Ancient Mayans and Black Jaguars – Ek’ Balam Ruins, Yucatan State, Mexico


Less than 20 miles from Valladolid lies Ek’ Balam, a rich but only moderately visited ancient Mayan city. There are more than 30 Mayan languages. In the local Yucatec Mayan language the name Ek’ Balam means “Black Jaguar.” It’s a fittingly imposing name for a city which is believe to have been large and prosperous. Most of the structures of Ek’ Balamn date back to the Late Classic period (600-900 AD), including an impressive tomb.

Ek-Balam - Entrance-Arch

A classic Mayan arch at the Ek' Balam archaeological site.

Ek' Balam - The Twin Pyramids & the Oval Palace

The impressive Twin Pyramids (right) and the Oval Palace (left) at the Mayan ruins of Ek' Balam.

Ek Balam - ballcourt

The ball court at Ek' Balam.

Ek Balam

One of the Twin Pyramids (near), the ball court (middle) and the Acropolis (rear) at the Mayan ruins of Ek' Balam.

Part of Ek’ Balam’s charm is that it’s such a compact set of ruins with a handful of buildings that can happily be explored in an hour or so. Undeniably the most impressive of these is the Acropolis. At more than 520 feet long and more than 100 feet high it’s imposing.

Ek Balam - Acropolis

The Acropolis is the largest structure at Ek' Balam and it contains the tomb of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' which is now protected beneath the palapa on upper left-hand side.

About two-thirds of the way up the Acropolis archaeological types recently uncovered the tomb of Ukit Kan Lek Tok, one of Ek’ Balam’s rulers. His final resting place is marked by amazing carvings including really menacing fangs around the tomb’s door. The tomb’s walls are covered with more intricate carvings and Mayan glyphs. A headless figure is seated above the door and some experts believe this is a depiction of Ukit Kan Lek Tok himself.

The elaborately-carved tomb of Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' is the main draw of the Ek' Balam archaeological site.

Another unusual aspect of the tomb are large statues of what look like winged warriors and also bring to mind Christian angels even though the figures were carved hundreds of years before Spanish conquistadors brought Christian iconography to the region.

Climbing more than 100 feet up to the top of the Acropolis is worth it for this view over Ek' Balam and the surrounding jungle.

Ek Balam - Temple atop the Oval Palace.

A temple atop the Oval Palace at Ek' Balam archaeological site.

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6 comments on “Ancient Mayans and Black Jaguars – Ek’ Balam Ruins, Yucatan State, Mexico

    • Hi Barbara, This is the only scructure of the 30 or so Mayann sites we visited that was actually called an accropolis, not a pyramid, since it was built as a burial tomb. This structure is not that high, only 100 feet or so, but its over 500 feet long. You can’t see the base in the photo. We actually didn’t visit the sites around Chetumal, closest we got was the Rio Bec area and Calakmul.

  1. Fascinating to see it restored! I was there in 1983. I paid a local boy to take me back to the ruins. It was totally untouched and the jungle was growing out of everything. An experience to remember.

    • Jeff, Thanks for sharing your story. Your lucky to have seen the site through its various stages of restoration.
      Additionally, thanks for including our blog in the resent homepage of Yucatan Living. I think you may have misunderstood our hot water comment though…the cold water was scalding by the end of the day due to the black tank baking in the June sun. The last thing anyone needs in Valladolid in June, particularly in a fan room, is hot water whether heated in the heater or by the sun.

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