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Uxmal Archaeological Site




Location: 78 km (48 mi) South of Merida, Yucatan

Open: 8am- 5pm




Description of Uxmal Archaeological Site

Uxmal Archaeological Site is an ancient Mayan archaeological site situated 78 km (48 mi) South of Merida in Yucatan peninsula in Mexico. It is one of the better preserved sites in the region with unique buildings, beautiful architecture that earned its place on an UNESCO World Heritage List. Uxmal Archaeological Site was first settled in the 10th century BC during Pre-Classic Maya Period. It gained great influence in the Puuc Hills region and reached its peak somewhere between 800 and 1000 AD with over 25,000 inhabitants. However by the time the European settlers arrived Uxmal was a mere ghost of itself. Constant warfare and agricultural collapse undermined its power. By the 15th century Uxmal was nothing more than a site for pilgrimage.


The tallest structure in Uxmal Archaeological Site is the House of the Magician that stands at 100 feet tall. It is found just as you enter the archaeological park. Mayans believed that it was home of Itzamna, a great magician who constructed his home in just one night. In reality the buildings was constructed in several stages over expanse of several decades. Older versions of a building were simply covered by later additions as residents of Uxmal gathered enough resources to allow new construction. Currently the House of the Magician is closed to climbing. This was done after several foreign tourists died during accidents here and in other Mayan sites. Another interesting place in Uxmal is the Nunnery. It was one of the first places to be rediscovered by modern scientists. Although it is called Nunnery it was never home to any Mayan nuns. It was probably a school for priests, astrologers, healers and other mystical professions that were popular in the Mayan city- states. The Governor's Palace occupies five acres. It is one of the best preserved royal residences in Yucatan and much of the ancient Mayan World. It is peculiar that despite ability to create massive religious, civil and other buildings Mayans never managed to create spacious arches. Mayan arches are wedge shaped and don't offer much space between the supporting columns. This makes The Governor's Palace somewhat claustrophobic for the modern men or women.


The present name seems to derive from Oxmal, meaning "three times built". This seems to refer to the site's antiquity and the times it had to rebuild. The etymology is disputed; another possibility is Uchmal which means "what is to come, the future." By tradition, this was supposed to be an "invisible city," built in one night by the magic of the dwarf king.




History of Uxmal

While much work has been done at the popular tourist destination of Uxmal to consolidate and restore buildings, little in the way of serious archeological excavation and research has been done. The city's dates of occupation are unknown and the estimated population (about 15,000 people) is a rough guess. Most of the city's major construction took place while Uxmal was the capital of a Late Classic Maya state around 850-925 AD. After about 1000 AD, Toltec invaders took over, and most building ceased by 1100 AD.

Maya chronicles say that Uxmal was founded about 500 A.D. by Hun Uitzil Chac Tutul Xiu. For generations Uxmal was ruled over by the Xiu family. It was the most powerful site in western Yucatán, and for a while, in alliance with Chichen Itza, dominated all of the northern Maya area. Sometime after about 1200, no new major construction seems to have been made at Uxmal, possibly related to the fall of Uxmal's ally Chichen Itza and the shift of power in Yucatán to Mayapan. The Xiu moved their capital to Maní, and the population of Uxmal declined.

Uxmal was dominant from 875 to 900 CE. The site appears to have been the capital of a regional state in the Puuc region from 850-950 CE. The Maya dynasty expanded their dominion over their neighbors. This prominence did not last long, as the population dispersed around 1000 CE.

After the Spanish conquest of Yucatán (in which the Xiu allied with the Spanish), early colonial documents suggest that Uxmal was still an inhabited place of some importance into the 1550s. As the Spanish did not build a town here, Uxmal was soon after largely abandoned.



How to get to Uxmal

Uxmal is about 85 km southwest of Mérida, and will take a few hours to explore thoroughly. There is a small museum at the entrance, as well as a snack bar, gift shops, restrooms and various local vendors. Be sure to bring a hat, some sunscreen and good walking shoes. A camera is probably a good idea as well, as the buildings at Uxmal are very photogenic. The site is open every day to the public from 08:00 to 17:00.

ADO (Autobuses de Oriente) offers buses from Mérida that leave at 06:00, 9:05, and 10:40, and return at 15:20 and 17:00 (also one around 12:00 and 12:30 (It was 12:30 on Sunday). Buses depart from Terminal de Autobuses Mérida (the main 2nd class bus station), M$55 one-way. Organized tours are also available from a variety of companies.



Fees and permits

Uxmal admission: M$148 (Yucatán State) + M$65 (INAH), payable at two separate but adjacent (!) windows for separate tickets.