Uxmal has the most excavated (visitable) area of the Ruta Puuc Mayan sites which are halfway between Merida and Campeche. As a result, it gets its own webpage on our site. The others have to share.
One of the showcase buildings at Uxmal is the Governor's Palace. The diagonal line patterns that represent serpents are more visible from a distance than they are close up. The palace has a series of entrances on one side only which lead to a variety of interior chambers.
The entrances are separated by these strange triangular alcoves. Originally these connected through the center of the building as an unusual pointed ceiling corridor. It is suspected they were unstable and had to be filled in. The governor's palace was built between 900 and 1000 A.D.
This was our first Mayan building at the first Mayan ruin we visited. Thus it was here we learned a cardinal rule of Mayan ruins. The stairs are far steeper than they look. This picture is looking down on the same set of stairs visible in the first picture above. Despite being a generally short race of people, the Mayans built very tall steps.
The Great Pyramid of Uxmal is tucked behind the Governor's Palace and is only excavated on one side. It's about 80 steps to the top platform and this is the way it looks from the bottom.
From the top looking down, it appears like this. Note how narrow the steps are compared to David's foot. Also note that there are about 70 steps remaining below the tier Melanie is standing on and they do not protrude out from the temple far enough to be seen. In general, when walking around on Mayan buildings, one can never quite tell where stairs might be without standing right on the edge.
From atop the Great Pyramid is a fine overview of Uxmal. This is the back of the governor's palace (right), the Magician's Pyramid in the distance (which is actually a bit higher) and a random tour group. Tour groups are common at Uxmal but in retrospect, it's nothing compared to Chichen Itza.
Iguanas are everywhere. On the ruins, on the lawns, possibly on your rental car in the parking lot. It is specifically forbidden to harass the iguanas (which is one of our favorite signs).
Here is half the ball court at Uxmal. The ring which was used as a goal is a re-creation. Uxmal doesn't have much of a museum on the premises, most of their artifacts are in the anthropology museum in Merida. They do have a bookstore and a decent restaurant.
As seen from the Governor's Palace, this is the nunnery quadrangle. Having absolutely nothing to do with nuns, it was named in the 17th century after Uxmal was in ruins by a Spanish priest who was reminded of cloisters back in Spain. Having been to several cloisters in Spain, we think certain Spanish priests were either not very imaginative, or had spent far too much time in the hot sun.
Inside the nunnery quadrangle is fantastically decorated. Long before every university on the planet used the quadrangle, the Mayans were practicing the same sort of architecture.
Chambers inside Uxmal's buildings are generally quite simple and do not connect internally. Most chambers have their own external doorway. While not terribly interesting they do accomplish their primary goal - it's much cooler inside (and potentially drier in case of torrential rain). On our visit in March it was around 40 C (104 F) by mid-afternoon. We were done at Uxmal by noon but it was still in the sweltering category.
The three most common decorations on Uxmal buildings are probably the same three most common decorations found throughout Mayan lands. The Mayan 'X' (there are some at the top right) come in a wide variety of building blocks and decorative friezes. The serpent, represented obviously by the
serpent, and also implied by the square spirals. Also common is the rain god Chaac-Mool who isn't seen here but will get plenty of time on our other Mayan pages.
The first thing you see when you walk into Uxmal is the Magician's Pyramid (although the back of it which is slightly less impressive). We've saved it for last on this page, but we didn't really do a good job of following the prescribed tour at Uxmal. In terms of completely excavated buildings, this has to be the biggest, most massive structure we saw at any Mayan site. There is a long and complex legend associated with this pyramid which involves a dwarf, a witch, a tambourine and a cocoyol (a type of hard fruit). It's rather long to repeat it all here but you can probably make up something just as good from those elements. This is the second highest Mayan building known (Nohoch Mul at Coba is slightly higher). The lowest tier of this pyramid was in use by 700 A.D. The top temple was completed by 1050 A.D.