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Get Apocalyptic at Mexico's Uxmal

Published by Jason Hussong, Writer

Country: Mexico

The Experience

The Yucatan Peninsula is commonly considered and visited for the warm beaches around places like Cozumel, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen. They’re great getaways that draw the sun worshipers looking to unwind, relax and have some fun; but it’s not all about the sand and surf. Visitors to the area can also explore ancient city ruins of the once powerful Mayans: a civilization that ruled a large chunk of present-day Mexico and Central America for thousands of years. The most popular of these sites is the nearby Chichen Itza; but just a bit further down the road sits its impressive cousin: Uxmal (Oosh-mahl)— an interesting and less crowded experience.

The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Uxmal, which is Mayan for “built three times,” is believed to have been abandoned shortly before the Spanish arrived in the 15th century. Research and restoration work is still conducted to determine historical details, but it appears the area experienced initial construction as early as 850 BC. Uxmal, once a prominent location for the Mayans, diminished as other Toltec invaders and cultures moved in.

Uxmal in Yucatan was once home to an estimated 25,000 people, but those crowds aren’t even remotely seen here today as Chichen Itza, the second most visited site in Mexico, tends to draw more visitors from the nearby beach resorts. What sets the Uxmal ruins apart is the Magician’s Pyramid, also known as the Pyramid of the Dwarf, which rises 115 feet (35 meters) above the surrounding structures. It is believed to be unique among Mayan constructions, with its rounded sides and height, and even gradient, as it towers over the sprawling 150-acre complex. The Magician’s Pyramid is adorned with beautiful temples and decorations, some being built as late as AD 1000.

A number of other fascinating structures litter the grounds and are also worth experiencing. The Nunnery Quadrangle (a possible military academy) and the Governor’s Palace (both named by the Spanish) are two of the most important and worthwhile. Although elaborate carvings and adornments can be found around both buildings, of particular note is the 320-foot (97 meter) long mosaic facade on the Governor’s Palace. It is definitely worth closer inspection, as is the Jaguar Throne (an animal associated with Mayan kings) in the front of the structure. The ceremonial causeway that links Uxmal with Kabah, once a trading centre 11 miles (18 km) to the south, is definitely worthy of a visit.

Some travellers today are attracted to the Mayan sites because of the 2012 apocalyptic predictions from the Mayan calendar. Many historians and scientists argue against the popular culture, saying that there is very little fact indicating such an occurrence. Nonetheless, revitalization in the interest of these places is happening. Now is a great time to take advantage of it and experience a fascinating and exotic place, close to the relaxing resort life, that once held great sway in the world.

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When to Go to Uxmal Yucatan

Based on the weather, the best time of year to visit Uxmal on the Yucatan Peninsula is December through May. This is generally the drier season, whereas June through November is considered to be hurricane season. Despite this, storms can really strike at any time, as they did in February 1975 when the United Kingdom's Queen Elizabeth II was caught in pouring rains during a dedication ceremony. Come prepared.

Odds n' Ends

Two sound and light shows, one in Spanish and the other in English, are performed each night at Uxmal. The light show is included in the $116 pesos admission and worth sticking around for as it's an entertaining way to learn a bit about the history of the complex. The Uxmal Mayan ruins are open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.

Also, make sure to have a good pair of walking or hiking shoes that you can wear for the day as you're sure to cover some ground. Uxmal isn't small and won't be fun in the flip flops you'd wear to the beach, so make sure to come prepared for the best experience.

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Language Guides

Japanese , Spanish are some of the languages spoken in Mexico. If you know of a freely available phrase book or podcast for one of the missing languages, let us know!


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