Saturday, October 24, 2009


Location: Mexico, Yucatan state, 20 km north of Valladolid
Transportation: Best to drive or take a tour from Valladolid
Bathroom facilities: Yes
Nearby refreshments: Yes (although mainly at the site of the cenote)
Accessibility/Difficulty: Very easy
Cellphone reception: Yes, but spotty

Ek-Balam is Mayan archaeological site located 30 minutes north of the city of Valladolid. Ek-Balam (literally Black Jaguar in the Mayan language) saw its heyday from around the 3rd century B.C. to the 11th Century A.D. The sacred center of the city in which the principal structures stood and the elite resided was heavily fortified and enclosed by three walls.
Most of the structures in Ek-Balam date from the classic Mayan period.

Although Ek-Balam is now well known to Yucatecos and travelers alike, excavations at the site by the INAH began fairly recently (1994). Because of its compact size as well as the beauty of its buildings and natural surounding, Ek-Balam has become a favorite of many tourists and day trippers... this is a site you really should not miss!

- The Main Acropolis
By far the largest structure, it is houses the tomb of former ruler Ukit Kan Le'k Tok. This beautiful building is 146 meters long by 55 meters high and 29 meters tall.

(main staircase)

Even more impressive than its size is the beauty of its stucco work and painting. Immediately observable is something which to those with knowledge of Mayan architecture may seem a tad out of place; a depiction of the Mayan "monster of the earth" which corresponds to a style of architecture known as "Chenes" characteristically found in the neighboring state of Campeche.

Said monster of the earth is presented as a gigantic altar to which priest were able to enter. The immense altar has protruding teeth on the top, sides and most obviously on the bottom (I guess over bites were fashionable!). The altar is very intrinsically decorated with representations of human skulls, masks, intricate designs and the likeness of different individuals. Some of the human figures poses adornments which look quite a bit like angel wings. On one of the walls of the mouth original painting survives which presumably depicts scenes from the life of the cities elite.

Modern architecture really needs more decorative skulls =)

Cool stucco mask

The "Angels"

Surviving fresco

- The Oval Palace
From the contents discovered within this two level structure, we are able to infer that the building was used as a residential complex for some of the cities most powerful residents.

- The Ball court
The ball court at Ek-balam is located in between the northern and southern plaza. A Frieze of a man of great stature holding a bird is visable.

Other notable structures include the twin pyramids, the arch, structure #18 and a series of stelae.

While at Ek-Balam you are likely to see several species of birds as well as reptiles (mostly iguanas, although I have seen some fairly big snakes along the trail to the cenote). Unfortunately seeing a Balam (Jaguar) is extremely unlikely (you are better off going to Calakmul for that)

X-Canché Cenote

About 1km away from the archaeological site visitors can find the very charming X-Canché Cenote.

The site of the cenote is administered by a indigenous coop which for a modest fee offers visitors bathroom facilities, camping areas and a small restaurant which serves Yucatecan food. Access to the Cenote itself is made easy and safe by a wooden staircase (Good thing to, since the drop from the edge to the water is of about 15 meters). The diameter of the Cenote is of proximately 50 meters. Activities such as cycling, climbing and rapel are also available for an additional 30 peso fee (great deal!).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

El Meco (Mayan Archaeological site in Cancun)

Well once again I managed to find the time to get out there and explore during my business trip to Cancun, hooray more archaeology! Today during my time off I made my way to "El Meco" a small archaeological site just north of the Cancun city center. The site is small but very beautiful with many birds and iguanas roaming the grounds. It is ironic that being so close to the hotel zone it is so sparsely visited... when I showed up the security guard acted surprised to see a visitor and even asked how I found out about the sites existence. There was nobody other than me at the site and a group of restoration experts working on a stucco wall (who were very nice and let me take some pics of them as they worked). Getting to the site is very easy, you can take a cab (35-50 pesos) or even take the city bus (just 5.5o pesos) so there is no excuse not to go and sober up from a prior night of debauchery in Cancun =)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

El Rey (Mayan Archaeological site in Cancun)

All this week I will be in Cancun for business, so of course I will make the best of it and try to get out as much as I can to find some interesting things and places to shoot! Today I took a bus down the hotel zone to visit "El Rey Archaeological Park". El Rey is not a big site... however it is by no means insignificant. Most people who visit Cancun never bother to check it out because tour guides and agencies tell them that they are better off taking one of THEIR tours to Chichen Itza or Tulum (as if seeing one Maya site is enough! *SCOFS*). However El Rey is right there on the hotel zone and with admission being only 35 pesos its a no brainer. Founded in the 12 century, El Rey is a post classic site whose main economic activity was fishing and trade. The architecture is consistent with other Mayan settlements along the coast of Quintana Roo, such as Tulum, San Gervaiso, El Meco etc. Anyway, here are some photos (note the hotels and telecommunication towers peering through)