Guest Writer: Elizabeth Arnott
Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-mal) is considered to be the most majestic of the great ancient Mayan cities. Situated some 70 kilometres south of Merida, many tour guides suggest you can take in Uxmal and one or two other smaller sites in a one-day trip. But this fascinating area deserves more than a superficial flying visit. In this article I offer an itinerary for discovering many interesting sites on what is called the Ruta Puuc or Puuc Route, combined with a visit to Uxmal and the Sound and Light Show.
For this two-day trip you will need your own vehicle. Aim to arrive as early as possible and check out the hotels around the Uxmal archaeological site area. There are four hotels of various standards, and you will be sure to find one to suit your taste and budget. While you are there, check with the hotel staff when the Sound and Light Show will be on, as the time varies according to when the sun sets. It is a good idea to buy your ticket, just in case it gets overbooked.
I suggest you do not visit the Uxmal site now, as it can get very crowded, but take advantage of being in the area overnight and visit early the next morning, before the tour buses arrive. Go first to the surrounding satellite sites which have far fewer visitors, and where you can enjoy the peace and nature of the mayan forests.
Leaving Uxmal, the first stop will be Kabah. The main attraction of this small site is the Palace of Masks with its extraordinary wall of stucco carvings. Goggle-eyed with trunk-like noses, the hundreds of masks present an unforgettable and fantastical sight.
The next site to visit is Sayil. The main structure is the Great Palace built on three storeys. Set in tropical forest, there are walks to other buildings giving you plenty of opportunity to observe the amazing variety of exotic birds.
Xlapak is a very small site with just one restored building - an elegant palace with large masks - and paths winding deep into the forest to other unrestored buildings.
Just before you reach Labna, a new museum has recently been opened - the Eco Museum of Chocolate. The mayans discovered chocolate over 3000 years ago, and the theme of the museum is their relationship with cocoa, and its use in ceremonial rituals. There are cocoa bean trees in the museum gardens, and a chocolate tasting opportunity for visitors.
Labna is the last archaeological site on the Puuc Route, whose most well-known features are its triumphal mayan arch, and the Mirador - a semi-restored temple with an elaborate roofcomb.
If you feel there is time, you can visit the Grutas de Loltun (the Loltun Caves). The hour-long guided tour takes you down into these relatively accessible caves with a fascinating history, and some traces of ancient paintings and carvings.
Make sure you are back in Uxmal in time for the Sound and Light Show. It begins at either 7pm or 8pm depending on sunset time. This newly created show gives you an insight into the history of Uxmal, and will prepare you for your visit early the next day.
The archaeological site of Uxmal (meaning Thrice Built) deserves several hours and a good guide, to make sure you don't miss anything important. The main buildings are the enormous Magician's Pyramid, the impressive Governor's Palace and the Nun's Quadrangle.
The magnificence of the Uxmal site, and the relatively small but individually very impressive satellite sites, can be comfortably seen in a two-day tour, and give the visitor a wonderful introduction into the marvellous architecture and history of the ancient mayans. Perhaps any of the smaller sites you might have missed on your first day could be visited after seeing Uxmal.
A note of advice when visiting archaeological sites. Always wear a sunhat, sunglasses, sun protection, and drink plenty water. It is advisable to wear trainers, or comfortable walking sandals. Also make sure you fill up with gas, because filling stations in the Yucatan countryside are few and far between.
Article by: Elizabeth Arnott
Elizabeth Arnott is English, and has lived in Merida, Yucatan for more than ten years. She loves being integrated into this rich and colourful culture, and is proud to be able to describe the treasures and delights of this beautiful city, and the surrounding area.
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