Some Mayan sites we’ve visited have had no rhyme or reason–no layout or order that was recognizable to us. Mexico’s Uxmal archaeological site, on the other hand, felt somehow familiar.

An overview of the Uxmal Mayan archaeological site in Mexico.

Exploring Uxmal

The Uxmal archaeological site is huge because this Mayan complex was huge. That can be daunting, but at Uxmal the layout immediately felt familiar, like a neighborhood or a series of small neighborhoods or even a planned community with distinct groups of buildings separated by welcome stretches of green before you entered another group of buildings with its own personality.

The familiar-feeling of the layout gave us a kind of affinity with the place, even when we were looking at a kooky carved stone jaguar altar, or a massive carving of a feathered snake or a collection of giant phallic symbols or what seemed like hundreds of carvings of Chaac, the Mayan God of Rain. More about him later. First, here are some highlights from Uxmal which was made a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1996.

We loved the smoothness and the rounded edges Piramide del Adivino, or The Soothsayer’s Pyramid.

Uxmal’s Cuadrángulo de las Monjas (Quadrangle of Nuns).

It’s a bit hard to see in this photo, but the upper facade of this building in the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas, (Quadrangle of the Nuns) is carved with the image of a huge feathered serpent slithering across it.

Torrential rain, thanks to a tropical storm in the area, gave us some cloud cover (read: relief from the heat) during our visit to Uxmal but we were spared any actual wet stuff and even got a few stretches of sun that lasted long enough to get some pictures. For that we thanked Chaac, the Mayan God of Rain, whose long-nosed likenesses are in much better shape at Uxmal than at many other Mayan sites we’ve visited.

Carvings of Chaac, the long-nosed Mayan God of Rain, are in remarkably good shape at Uxmal.

With so much rain falling it’s hard to believe that one of the biggest challenges residents of Uxmal faced was a lack of water which helps explain why Uxmal seemed to have even more representations of Chaac than at other Mayan sites we’ve visited.

Uxmal-Cuadrángulo de las Monjas-Nunnery Quadrangle-Chac

Decorative carvings and a Chaac mask adorn the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas (Quadrangle of the Nuns) at Uxmal.

Uxmal-Cuadrángulo de las Monjas-Nunnery Quadrangle-detail

Elaborate carving on the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas (Quadrangle of the Nuns) at Uxmal.

The Cuadrángulo de las Monjas (Quadrangle of the Nuns) with the Piramide del Adivinio (Soothsayer’s Pyramid) jutting into the sky behind it.

Uxmal’s imposing Piramide del Adivino (Soothsayer’s Pyramid).

 

A carved stone jaguar altar in front of La Casa del Gobernador (The Governor’s House) at Uxmal.

The Casa del Gobernador (The Governor’s House) at Uxmal.

Karen taking in the view from on top of the La Gran Piramide (The Grand Pyramid) at Uxmal.

The unusual roof decoration on Uxmal’s El Palomar building is called cockscomb.

Like at Chichen Itza, your entry ticket at Uxmal (116 pesos per person or about US$8) includes a nightly sound and light show. This seems like something of a rip off for most people who seem to visit Uxmal during day trips from Merida on buses that arrive in a steady stream all day, then depart at closing time, long before the sound and light show starts.

Unfortunately (or fortunately) the rain returned in the evening after our visit and washed out the show but we’re pretty sure it would have been as melodramatic as the one we sat through at Chichen Itza.

Sleeping near Uxmal

Despite the fact that so many people visit Uxmal on brief day trips, there are hotels within walking distance of the ruins for anyone who wants to stay the night instead of getting back on the bus. The closest option, literally on the doorstep of the ruins, is The Lodge at Uxmal which is owned by the Mayaland Resorts Group, which also owns The Lodge at Chichen Itza where we stayed when we visited those ruins.

The Lodge at Uxmal is surrounded by gardens and jungle, has two pools, a palapa restaurant and bar, and a smattering of two-story buildings with big rooms with A/C and wide shared porches with tile floors and hammocks. All in all, it’s far more convenient, elegant, and comfortable than taking the bus plus a night or two right at the ruins means you can enter early (to beat the heat and the crowds) and return later in the evening for that sound and light show, unless Chaac works his magic and gets you off the hook.

Want more? Our Archaeological Index post has information about more than 100 archaeological sites throughout the Americas.

Here’s more about travel in Mexico