Of all the tours we’ve taken during our trips to Mexico, our trip to the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote Maya is still the definite favorite. The ruins are extremely impressive, our tour guide was great, and the overall experience was absolutely amazing.
These ancient ruins is less popular than some of the other Mayan sites near Cancun or Merida, but they offer a much better experience. This site is not crowded, there are very few vendors, and lots of activities included with most of the tours.
This insider’s guide will tell you what to expect during your tour to the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote. We’ve also compared Ek Balam to nearby site of Chichen Itza and included some tips to help you pack and prepare for your visit to this ancient Mayan site.
Quick Article Guide:
1. Why Visit the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote Maya?
2. Traveling from Cancun to the Ek Balam Ruins
3. Can you Climb the Ruins at Ek Balam?
4. Mayan Cleansing Ceremony at the Ek Balam Ruins
5. Swimming and Ziplining at the Cenote Maya
6. What to Wear for your Tour to the Ek Balam Ruins
7. When to Visit the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote Maya
8. What to Pack for the Ek Balam Ruins and Cenote
If you are like most of the tourists planning to visit Cancun, you are probably going to be staying at a beautiful hotel overlooking the ocean and enjoying all you can eat and drink. So why would anyone want to leave these luxuries behind to explore a set of ancient Mayan ruins in the middle of the jungle?
Truth be told, the excursions are always the most exciting part of our trips. But don’t take our word for it, more than 3.5 million tourists visit the Mayan cultural sites in the Yucatan every year. Ek Balam is the third-most visited Mayan site on the peninsula, and in our opinion, it’s the best.
Not only will you get to see some extremely well-preserved ancient ruins, you’ll also have the opportunity to repel about 60 feet below into the Cenote Maya. Once you reach the water, the Cenote has ziplines you can ride into the water and a few platforms to dive off. We had a blast here!
The historic Mayan site of Ek Balam is closer to the city of Merida than Cancun or Tulum, but most people travel from the hotel district in Cancun to see these ruins. You can also rent a car and drive by yourself, but this is a site is a lot more fun with a small group of people.
Ek Balam and the Cenote Maya are about a two hour drive from downtown Cancun. If you are staying at one of the major hotels, there are a few reputable companies that offer round-trip transportation and a day tour of the site for about $150 dollars per person.
Although its convenient, we never recommend purchasing your tickets to an excursion from your hotel or one of the kiosks on the street. The same exact tickets can be purchased online for half of the price. If you buy your tickets from the hotel, you will have to pay a hefty surcharge or commissions.
Unlike some of the Mayan ruins nearby, none of the buildings and temples at Ek Balam Are off-limits. Climbing to the top of the main structure takes about fifteen minutes, but you’ll want to take your time getting down. The steps are very narrow, and the stones have been worn smooth.
We climbed every structure we could, but it was raining when we arrived, so we had to be careful. Overall, we spent about an hour and a half climbing the four largest structures at the site. The Acropolis is the tallest structure at Ek Balam, and it provides a great view of the shorter buildings below.
Unfortunately, the majority of the structures at Ek Balam are still unnamed, but most of the ruins have been excavated and restored. There are 20 buildings at the site and it was walled for defense. After we finished climbing the ruins, we enjoyed a Mayan cleansing ceremony that was included with our tour.
Included with our tour of Ek Balam was a Mayan cleansing ceremony that we attended after climbing the ruins. The ceremony included spiritual chants and the burning of sacred herbs. It was an amazing experience that has been adapted for modern times, but it is still performed by a Mayan shaman.
After the traditional Mayan cleansing ceremony, you’ll need to shower before you can enter the Cenote. The Mayans still rely on the Cenotes for their water, so they do not want to contaminate the it. This is the same reason that the water parks in the area require biodegradable sunscreen.
You’ll also want to bring a pair of sandals for the showers because they are not cleaned with bleach. There are some lockers for storing your belongings while you are at the Cenote, or you can leave your clothes in the tour guide’s van. We usually bring a small backpack with us on our tours to be safe.
We’ve had the pleasure of experiencing more than a half of a dozen Cenotes in the Yucatan and this one was the best by far. There are a few ziplines and multiple diving platforms. It felt more like an adult’s waterpark than a Mayan Cenote. We were exhausted from the long day, but we did not want to leave.
There are a set of stairs that lead to this Cenote, but some tours will allow you to repel right into water below. As scared as we were, we couldn’t resist. It took us about 3 or 4 minutes to lower ourselves about 60 feet into the Cenote below, but it felt like an eternity.
The tour guides we’re extremely attentive the entire time our group was repelling. We felt as safe as we could given the circumstances. There was also a lifeguard below in a canoe and a few people standing by for safety. I have a morbid fear of heights but we made it down alive!
We recommend wearing athletic clothing for your tour to the ruins. Like Cancun, the weather is usually moderate at Ek Balam, even during the rainy months. You’ll also want to wear a sturdy pair of shoes with good grip for climbing the ruins. Nonslip trail shoes are the best option from our experience.
We also recommend bringing a light waterproof jacket if you will be traveling during the Hurricane season from July to November. It drizzled a few times during our two week trip in early November, but luckily we avoided any major storms. If it had rained any harder, we would have been in trouble.
You’ll also want to bring a swimsuit for the Cenote Maya. A couple of the women in our group actually wore their bikinis under their hiking clothes to avoid bringing a backpack. There are showers and lockers where you can keep your belongings though. We left our stuff in the van with the tour driver and it was fine.
The Yucatan Peninsula offers near perfect weather for most of the year, but rain is common during the hurricane season. For this reason, most people avoid Cancun from July to November. Despite the rain, the temperature usually averages 80 degrees during the daytime and you can expect lots of sunshine.
If you are willing to risk a little rain, book your tour of Ek Balam in September or October. The hurricane season is usually coming to an end and the hotel rooms are less expensive. March and June offer the best weather, but the crowds are larger, and the rooms are full rate. We do not recommend May because of the humidity.
Most of the tours from Cancun are day trips that take about 8 hours. We recommend bringing a backpack to help you carry the supplies you’ll need on your excursion. Most of the tours include bottled water and lunch, but you’ll want to bring a few snacks and some supplies along with you.
These are the items we recommend packing for your excursion to Ek Balam:
– Biodegradable Sunscreen (To protect the Cenote water from contaminants)
– Mosquito Repellent (Mosquitoes are common at this site)
– A wide-brimmed hat (To protect your skin from the sun)
– Comfortable trail shoes (Make sure your shoes have a good grip for climbing the ruins)
– Water (Your tour might offer water but we always bring extra)
– Money for Souvenirs (The vendors accept US dollars, but its easier to make change with Pesos)
– Passports (Some of the cultural sites we have visited require them)
– Camera (These pictures were taken with an from an iPhone 7+)
– Bathing Suit (For swimming at the Cenote Maya)
– A Towel (The site doesn’t offer them so grab some from the pool at your hotel)
– Sandals or Crocs (For the shower and stairs down to the Cenote)
Items to Leave at Home or at Your Hotel:
– Selfie-Sticks (We all want the perfect selfie, but the views here are amazing enough)
– Pets (Most of the ruins have dogs and wild animals)
– Loud Music (Stereos and boomboxes are not allowed at the site)
– Drones (Drones at not allowed at most of the Mayan ruins including Ek Balam)
Do you need help planning your trip, or would you like to share your experience of the Ek Balam ruins and Cenote Maya? Please leave us a comment below and we’ll be answer your questions as soon as possible.