How to Visit the Ruins of Ek Balam (Definitive Guide + Tips)


Why You Should Visit Ek Balam, A Less Crowded Alternative to Chichen Itza

The Mayan city of Ek Balam, located in the region of Valladolid, in the state of Yucatan, was very important in its time, as evidenced by its main structure, which is one of the largest buildings in Mesoamerica.

It is much less crowded than Chichén Itzá, but it is one of Mexico’s must-see attractions, as well as being close to the Xcanché cenote, one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatán!

To help you enjoy this archaeological site, here is my ultimate guide to Ek Balam with all the information you need to plan your next visit: what to see in Ek Balam, how to get there from Valladolid, prices and schedules, my personal opinion and tips.

So, how do you visit Ek Balam?

The archaeological site of Ek Balam

Ek Balam History

Ek Balam, founded in 300 B.C, reached its peak between the 7th and 10th centuries, before being abandoned after the Spanish conquest in the 16th century.

It was a prosperous city, with a population of about 18,000-20,000 people, that traded and interacted mainly with Chichén Itzá, but also with Cobá and the puuc region (for example, Uxmal).

It was an important military and political center, and the capital of a Maya kingdom called Talol.

It also had a great artistic influence, especially in its mural painting, which can be seen, for example, in Chichén Itzá.

In 1886, the French explorer and archaeologist Désiré Charnay discovered Ek Balam, which he mentioned in his book My Last Expedition to Yucatán.

He had come to study Coba and learned from Juan Medina, a hacienda owner, that there were ruins 19 miles from his property.

When he got to the site, he recognized the shapes of different buildings and pyramids that were hidden under the earth, despite all the vegetation and stones that covered them.

But it was not until 1994 (more than a century later!) that archaeological excavations finally started in Ek Balam, and they are still ongoing.

What does Ek Balam mean?

Ek = black color or star

Balam= jaguar

The most common meaning of Ek Balam is “black jaguar” in Yucatec Maya, but some prefer the interpretation “jaguar star”.

What to see at Ek Balam?

Ek Balam covered an area of about 4.5 miles², but today only the core of the city is open to visitors, surrounded by walls.

The site has 45 structures, including the Acropolis, the Oval Palace, the Mayan ball game, the twin pyramids and the Mayan arch.

The Entrance Arch

The arch was a gateway to the center of Ek Balam, which was the noble area of the city.

ek balam mexique
El Arco Maya

The Oval Palace

The Oval Palace was both a temple and the residence of the elite.

I recommend that you climb up to the temple first because you will have a great view of Ek Balam: you are in the South Plaza with the Twins (Twin Pyramids) on your left and diagonally you can see the ballcourt.

A little further ahead, in front of you, you can’t miss the impressive Acropolis that towers over the landscape!

View from the top of the Oval Palace at Ek Balam. The Twin Pyramids can be seen here

Mesoamerican ballcourt

As you walk towards the Acropolis, you can see the Mesoamerican ball game court from the south plaza.

It is much smaller than the one at Chichén Itzá!

Ballgame at Ek Balam

The Acropolis

The Acropolis is not only the largest structure in Ek Balam, but also one of the most significant in the Yucatan Peninsula and, indeed, in all of Mesoamerica

Good news: you can climb to the top of the Acropolis to enjoy a 360° view of the landscape. Enjoy it, as there are fewer and fewer archaeological sites where you can still do that!

La Acropolis, main structure of Ek Balam
The view from the top of the Acropolis, Ek Balam

Make sure to stop at the 4th floor to see its façade with an amazing relief: the sculpture of a jaw with large fangs representing the entrance to the underworld.

This is “Sak Xok Naah”, the entrance to the tomb of the ruler Ukit Kan L’t Tok‘, who was buried with a huge offering of more than 7000 artifacts (pottery, jade, shells, tumbaga, pyrite, pearls, etc.)

You can see the figure of the ruler sitting on his throne, resting on his jaw, and warriors on the sides.

Part of the relief on the facade of the Acropolis showing large tusks

The cenote of Ek Balam

One of the attractions of Ek Balam is the Xcanché cenote, one of the most beautiful cenotes in Yucatan and, without a doubt, one of my favorites!

The view is stunning as soon as you get there: under your feet you see a large open pit of 130 ft in diameter, with different shades of green, surrounded by 50 ft walls from which a waterfall and roots hang.

Note that access to the cenote is not included in the entrance ticket to Ek Balam and that it is not part of the archaeological site, but it would be a pity to miss it, as it is a wonderful cenote with few tourists, which is very close.

Cenote X’Canche in Ek Balam

How long does it take to visit Ek Balam?

The visit to Ek Balam can take between 1h30 and 2h.

Of course, it depends on your pace, your interest in each structure, the time you spend admiring the views from the top of the temples and whether you go with a guide or not.

As you can see in the following map of Ek Balam, the accessible part of the archaeological site is not very large.

Ek Balam map

Video of Ek Balam

To get a better idea of what to expect, here is a glimpse of the archaeological site of Ek Balam.

Source: INAH

Ek Balam: prices and schedules

  • Entrance fee (foreigners): adult 531 pesos, children 90 pesos
  • Entrance fee (nationals): 211 pesos
  • Guide service (price per group): 600 pesos in Spanish and 800 pesos for another language (French, German, etc.).
  • Open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily

My tips for visiting Ek Balam

  • If you don’t want to hire a guide, but would like to get more information about the archaeological site during your visit, you can download the Ek Balam audio guide
  • Arrive early to enjoy the site with very few visitors – ideally between 8 and 10 a.m
  • If you plan to visit Ek Balam and its cenote, I suggest that you start with the archaeological site and cool off in the cenote afterwards
  • Bring water, good shoes, sunglasses and a hat or cap, as the sun is strong in Yucatan
  • If you come directly from the state of Quintana Roo (Cancun, Riviera Maya), don’t forget that in winter there is 1 hour less in Yucatan

My opinion about Ek Balam

Ek Balam is an archaeological site of great importance that, for now, is not very touristy compared to other attractions such as Chichen Itza.

This ancient Mayan city has many advantages over other well-known sites: in addition to having a magnificent cenote, there are no endless tour buses, souvenirs do not invade the site and you can climb several structures to enjoy the views.

Where is Ek Balam?

Ek Balam is located 17 miles north of Valladolid, and 115 miles from Merida in the direction of Cancun.

Whether you are in Merida, Cancun or the Riviera Maya, you will have to pass through Valladolid first to get to Ek Balam.

How to get to Ek Balam from Valladolid?

By car

  • From Valladolid it takes 30 minutes to get to Ek Balam taking Mexico Highway 295 that passes through Temozón
  • Parking in Ek Balam: 100 pesos

Renting a car is for sure the best way to explore Yucatan and make the most of your stay!

To rent a car, personally, I always use Cars, for a few reasons:

  • You can easily compare the rental cars prices between all the agencies: for sure the easiest way to find the best rate!
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Simply click on the green button to find your rental car at the best price:

Xcanche parking

By colectivo

To get to Ek Balam, go to the corner of Calle 44 and Calle 37, which is near the Valladolid ADO bus station.

You will see drivers waiting and, when you tell them you want to go to Ek Balam, they will take you to the colectivo departure terminal, which is a kind of parking lot with a bench.

In high season, the bench might be useful because you can wait for other people to join, but since we were in low season, we realized after 10 min that no one else was coming to share the ride.

  • Price of the colectivo: 70 pesos per person (if you find someone to share it with) or 280 pesos for the whole car. For a 30 minute ride, that seems pretty reasonable to me!
  • For the return trip: you can take a colectivo from the same place where the first one dropped you off, in the parking lot of Ek Balam
Colectivo to Ek Balam from Valladolid

Joining a tour

I think the round trip between Ek Balam and Playa del Carmen is too long by public transport to do it in one day (3h bus + 30 min one way colectivo).

If I were you, I would definitely take an organized tour that would take care of the transportation.

I recommend this tour with pick up at your hotel in Cancun or Riviera Maya. It is a very exciting day with visits to Chichen Itza, Ek Balam and a cenoteBook the tour here:

Where to sleep in Valladolid?

  • Candelaria Hostel: The best budget option in Valladolid! A colorful hostel that is very well located in the centre, with a garden, access to the kitchen, and a bike rental. Good breakfast options are also included, from 17 $usd for a bed in a shared dorm or 38 $usd for a private room.
  • Real Haciendas: A small, charming, yet very quiet hotel with a swimming pool, clean rooms with comfortable king size bed, and a very good welcome. Starting from 57 $usd per night.
  • IMIX Hotel: A typical colonial house in the centre of Valladolid on the beautiful Calzada de los Frailes, nicely decorated with spacious rooms. Breakfast included, starting from 127 $usd per night.
  • Le Muuch Hotel: A hotel located 5 minutes away from the main park Francisco Canton Rosado. Excellent service, with indoor and outdoor swimming pools with hammocks, rooms with garden view, air conditioning, and a bar and restaurant. A la carte breakfast included, starting from 140 $usd per night.
  • Hotel Zentik Project: This is definitely one of my favorite hotels in Mexico and the best hotel in Valladolid! Beautiful Mayan-style cabanas with murals done by local and international artists. There’s a restaurant and bar, an outdoor pool with hammocks, and a saltwater pool in an underground cave. Very good breakfast included, starting from 380 $usd per night.

How to get the best deals on flights

To find a cheap flight ticket to Cancun or Mérida, use our flight comparator, in partnership with Skyscanner: it’s the guarantee to pay the best price!

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I have created this blog to give you all my best tips to plan your next trip to Mexico, regardless of your budget. I share detailed itineraries, advice about places to visit as well as recommendations for transportation, hotels and restaurants. I hope I will also help you to discover amazing off the beaten path destinations in Mexico!

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