in plaster. These walls seem to have a symbolic meaning of protection and military strength.
As you walk past the remains of the old city wall, on your left you will walk through the restored Entrance Arch which is said to be ceremonial in purpose. It was probably the formal entry point into the capital with ramps leading from the road up and through the city walls on either side.
On the right side is the Oval Palace, or Palacio Oval, which served as a temple. This structure contains 10 rooms on the first level, two more on the top level, and crowned with a small temple. The door to this temple is very low to make people bow in front of the gods.
While it is constructed on a rectangular base, the multi-tiered structure itself is rounded. It is supposed that this structure is related to ceremonies relating to astronomical or cosmological events on the Mayan calendar
Climbing to the top of the Oval Palace gives a great view over the rest of Ek’ Balam. In particular, the view back to the Acropolis shows you just how much taller this structure it is than the other temples.
Structure 17 or The Twins
Next to the Oval Palace are The Twins or Los Gemelos. These two identical structures feature some well conserved architectural designs and detailed carvings in their stones and temples on the top. They were built on a large single raised foundation 40 meters in length, 17 meters wide and 6 meters high. They are accessed by individual stairways, with each temple containing stucco masks. The buildings face each other with a corridor between which align perfectly with the sun during the equinox.
Walking past Los Gemelos leads to a nicely restored ball court which was dedicated in 841AD. It showcases a platform for the kings and higher castes to sit.
The aim of the game was to throw the ball into small loops using only your head, elbows, and knees. Like other examples in the Yucatán, The Ballcourt may have been linked to games in which winners or losers would get sacrificed to honour the Gods.
Structure 1 or Acropolis and Royal Tomb
On the north end of the North Plaza is located the largest and most noteworthy structure at Ek’ Balam known as the Acropolis. This pyramid-shaped limestone structure is 127 meters long (480 feet) and over 30 meters (90 feet) in height.
A massive, central stairway leads up from the south side of the Acropolis directly to the top. There are several small rooms surrounding the base and a number of platforms branching off the stairway. Situated on the main stairway are two monuments that feature serpent heads with extended tongues covered with glyphic inscriptions.
It also has a number of passageways, courtyards, temples and stairways across the six levels. It is said this structure served as apartments for the Mayan elite who lived here on the plateau.
Climbing to the top will give you an impressive view over the city ruins and across the Yucatán jungle.
El Trono or The Throne
On the fourth level of the Acropolis archaeologists discovered the perfectly preserved royal tomb of the first and greatest Mayan King, Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’. He ruled for approximately 30 years from 770 (the starting year of which Ek Balam became the greatest power in the area) to 797 or 802 AD.
The discovery of this tomb was by accident. None of the tomb was visible when the Acropolis was first excavated in the 1990’s, as the facade of the tomb had been covered in stones and powdered limestone by the Mayans more than 1200 years ago after the king’s burial.
One of the workers excavating the site discovered a piece of a carved arm, which led the archaeologists to uncover a near perfectly preserved stucco façade decorated with intricately-carved figures. The main element uncovered was a huge open fanged mouth of a jaguar through which a passageway led deeper into the structure.
Inside this structure is a chamber, Sak Xoc Nah, which translates to “White House of Reading”. It was the tomb of the ruler Ukit Kan Le’k Tok, and held a vast amount of funerary offerings. Here they found moulded masks, decorative geometric motifs, and elaborately costumed winged statues termed “angels”. There were also full figure statues decorating the tomb that show great detail such as hair braids, loin cloth patterns, and skulls carved into the belts of warriors.
Over 40 texts, both painted and carved, have been discovered at the site revealing important information regarding the sites rulers and their interactions with other sites. The most noteworthy is a text named the Mural of the 96 Glyphs which records an historical narrative, and accession of ruler Ukit Kan Le’k Tok on April 7, 770AD.
X’Canche Cenote at Ek Balam Valladolid
After visiting the ruins of Ek’ Balam, you can relax in the refreshing waters of cenote X’Canche. The basic entrance fee for foreigners is 70 pesos /USD$3.50 / AID$5 per person. There are all-inclusive entrance tickets (400 pesos / USD$20 / AUD$27) that include 2 different ziplines, rappelling and also includes bicycle rental to the cenote.
Located in the same complex as Ek’ Balam, the cenote is about 1.5 kilometres (1 mile) away from the visitor centre. If you don’t feel like walking (15 minute walk down a dirt road with some shade), you can rent a bike (80 pesos) or take a bicycle-taxi (120 pesos return).
At cenote X’Canche, you’ll find a small restaurant, changing rooms, and restrooms on-site, and hammocks to relax in.
The cenote is below ground level with a large opening at the top. It boasts bright blue clear water and a waterfall. There are several jumping platforms and a rope swing.
Cenote X’Canche is really beautiful and a great way to spend the afternoon paired with a visit to Ek’ Balam Valladolid ruins.
In Summary – Ek Balam Valladolid
We hope you’ve enjoyed our post on visiting the Mayan ruins of Ek Balam Valladolid, Mexico! It’s truly a unique place and it’s one that will stay in your memory. The intricate artistic detail and symbolism incorporated into the facades and sculptures decorating El Torre make this Mayan ruin very special. Ek’ Balam is an easy day trip from Valladolid and the Riviera Maya and can be combined with many other activities in the area.
Have you visited the Mayan ruins at Ek Balam Valladolid? Are you planning a trip and looking for things to do in and around Valladolid? Post your tips and questions below.
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