Ek Balam: Yucatan's hidden gem
Ek Balam, just a few minutes from the little colonial city of Valladolid, is a true treasure of Mexico. One of last archaeological sites discovered in the Yucatan Peninsula it is perhaps one of the most important of all Mayan ruins ever found.
Ek Balam or “The Black Jaguar” in Mayan language, offers some of the best-preserved temples and most spectacular architectural carvings of ancient Mayan culture out of any ruins you will ever visit throughout the Riviera Maya. It is composed of several temples, two palaces, a ball court and a huge pyramid in the center of the city. The whole site was buried in the jungle until recently and would not have been recognizable as a pyramid even when standing a mere 10 feet away from it, rather resembling a natural hill in the jungle, while much of the area is still under
Upon entering the ancient city, expect to be awe-struck the enormous acropolis pyramid. It is one of the largest structures ever being excavated in the Yucatan. It stands atop a large base structure with small rooms forming a gallery and is about 32m tall and about 2/3rds of the way up the pyramid can be found the entrance, resembling a jaguar’s open mouth and thus giving the ruins it name, with amazing stucco figures placed around the entrance. The entrance enters into a 20m deep pit with wooden spikes at the bottom and as with all other pyramids in the area, you are allowed to climb it and a spectacular view awaits all who do. It is believed to be the tomb of the governor of the city which is believed to have been occupied since around 800AD, historical sources claiming the city to be an important center for the region.
What’s also very amazing is the surprisingly low amount of tourist traffic that such a outstanding site like this receives in comparison to other more well known ruin sites such as Chichen Itza, although due to such food and drink are not readily available as they are at other ruins, a trade-off most people find more than satisfactory.
Also not to be missed is the charming colonial city of Valladolid that you will pass through to get to Ek Balam and Chichen Itza, well worth the time and effort to stop and explore a little. Still pleasantly unnoticed by tourists, it retains its charm as though stuck in time. At the heart of the city is a large plaza, flanked by hotels, restaurants and the beautiful, must-see Franciscan cathedral. At the center of the plaza is a beautiful garden with fountains with street markets often to be found. Along with the incredibly low prices at these restaurants for some of the most mouth-watering authentic Mexican food you will ever taste, there are also several very nice cenotes (underground water filled caverns) to stop a gaze at, or even take a refreshing swim.
So next time you’re thinking about seeing some of the amazing sites Mexico has to offer, keep in mind the largely unnoticed gold-mines like Ek Balam, a ruin in Mexico like no other.