Ek Balam, also spelled Ek' Balam or Ek' B'alam, is an important archaeological site of the late classic Maya culture. Ek' B'alam means Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar in the Yucatec Maya language, but inscriptions indicate that the original name of the site was probably Talol. Rare and original stucco sculptures are protected by modern thatched roofs on the remains of the Acropolis. Such stucco sculptures generally do not survive because they are just plaster and weather rapidly. As Chichen Itza became more powerful, eclipsing Ek Balam, the Maya themselves buried the Acropolis at Ek Balam, preserving the stucco sculptures and many painted hieroglyphic inscriptions. This gives us an illustration of what many other Maya sites must once have looked like.
There is no museum on site. The small visitors' center charges for entry and has restrooms. Hotels and restaurants can be found in any nearby town, including Mérida and Valladolid. This site is becoming more popular with tourists, but is much less visited than the much larger Chichen Itza.
An hour and a half is plenty of time to see the site, unless you are an archaeologist. Ek Balam can easily be combined with visits to other sites.
Contact: Centro INAH Yucatán +52 1 999 9 44 00 33, or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ek Balam is a compact, easily walkable Maya city center surrounded by lush, but somewhat dry, jungle. The land is so flat that the only way to get any kind of view is to climb the Acropolis (the tops of the other buildings are barely higher than the trees), where you'll get wide open view of forest as far as the eye can see. This is also a good vantage point to look down on the other buildings of the archaeological site.
Flora and fauna
There are a lot of trees within the site (nice for the shade). Iguanas are commonly seen on the ruins, and there are a lot of birds around too (in particular, beautiful turquoise-browed motmots are common). Squirrels can sometimes be seen at the forest edges.
Hot, humid, often with blazing sun. Bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.
Ek Balam is easily reached from major highways in the state of Yucatan. It is close to Mérida, Valladolid, and Chichen Itzá. The usual blue and white tourist signs indicate the direction on the highway (these signs are few and far between).
There are no buses that go to Ek Balam: you must take a car, taxi, or collectivo taxi. Collectivos are vans that take multiple people to the same place, and are cheaper than taking a private taxi for just your group. You can find them in Valladolid.
Collectivos to Ek Balam from Valladolid: There are typically collectivo drivers congregating on the corner of Calle 44 and 37. If not, head north on Calle 44 past 37 and after a few dozen metres you should see the collective parking on your right. Trips to Ek Balam ruins are M$50 per person and collectivos will leave when there are 4 passengers. You can hire a whole collective to Ek Balam for M$200, if you don't wish to wait for more passengers. (Sep 2018)
Fees and permits
Admission fee is M$211 (Sep 2018).
Daily 08:00-17:00. The ticket office closes at 16:00.
Ek Balam is an especially compact Maya site, and you can easily walk everywhere in minutes. The only thing a bit farther away is X'canche Cenote (see below).
See the cenote nearby, Cenote Xcanche. There is a 2km path from near the main entrance that leads to it, and there are often people with rickshaws who will taxi you to it for a small fee. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes dozens of feet deep, and were considered sacred to the Mayans. Ek Balam's cenote has stairs leading down to the water, a boardwalk around the edge of the water, a rope swing from the boardwalk and a kayak. It's great for swimming on a hot day or just watching the catfish that live in the water.
As of April 2018, the cenote charges an entrance fee of M$50, which is included in the price of renting a bicycle (M$120) or hiring a rickshaw ($150 per person round trip). Swimwear is required for swimming, and you must take a shower before entering the water. A changing room, showers, bring-your-own-padlock lockers, and bathrooms are provided. Life vests can be rented within the cenote for M$20 - strongly recommended for anyone who's not a confident swimmer, since the water is up to 30m (100ft) deep, and since it's freshwater you won't float as well as you do in the ocean. There is a 3:30pm closing time posted at the ticket booth, and 4:00 at the cenote itself, but you may be okay arriving a bit later if you don't plan to walk. However, you are expected to be on your way out by 5pm, and you may be asked to get out of the water five or ten minutes before that.
The village of Ek Balam about 2km (1 mile) from the site. The village has at least one restaurant (Italian).
Very close to the site there is a small cafe dispensing cold drinks. By the ticket office itself there may be an ice cream and drinks stand, but not much else to eat.
Climbing the Acropolis is scarier than it looks, and if you have an intense fear of heights, you may regret it once you get to the top. For others, it may seem like no big deal. The stairs are pretty steep, so be careful, especially on your way down. This could be dangerous if you're prone to serious vertigo.
The area around the site seems quite safe.
Vendors near the site may direct you to park next to their shop and may pressure you to pay them to watch your car. If you do not desire their services, you may safely turn them down.
- Valladolid, a small city, is about 15 minutes south of Ek Balam.