When you think of Mayan ruins, more often than not, Chichen Itzá springs to mind. Large, imposing, and full of tourists (and hawkers), these ruins are considered one of the wonders of the world, and rightly so – their historical significance and big impression cannot be overlooked.
And yet. And yet, given the choice of going either to Chichen or Uxmal, we would urge you to consider the latter. Harder to get to, harder to pronounce (Oosh-mal), but much, much easier to be charmed by, it doesn’t get nearly as much limelight as its showier counterpart, and yet many tourists and residents we spoke to in Mexico strongly felt that Uxmal is the better of the two.
The reasons for this are various. First, as it is a little harder to get to; there are fewer busloads of tourists coming from Cancun and the like, which means that although there are tourists there, they trickle in. In fact, we only saw a handful of foreingers the whole day we were there.
Second, the area around Uxmal isn’t as “clear” as that around Chichen, and you can still climb a great many of the structures. This rewards you with fabulous views of the vegetation all around the site and beyond, and a real appreciation of the scale of the architecture and the skill needed to build it.
Third, Uxmal has a distinctive type of architecture, including the impressive Pyramid of the Magician, with its famously rounded edges – not square like many other sites. It also features one of the more complete and impressive examples of the Mayan ball court, and hundreds upon hundreds of iguanas.
If you are in the peninsula and keen to get a palpable dose of history, we urge you to visit Uxmal. It can be easily reached on a bus from Merida, but do check the return times, as a poorly-timed trip means you might be left waiting in the sun or the cafe for an hour or so.