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How to visit Ek Balam Ruins in Mexico | The Ultimate Guide

The Mayan Ek Balam ruins are among the most interesting that you can enjoy in Yucatan. It is a great settlement with several attractive elements that you will appreciate if you know about them.


In this post, we will tell you all about it so that you can learn about this beautiful ancient Mayan City and explore it either on your own or with a guide.

In Ek Balam, you can climb the great Acropolis, with its 32 meters high, and enjoy the impressive views, observe one of the great tombs of the Mayan civilization, besides other amazing details that impress every curious traveler.

Without a doubt, we would not miss it on our journey through Mayan lands.

In fact, Ek Balam is one of the largest for us 🙌. Besides, you should know that the area is full of cenotes that you can explore after you visit the archeological site, including one on the very same premises. But let’s find out what makes Ek Balam so special and unique!

ek balam ruins

A BRIEF HISTORY OF EK BALAM

Ek Balam is one of the great Mayan cities situated in the Yucatan Peninsula, one of the capitals of Eastern Yucatan.

In the ancient Mayan world you cannot find one great capital that ruled over the rest, but several independent capitals or cities that were in power at times and in different zones.

Ek Balam was one of those capitals that under the government of Talol conquered this area of ​​eastern Yucatan, dominating several cities.

The most outstanding governor of Ek Balam was Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’, the initiator of the reign of Talol. His successors followed the legacy but were not as distinguished as he was.

During the time of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’ it was the apogee of Ek Balam, where it developed as a great city.

This governor had very good taste when it came to beautifying his city.

ek balam tomb
The tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’

Let’s see the chronology of events:

► Ek’ Balam was populated from the Middle Preclassic period (300 BC)
► Its climax was during the Late Classic, from 770 to 896 AD. During these great times, Ek Balam conquered the nearby cities through wars
►The city remained alive almost until the arrival of the Spanish Conquerors

cronology of the Maya Civilization

We can see the importance of Ek Balam from the wall that surrounds the city.

Every city with a wall means that it needs to protect itself from its enemies. You wouldn’t spend time and resources on something you don’t need. Later we see this wall on the map of Ek Balam.


Did you know?

✅ Ek Balam covered about 12 km2: a sacred central space of just over 1 km2 where the elite resided, protected, and delimited by 3 walls that served as access control and defensive purposes.

✅The walls had 5 entrances, with 5 pre-Hispanic paths or sacbés (sak bé oob in plural). Between 12 and 18 thousand inhabitants lived in its main nucleus.

✅ The Acropolis of Ek Balam is one of the largest buildings in all Mesoamerica. It measures 162 meters long, 68 meters wide, and 32 meters high.

✅ On the Acropolis lays the impressive tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’, with an offering of more than 7,000 pieces of various materials.

✅ Ek Balam has an Emblem Glyph: it is a glyph that identifies a ruler with his city or kingdom. Not many ancient Mayan cities have Emblem Glyphs.

ek balam emblem glyph
Ek Balam emblem glyph

The Mayan architectural style of Ek Balam Ruins

In Ek Balam, we can see various architectural styles from the different cultural regions, with a great variety of decorative elements such as the Petén, the Puuc, the eastern coast of Quintana Roo, Chenes, and Río Bec.

Ek Balam takes certain elements from all these styles, and we cannot say that it belongs to any of them.

The city combines them with its own styles, which makes Ek Balam a truly unique place 💛


Meaning of Ek Balam

The meaning is lucero/star (EK) Jaguar (<BAH-la-ma> what is read /bahlam/)= Star Jaguar.

The main cult was the jaguar, just as in Chichen Itza it was the Feathered Serpent (Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl). This also gives us an idea of ​​how Ek Balam set itself apart from its neighbors.

Ek Balam - temple
Ek Balam - temples

EK BALAM EXPLORATION HISTORY

The first discovery of Ek Balam was made by Claude Joseph Désire Charnay, a French explorer, archaeologist, and photographer known for his photographs and explorations of the pre-Columbian world since his first trip to Mexico in 1857.

He visited Ek Balam in 1885 first and returned to the Mayan city on his last trip to Yucatan in 1886.

In 1994, the Ek’ Balam archaeological project of the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) started and excavation works began.

While the exploration works for this city are relatively recent, in the past few years, there have been many advances in recollecting information about this ancient city.

charnay_ek_balam
Claude Joseph Désire Charnay Source

Here is an interesting fact about Ek Balam that not many know

Ek Balam holds one of the most beautiful treasures of the Mayan world that’s related to writing: a panel known as the 96 Glyphs painted on a mural in one of the inner chambers of the Acropolis.

It has exactly 96 glyphic blocks, like the famous Palenque panel, arranged in three lines with 32 glyphic blocks each. (Location: the interior wall of room 29-sub, Structure 1 of the Acropolis).

It was not possible to get all the information from the glyphs but a lot of it could be recovered.

ek balam wall glyphs
Mural A of the 96 glyphs 💛 FAMSI © 2003: Alfonso Lacadena García-Gallo

The bad news is that, in order to preserve it, it’s closed to the public.

We are dying to see it because it would be contemplating one of the great treasures of the Mayan world.

These direct windows to the past are astounding. 😁🙌

Whenever experts talk about these glyphs they mention the exquisite and unique calligraphy, especially the one from the hand of the scribe of Mural A, which is particularly embellished with curls and flourishing that makes it more difficult to interpret but a beauty to look at.

The chamber was opened and sealed over the years. Normally we see the glyphs carved in stone. This time they are painted as a mural on a wall.

Here below is a summary with photos to understand how exquisite this space is.

  • Room 29_sub: Mural A of the 96 glyphs. Dating: 9.16.19.3.12 11 Eb’ 10 Sotz’ (April 7, 770 AD) and 9.16.19.6.1 8 Imix 19 Xul (May 26, 770 AD)
  • Room 29_sub: Mural B below to the left of Mural A. Date: 9.18.15.9.0 1 Ajaw 3 Wayeb’ (January 16, 806 AD)
  • Room 29_sub: Mural C below Mural A to the right of Mural B. Dating: 9.19.3.10.14 3 Hix 17 Kumk’u (January 8, 814 AD)
  • Room sub_29: Mural D is located in the free space left by Mural C. Unfortunately, this mural is simple graffiti imitating the original glyphs.

HOW TO GET TO EK BALAM

Ek Balam is located 28 km north of Valladolid, 172 km from Cancún, and 186 km east of Mérida. As an additional attraction is the Cenote X-Canché, located 1.5 km. from this archaeological zone.

MEXICO STATE: Yucatan

how to go to ek balam
Open how to get to Ek Balam

How to get Ek Balam by car

Ek Balam Ruins are located:

► 172 km (106 miles) west of Cancun (2 hr 15 min by car)

► 156 km (68 miles) northwest of Playa del Carmen (2 hr by car)

► 127 km (79 miles) from Tulum town (1 hr 45 minutes by car).

► 28 Km (37 miles), north of Valladolid (35 minutes by car)

► 202 Km (125 miles), east of Merida (2 hr 30 min by car)

Renting a car on the Riviera Maya is something you would want to do if you want to be free to move around and discover all the other amazing sites in the region.

It’s a relatively safe place to drive, the roads are good and the sites are well-marked. Therefore traveling by car is a very good option.

However, remember, if you decide to get a car rental, make sure you include full insurance with 0 deductible so you will drive with no stress.  

When renting a car in Mexico we recommend Discover Cars because on their website you can compare different companies and their prices and you can choose between their car insurance or the ones offered by the car rental directly, or both.


How to get to Ek Balam Ruins by local transport from Valladolid

► Taxi (collective): Collective taxis leave when they have at least 4 passengers. You can find the taxi stand on Calle 44 between 37 and 35, very close to the center of Valladolid.

You can pay for the full ticket if you don’t want to wait. It’s 70 pesos per person. They leave you at the entrance of the archaeological zone.

On the way back you will have to walk about 2 kilometers from the archeological site to the crossroads on the way to Ek Balam town to wait for the collective taxi to Valladolid.


How to get to Ek Balam Ruins by taxi

You can agree on a price with a taxi driver from Valladolid, or from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, or anywhere you are.

Taxis have official rates, but in this case, if you want them to wait for you and take you back, you must agree on a price with the taxi driver. Do it before boarding, so there are no misunderstandings.

We leave you with the telephone number of a trustworthy taxi driver/guide in Valladolid with whom you can discover the area around Valladolid.

DRIVER CONTACT DETAILS 👉Manuel Sánchez +52 985 112 21 43

Acropolis
Ek Balam Acropilis
acropolis ek balam

TOURS EK BALAM

An easy and comfortable way to get to Ek Balam is on a tour. Normally tour companies combine a visit to Ek Balam with a local certified guide with another archaeological zone or a cenote.

There are different tours that may be of interest to you. We leave you the information so you can enjoy the place.

Click on the image to read all the information.

EK BALAM MAP

Ek Balam is an easy and very entertaining site to visit. It is a relatively small place, with several buildings to climb that offer you different views.

The driveway under a rich shade of trees leads you to the entrance of one of the 5 roads that leave Ek Balam.

ek balam map
Source of Ek Balam map

Ek Balam ruins suggested itinerary

The structures of the Ek Balam ruins are divided into two large groups: The South Plaza and the North Plaza. In addition to structure 18 or Vaulted Passage.

➡️ Vaulted Passage – The path from the entrance leads you here. It is believed that it was the main access reserved for the elite of Ek Balam. Here begins the tour of the interior of the enclosure.

➡️ South Plaza – follow the path to the left and go around the Oval Palace from behind, until you reach the Platform of the Stelae. In this square, we find Las Gemelas, two identical buildings that define the square. Do not miss the beautiful panoramic view of the Acropolis from the Oval Palace, for us the best view of the place.

➡️ North Plaza – here we find the Acropolis, a monumental building with several constructions. In this building is where you can appreciate the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’, one of the most beautiful in the Mayan world.

The views are incredible from the top. Leaving Ek Balam again through the same place you entered, you pass through the Ball Court.

Ek Balam - arch
Ek Balam arch, the entrance
View of the South Plaza from the Acropolis
View of the Acropolis from the south plaza

PRACTICAL INFORMATION EK BALAM RUINS

As always, we leave you updated information to make your trip easier:

Ek Balam ruins facilities

  • free parking
  • bathrooms 
  • shops
  • facilities for wheelchair access
  • certified guide service

Ek Balam ruins opening hours

From 9 am to 5 pm every day. Last access at 4 pm


Ek Balam ruins entrance fee

The total price of the ticket is 494 pesos for foreigners (85 pesos is the INAH payment and 409 pesos is the payment for the Yucatan government).

Only in Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Ek Balam do you have to pay the Government of Yucatan, this greatly increases the price of these archaeological zones.

198 pesos if you are Mexican. Yucatecan Mexicans are exempt from paying the Government of Yucatan by showing their credential, the entrance fee is 85 pesos.

Also note:

✔ On Sundays, the entrance is free for Mexicans and foreigners with permanent residence. 

✔ Access to the Mayan ruins is open every day for kids up to 12 years old, students, teachers, and seniors (must show ID).

✔ Parking is free.

FREE ENTRY FOR:
Mexicans •Over 60 years old (with official ID) •Retired and pensioners (with official institution credential) •Teachers and students (with an official credential from the Mexican Educational System) •Children up to 12 years old •Researchers and interns (with INAH permission)

Mexicans and foreigners • People with Disabilities


5 Tips for visiting Ek Balam

✅ Use comfortable light clothing and shoes. Don’t wear flip-flops, they are a problem to climb because you can easily trip

✅ If you go early you will be alone, open at 8.

✅ Bring a bottle of water but keep in mind that you cannot walk in with food or alcoholic drinks.

✅ Big backpacks are not permitted. There are no lockers

✅ You can hire a certified guide at the entrance

ek balam ruins

How much time do you need to visit Ek Balam Ruins?

Between an hour and a half and two hours is the estimated time. There are tours that visit it in an hour, for us it is not enough time.

INSIDER TIPS – Just 1.5 kilometers away you can visit the beautiful Xcanché cenote. Or you can combine your visit with another cenote in the area, there are several very nice ones. We’ll give you ideas later, don’t worry 😊

Cenote X’Canché

WHAT WE DON’T LIKE ABOUT EK BALAM RUINS

What we like the least is the price, as it is one of the most expensive places to visit. Although it is not a reason to miss this amazing Mayan site.


WHAT WE LIKE ABOUT EK BALAM RUINS

It is one of our favorite archeological zones because as a whole it has everything: you can go up to the Acropolis, also to the Oval building from where you have incredible views of the Acropolis.

Stelae and the impressive tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’ will be one of the most beautiful things you will see in the Mayan world.

It is a charming place that leaves the traveler speechless, with great views and beautiful details. We really love Ek Balam, if it wasn’t clear 😜


THE HIGHLIGHTS OF EK BALAM

Without a doubt, the Acropolis and the tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’ are the most impressive of Ek Balam. The large jaws of the Jaguar are the entrance that “swallows” the burial of the great governor.

This tomb was the Sak Xok Naah (“the white house of reading”) of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’. When he died it was destined to house his burial chamber.

The stucco, both in the details and the coating, is extraordinary, an impeccable job.

It has been preserved so well thanks to a wall that was made to protect it. Today a large palapa protects it from the sun and rain.

Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’ was buried in 797 or 802 AD.

“The mortal remains of the sovereign were accompanied by a rich offering, made up of 21 vessels and more than seven thousand pieces of jade, shell, bone, and pyrite, as well as some unusual materials such as a gold earring in the shape of a frog and three pearls. ”, according to reports from INAH researchers, Leticia Vargas de la Peña and Víctor Castillo Borges, co-directors of the Ek Balam Archaeological Project.

ek balam tomb
Tomb of Ukit Kan Le’k To’k’

WHAT YOU CAN VISIT NEARBY EK BALAM

➡️ Cenote Xcanché 1.5 km/ 0.9316 miles

➡️ Cenote Hubiku 16 km/ 10 miles

➡️ Cenote Sac Aua 14 km/ 8.6 miles

➡️ Cenote Chichikan 22 km/ 13.6 miles

➡️ Cenote Palomitas y Agua Dulce Tulum 16.5 km/ 10.2 miles

➡️ Valladolid 28 km/ 17 miles

➡️ Ek Balam town 3.7 km/ 2.3 miles

➡️ Kuluba ruins 73 (45 miles)

➡️Chichén Itzá ruins 68 km/ 42 miles

BEST HOTELS NEAR EK BALAM RUINS

There are several places where you can stay near Ek Balam. The most common is Valladolid, the nearest colonial city where many stay for a few days to explore the area.

You can also choose a more local experience and stay in the town of Ek Balam in the Uh Najil cabins.

There are still cabins in the Xcanché cenote and in other cenotes in the area such as the Secreto Maya or the Xuux Peek the same (in this case the cabins are not as rustic as those in Xcanché).

EK BALAM RUINS FAQ

Yes, you can climb the Acropolis. Several Mayan cities have restricted access to some buildings after the 2020 pandemic, this is not the case in Ek Balam.

Is Ek Balam worth visiting?

Of course, it is, it is a very comprehensive place where you can enjoy one of the best examples of the Mayan civilization and old city

How many steps has Ek Balam?

Get ready to climb 106 steps of the Acropolis, 32 meters high. Climb with great caution because the steps are not even and it gets complicated, but most of all are careful on your way down.

Is Ek Balam a pyramid?

No, Ek Balam is the name of the entire old pre-hispanic city. There are temples (not pyramids) inside the city that you can appreciate and some of them can be climbed to the top.

Is Ek Balam or Chichen Itza better?

That is a difficult question to ask, Chichen Itza is magnificent and huge with a complex history and eclectic architecture, proclaimed a UNESCO world heritage site, it’s a MUST-VISIT if you haven’t been there yet.

Ek Balam is smaller but still with an interesting history and surrounded by a lush jungle that you can admire by climbing on top of a temple (which you can’t do in Chichen). It’s also more intimate and with fewer crowds and no vendors, which let you appreciate the mystical atmosphere.

If you have time you should really check out both of them.