Uxmal Ruins are among the most intriguing Mayan sites in Mexico. A short distance from Merida, and part of Mexico’s Ruta Pu’uc (a 58 km or 36 miles route that connects the sites of Uxmal, Labna, Xpalak, Sayil and Kabah), you really should make it a point of exploring it when visiting Yucatan.
If you are looking for information on visiting Uxmal Ruins, Mexico, you are in the right place! I have visited a bunch of times, exploring the site on my own and with a guide, and using all sorts of mode of transportation to get there.
Continue reading this post to find out everything you need before visiting the ruins of Uxmal, with information on what to see on the site; how to get there, and more.
Make sure to read my posts The Best Things To Do In Merida.
What You Must Know Before Visiting Uxmal Ruins, Mexico
The History Of Uxmal Ruins
Located along the Ruta Puuc in the western Yucatan Peninsula, Uxmal is an important archaeological site. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is a beautiful example of the strong architectural style – and therefore culture – of this particular region of the Mayan empire.
Along with other Mayan cities close by, such as Chichen Itza, Uxmal is connected to the rest of the region by a network of sacbeob (ancient raised roads) and is dominated by large buildings decorated with elaborate designs.
Uxmal means “three-times built”. Its heyday dates back to around 850 to 925 AD, which is when most of the buildings were constructed. It is thought to have been the most powerful city in the western Yucatan during its day, and had an alliance with the also powerful city, Chichen Itza.
For many generations, Uxmal was ruled over by the infamous Xiu family. After around 1200, it appears that new construction in the city ceased, and this is thought to have been related to the decline of its powerful neighbor Chichen Itza. This is also theorized to have been the result of a shift of power in the region, with the Xiu family moving their capital to Mani in the central Yucatan. Following this, the population of Uxmal declined, too.
When the Spanish began their conquest of the Yucatan Peninsula in the early 16th century, colonial documents suggest that the city of Uxmal was still an inhabited place with a degree of some importance.
Top Sights In Uxmal Ruins
Surprisingly, for a Mayan city that is lesser known than Chichen Itza, Uxmal was in better condition than many other Mayan sites throughout the region. The buildings were constructed using concrete, and with well cut stones, not relying on exterior plaster to hold the structures together.
Thanks to these building techniques, the resulting Puuc style has been very well preserved. Because of this, you can actually get a good feeling for what life looked like in the center of the city during Uxmal’s heyday.
But where do you start? If you see nothing else in this archaeological site, here are the top sights that you shouldn’t miss…
The Great Pyramid
As with many Mayan cities, the crowning glory of Uxmal is its Great Pyramid. This soaring monument features a wide staircase, with nine segments that are thought to represent the nine levels of the underworld in Mayan mythology.
At the top there are decorations of masks depicting Chaac, the Mayan god of rain. Unlike many pyramids at Mayan archaeological sites, it’s actually possible to climb this one. The views od the rest of the site from here, including the Pyramid of the Magician, are stunning.
The Governor’s Palace
The large, low building known as the Governor’s Palace sits atop an enormous raised platform with steep sides. This unusual structure, just north of the Great Pyramid, has the longest facade of any pre-Colombian Mesoamerican building ever found.
One of the most impressive parts of this structure is not the size, but also the decoration. The facade is elaborately carved with 400 Venus glyphs, placed within the mask of the rain god, Chaac. Venus – as in, the planet itself – at its extreme northern position would have been visible just over the north end of the palace. Happening precisely every eight years, this planetary event would have signalled the start of the rainy season for the ancient Maya civilization.
You can actually enter this incredible building, and walk around the platform on which it sits. It may not be as high as a pyramid, but it’s strikingly beautiful, and particularly amazing to be able to enter into such an ancient building.
Pyramid of the Magician
At 115 feet (35 meters) in height, the other impressive pyramid at Uxmal is the so-called Pyramid of the Magician. Designed in classic Puuc style, the pyramid is relatively bare of embellishment at the bottom but more ornate at the top.
It is one of the most distinctive of all of the ancient Mayan structures of the Yucatan Peninsula. This is because the pyramid has unique, rounded sides, an unusual elliptical base and a steep slope to its summit. Built over three centuries, and in several phases, the oldest part of this pyramid dates back to the 6th century AD.
Cuadrángulo de las Monjas
Built between 900 and 1000 AD (making this one of the later complexes built at Uxmal), the Cuadrangulo de las Monjas or Quadrangle of the Nuns is a square, edged by beautiful buildings. You’ll find this just to the west of the Temple or Pyramid of the Magician.
Here there are four different buildings, each of which containing multiple rooms. They are renowned for their mosaic friezes on the upper portions of their facades. You can see intricate geometric patterns, Chaac masks, and floral designs in an elaborate selection of decorations.
Each of the buildings sits on a raised platform of differing heights, indicating a hierarchy of importance to the buildings and its occupants. The northern building is the highest, and features the steepest and most impressive stairway.
Other sites along the Ruta Pu’uc
Not far from Uxmal and also part of the Ruta Pu’uc there are several other lesser known – but equally interesting – sites that you may want to visit. If you have a car, it’s fairly easy to include them in your itinerary, and together with Uxmal they make for an excellent day trip from Merida.
Kabah is the closest site to Uxmal (18 km, or 11 miles). Built between 700 and 1000 AD, at its peak it had a population of 10,000 people. The site is spread across two sides of the street, so after you are done visiting the main complex – which includes the Palace, Codz Pop, and the Palace of Masks, make sure to cross to see the rest. In fact, most of the site is still not open to visitors as it’s yet to be fully excavated.
Further down along the route, Sayil is another impressive site. Built around 900 AD, at its peak it also had a population of around 10,000 people. Take care to notice that climbing pyramids is not allowed at this site.
Xlapak is the smallest site along the Ruta Pu’uc, and reached its maximum splendor between 800 and 1000 AD. The three palaces on the site are all worth admiring.
Finally, Labna dates back to 750-1000 AD and at its peak had a population of around 2,500 people. The main sights there are El Palacio (the Palace) and El Arco (the arch).
Practical Information For Visiting Uxmal Ruins
Now that you know just how amazing the Uxmal Ruins really are (some people even prefer them to the world wonder that is Chichen Itza, and that would include me to be honest!), you’ll want to know how to get there, how much it costs and the best time to visit.
To help you out, I’ve listed all the practical information you’ll need for visiting the amazing Uxmal Ruins below.
Do you need a guide to visit Uxmal Ruins?
No – it is not necessary to hire a guide in order to visit the Uxmal Ruins. You are free to wander around the ruins, even climb up some pyramids and enter some of the ancient buildings freely. You don’t need a guide to escort you around.
However, guides are available and I recommend hiring one. Hiring a guide can really offer a deeper insight into the history and culture of Uxmal. This means you’ll get to understand about the significance of the structures, beyond them simply looking visually very impressive!
If you arrive on a tour of Uxmal, chances are you’ll have a guide already, who will be able to take you and your group around the ruins. This is the easiest way to get a guide.
A tour from Merida, for example, for six people complete with a guide, can cost around $450 (lunch and other sights will also be included). If you are a solo traveler, you can expect to pay around $100 for a guided tour that also goes to Kabah and other sites.
Otherwise, you can simply do what we did: get a guide from the tourist desk once you get to the site. Rates are fixed and actually quite convenient.
For information on guided tours of Uxmal click here.
How to explore the Uxmal Ruins
The most obvious and easiest way to explore Uxmal is on foot. With marked pathways leading from the main entrance around all of the biggest structures, there’s no real chance of getting lost.
Because of the relatively compact size of Uxmal, you won’t need a bicitaxi or bicycle to get around (unlike other Mayan ruins such as Coba). You can climb many of the structures, too, adding to the adventurous feeling of this archaeological site.
How to get to Uxmal from Merida
Merida, capital of Yucatan State, is the easiest jumping off point for visiting Uxmal. Getting between the two can be done easily, and in a variety of different ways, to suit different travel styles and budgets.
The first option is renting a car. Driving to Uxmal from Merida is fairly straightforward. It takes about an hour’s drive, and the road is well maintained and easy to navigate. Take Route 261 out of Merida, and use your GPS to head south to the ruins at Uxmal.
Driving means you’ll have the flexibility and freedom to stop along the way (especially convenient if you want to see the Ruta Pu’uc), and choose when you want to return after exploring the ruins. Parking is also easy, with a parking lot located in front of the entrance to the sight (parking costs MXN 30, which is just $1.50 USD).
Check out the prices of car rental in Mexico here.
Another option of getting to Uxmal from Merida is public transport. If you’re traveling on a budget, or you don’t drive, your cheapest option (and still a fairly easy one) is to take the bus from Merida to Uxmal. This route isn’t traversed by the ADO bus, however. Instead you will need to take a bus from the TAME second-class bus station, which is located close to the ADO terminal.
The bus timetable is simple to understand and buying a ticket is straightforward. The journey takes an hour and a half and costs MXN 75 (less than $4 USD). When you’ve had enough of exploring the site, you’ll need to wait on the opposite side of the road to where the bus dropped you off – there’s no bus stop, and the bus can be delayed, so you’ll have to be patient.
Otherwise, you can get a taxi to Uxmal from Merida and back. Using a taxi is probably one of the most expensive ways to get there. Taking around an hour and costing MXN 2000 (around $100) roundtrip, if you’re not worried about your budget then this could be the most hassle-free option – make sure to arrange for the taxi to wait for you to bring you back to town.
By guided tour
Then there are tours. These are usually well organized and comfortable. You won’t have to worry about anything; you’ll even get picked up from your hotel and get a certified guide to accompany you and your group. It’s also the most expensive way (unless you go by taxi!), as I mentioned earlier.
For information on guided tours of Uxmal from Merida click here.
Useful information for your visit
Uxmal Ruins entrance fee and opening hours
The ruins at Uxmal are open from 8:00 am and close at 5:00 pm, every day of the week, all year round.
The fee to enter Uxmal for foreigners is MXN 495 (about $26 USD), but it’s a little complicated. Although this is steep in comparison to other entrance fees to other Mayan ruins, a larger part of the entrance fee goes directly to the Yucatan state, while MXN 85 (short of $4.5 USD) is paid to the federal government.
Note that while you can pay the Uxmal entrance fee with a credit or debit card, the MXN 85 for the federal government will need to be paid in cash. You’ll actually receive two tickets, whether you pay by cash or by card.
Don’t forget to factor in the cost of parking (MXN 30, or $1.50) if you drive yourself to Uxmal from Merida.
When to visit Uxmal Ruins
This incredible destination is open all year round, but you’ll need to consider the weather for optimal viewing. Between May and October, the rainy season can result in heavy rains – particularly later on in the afternoon. These can be easily avoided, of course, by a trip in the morning. But the wet season also means high humidity and sticky heat.
Between November and April, the dry season is also hot but lacks the frequent downpours and high humidity of the rainy season. I visited in March and it was nice and dry, but also very hot.
When it comes to the best time of day to visit, you should think about planning your visit to Uxmal earlier in the day. Arriving at 8:00 am when the site opens means that you’ll avoid many of the crowds and have these ancient monuments pretty much to yourself. Within around two hours of opening, tour groups begin to arrive, and with them crowds.
You could also time your visit for the afternoon, when crowds will be thinner, but then the weather is usually warmer.
What day of the week that you choose to visit Uxmal ruins will also make a big difference to your experience. For example, on Sundays Mexican visitors are able to visit Uxmal for free, so you can expect large groups of locals enjoying their days off together.
What to take on a trip to Uxmal Ruins
Any trip to this tantalizing destination means being prepared. So make sure you don’t leave any essential items back at the hotel, and ensure you at least pack the following must-haves:
- Comfortable shoes – leave flip-flops at the hotel, you’ll need sturdy shoes for exploring here and climbing the pyramids (walking sandals or sneakers are fine).
- Water bottle – keeping hydrated is essential (opt for a refillable water bottle with a filter).
- Sunglasses, sunhat, sunscreen – protect yourself from UV rays.
- Daypack – something comfy to keep your maps, camera and snacks.
- Small amounts of cash – as well as parking, entrance fees and souvenirs, there’s also a restaurant nearby that you may want to refuel at before heading home.
Make sure to read my other posts about Mexico:
- The Best Travel Tips For Mexico
- The Best Mexico Itinerary
- What To Eat In Mexico
- How Not To Get Sick In Mexico