Uxmal: The Best Mayan Ruins in Mexico You Can Explore


Situated in the middle of a jungle and covering over 150 acres, Uxmal ruins is one of the best Mayan cities in Mexico. It’s branded as a UNESCO heritage site with jaw-dropping large sacrificial pyramids and gorgeous Mayan structures that gives travelers a sneak peek into what was a Mayans ‘ regular life, their knowledge of astronomy, and how they used it to reserve water in an area of land where water was not a natural source.

Unlike Chichen Itza where most of the ruins are untouchable for tourists and banned for exploration, you can explore Mayan ruins at Uxmal. Tourists can climb the Mayan pyramids and wander in and out of the ruins to understand and appreciate its architecture.

For those venturing here in the hotter time of the weather, you must pack a pair of UV-protected sunshades like these or a sun hat to keep yourself cooler from the oncoming rays.

The House of Pigeons at Uxmal

Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mawl) means ‘three times built” in the Mayan language, referring to the many layers of construction of its most grandiose structures. It is also one of the best-preserved Mayan sites and the least crowded since it is still unknown to many tourists.

A lot of the buildings at Uxmal are carved with the statues and stonework of Chac, the Mayan God of Rain, and the honored god at Uxmal.

Now that Mexico is open for travel, put on your explorer shoes and check out what are the things to do in Uxmal to tickle your adventurous blood.

Pyramid of the Magician – The Legend of the Dwarf

The top part of the pyramid poking above the forest canopies

Poking out high above the thick forest in a true Indiana Jones style, the Pyramid of the Magician is the largest complex in Uxmal.

Built between AD 600 and AD 1000 and standing at a monstrous size and height of 115 feet, this Mayan pyramid is one of the finest Mayan architecture to be discovered since it represents the late Maya art and design. It is also the first sight that you see when you enter the site of the Uxmal ruins.

This pyramid is also known as the House of the Dwarf and was believed to be the outcome of ancient magic due to a legend stating that this certain building was raised on a single night by a dwarf not “born of a mother”. He then became the city’s ruler.

Full structure of the pyramid

Although the pyramid is one of Mayan history’s best architecture, it is still shrouded in mystery. The “magic” aspect in the name has little explanation and the truth revolving around the legend stating this pyramid sprang to existence in one night is still a mystery.

Governor’s Palace – Venus & The Rain God

The Governors Palace at Uxmal Mexican ruins
Photo Credit: Daniel Mennerich

The Governor’s Palace is a famous Mayan ruin for its association with Venus. It sits atop a small hill and is open to exploration for tourists.

Governor’s Palace is believed to be a shrine to the Mayan Gods and held the House of the Turtles and several still-intact sculptures representing Chac, Mayan God of Rain. Recently, researchers from the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) found out that the Mayans had been cultivating medicinal plants in the garden of the complex. So far, this is the only Mayan archaeological site with such characteristics.

According to some researchers, the Governor’s Palace is not only an architectural jewel but an astronomical gem. Signs of Mayan astronomy can be found throughout the outer walls of the palace with 400-star glyphs carved into the architecture.

Eight dual-headed serpents surrounded with Venus glyphs above the main opening of the building

This ancient civilization used to link the cycle of the planet Venus with growth and vitality made possible by rainwater personified by Chac.

Since Uxmal is a place where there are no natural reservoirs for water, archeologists and researchers conclude that the Mayans would look to Venus to predict the rain season. Hence, the Governor’s Palace could have been used as an observatory to mark the start of monsoon season.

The Great Pyramid – Climb to the Top

The Great Pyramid that tourists can climb
Photo Credit: Daniel Mennerich

A lot of people confuse the Great Pyramid of Uxmal and the Pyramid of The Magician to be the same when in fact they are two different structures. The Great Pyramid is one of the biggest Mayan temples (though not as big as the other) and one of the very few remaining Mayan pyramids you can climb.

This pyramid was originally nine levels high and another temple was to be built on top of the existing structure but for some reason, the Mayans never finished it. Tourists can climb to the top of the great pyramid, which provides incredible panoramic views of the Uxmal site surrounded by the forest.

The Nunnery Quadrangle – Renowned Mayan Friezes

One part of the Nunnery Quadrangle
Photo Credit: Steve Bridger

The Nunnery Quadrangle is best known for its mosaic freezes that decorate the upper sections of the four buildings. Fun fact is that the name (The Nunnery) was given by the Spanish who stumbled upon these Mayan ruins, not by the Mayans themselves.

It was named “The Nunnery” because of its 74 small rooms that face the inner courtyard reminding the Spaniards of a Spanish convent. Each of the four buildings is built on a different level with unique ornate facades for each building.

The northern building is the oldest and grandest. The Nunnery is designed with Chac masks, serpents, pillars, and latticework.

Masks of Chac, the Mayan rain god, carved onto the Nunnery’s facade
Photo Credit: Ted McGrath

Other must-see sights that are still well preserved are the House of Pigeons, The House of Turtles, and the simple double-headed Jaguar thrones.

Uxmal Mayan ruins is best for thoroughly exploring the Mayan ruins by climbing the pyramids and visiting the insides of the complexes. But if you are looking for something more thrilling and showcasing the sacrificial culture of the Mayans ‘ brutality, then Chichen Itza is the place to go.

The largest ball game court, structures used for human sacrifices, and a pyramid that almost casts magic with the help of science are what you will find at Chichen Itza. Whichever you pick, it’s guaranteed that they will be the best places to visit in Mexico.

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