The Ultimate Guide To The Ek Balam Ruins, Yucatan, Mexico
You may or may not have heard about Ek Balam, another Mayan ruins site in Yucatan, Mexico. Keep reading to find out if the Ek Balam ruins are really worth visiting.
Southern Mexico has some of the most beautiful and well-preserved ruins of the Mayan civilisation and if you’re heading to the Yucatan Peninsula then visiting some should definitely be on your bucket list.
I’m sure you’ve probably already heard about Chichen Itza – make sure you read our guide before visiting– but what about the many other Mayan ruins in the area such as Ek Balam and Coba?
If you are interested in history and culture I would definitely recommend exploring further than just Chichen Itza.
Ek Balam or the Zona Arqueologica de Ek Balam is one of the most famous and well-known ruins in Yucatan.
This is primarily because visitors are still allowed to climb the pyramids here, unlike at Chichen Itza and Coba, giving you a greater impression of the ruins themselves and the jungle around you.
Ek Balam is the remains of a traditional 8th Century Mayan village or citadel and consists of a range of temples and pyramids.
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Ek Balam Ruins Need to Knows
↠ Ek Balam Opening hours are from 8 am to 5 pm every day. The last admission is at 4 pm. Nearby Cenote Xcanche closes at 4 pm.
↠ The Ek Balam entrance fee is 498 pesos ($25/£20), cash-only and there are no ATMs on site.
↠ Allow about 1.5-2 hours for your visit.
↠ Eating options are quite limited at the ruins and but there are some snacks available. I highly recommend visiting the Ek Balam ruins after having eaten. The best eating options are in nearby Valladolid.
How to Get to Ek Balam
The Ek Balam ruins are located 27km/17 miles north of Valladolid, 175km/108miles east of Merida or 172km/106miles west of Cancun.
Renting a car in Cancun, Playa del Carmen or Tulum and driving to Ek Balam is the best and easiest way to see the ruins. By renting a car you can also visit Chichen Itza and Ek Balam in one day. Not only that you can also combine a visit to Ek Balam with a visit to Valladolid and a range of other beautiful cenotes in the area.
There are many car rental agencies all over Yucatan and Quintana Roo, however, not all offer the same service and many have hidden fees! If you’re looking for car rental I’d highly recommend you check out Discover Cars for the best deals and service in the area. Click here to get a quote today.
Unfortunately, there is no bus that will take you all the way to the ruins from the larger cities in Yucatan and Quintana Roo.
From Cancun, Merida, Tulum or any other city in the Yucatan Peninsula take an ADO bus to Valladolid.
From there you’ll have to transfer to a colectivo or shared taxi, 2 blocks from the bus station.
The Valladolid to Ek Balam colectivo costs 60 pesos pp and departs when full so if you are the first group to arrive you may have to wait a short while. If you’re in a hurry then the driver will take you privately if you cover the remaining empty seats in the car. A private taxi costs about 270 pesos from Valladolid to Ek Balam.
To check bus tickets from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum or Merida to Valladolid, click here. I always use Busbud, it’s one of the best platforms for searching for and booking bus tickets around the world.
Want to extend your trip past just Ek Balam? Read The 6 Incredible Valladolid Cenotes You Simply Must Visit
Another way to visit Chichen Itza is to join a tour. This might be a good option for you if you aren’t planning on renting a car and you’d like to explore other sites in the area.
Tours to Ek Balam often combine visits to other local sites such as Cenote Maya, Chichen Itza, Cenote Hibiku and indigenous local communities. See below for some of the best tours to Ek Balam.
A Brief Ek Balam History
The ancient Mayan City of Ek Balam was once a thriving Mayan city deep in the Yucatan jungle. ‘Ek Balam’ means ‘Black Jaguar’ in the Yucatec Mayan language and the site has strong associations with the local cat.
Construction on Ek Balam started possibly as early as 300 CE with the city most probably having been occupied well after the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th Century. The height of the city was roughly from 770 to 840 CE when it was thought it was home to some 20,000 people.
Soon after the arrival of the Spanish, Ek Balam fell into ruin and over time it was swallowed up by the jungle where it sat, hidden until when it was discovered in the 1980s.
Over ten years excavators pushed back the jungle and when the site opened to the public in the 1990s only a small portion of the entire citadel had been excavated.
Today just 1 square mile of about 45 structures has been excavated and it’s this that we can see when visiting the Ek Balam ruins today.
What to See at Ek Balam
Ek Balam is a small site of just one square mile that can be seen during your visit. There are about 45 structures, below are the most significant places you’ll want to explore in more detail.
While there is some information at the site, large parts of the citadel’s history are still unknown and because most of the site is yet to be excavated there are still many questions waiting to be answered.
The Entrance Arch
One of the first points of interest upon entering Ek Balam is the Entrance Arch that sits on four legs welcoming visitors into the citadel.
Upon entering you’ll also notice parts of the city’s defence wall which still survive to this day.
Ek Balam has two defensive outer walls, protecting it from attackers with the inner wall having been stuccoed and probably painted while the outer one was purely for defence.
Archaeologists have also found a couple of other walls running through the city itself.
The Oval Palace
Given that only the centre of Ek Balam has actually been excavated, it is here you’ll find a few large structures or temples. The largest structure here is oval in shape around one side with a staircase leading up to it around the northern side.
This is known as The Oval Palace and due to the many relics found here, archaeologists believe it was used for cosmological ceremonies.
Adjacent to the Oval Palace you’ll find two small pyramids with stairs leading up to the top and platforms jutting out at all four corners.
I’d highly recommend climbing these for a better view of the site and El Torre or the main structure located just to the north.
The Great Ballcourt
Just north of these is the Great Ballcourt used during Mayan times as a space for games, larger gatherings and physical competitions. You can notice the stone structures where the audience would have sat on either side, similar to a stadium.
Continuing north you’ll get to El Torre, or The Tower, the largest and tallest structure at Ek Balam and at any sight on the Yucatan Pensinsula.
Many believe that this structure contains the tomb of Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ, a significant ruler of Ek Balam. Inside the Tower, on the left, you’ll also find the temple, El Trono, the place where Ukit Kan Leʼk Tokʼ is buried on your way up.
While the stairs to climb El Torre are very high and steep, I highly recommend doing it.
Not only is it a great workout, but also the views from the top are beautiful and you can see the stucco facades of the temples, carvings and depictions of jaguars, mythological creatures and deities. Although the stucco is reconstructed, it gives you an idea of what it would have looked like in Ek Balam’s glory days.
I highly recommend walking around El Torre and taking some of the random paths in the jungle nearby. You’ll notice a couple of other even larger buildings that have yet to be excavated as you start to realize how much larger this place is and how much work there is still to go to undercover the Mayan secret of Ek Balam.
If you’d like to learn more about the history of Ek Balam and you read Spanish then check out the official government website here.
Other Helpful Tips for Visiting Ek Balam
↠ Bring plenty of water. It can get very hot at Ek Balam and you want to avoid dehydration.
↠ Wear comfortable, loose clothing good for sightseeing in hot weather. Don’t forget a hat, sunscreen and sunglasses too.
Read more: The Best Non Toxic Sunscreen Options
↠ Toilets can be found on-site at the main entrance building.
↠ Bring cash with you for the entrance fees, drinks, snacks etc.
Is Ek Balam Mexico Worth Visiting?
This really depends on what your priorities in Mexico are. Unfortunately, Ek Balam now is not quite the same place it was a few years ago. Let me explain.
I first visited Ek Balam in 2019. Entrance back then cost 180 pesos and the site was still very much under the radar. It was possible to walk around the site and look at and climb the major temples without seeing any other human being for a good 10 minutes.
There were no tour groups, everyone that visited Ek Balam came by private transport or colectivo and the parking lot outside was only half full.
Fast forward to today and the Mayan ruins see as many tourists as Chichen Itza and Coba. Tour groups flock to the Mayan ruins in such large numbers that it leaves little desire for the independent traveller to fight through the hordes.
Also, Mexican attitudes towards tourism are still far from sustainable with many places in Yucatan lacking any kind of crowd control. Spend enough time in Mexico and you’ll notice blatant overcharging almost everywhere you go.
Is Ek Balam worth seeing? Yes, it is one of the most beautiful of all the Mayan ruins sites and it’s incredible to think that so much is still left buried by the Yucatan jungle.
Is Ek Balam worth the 498 pesos entrance fee? I honestly think not and given it’s not far off the Chichen Itza entrance fee yet only a tiny amount is actually excavated, it doesn’t really justify the cost.
If you’re a real Mayan civilisation enthusiast then you might benefit from visiting, however, if not, you might want to opt to visit just Chichen Itza.
Cenote Ek Balam or X’canche Cenote
Located in the jungle not far from the Ek Balam Ruins, you’ll find Cenote Xcanche or Ek Balam cenote. The cenote makes a great place for a swim after visiting the ruins.
Cenote Xcanche at Ek Balam is still rather wild and beautiful, especially when visited in the early morning before it gets crowded. It is however much more under the radar than Cenote Ik-Kil, next to Chichen Itza or other cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula.
The cenote is a large watering hole with clear vivid water and tree roots hanging down. As this is a large open cenote, rather than a cave one, to get to the water for a swim you’ll need to descend down some stairs.
Here are some things you’ll need to know before taking that first swim at Ek Balam Cenote Maya.
↠The entrance fee for Xcanche Cenote is 80 pesos and is cash only.
↠Like with most cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula you’ll need to take a shower before getting into the water. No bug repellents or sunscreen are allowed in order to preserve the fragile ecosystem in the cenote. Note that even reef-safe sunscreens have a tendency to change the natural environment here.
↠ There are lockers and bathrooms near the cenote where you can store away your personal items. If you prefer you can also stash them away to the side of the cenote but make sure to keep an eye on your things if it’s busy.
Do you have any questions or comments about visiting the Ek Balam ruins? Let me know in the comments below!
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