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Uxmal or Chichen Itza?

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When you're traveling in an area where ancient Mayan ruins are a dime a dozen, then the debate over the merits of Uxmal versus Chichen Itza comes up in conversation. After a fair bit of online research, Uxmal was always winning out. One travel site after another concluded that while both sites were spectacular, Chichen Itza was incredibly crowded, and you could have Uxmal almost to yourself. As well, we were informed that at Uxmal, it was still possible climb up the pyramids and wander freely among the ruins.

We discovered that official government sites (not updated in the past few years) are not entirely reliable. It is no longer possible to climb up the pyramids in Uxmal. The official site also neglected to mention that a number of buildings are currently not accessible and that is not reflected in a price discount. It does not mention that the admission price of $80 pesos (always cash only) and the additional federal charge of $430 pesos, which used to be payable by charge card, is now cash only.

We think these changes are simply due to Covid and an attempt to keep everyone safe. Hopefully one day, everything will be open and it will be possible to see the whole site and to climb these structures again. Although at the best of times, one's ability to handle the effects of heat, dehydration and ill-advised footwear on vertiginous steps with no handrails will always be a challenge.

So, with all of this to consider and not having the benefit of visiting Chichen Itza to compare, we can safely say that Uxmal is well worth the trip. This is the first sight to greet you:

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Notice anything unusual? No crowds of people pushing past with selfie-sticks. No crowds at all. We had dutifully followed directions and arrived at the site around 9:00 am, well before the arrival of tourbuses and long lines. We were pleasantly surprised to drive down a leafy lane and turn into a shady parking lot, and then simply walk in, buy our ticket and begin our tour. Of course, there are fewer tourists due to Covid, but still, this was a delight.

This huge structure is called The House of the Magician, and is 35 m. in height. have a look at the side profile and decide whether or not you would want to attempt this climb.

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Uxmal is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and is one of the most important archaeological sites in the Yucatan. It dates between 500 and 800 A.D. and the buildings are remarkably intact and well-preserved. I don't know if it is a failure of imagination on my part, but I quickly lose interest in ancient sites that are mainly room outlines and rubble. We felt entirely engaged walking these grounds. It really helped that there was abundant vegetation and plenty of shade, which allowed us to really study the structures without fear of heatstroke.

This is the back end of the House of the Magician.

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Uxmal is a natural habitat for iguanas - light stone and plenty of sun. We were excited to see this guy peering out of his little cave, and then of course, we saw them everywhere.

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The walkway between the House of the Magician and the rest of the site.

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Notice the details on this structure.This is typical of the architecture at Uxmal - elaborate without being ornate. Facades on the buildings feature motifs such as lattice, crosses, two-headed serpents, owls, and masks.

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We turned a corner to walk into the Quadrangle of the Nuns - a huge area comprised of four palaces. Again - check out the crowds.

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This long palace was notable for its modest ornamentation and open vaults.

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We had been remarking on the large number of swallows flying about the Quadrant, and I wondered where they had all come from. I soon found out when I stuck my nose inside this vault and narrowly missed being hit by a swallow flying right past my face.

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Then it struck me. Were these flying creatures swallows...or bats? They did not really look like swallows, but I thought bats did not emerge until dusk. The smeared walls inside the vault did not have any odor, and guano is usually pretty pungent. So - a mystery.

There are lots of sight-lines like this at Uxmal. One opening framed the entrance to another area.

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We walked toward this well-preserved Ball Court.

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From there we came upon the Casa de Las Tortugas - a long structure set high above many steps that were so high we marvelled at how the Mayans, who were short in stature, managed them.

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This structure looked intriguing, but was one of the buildings that was currently off-limits to visitors.

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The Grand Pyramid

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The Governor's Palace. The top portion of this building is designed to resemble bamboo.

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Other intriguing views along the way.

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As we came to the end of our tour, we kept hearing a cawing sound, followed by clapping and then more cawing. We were wondering if we were going to be fortunate enough to see some colourful Yucatan birds, but discovered these strange sounds were an audio trick.

We were back where we started, at The House of the Magician. See the keyhole near the top? When you stand in front of this massive structure and clap your hands, you hear a "Caw" " Caw". Needless to say, everyone had to try this for themselves.

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So, Uxmal or Chichen Itza? Apples and oranges? Even with a diminished site and restrictions on climbing, we were very happy to have visited Uxmal. We don't know what we missed there and we don't know what we will miss by not seeing Chichen Itza. All we can do is enjoy what is right in front of us.

Posted by millerburr 00:11 Archived in Mexico Tagged mayan uxmal archaeological_sites

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Comments

Phew …. I was missing you and worried that I’d been dropped off your list . It was wonderful to receive this one and now I’ll be able to go back and read up on your travels since mid December.

by Pippa

interesting blog. What you didn't see you won't miss. This was all very interesting. Heat ? Bring some home with you PLEASE. The snow is gone and it is warming up. Mini-daffodils poking their heads through the earth - spring around the corner ?
Love Lyn

by Lyn Morris

Terrific photos and glad you went. Thank goodness for the amazing discovery of many Mayan ruins by Catherwood and Stephens (early 1840s). The story of their journey on horseback discovering ruins buried in the jungle, "Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatán" is right out of an Indiana Jones movie.

by Jon Snipper

We visited Chichen Itza in the early 1980's when they were still digging it out of the jungle and there were only a handful of visitors. We had an exhilarating climb to the top with a great view, but then the descent! So scary due to the height of the stairs. We had to face the temple and scrabble down holding onto an iron chain which had been embedded in the stairs. Both sites were fascinating but having visited Uxmal four years ago I believe it is larger with a greater variety of buildings, although they have no doubt uncovered more at Chichen Itza over the past 40 years. Sounds like you are having a wonderful holiday - would love to see the flamingos!

by Christine M.

Wonderful architecture and as always amazing photos. Looks strange without the usual tourist crowds.

by Annie

Judging by your pictures and your comments, the two of you made a good choice. We haven’t been to either; so, we were happy to see one of the sites through the eyes of your camera. Thanks for sharing!

by Heather Scott

Great photos and happy memories for us. Having visited Chichen Itza and Uxmal we think you made the right choice. We love seeing the blue skies!

by Hawkson

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