Day Trips from Xcalak - Ek Balam Ruins
Written by Rob Mukai on Jul. 23, 2018
So a bit of a misnomer as this is not really a day-trip from Xcalak, but it is an option on the drive down from Cancun. If you arrive early enough you can get to Valladolid in about an hour and half to 2 hours. For those who have made the trip to Xcalak multiple times and want to try something different from Tulum, or Playa del Carmen, Valladolid is a very cool colonial town to check out. Founded in the 1500's it is one of the oldest cities in the Yucatan. From there, it is a short 30 minute drive to Ek Balam.
The city at Ek Balam as best can be ascertained, was founded by Ek Balam in 770 CE. So it is a late classic city. One of the few sites that we know the actual Mayan name for, Ek Balam means Black Jaguar. The city fell into disuse sometime around the time the Toltecs came from central Mexico and conquered the north Yucatan at Chichen Itza at the end of the 10th Century. It is a relatively compact site, so when visiting, it doesn't require long walks to get to the renovated pyramids.
A couple of items of interest, the city is surrounded by 3 walls thought to be hastily put up to protect them during the terminal Classic, probably from the invading Toltecs. But the main attraction are the stunning stucco relief carvings in the main facade of the Acropolis. The white stucco is formed into a giant head of "Flower Mountain" with giant teeth, and life sized stucco humans placed around it.
We ran into some archeologists while we were there and they said that the reason the facade is still in such great shape is that it was only discovered in the 1990's. Apparently when they were trying to excavate the area around the stucco relief, they ran into a wall. A wall had been built on the outside of the stucco protecting it. They didn't find the reliefs until they were excavating above it and it caved in. They said that 80% or so of the stucco reliefs were original and unrestored. It does appear that they did put something on it to stabilize it but it is a spectacular example of late classic Mayan sculpture.
Final thing, and I wasn't able to do this, but apparently on a clear day you can see the temples at Chichen Itza and Nohoch Mul in Coba from the top of the Acropolis. That seems a bit far (35 ish miles for either) but the Yucatan is very flat so it may be possible.
The drive up from Valladolid to Ek Balam is just a short 25KM. It does take you through the town of Temozon, that seems to be all smoked meat/sausage stores and furniture stores. Once to the Ek Balam site, you do find that it is a lot smaller than nearby Chichen Itza. It has a smallish parking area with a few stores that carry souvenirs and some drinks. Make sure you get lots of water to drink. There is also a cenote that you can swim in near the ruins, but that is a separate entrance. Unfortunately we didn't hit the cenote this time.
The first thing you notice is the entrance arch, and as you wander through, you will see the Oval Palace and the Twins. You can climb on all of these. Also notice the water baths in the oval palace. The twins are built super close together, and you could probably easily jump from one to the other, but don't. It's a long way down.
When you come to the acropolis, you will be impressed with the sheer size of the thing. It is not the tallest structure in the Yucatan, but it is huge. The other thing you will notice is the amount of stucco reliefs that are still intact. You really get a sense for the late classic Mayan art. The entrance through the maw of the "Flower Mountain" with it's teeth all around is very impressive. But if you spend some time looking at the details, it gets even better. The winged "angels", and the human hanging out in the eye of the Flower Mountain are very cool. There is even a small painting in a doorway that is original as well.
One thing, do bring lots of water. I figure I need about 16 oz of water per pyramid I climb. I might just be getting old but man it gets hot and you really need to keep hydrated.
On the drive up to Ek Balam from Valladolid, you will pass through the town of Temozon. It is a strange little town that is known for it's smoked meats/sausages and furniture. You should definitely pick up some Langaniza while there.