Updated: Sep 28
Ek Balam is an ancient Mayan City and archaeological site located deep in the Mayan Jungle that has amazingly preserved sculptures, wall motifs, temples, palaces and a very tall pyramid you can climb.
It is located about two hours from either Playa Del Carmen or Cancun and about an hour from the Mayan Site of Chichen Itza.
Due to the distance to the site and the relative size of the current archaeological footprint, Ek Balam gets very few tourists and that makes for a fun, relaxing adventure!
Ek Balam is noted as one of the few places where you can explore all the buildings without being roped off and you can climb the very tall pyramid and look over the Mayan Jungle.
On clear days you can see the pyramids in Coba and Chitchen Itza from the top. Prepare for a breathtaking view!
Ek Balam is also noted for the preservation of the plaster on the tomb of Ukit Kan Lek Tokʼ, a king buried in the side of the largest pyramid.
Unlike Chichen Itza, the temple ruins of Ek Balam are decorated with sculpted stucco rather than bas relief stone carvings. The artistic style depicting hair braids, lion cloth patterns and the skulls carved into the belts of the unusual full figured sculptures are unmatched anywhere else on the Yucatan Peninsula.
The Acropolis is the most striking temple and main attraction at Ek Balam – with its length of 160 m, the width of 70 m and a height of 31 m this pyramid is definitely the biggest pyramid in the northern Yucatan peninsula, due to its volume and it remains one of the largest structures ever excavated in the Yucatan.
You will be amazed as you can enter palaces, walk on walls, enter a steam bath room climb temples and marvel at the Mayan Glyphs and carvings throughout the site.
Getting To Ek Balam
There are very little tour operators that include Ek Balam as a destination and because of the distance to and from the site it can be about 40% to 60% more than a popular tour to Chichen Itza.
Alltournative offers exclusive excursions to Ek Balam which includes a visit to an amazing Cenote and full lunch. If you visit this link provided to us from Alltournative, you will get a discount of about 20% off the regular ticket price.
Taking a tour to the site will allow you sit back and enjoy the long drive without worry. You will pass through many Mayan villages and Mexican towns and see what rural Mexico is all about.
If you prefer to get to Ek Balam on your own make sure you price out a taxi first and have them wait at the site while you explore as there is no transportation back if they leave. The cost of a taxi, however, equalled nearly the same as a tour, except with the tour you are also visiting a Cenote and getting a traditional Mayan Buffet Lunch.
There are no public buses to or from Ek Balam due to its remoteness unless you are travelling from Valladolid, where a collectivo mini bus can take you for about $20. But remember to ensure they will wait for you when you are exploring Ek Balam. You do not want to be stranded here!
Alternatively, you can rent a car and drive to the site. Ek Balam is open from 8am to 4pm, 7 days a week. There are crafts available for purchase by locals, but there are no food or drinks sold on site and it is important to bring your own. There is also only washrooms on the outside of the site, so remember to go before entering.
The cost to enter Ek Balam is 413 Pesos or $22 US. Make sure you bring Pesos because the site does not accept any other currency.
Top Tips to Make Your Exploration at Ek Balam Enjoyable
1. Bring Sunscreen, sunglasses and a hat as the sun is very hot and there is limited shade
2. Climb the massive pyramid first and then climb the other temples to conserve your energy. If you are unable to climb anymore, at least you got to climb the best!
3. Bring Pesos for entry and to cover any other additional expenses like food water and "video" tax (if you shoot video you have to pay an extra tax.)
4. Read up on Ek Balam before you go as there are no guide pamphlets available.
5. There are no guides to take you around as with sites such as Tulum.
6. Be very careful and safe as the nearest hospital is four hours away.
7. Grab Travel Insurance to make sure you are covered in case of injury.
8. The jungle here has poisonous snakes and spiders so stay on marked trails and do not wonder off.
9. Bring plenty of water and snacks as there is no drinks or food onsite.
10. Check the weather before you go. It can be bright and sunny in Cancun and pouring rain in Ek Balam or vice versa.
11. Open toed shoes like sandals are not allowed on site. Wear a good pair of hiking shoes or walking shoes.
12. Do not enter any building that appears to have a collapsed roof. These are off limits and very dangerous.
13. Taking a guided tour will allow you to also visit a fantastic Cenote where you can swim, dive, repel, zip line and enjoy a refreshing dip into clear water. It will also provide you with a traditional Mayan Buffet Lunch and refreshments.
A Brief History of Ek Balam
Ek Balam was in operation for over 1000 years. Construction started in the late Pre-Classic Period (100 B.C. to 300 A.D.) and continued well into Late Classic Period, 700 to 900 A.D. Speculation suggestions that the city may even have been inhabited as late as the Spanish invasion in the 16th Century.
The site was mapped out in the 1980s and in the 1990s archeology students started the task at located, preserving and documenting the large stone structures on site.
The site is about 12 square kilometres and once was an impressive city of the Mayan Culture. Today, only one square kilometre has been cleared and available to explore. There is so much more that will be uncovered in the next decades.
The city was ringed by two defensive walls and includes around 150 structures. To date, only 45 of these have been mapped including several temples, two palaces and a large pyramid.
Ek Balam was once a thriving Mayan city with a large population of about 20,000 but with great haste the occupants abandoned the site, the temples and their livelihood within. It is speculated that due to the amount of defensive walls, some of which look hastily built with rubble, that Ek Balam was under siege by outside forces and eventually the city had fallen.