Visiting the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal and Kabah

Well, Tuesday was an amazing day. I went on a tour with Mayan Heritage to tour the Mayan ruins at Uxmal (Oosh-mahl) and Kabah. I picked Mayan Heritage since their recommendation by the tourist kiosk was supplemented by strong Trip Advisor reviews and they offered tours in English.

The cost for the day seemed low, but quickly increased when I learned that there were entry fees to both sites, that we had to pay for drinks with our included meal, and, of course, we had to tip. It wound up being a nearly $1,000 day, but that’s nothing considering the value for what we got!

Cost breakdown:
$525 for the transportation, guide, and three-course lunch
$213 entry into Uxmal (payable in two portions one for a federal program and another for a state program, so you get two tickets)
$50 entry into Kabah
$65 for a bottle of water and a beer at lunch
$20 tip for lunch
$50 tip for our guide (we did research and this was the suggested amount per person for a group our size and what we each paid)
Total: $923

I was supposed to be picked up at a hotel around the corner from my apartment between 9:30 and 9:45, but was told they would likely be late. So at 9:00ish, I went to Oxxo to find a snack since I knew we’d get a late lunch and was delighted to find trail mix. By the time I got to the hotel, it was 9:15… and the bus was waiting for me! I was the last one getting picked up, so after a brief stop at their office, we hit the highway.

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The top part I’m used to seeing (no selling of liquor to youth). But the bottom part about not drinking in public was surprising. I don’t think much about getting a beer from a convenience store in Maz and drinking it on the sea wall on the Malecón or walking with an open container.

This part of Mexico is like a completely different country. The roads have good signage, drivers more or less obey traffic rules, and everything is very clean and well maintained. I didn’t see any signs of abject poverty like I see in Sonora and Sinaloa.

It was about an hour to Uxmal, where our guide introduced himself as Jorge. His English, while accented, was flawless. We all had about ten minutes to use the bathrooms and buy our tickets before entering the site. Before I get to the pictures, I’ll say that Jorge knew his stuff and was very entertaining! We had two hours at Uxmal, most of which was spent listening to Jorge talk about Mayan history and the complex while watching other people poking around the ruins. I was torn between wishing I was exploring and being grateful to be there with someone who had so much knowledge to convey and who could convey it well. We did have a scant 30 minutes to ourselves at the end, but that was barely enough time to climb one of the pyramids (!) and get back to the bus.

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This is commonly known as the Magician’s Pyramid, but I preferred the word Jorge used, soothsayer, as I know that’s more accurate.

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There were lots of iguanas running around at both Uxmal and Kabah.

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These are “false” or “corbel” arches lacking a keystone.

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The entire complex was essentially rebuilt/restored in the early 20th century so it’s not like these magnificent structures have beens standing for thousands of years.

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Jorge spent a lot of time explaining all the carvings. These columns have the elephant-like water god carved into the corners.

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This is an owl. The Maya name sounds like “such.”

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The complex is absolutely massive. This vast courtyard is just a small piece of the entire thing.

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These carvings represent their mathematical concepts. Jorge was very good at explaining how the Maya  came up with their math and how it related to the natural world around them.

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We passed through a false arch that was “blessed” with this handprint. I wish I’d thought to remember to ask if it’s an original or not.

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Looking from the first complex through the ball court to another complex.

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This is the ball court. You can sort of see a ring that the ball would have been thrown through.

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There is another pyramid hidden from view from the main complex. We are allowed to climb this one! The steps are quite wide, so I had no trouble getting up and down.

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Some folks needed to crawl up and down. I would have needed to do that with the narrow steps at the Soothsayer’s temple, but not for this one.

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This is how far I was from the Soothsayer’s temple after leaving the other pyramid and hoofing it back to the bus!

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I still can’t get over that we have stuff this old and complex in North America. The Maya share so many things in common with the ancient Egyptians. They were not a “primitive” culture. Jorge stressed how the Maya have survived through two things, bloodlines and their oral language, and have not just vanished.

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From Uxmal, it was about a twenty-minute drive to Kabah. I had time to inhale my trail mix on the way since there was no food allowed at the ruins except in a designated area with shops and such. It was almost 1:00 by the time we finished our tour and I’d had breakfast at 8:00, so I needed some quick energy! Trail mix was the perfect snack and I’m glad Oxxo carries it. It was funny that the guy ahead of me in line at the store also had some, but a different kind, with chocolate. I had gone for the fairly standard peanuts, almonds, cashews, raisins, pineapple, and papaya because chocolate melts!

It was a twisty route to Kabah, where we spent about a half hour, which was mostly spent poking around on our own. I felt that we got ample time there, surprisingly.

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I enjoyed a presentation at the beginning by a wood carver who is recreating rock carvings. I thought at first that it would be a sales spiel, but nope. The point really was education. Some of the carvings were explained and we saw how much work goes into them. The man uses a type of very rough leaf in lieu of sandpaper! This snake is one of his least elaborate works. He had some amazing tablets recreating steles. None of us felt comfortable taking too many photos because we weren’t going to buy anything. I loved the two-headed snake and would like to find a pendant with it, so that was the one picture I allowed myself.

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Kabah was also reconstructed in the early 20th century.

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These stairs were very narrow. I would not have wanted to climb much higher than I did!

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You an really see here how the false arches have no structural integrity of their own.

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Across the road and a short walk away is free-standing arch. I didn’t see any signage to it and am glad we were told about it.

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We then drove back to the general vicinity of Uxmal to have a late lunch in what appeared to have perhaps been an old house. It was decorated inside with bright yellows and oranges. Outside it had a very lush setting!

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Lunch had several choices, but none were vegetarian or pescatarian. We had a choice of three starters:

-lime soup (chicken soup with lime juice in the broth, a classic Yucatán dish);

-black bean soup;

-vegetable soup;

-salad.

The black bean soup was temping, but I knew to have the lime soup. It was soooo good. Very light and savoury. The chicken in it wasn’t yellow like the chicken back in Sinaloa and was very tasty. There was also tomato in the soup. We got totopos and a very spicy habañero salsa to go with our starter (very grateful our meal wasn’t “Gringoified.”)

For our main, we had, I think, six choices, but they were essentially all variants on chicken or pork done a Yucatán way. I had tried all of the dishes already (!) and so I picked cochinita pibil pretty much at random. Cochinita means suckling pig and pibil means buried, as the dish used to be made by burying the meat under banana leaves and slow roasting it. I liked my main well enough flavour-wise, but found it very greasy and lacking in vegetables. I had a pile of shredded pork with pickled red onion, black refried beans, and rice. I started to turn my meal into tacos, then asked Jorge if that’s okay in the Yucatán. He laughed and said to please keep eating like a real Mexican. LOL

Dessert options were flan and crema española, both of which are egg-heavy, and fresh fruit, so I had the fruit. We got a slice of cantaloupe, watermelon, and pineapple, a perfect end to a rich meal.

Drinks weren’t included. Some folks had fresh juice blends, but I had beer and water.

When I consider that $525 included Jorge’s time and expertise, the fuel, and a good meal, I think we really got our money’s worth. I mean, the whole trip was worth just over $3,000, or 270CAD to the tour company.

I’m glad I went to Uxmal and Kabah for a couple of reasons. Chichen Itza might be the best known Mayan complex, but it is apparently not as large as Uxmal, is not an easy day trip from Mérida, and is completely overrun by tourists and vendors. There was almost no one at Uxmal and Kabah and the only vendors were non-pushy shops at the entrance to the complexes.

If you go, please don’t make the mistakes the other two people my age on the tour did: 1) not wear a hat; 2) drink soda instead of water. Do wear heaps of sunscreen, consider bringing a parasol, and if you go in the wet season, bring mosquito repellant (we didn’t need that yesterday, thankfully).

We got back to Mérida around 5:15 and I was the second to last person to be dropped off. I asked Jorge if he could drive a block past the hotel where he’d picked me up so I’d only have a block to walk home. Certainly!

I was ready to go in and collapse, but one of the guys on the tour, C, was my age and he’d asked me and a Swiss gal about our age, too, to meet him at a bar for a beer around 7:00. Jorge told us to go to La Negrita. So I made the decision to go back out and meet C. The Swiss gal said she doubted she’d go as she was completely tuckered.

So around 6:30, I headed for the bar at the corner of 62 and 49, about 2KM from my apartment. I could have taken a bus down 62, but by the time I got to the corner of it and 35, there really was no point. I did not feel uncomfortable on the walk down.

La Negrita wound up being a great watering hole inside an old house. It had room after room packed with tables. It reminded me of one of my favourite pubs in Ottawa, the Heart & Crown in the Byward Market, only with a tropical twist. I’ve found my Mérida watering hole, something I can’t say for Mazatlán!

I took a table by the entrance to wait for C. When he showed up, we were sure enough the Swiss gal wasn’t going to join us to move to a table inside. We ordered $49 local beers (yes, that price is correct, for beer in cans). I do have to say that my Belgian-style beer was so good I had two!

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And then we had a very reasonably priced ($25) XX Amber. I have to say that the expensive beer is somewhat offset by the amount of free munchies we got, but, of course, those are super salty and meant to keep us drinking! There was popcorn and some crunchy things covered in hot sauce, other types of crunchy things, chiles curtidos, peanuts, and mandarine and pineapple (canned) that surprised us by being very vinegary and hot. We drank, munched, and gabbed en français for a solid two and a half hours. It was great fun and I’m glad to have had an excuse to be out after dark as Mexico is pretty much another world after 8:00 p.m.

I had thought to ride the bus up 60 to 35, but the night had cooled a tiny bit and I decided that I wanted to walk. I did so mostly up the Paseo de Montejo and was surprised to see how much more vibrant it is after dark, with plenty of places to get a drink much closer than Centro. I also discovered that I’ve been walking by something rather important and which I didn’t notice because of foliage until the sign was lit up after dark:

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I passed a dulcería (sweets shop) and popped in to see if they had ice cream. Nope, but they did have fresh fruit sorbet. $40 (including a small tip) got me a large portion of guava that was very refreshing on the rest of my long sticky walk home.

So that’s get home from a bar after dark and a few beers without feeling concerned off my to-do list for this week!

Tuesday was a full, rich day.

Today, Wednesday, is going to be a much needed rest day. I’ll do a little work, find a nice place for lunch, then go see a movie.

21 thoughts on “Visiting the Mayan Ruins at Uxmal and Kabah

  1. Hmm, I wouldn’t say that Chichen Itza isn’t an easy day trip. I did it on regular buses, i.e. not a tour. The hardest part was negotiating the bus station in Merida and since you speak Spanish, I doubt you’d be nearly as confused as I was. LOL

    That said, even after visiting Chichen Itza twice, I liked the other Mayan ruins I’ve seen better. It’s mainly better known because it’s close to Cancun.

    I did Uxmal and Kabah on a tour very much like yours a coupe of days after Chichen Itza. In fact, I wonder if it’s not the same company you took the tour sounds so similar down to the meal but I have no memory of the name of it.

    Kabah looks a little more organized now than then. At the time there was barely anyone there. I think maybe a guard for the site and one other group besides our small bus. We basically had the ruins to ourselves. You’ll never say that at Chichen Itza! If you don’t do Chichen Itza this trip, you certainly won’t have missed much, IMO. Especially after seeing the others first.

    Anyway, glad you’re having a good time!

  2. Chichen Itza is a good two or three hours from Mérida. All the advice I got was to make it an overnight trip to give you a full afternoon and morning at the complex. I will very likely go when I live here and make it a weekend getaway type thing. I feel that i did the right thing visiting Uxmal and Kabah.

    I am having a good time, thanks!

    • One person’s pleasure is another person’s pain. LOL I wouldn’t describe a few hours drive anywhere as a pleasure, but anytime I can sit back and read without having to think, it’s fine with me. I honestly don’t remember much of the bus ride at all. And I’ve done the buses between Merida and Chichen Itza three times between different trips (the last time we continued on to Cancun).

      The first trip I didn’t have the assurance I would have another chance so it was a whole different ball game for me. I would have gone no matter what. That said, I can’t imagine spending most of a day at Chichen Itza. I love ruins but I don’t think I could have filled a day there personally. My second trip was only because I was going with others who hadn’t been. If I was going to pick ruins to spend a weekend at, it would be Uxmal. When I found out they had a hotel right there by the ruins, I so wished I had more time for it!

      I don’t know about the narrow steps at the Mayan ruins but our guide at Monte Alban told us the temple steps were not put back together as they had been originally. They didn’t have enough original stone to rebuild them properly and just kind of slapped it together so that it looked alright even if they would practically kill you going up and down them. 😉

      • I don’t mind a few hours’ drive, especially on a bus, but I didn’t want to spend a whole precious day of my time here on a bus to go see something that I could see a better example of much closer to home.

        That’s funny about the steps. Rebuilt ruins always have to be taken with a grain of salt.

  3. Looks amazing & breath taking.
    What a great tour. I never think of taking tours.
    After your busy day, you deserve a bit of rest.
    Thanks for sharing again.

    • I used to be anti-tours, but I find that they can sometimes provide good value and reduce stress. It was good yesterday to be able to just follow and not have to think about anything. It would have been cheaper, very likely, to rent a car and go to the ruins on my own, but then I would have had to go through all those steps and I wouldn’t have had all of Jorge’s insight. Glad you enjoyed the post!

  4. Thanks for sharing this very interesting day. Although the price seems high you do get your money’s worth. We learned from the tour at La Cañada de la Virgen that the reason those steps are so narrow is so you can’t turn your back to the gods as you decend the pyramid.

    A great story!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post. I actually found it was a very reasonable day, money-wise. I’m just not used to dropping that much on an average day. I’m just grateful that I’m not budgeted so tightly that surprise expenses (to a point) are no big deal.

      That is a great story!

  5. When you live in Merida you could make another trip there on your own without the guide. I like to just sit with my hand on the ruin and let my mind drift back to when it was a thriving city.

    I overheard a guide telling his group that the narrow steep stairs had another purpose besides what Peter describes above above. The Priest would stand at the top of the pyramid and did not like being looked in the eye. As his subjects climbed up to him, the narrow steps forced them to look down at their feet, keeping their heads bowed as they approached the priest.

    I have not visited either of those sites and enjoyed your descriptions. I also agree that Chichen Itza is much more commercial with some aggressive vendors that you have to walk past. Some of the ruins are also roped off so you cannot get close enough to touch them as the millions of visitors have taken their toll. It is still worth a visit and I like your idea of making it an overnight trip. I would like to be there when the setting Spring Equinox sun gives the appearance of the Serpent climbing the pyramid.

    The small village of Piste is very nice, small and walkable. You will enjoy it.

    You had a memorable day, well worth the cost and you finished it off with a couple of cold beers with a new friend! Perfect.

    • I do the same thing at ancient ruins!

      I think yours and Peter’s explanations about the steps are complementary.

      Uxmal really isn’t far, so I know I’ll be back. That is what made it easier to listen to Jorge and not be disappointed that I couldn’t poke around as much as I wanted to.

      I will add Piste to my list.

      It was a very good day. 🙂

      • Piste is the village beside Chichen Itza. It is where you would find a hotel to stay in while visiting. As I recall, the ticket into Chichen Itza is good for all day, allowing you to see the ruins in daylight and then returning at night to see the evening presentation and light show. It does not allow you back in in the morning. This is what I recall, you will have to research it.

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