Visiting the Uxmal Ruins is a highlight of any trip to the Yucatan. This ancient Mayan city is spectacularly well-preserved and in its heyday, it was the most powerful city in the western Yucatan.
Uxmal was on par with Chichen Itza in terms of its commercial and political importance. If you only have a chance to visit a couple of Maya sites during your time in the Yucatan, Uxmal is certainly a place that you should prioritize.
In this guide, we will explore everything you need to know about visiting the Uxmal ruins – its history and notable buildings to look out for, how to get to the site, and hotels and other attractions nearby.
Visiting the Uxmal Ruins in 2023
The Uxmal Ruins are a UNESCO-protected archeological site in the Western Yucatan. The city, which was once home to over 25,000 people, sits 42 miles south of Merida and is usually the first stopping point for travelers exploring the Ruta Puuc archeological trail in the Yucatan.
Uxmal makes a great day trip from Merida, and you might be surprised to find that the ruins here are just as large, and equally as interesting, as Chichen Itza. I have been living in the Yucatan for the last 18 months and during that time, I have visited every single ruin in the Yucatan state. (A tiring but rewarding challenge I set for myself!)
Of all the places I visited, Uxmal was one of my favorites and I’d hazard a guess it will be one of yours too!
Exploring the Uxmal Mayan Ruins
Historians and archeologists dispute the exact date that Uxmal was founded. However, it is believed that the first occupants arrived around 300 AD.
The city thrived during the Late Classic period between 700 and 900 AD until, like most Mayan cities in Mexico, it was eventually abandoned.
Uxmal, and the nearby ruins of Sayil, Labna, Kabah, and Oxkintok are known for their distinctive Puuc style of architecture. This construction style is distinctly different from that which you see on Mayan ruins in other parts of the Yucatan, as well as in Belize and Guatemala.
Puuc architecture is distinguishable by its smooth vertical walls, archways, ornate friezes, and sculptures and masks of the long-nosed Mayan rain god Chaac. (There are many buildings in Uxmal and along the Puuc route that are absolutely covered in Chaac masks).
There are dozens of interesting and well-preserved buildings scattered throughout the Uxmal Ruins complex. Some notable structures to look out for are detailed below.
The Pyramid of the Magician
The Pyramid of the Magician is the tallest and most distinctive structure in the Uxmal ruins. It is the first thing you see when you enter the site and it is probably a place you have seen in photos and videos of the archeological site.
It was built in several stages between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D., with each layer covering the previous one. The name Uxmal means ¨thrice built¨ in Mayan and this is believed to point to the process of building the Pyramid of the Magician over several centuries.
It has a unique oval shape and contains five temples that are set out on different levels. The pyramid is also sometimes referred to as ¨the Pyramid of the Dwarf¨.
According to local legend, a sorceress living in the area laid an egg and when the egg hatched, out popped a magical dwarf. The dwarf made a bet with a local governor that he could build an impressive pyramid in just one night.
After the governor took him up on the bet, the dwarf got to work. He created the Pyramid of the Magician in just one night and proclaimed himself the new governor of Uxmal.
The Nunnery Quadrangle
The Nunnery Quadrangle (Cuadrángulo de las Monjas) is another intricate structure at Uxmal, showcasing the Puuc architectural style. This impressive building complex consists of four large palace structures surrounding a central courtyard.
It was built between 900 and 1000 AD. The name “Nunnery” is a misnomer given by the Spanish.
The Spanish colonizers thought that the building’s layout resembled that of a convent. However, this structure was most likely used for administrative and ceremonial purposes.
The buildings are decorated with elaborate motifs that represent different deities and cosmogonic concepts. Admire the intricate mosaics and the carvings of the rain god Chaac throughout the quadrangle, as well as depictions of Tlaloc, two-headed serpents, and depictions of fertility, power, and the underworld.
The north building is considered the most important of the four as it is built upon a higher platform than the others. It boasts 26 rooms and a large staircase with two temples at its base. The other buildings only contain between 8-20 rooms.
The Governor’s Palace
The Governor’s Palace (Palacio del Gobernador) is one of the most important buildings in the ruins of Uxmal. It sits on top of a raised platform on a hill above the rest of the city and from up here, you can enjoy spectacular views over the ancient site.
It was built by Lord Chahk, the ruler of Uxmal, in the 10th century to commemorate his reign and display his power and prestige. There is a small platform with two small carved stone jaguars in front of the palace where it is believed that the Mayan rulers of the city may have stood to give speeches and assemblies.
Pok ta Pok Ball Court
The sun-bleached remnants of an old Pok ta Pok ball court can be found close to the Governor’s Palace in the Uxmal ruins. Pok ta Pok is an ancient ballgame that was played by the Mayans and other Mesoamerican cultures hundreds of years ago.
Players had to whack a hard leather ball through stone hoops mounted high on the walls using just their hips. For the Mayans, pok ta pok was more than just a game.
Sometimes it was used to settle disputes and important discussions. Sometimes the losing team was sacrificed!
The House of Turtles
Another important structure at Uxmal is the House of the Turtles. It gets its name from the rows of elaborately carved turtle figures that adorn the top of the building.
Turtles were considered sacred to the Maya and associated with the rain god Chaac, which further highlights the significance of rain and water in their culture. This building showcases the exceptional craftsmanship of the Puuc style.
The Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid at Uxmal is a stepped pyramid in the ancient city that you can still climb. It is somewhat similar to the Pyramid of the Magicians, although its appearance is arguably more like that of the Temple of Kukulkan in Chichen Itza and in Mayapan.
From the top of the pyramid, you can enjoy breathtaking views over the jungle canopy and the western Yucatan. The sides of the pyramid are decorated with stone Chaac masks, as well as some interesting carved macaw sculptures.
Uxmal Ruins Admission Info
Uxmal is one of the pricier Mayan cities to enter in the Yucatan but it is well worth visiting. General admission is 466 pesos per person. (Circa $26.55 USD).
(Entrance fees are made up of a 381 pesos Uxmal fee and an 85 pesos federal fee).
Some concessions are available for children and the elderly. Entrance is free for Mexican nationals and Yucatan permanent residents on Sundays but you need to be prepared to show your ID.
Information plaques are scattered throughout the Uxmal ruins to offer more history and context to the various structures that you see. However, if you love history and want to gain a more thorough look into the lives of the Ancient Mayans, you can hire a tour guide at the entrance for around 200 pesos (circa $11.40 USD).
This is well worth paying for in my opinion and is a great way to support locals. Guides are available in English, Spanish, and a handful of other languages.
Getting to Uxmal Ruins
It takes about an hour and a half to get to Uxmal from Merida. Buses operated by Autobuses Sur depart from ADO Centro bus station to the ruins daily.
However, despite the popularity of the ruins, buses are relatively infrequent. They depart at 06.00 am, 09.00 am, 12.00 pm, and 15.30 pm respectively.
The return bus runs at 15.00 pm. (However, sometimes it leaves a bit early or a bit late so your best bet is to be at the bus stop outside the ruins from 14:45 pm).
If you miss the bus, you can take a smaller minibus to the nearby city of Muna and then transfer to a bus back to Merida. Renting a car in Merida gives you a lot more freedom and flexibility during your Yucatan itinerary if you are comfortable with driving overseas.
Many Yucatan beaches, historic sites, and other places of interest are tricky to get to by public transport.
Recommended Uxmal Tours
Several reputable local tour companies also offer tours to Uxmal and other ruins along the Puuc route.
You can opt to do a small-group or a private tour and many tours include pick up and drop off at your hotel. This takes a lot of the stress out of planning the logistics of how to get from A to B.
Several excellent options are detailed below for your consideration. Book your place online in advance to avoid disappointment.
- From Mérida: Uxmal and Kabah guided tour with lunch
- Uxmal light and sound night experience tour from Merida
- From Merida: Uxmal, Hacienda Yaxcopoil and Cenote with lunch
- Uxmal with private guide and transportation from Merida
- Uxmal: vintage land rover expedition to Uxmal cenotes
Experience the Uxmal Sound and Light Show
If you are staying in the area overnight, you have the option of experiencing the Uxmal Sound and Light show during your visit. The show takes place at 20.00pm daily and requires a separate entrance ticket.
Various online sources document different prices for this experience. However, when we stopped by Uxmal for the second time in May 2023, the price was 700 pesos per person.
That is approximately $40 USD each and a massive price increase from over the last few years when the show cost just 70-100 pesos per person. Whether it is worth it or not is up to you.
The show is a little cheesy but fun. The various structures are illuminated in different colors and it’s incredible to see them at night, under a canopy of twinkling stars when there are very few other people in the site.
The show is narrated by the Rain God Chaac and tells the story of how Uxmal came to be.
Where to Stay in Uxmal
There are a couple of great hotel options close to the Uxmal ruins and in some of the smaller towns and villages nearby. However, public transport in this area really isn’t great.
If you are not driving and are therefore depending on the bus that runs to and from Merida, your best options are to stay at The Lodge at Uxmal or the nearby Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum. Both are within walking distance of the Uxmal ruins.
The Lodge at Uxmal is directly opposite the main entrance to the site, while the historic Hacienda Uxmal is just across the Carretera Federal 261, next to the chocolate museum. If you have access to a car, you can look at some more budget-friendly guesthouses and Airbnbs in the charming nearby town of Santa Elena, the city of Muna, or the village of Sacalum.
We stayed at the Hacienda Uxmal Plantation & Museum which is a luxury hacienda where several celebrities, royals, and foreign dignitaries have stayed throughout the decades. This includes Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Jackie Kennedy, and Indira Gandhi.
The Lodge at Uxmal and the Hacienda Uxmal share a restaurant where you can sit beneath palapa huts and indulge in traditional Yucatecan delicacies like cochinita pibil and relleno negro.
Other Attractions Near the Uxmal Ruins
The Uxmal ruins are a great starting point for exploring the wider Puuc region. Despite the historical significance of the various Mayan cities found along this route, they are often overlooked by most visitors to the Yucatan.
So, if you do take the time to visit the likes of Kabah, Sayil, and Xlapak, you may find that you have them almost entirely to yourself. The Ancient Mayans would once access Kabah by an old sacbe (white stone road) that led from the stone jaguar platform close to the Governor’s House in Uxmal.
Centuries ago, Kabah and Uxmal had a strong trade relationship. One of the most important structures here is the ¨Codz Poop¨ – a spectacular temple that is covered with hundreds of masks of Chaac.
Nearby, Sayil meaning ¨Place of the Ants¨ is home to an impressive palace, as well as some interesting sculptures of the Mayan fertility God. Labna, another expansive and underrated Mayan city, is best known for its ceremonial arches.
You also have the ¨Choco Story¨ chocolate museum directly opposite the Uxmal ruins. A little-known fact is that Mexico was the birthplace of chocolate.
Here, you can learn the history of how chocolate was discovered and created, try some samples, and participate in a spiritual Mayan ritual. This can be a fun place to stop if you have some time to kill before your bus back to Merida.
Visiting the Uxmal Ruins FAQs
Any questions about visiting the Uxmal ruins? The answers to some FAQs on the subject are detailed below.
Hopefully, you will find the information you are searching for there. If not, please do not hesitate to reach out!
Chichén Itzá and Uxmal are both impressive in their own right and both cities are worthy additions to any Yucatan trip. That being said, Chichen Itza is one of the seven wonders of the world and nothing compares to being able to say that you have seen it in person.
Uxmal is important because not only was it one of the most powerful political and commercial hubs during the days of the Ancient Mayans but today, it is one of the best representations of classic Puuc architecture.
You should allow at least 2.5 – 3 hours to explore the Uxmal ruins. The site is larger than many people realize.
Try and get to Uxmal early in the morning if you want to avoid the crowds. (The bus departs from Merida at 6 am and 9 am daily).
This also helps you avoid being out in the sun at midday. The Yucatan is extremely hot all year round, and if you happen to visit between April and October (aka the hottest time of the year), temperatures often soar above 104°F during the day!
The best time to travel to the Yucatan is between December and March each year. May to October is the rainy season and although the rainfall doesn’t last all day, showers can be heavy so it is a good idea to pack a rain mac if traveling at this time.
The total entrance fee for Uxmal is 466 pesos per person. (Circa $26.55 USD).
There is a lot of wrong and conflicting information about whether you can or cannot climb the pyramids at Uxmal online. You cannot climb most structures (including the Pyramid of the Magician) and it is clear where you can and cannot go thanks to ropes and signage.
Some structures are partially or fully climbable. The rules are in place for your safety as well as the preservation of these incredible ancient sites.
Yes! The Uxmal ruins are one of the largest and most important Mayan ruins in the Yucatan peninsula and arguably, across all of Latin America.
Even if you are not someone who is big on ruins or ancient sites, you will be blown away by some of the structures here. If you only have a chance to pick one or a couple of ruins during your time in the Yucatan, Uxmal, and Chichen Itza are among the best.
Final thoughts on visiting the Uxmal ruins
Do you have any final thoughts or concerns about visiting this UNESCO world heritage site or planning your trip to Mexico in general? I live in Merida nearby, and I am happy to help out with any questions and queries you may have.
Have a wonderful time exploring the Yucatan! Bien Viaje! Xo