Despite its relatively recent discovery and conditioning for the public, Ek Balam has become in a few years one of the most valued sites in Yucatan by archaeological tourists. We invite you to discover the interesting Mayan site with this definitive guide.
1. What does Ek Balam mean?
There are two versions of the meaning of the phrase “Ek Balam”, which comes from the Yucatecan Mayan language. One version, supported by linguists who study indigenous languages, affirms that “Ek Balam” means “dark or black jaguar”
However, the indigenous Mayans who live in the place and continue to speak their ancestral language, also refer to the site with the name of “lucero-jaguar”
2. When was Ek Balam discovered?
Ek Balam is one of the most recent Mexican archaeological sites of discovery and research, since it was only in the mid-1990s when excavation work began.
In the late 1980s, Americans W. Ringle and G. Bey had done some archaeological research at the site, pointing to the importance of the inscriptions contained on Stela 1.
The Ek Balam archaeological project was initiated in 1994 by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) and continued in 4 stages until 1999. The first vestige of the site came to light in 1994, a miniature temple within the walled enclosure.
3. When was Ek Balam built?
One of the complexities for a comprehensive study of Ek Balam is the long period during which the settlement was occupied.
The first constructive evidence dates from the Middle Preclassic Period, between 600 and 450 AD. However, the main buildings have been dated to the Mesoamerican Classic Period, during the long period that goes from the year 250 to 1200 AD.
From the Postclassic Period, between the 13th and 15th centuries of our era, only a few small platforms and small-scale altars and shrines have been rescued at Ek Balam.
4. Is it true that there was a Hispanic settlement in Ek Balam?
In Ek Balam some ruins of a colonial site were found, with the remains of a few buildings, among them an Indian chapel.
The Indian Chapel was the architectural space devised by the Spanish conquerors and friars so that the indigenous people in the process of evangelization could attend Catholic worship.
They were also called open chapels due to their greater size to serve the great masses of Indians in the process of converting to the Christian faith.
Apparently, in Ek Balam what happened in many other places in Mexico did not happen , where the Spaniards built huge Christian complexes, made up of convents and temples, on top of pre-Columbian civil and religious sites, as a way of exhibiting the superiority of European civilization over pre-Hispanic.
5. What is there to see in Ek Balam?
The main buildings of Ek Balam are located in two plazas or esplanades, called Plaza Norte and Plaza Sur, within a walled area in which there are other structures around the plazas.
The North Plaza is the largest and oldest of the archaeological site and is made up of buildings 1, 2 and 3.
The most important building is number 1, called the Acropolis, which is the largest and tallest in the archaeological site. The other two constructions of the North Plaza, Nos. 2 and 3, are in the process of being excavated.
The other buildings of Ek Balam are located in the South Plaza, with Las Gemelas, the Oval Palace, the Platform of the Stelae and the Ball Court standing out.
- Also read: Los Azufres, Michoacán: Definitive Guide
6. What is the Acropolis?
This great monument, for which the name reserved in classical antiquity, particularly Greek antiquity, was adopted to designate the highest place of the polis or cities, was the Royal Palace of Ek Balam and has a height of 31 meters and an extension 160 meters long by 60 wide.
The Acropolis is the largest architectural volume of Ek Balam, to which it adds an enormous constructive complexity, given the long period used in its conformation.
In the different stages of construction of the Acropolis, structures were superimposed, with a large number of vaulted rooms, distributed on different levels, which are connected by an intricate network of passageways and stairways.
7. What is the importance of the Acropolis?
The most important discoveries about the political and artistic history of the pre-Hispanic city of Ek Balam come from the Acropolis.
In this immense construction some stone monuments known as the Hieroglyphic Serpents were found, with several inscriptions, among which the emblematic glyph of Ek Balam is represented.
The glyphs were signs engraved or painted by the Mayans and were mainly associated with the interpretations they made of the heavenly bodies and their movements, and the emblem glyphs were of the utmost importance.
In the stone monuments of the Acropolis, the name of the Mayan ruler or ahaw is mentioned, Ukit Kan Lek Tok, the most relevant character identified to date in Ek Balam.
8. What is the relevance of an emblem glyph?
The emblem glyphs were unique and exclusive for each Mayan city and the mere fact of their existence evidences the importance of the settlement, since it identified the city as a divine kingdom and the ruler as a king anointed by the gods.
The discovery of the emblem glyph of Ek Balam was made during the 1997-1998 excavation season and is the only one made to date north of the Yucatan Peninsula, which is an example of the enormous importance that the pre-Hispanic city had within of the Mayan world.
9. Who was Ukit Kan Lek Tok?
Ukit Kan Lek Tok, whose name means “Father of the Four Flint Gourds” was a Mayan ruler who reigned in Ek Balam between 770 and 801 AD, during the Classic Period.
He is considered the founder of the Talol kingdom dynasty, whose capital is believed to be Ek Balam, so its historical importance is equal to that of Xook Yax Ehb, in Tikal, and that of Yax Kík Mo, in Copán.
- Todos Santos, Baja California Sur – Magic Town: Definitive Guide
During the mandate of Ukit Kan Lek Tok, the city of Ek Balam reached its peak and based on the physical remains and representations of the president, physical anthropologists from the National Institute of Anthropology and History have established that he had a deviated jaw, lip split upper and even 23 carious teeth.
The physical remains of Ukit Kan Lek Tok were found on the fourth level of the Acropolis, in an area called Sak Xok Naah, which means “White House of Reading” in the Mayan language.
In the funerary monument, the remains of Ukit Kan Lek Tok were surrounded by a splendid offering, made up of more than 7 thousand pieces of jade, shell, bone and pyrite, as well as a gold earring in the shape of a frog and three pearls.
10. What are the representations of Ukit Kan Lek Tok that have been found?
One of the representations found of the ruler of Ek Balam is a kind of portrait engraved on a bone pendant, which reveals the deformities of his face at the end of his life.
Another representation of the ahaw was found on the lid of Vault 15, which enclosed the enclosure of the burial chamber of Ukit Kan Lek Tok. In this image, the president appears as the young corn god, although already showing his facial defects.
On the zoomorphic facade of the White House of Reading, the Ek Balam ahaw was represented sitting on his throne, resting on the snout of the “earth monster”, a creature that the Mayans associated with the creation of the universe and the world of the dead.
Ukit Kan Lek Tok was also depicted at Ek Balam on Column I, which was originally embedded in the wall surrounding the Casa Blanca de la Lectura, on a cylindrical tripod-vase, and on Stela I.
11. What stands out in the decoration of the Acropolis?
The talent of the Mayan artists who decorated the Acropolis has been evident in several rooms of the complex, despite the fact that most of it has been lost due to the deterioration and disappearance of the original stucco. This artistic originality is palpable in both the carved and painted figures.
Among these magnificent examples of the art of the Mayans of Ek Balam is the frieze of Room 35, which has splendid anthropomorphic images, as well as striking zoomorphic and geometric ornamental elements.
- 15 Things To Do And See In Oaxtepec
- 15 Tourist Places In Morelos
12. Can you climb the stairs of the Acropolis?
The central staircase that leads to the top of the Acropolis of Ek Balam was built by Ukit Kan Lek Tok. It is a ritual ladder that has the particularity that its steps are of different sizes, with some wider than others.
Some specialists have speculated that the wider steps were to stop to pray or perform some kind of meditative ceremony while ascending to the top.
In any case, the public can still climb this staircase, provided they are careful with the particularities of the steps, in order not to stumble and throw themselves.
We say that you can still climb, because in the Pyramid of Kukulkan, the main monument of Chichen Itza, ascents are no longer allowed, due to the damage that the temple has suffered with the ascents and descents. So hurry up to the Acropolis of Ek Balam before it’s too late.
13. Where did the architects and artists of Ek Balam learn their techniques?
The talented inhabitants of Ek Balam managed to create a unique style in the construction and ornamentation of their buildings, combining a great variety of forms that managed to express their own artistic personality.
The buildings rescued to date show ornamental elements from geographical and cultural regions such as the Petén, the Puuc, the area of the Río Bec and Chenes, in Campeche, and the eastern coast of Quintana Roo.
With their skilful mix of forms, the Ek Balam artists developed their own style, which is seen as singular and not as a simple sum of practices.
- Ultimate Guide to Isla Mujeres, Quintana Roo
- Ultimate Guide to Tulum, Quintana Roo
- What To See And Do In Bacalar, Quintana Roo
14. What are The Twins?
Las Gemelas are two low-rise pyramids on the west side of the South Plaza and are among the structures at Ek Balam that have best withstood the test of time.
The group has been identified as structure No. 17 of the archaeological site and receives its name from the similar composition of the two bodies, located on a common base.
15. What is the Oval Palace like?
This is another of the large constructions located in the South Plaza, which has been identified as Structure 16 of Ek Balam.
In the Oval Palace, it shows in its profile three construction stages, receiving its name from the oldest, made up of several superimposed oval-shaped bodies.
After the oval constructions, rooms were added on three of the sides and two upper rooms, spaces that were probably used as living quarters.
Finally, during the third stage of construction of the Oval Palace, the small temple was added to finish off the complex.
16. Who occupied the Oval Palace?
Due to the mixed attributes of the building, combining religious and residential uses, it is to be assumed that this palace was destined for the high nobility that exercised political and ceremonial functions.
During the excavations of the 1990s in Ek Balam, some burials with offerings were found in the Oval Palace.
Among the burials found was that of a small child, whose remains were placed inside a pot covered with a plate. This child was offered with two earrings and some jade beads that probably belonged to one of his parents residing in the palace.
- Veracruz Typical Food: The 15 Best Dishes
17. What is on the Stele Platform?
The stele is a stone monument, usually a monolith raised above the ground, on which commemorative, informative, funerary, religious or geographical inscriptions are made, capable of withstanding the passage of time.
Perhaps the most famous stele is the Code of Hammurabi, a diorite monolith where the Babylonian king Hammurabi ordered the first body of laws in the history of mankind to be drawn up in 1750 BC.
Another famous stele is the Rosetta Stone, a granodiorite monolith made in the year 196 BC in Ancient Egypt, with engravings in three communication systems, whose discovery in 1799 allowed Egyptian hieroglyphics to be deciphered.
Proving that human ingenuity is the same, even if there is no communication, the Mesoamerican indigenous people also resorted to the stela as a communicational and artistic element, being famous those of Piedras Negras in Guatemala, Copán in Honduras and La Mojarra in Veracruz , Mexico.
In the South Plaza of Ek Balam, the so-called Structure 14 was found, a platform with two stelae, the only ones within the walled enclosure, of which No. 1 is the best preserved.
On Stela 1, the Mayan artists of Ek Balam elaborately carved two figures in bas-relief, one of which has been identified as the ahaw Ukit Kan Lek Tok.
18. What is the Ek Balam Ball Court like?
The Mayan Ball Game has its origins in the Myth of the Twins narrated in the Popol Vuh, the famous collection of mythical, legendary and historical stories of the Guatemalan Quiché people.
For the Mayans, the Ball Game field was the place of transition between life and death and a kind of battle between the living and the lords of the underworld or place of the dead.
At Ek Balam, the Ball Court, formed by Structures 8 and 9, is located between the North and South plazas and contains decorated friezes, offerings, and other ceremonial and ornamental elements.
Also read: 15 Things To Do And See In Tulum
19. What is the Myth of the Twins?
The Popol Vuh refers that the brothers Hun and Vucub Hunahpú were playing ball near the underworld and their noises bothered the lords of the world of the dead.
The angry lords sent owls to lure the brothers to a Ball Court located in Xibalbá, at the western end of the underworld.
Despite being in the middle of the underworld, the Hunahpú brothers fell asleep, an opportunity that the lords of Xibalbá took advantage of to capture them, sacrifice them and buried them in the playing field.
Hun was decapitated and his head was placed on a tree and, according to the myth, this is how the first pumpkin arose, a fundamental food in Mesoamerica, for which the Ball Game is also associated with fertility.
Finding itself in the tree, Hun Hunahpú’s head managed to spit into the hands of a goddess who was passing by, conceiving the twin brothers Hunahpú and Xbalanqué.
The mythical twins found a team for the Ball Game in their father’s house and again bothered the lords of Xibalbá with their noise.
This time, the gentlemen challenged the twins to a match in which they also had to complete a series of tests and avoid various dangers.
In the middle of the game, Hunahpú was decapitated by a flock of bats and his brother Xbalanqué quickly took a gourd and put it on his neck as a head.
The lords of Xibalbá took Hunahpú’s head to use as a ball, but were defeated by the twins.
- TOP 10 Mayan Ruins In Mexico That You Have To Visit
20. What were the main findings in the Ek Balam Ball Court?
In part of the frieze of one of the rooms in the Ballgame area, decorative elements were found in the modeled stucco, in which blue and red paints were used. In the decorative scene of the frieze can be seen a human figure on a throne, richly dressed and with a bird in his hand.
Similarly, in the Ball Court, two painted vault lids were found with inscriptions indicating that they belonged to someone named Tz’ib’am Tum, probably an ahaw from Ek Balam.
K’awiil, a Mayan god related to lightning, snakes, fertility and corn, is represented on the covers. One of these covers has the date engraved, corresponding to September 3, 841 AD.
Another item found in a pre-Hispanic midden at Ek Balam that has been linked to the Ball Court is what appears to be a forearm protector.
Among the objects offered at the Ek Balam Ball Court are some 90 vessels with numerous small spheres made of burned stone.
21. How are the Walls of Ek Balam?
The buildings of Ek Balam are inside a double walled enclosure, receiving these constructions the names of outer wall and inner wall.
Five pre-Columbian paths, called sak be’oob, start from the perimeter of the outer wall, another element that demonstrates the importance of Ek Balam as a pre-Hispanic town.
Outside the two plazas of Ek Balam there is a construction, identified as Structure 16, which is believed to have been an important building, since sak be’oob No. 2 empties there. This structure was perhaps part of the main entrance of the prehispanic city.
There is another inner wall, called the third wall, which surrounds the central part of the site and the most important buildings. Surely, this wall was an additional protection for the elite characters who lived in that area.
22. What are the closest cities to Ek Balam?
The closest city to Ek Balam is Valladolid , a town located almost 1,500 km from Mexico City, but only 30 km from Ek Balam. Valladolid is a city of almost 50 thousand inhabitants, head of the municipality of the same name.
Valladolid has all the tourist services, both due to its proximity to Chichen Itza (which is 50 km away) and Ek Balam, as well as its own attractions as a beautiful colonial city.
Other cities close to Ek Balam are Playa del Carmen , Quintana Roo, which is 156 km away, and Mérida, the Yucatecan capital, which is located 175 km away. Cancun is located 172 km from Ek Balam.
23. How is the weather in Ek Balam?
With an altitude of just 22 meters above sea level, the climate of Ek Balam is warm, with an average annual temperature of 25.4 ° C.
The hottest period of the year is between April and October, when the thermometer moves on average between 26 and 29° C. In November it starts to cool down slightly and in December and January you will be “freezing” with 22° C.
In the hot period, the temperature can reach extremes close to 35° C, while the minimum winter temperatures are around 16° C. In Ek Balam it rains 1,129 mm a year, most of it during a well season. defined, between May and October.
24. How can I go to Ek Balam by bus from the nearest cities?
Several land transport lines provide the transfer service from Mérida, Cancún, Playa del Carmen and other locations to Valladolid.
For example, the ADO line has trips that depart at dawn, so you can be in Valladolid around 7 AM. This facility allows you to make a low-level flight through all the attractions in a single day, although to get to know Ek Balam, Chichen Itza , Valladolid and some cenotes, more than one day is needed.
To go from Valladolid to Ek Balam you have to take a collective taxi, which costs about 15 MXN per person and 5 times more if you want a private trip.
- The 5 Best Tours To Chichen Itza
25. What if I want to go by plane or by car?
From Mérida and Cancún, small aircraft depart and land at the Kaua Airport, a runway near the archaeological site.
The plane trip is of course more expensive, but it can be convenient if you want to optimize your time, knowing several attractions, since it will allow you to arrive earlier at Chichen Itza, which is the most congested.
There are operators, such as Aero SAAB, that provide a comprehensive service that includes transportation, access to attractions and a specialized guide.
If you choose to go by rented car you will have the advantage of stopping at your whim to see the cenotes and picturesque towns that are on the route.
The roads are in good condition and when you get to Valladolid you just have to look for the road that goes to Tizimín and then cross the town of Temozón. About 7 km after Temozón there is a deviation that leads to Santa Rita and then another that goes to Ek Balam.
26. How much does the entrance to Ek Balam cost?
The site is open to the public 7 days a week between 8 in the morning and 5 in the afternoon.
To enter Ek Balam you have to pay two tickets, one of 65 MXN charged by the National Institute of Anthropology and History and another charged by the Government of the State of Yucatan through its Tax Administration Agency. This last admission is 69 MXN for people of Mexican nationality and 132 MXN for foreigners.
Mexican nationals and foreigners residing in the country have free access on Sundays.
27. Are there cenotes near Ek Balam?
Near Valladolid and Ek Balam you will have to choose between several cenotes, all of singular beauty, among which Zací, Oxmán, Suytún, Xkeken and Samulá stand out.
El Zací has beautiful turquoise blue waters and access to the open-air cenote is through a cave whose ceiling hangs capriciously shaped rock formations. The vegetation of the place is exotic and exuberant.
El Oxmán is another open-air cenote of incredible beauty, in whose mirror of water the sun is reflected in a wonderful way.
The waters are clear and refreshing, constituting a caress for the body after a day of sweat among pyramids and pre-Hispanic monuments. It has a small viewpoint to take spectacular photos.
The main attraction of Cenote Suytún is the large rocky body that points from above towards the center of the water mirror, flanked by other smaller stalactites.
The Seytún was a ceremonial cenote for the Mayans and a large number of small fish circulate through its crystal clear and shallow waters. Near the cenote there are cabins and a small but interesting museum that exhibits archaeological pieces.
The beautiful turquoise waters of Cenote Xkeken are shallow, being ideal for swimming, and the paradisiacal atmosphere is complemented by the stalactites that come off the ceiling of the cavern.
Access to the body of water is through a hole between the rock formations of the dome, constituting an adventure.
Cenote Samulá is another karstic formation of incomparable beauty that is accessed through a staircase, from whose steps you have magnificent panoramic views.
The stairs reach close to the level of the waters, which invite you to take a refreshing dip and let all the fatigue accumulated in the active day of visits to archaeological sites flow from your body.
- Ultimate Guide to Izamal, Yucatan
28. What attractions does the city of Valladolid have?
Valladolid is a city with the category of Pueblo Mágico, with a beautiful colonial architecture in which religious complexes, civil buildings, museums, monuments and parks are distinguished.
Among the main attractions of Valladolid is the Church of San Gervasio, in whose enclosure the so-called Crime of the Mayors was committed in 1703, when Fernando Hipólito de Osorno and Pedro Gabriel Covarrubias were assassinated inside the church by order of the mayors Ruiz de Ayuso and Fernando Tovar.
As a result of the crime, the temple was closed and underwent a remodeling in which its main facade was placed to the north, an architectural rarity, since Christian churches are always oriented to the west.
Other places of interest that you should visit in Valladolid are the former convent of San Bernardino de Siena, the temples of Santa Lucía, San Juan and La Candelaria; the Los Venados House-Museum, the Calzada de los Frailes, the Municipal Palace, the Casa Cantón and the San Roque Museum.
29. With whom can I take a tour to Ek Balam?
There are several operators that offer tours to Ek Balam from Merida, Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum and other locations in the Riviera Maya .
One of these operators is Cancun Passion, which offers tours to the archaeological sites of Chichen Itza and Ek Balam and has an excellent reputation among users who have contracted their services and have registered their opinions on the tripadvisor portal.
The Ek Balam Express tour from Cancun, by Cancun Passion, has prices from US$79.00 and includes pick-up from the hotel lobby between 7 and 8 AM, multilingual guide, entrance fees to the site and breakfast. It also provides a tour of the colonial city of Valladolid.
30. Where can I stay to get to know Ek Balam?
The closest accommodation option to Ek Balam is the city of Valladolid, which has a hotel offer that includes Hotel Colonial La Aurora, Casa Marlene, Hotel Posada San Juan, Casa Tía Macha, Hotel Quinta Marciala and Hotel Candelaria.
On Calle 42 is the Hotel Colonial La Aurora, which has two swimming pools, one large and one smaller. The rooms are spacious and comfortable.
Casa Marlene is a small establishment located on Calle 39, distinguished by its impeccable cleanliness and attentive service.
The Hotel Posada San Juan is located on Calle 40 and has a colonial atmosphere, with the detail of a hammock accompanying the large bed in the comfortable rooms.
31. What are the main dishes of the local cuisine?
In Valladolid, the delights of the main dishes of eastern Yucatan meet. Lomitos de Valladolid are a culinary symbol of the city and are prepared by cutting pork into cubes, which are mixed with boiled eggs, tomato and a sauce based on serrano peppers.
The Longaniza de Valladolid is another gastronomic emblem of the region and of the Magical Town , in which the pork sausage is seasoned with ancho chili peppers and other ingredients and is eaten accompanied by coriander pickled onions and a roasted tomato sauce.
Likewise, it would be a culinary sin not to mention the Oriental Escabeche, which is made with turkey or chicken, and has red onion, x-catik chilies, garlic, and other condiments.
32. Where do you recommend I eat in Valladolid?
On Calle 39 is El Mesón del Marqués, a restaurant specializing in regional cuisine and decorated with great taste.
On Calle 41 is La Casona de Valladolid, which has the very Mexican detail of a chapel and serves national and international food.
Casa Italia, located on Calle 35, is the place to eat pizza or pasta and MAQtacos, on 40, is the place for tacos.
If you want vegetarian cuisine you can go to Yerbabuena del Sisal, on Calle 54A, where you can also order meat.
33. Where do I buy a souvenir?
In Valladolid you can buy a souvenir of your trip to eastern Yucatan at Casa Rivero, which offers a good assortment of rugs, tapestries and ceramic figures.
Almost all the buses that go to the archaeological zones of the eastern sector of Yucatán stop in the small and picturesque town of Pisté. In Pisté there is an Itza handicraft stall, which sells pottery, carvings of various materials, silver ornaments, and other items.
If you are in your own or rented car, in Pisté you can stop to get to know the town a little, which has some places of interest, such as the temple of San Antonio de Padua and the chapel of Jesús.
Near Pisté are the Balankanché Caves, a system of caves equipped with artificial lighting and sound, through which they explain the importance of the place for the Mayan people. The caves have millenary rocky bodies with whimsical shapes molded by nature.
34. How many visitors go to Ek Balam annually?
In Yucatan there are 17 archaeological zones open to the public, which receive almost 3 million visitors annually.
The most important site is Chichen Itza, which, due to its magnitude, relevance and international interest, receives 2.1 million tourists per year.
According to the Institutional System of Visitors Statistics of Mexico, the podium of the Yucatecan archaeological zones is completed by Uxmal (169,500 visitors) and Ek Balam (132,800).
However, the interest of national and international tourism in Ek Balam is relatively recent, since the site was opened to the public in the 1990s and in 2000 it received only 27,184 tourists, a figure that increased to 54,871 in 2005 and to 122,498. in 2010.
35. What are the visitors’ opinions about Ek Balam?
On the tripadvisor portal, more than 570 opinions have been registered from as many visitors who have visited the archaeological site of Ek Balam.
95% of visitors have given an Excellent or Very Good review for the site (74% Excellent and 21% Very Good). Some of these opinions are the following:
- “It is a short and pleasant route where climbing the tallest structure in the area is rewarded with the incredible view of the top of it” Erick E.
- “If you plan to go to the ruins of Ek Balam you have to go to the cenote to close with a flourish” A member.
- “The mystical combination of extraordinarily beautiful cenotes, high pyramids of the Mayan culture with tours on foot or by bicycle make this place a Must Visit” Jaime B.
- “Ek Balam, a place full of history, here if they give permission to climb the pyramids and ruins. In addition to knowing history and climbing steps in the pyramid. super experience” Patricia S.
We hope that this virtual tour of Ek Balam has been to your liking and that very soon you will be able to visit the site, the cenotes, the colonial attractions of Valladolid and other places of interest in eastern Yucatecan.
It only remains for us to ask you to briefly record how you liked this guide and to share with us some of your experiences on your fantastic trip to Ek Balam. See you very soon for another walk through wonderful Mexico.
Read more of our ultimate guides!:
- Templo Mayor Of Mexico City: Definitive Guide
- Soumaya Museum: The Definitive Guide
- Mazunte, Oaxaca – Magic Town: Definitive Guide