Not Your Average Day in Cancun – A Mayan Morning at Ek Balam

Ek Balam

I like old things. Older the better and if they can even be called ancient, I’m there. So when the JW Marriott in Cancun invited me down for a rare astronomical event involving one of the most famous ruins in the world, I didn’t hesitate before accepting.

The JW Marriott Cancun has fully embraced the end of the Mayan calendar in 2012, although not in the corny, end of the world kind of way. They realize that the end of one cycle means the start of another and not the end of the world, and have instead decided to highlight the unique areas in the Yucatan that make visiting so much fun. Chief among these sites is Chichen Itza, one of the Seven New Wonders of the World. I was in Mexico to see the famous Descent of the Feathered Serpent, which only happens twice a year on the vernal and autumnal equinoxes. It’s a remarkable event and I couldn’t wait.

That’s not where we started our day though, instead we packed up our stuff into the van to visit another Mayan ruin, Ek’ Balam. While the Mayan civilization was linked, it flourished as a series of city-states, including Ek’ Balam. At its height it was a large city, controlling a populous and prosperous countryside. I was overjoyed as we pulled into the parking lot when I noticed only a few other cars. I knew that Chichen Itza was going to be a madhouse, and the idea of exploring an archeological marvel all alone made me smile.

Ek Balam

Ek Balam

Ek Balam

We traipsed around the ruins, climbing the oval palace and meandered through the ball court before arriving at the centerpiece of Ek’ Balam, the Acropolis. This pyramid-style structure was at the center of life for the Maya and still houses the tomb of one of its most famous rulers, Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’. (Yeah, had to look that one up) Looking up the steep staircase I struggled to imagine the thousands of ceremonies that took place on that very spot, all rich with meaning and importance. It was hot, much hotter than the coastal resort I left and I wondered if I could make it to the top of the Acropolis without passing out from heat stroke.

After a few breaks to catch my breath, I stood atop the mighty building and looked down. I saw the rest of the ancient city and looked across the nearby countryside, flat as a pancake and covered in dense jungle. The forest had almost completely reclaimed the land the Mayans took, returning it to a feral state of scrub and trees.

Ek Balam

Ek Balam

I descended the pyramid a lot less gracefully than I ascended, on my behind. The stairs are steep and I was nervous so I, and my fellow traveling companions, all slid down one step at a time. About halfway down the Acropolis, I stopped at a side temple that houses the famous tomb of the previously mentioned, and unpronounceable, Mayan noble. The display was amazing both in its level of preservation as well as its detail. What faced me was a massive representation of the earth monster with its jaws open wide. I just stood there in awe and reflected back at what this place must’ve been like in its heyday when instead of stray dogs it was a habitation for thousands of people.

I was hot and dusty as we pulled away from Ek’ Balam, thankfully on our way to a cool and relaxing cenote swim. As we drove away I looked back and not for the first time marveled not just at the history found throughout Mexico, but at how well it’s honored by the generations that have followed.

Ek Balam

By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer.

10 thoughts on “Not Your Average Day in Cancun – A Mayan Morning at Ek Balam”

  1. I’m so happy I’m not the only person who does the backside slide down the pyramids in Mexico! Lovely pictures, I can’t wait to see this site for myself next fall.

  2. I have lived in Cancun for 1 year already and I have not gotten out to Ek Balam yet, it does look amazing. I too also go down on my backside when I was at Eco Coba.. too scary :)

  3. One of my favorite ruins that we visited in the Yucatan! It’s nice that tours are starting to include it on their way to Chichen Itza – though hopefully not too many ;-)

    We stayed in Valladolid (the most adorable Mexican colonial town) and hired a taxi for the afternoon to take us there. Practically had the place to ourselves, which is probably why I loved it so much…that adorable dog probably had something to do with it too.

    1. Yup, very similar experience. It wasn’t an organized tour, we took a van from Cancun and stopped at Ek Balam – even had lunch in Valladolid. And I agree, cute dogs always help. :)

  4. Thank you Matt, I was pondering a side trip to Ek Balam this July and your photo’s have confirmed that it’s a do not miss! Much appreciated! Al

  5. I had no idea this site was so well-preserved. I’ve been to Chichen Itza, which I thought was amazing, but this place looks even more so. Very cool. Thanks for sharing.

  6. We’ve been to Chichen Itza as well, but never ventured over to Ek’ Balam. What a treat! We are planning a trip to CanCun soon, and will definitely go and see this site. It looks incredible. Time to do a bit of research now. Thanks!

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