As you approach Uxmal, everything changes: the terrain of our flat state suddenly becomes a low range of hills, and in the fertile ground of the south Puuc region, mango, avocado, and citrus groves pop up on the side road during your drive. You can almost smell the tropical fruit. After a series of twists and turns, you’ll see the very top of the Governor’s Palace peek through the trees as you come closer to the site only to swiftly disappear into the Yucatán jungle again; but no matter, you have arrived.
In its heyday, Uxmal was the main city of the Puuc region and was ruled by the Tutul Xiú whose descendants still live in the state today. Over a millennium, the site was abandoned and repopulated more than once giving it its name meaning “Three Times Built.” The discovery of Chac Mool statues and even Tlaloc masks also suggest a potential occupation by the peoples of Central México.
Upon entering the site, you are greeted by a set of stairs that you must ascend to make it to the Pyramid of the Magician, said to have been built overnight by a dwarf with help from his mother, a sorceress. It takes you a moment to realize that these steps take you up to a colossal man-made platform that supports the structure. Further evidence of the Maya’s reputation for being superb engineers, many times these details are lost beneath the mesmerizing constructions.
While you further explore the site, you’ll notice that even though it has pyramids, the layout of the ancient city was predominantly horizontal, with use of negative space such as the massive courtyard seen in The Nunnery. As you stand at its center and then make your way through corbeled arches that still bear the red handprints of the city’s past residents, it’s easy to feel that connection that transcends culture, space, and even time.
Continuing your journey through the sprawling site, you make your way up to see the Temple of the Turtles and the Governor’s Palace from which you get a bird’s eye view of the jungle. Sit for a moment and feel the breeze. Look over the trees and take in the earth, the sunshine, and the sounds of birds singing.
Nature dominated Maya life and they showed their respect. Depictions of the rain god Chaac and animals associated with water and rain – such as parrots, turtles, frogs, and snakes – are a trademark of Uxmal. Rainfall was of special importance since the region lacks the natural cenotes that are so abundant in the rest of the peninsula. The ever-resourceful Maya of Uxmal, and the larger Puuc region, constructed cisterns and innovated in other infrastructure that allowed them to maintain a steady water supply for their populations.
Soon, the site will be making a debut of their brand-new light and sound show, which has been one of the site’s star attractions for decades.
Just across the street from the archaeological site are two attractions that make wonderful add-ons for a complete day trip or even an overnight stay. The Choco-Story museum is a place of learning and interaction with one of the Maya civilizations most beloved contributions: chocolate. Hotel Hacienda Uxmal not only offers stunning accommodation, but also fascinating tours of the surrounding jungle in their vintage Land Rovers.
When you finish your adventure and are driving to your next destination, make sure to take one last look in the rearview mirror at the rolling hills of the Puuc. The road forward might be “flat,” but you’ll find that there are still plenty of adventures to fill your days with.
Editor of Yucatán Today
Photography by Cassie Pearse and Marco Saénz for use in Yucatán Today.
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