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Visiting Uxmal and the Pyramid of the Magician


The Pyramid of the Magician is truly a spectacular site to see. In fact, it’s probably the most interesting pyramid in the Yucatan. While Chichen Itza gets most of the attention, visiting Uxmal is a must for anyone who enjoys Mayan history and culture.

Uxmal is off the beaten path so you won’t be bombarded by other tourists, tour guides, or vendors here. This once thriving city is home to some well-preserved ruins and a circular shaped pyramid that is unlike any other pyramid I’ve ever seen in my travels or studies.

If you’re planning to travel the city of Merida or the nearby Port of Progresso, this guide will provide you with some travel tips for visiting Uxmal, the Pyramid of the Magician, and the surrounding Mayan ruins along the Ruta Puuc trail.

Quick Article Guide:

1. Traveling from Cancun to Merida
2. Visiting Uxmal from Merida
3. What is Uxmal and Why Should I Visit?
4. Can You Climb Uxmal?
5. Who Built Uxmal?
6. When is the Best Time of Year for Visiting Uxmal?
7. What Should I Wear to the Ruins in Uxmal?
8. What Should I Pack for Uxmal?

Traveling from Cancun to Merida

If you don’t mind using public transportation, you can take the ADO bus from Cancun to Merida. The ticket cost is 640 pesos (about $35 USD) and the trip takes about 4 hours each way. You’ll want to spend the night in Merida if you are planning to see Uxmal or any of the ruins along the Ruta Puuc. We stayed at the Fiesta Americana which was a great choice for the price.

We wanted to see some ancient sites on our way to Merida, so we booked a tour guide from Lawson’s Yucatan Excursions. Sammy, our guide, picked up around 8am so we would have some time to stop at Ake, Izamal, and Dzibilchaltun on our way across the Yucatan Peninsula.

If you decide to drive yourself from Cancun, make sure to take advantage of the Merida toll road that connects to Highway 180. It’s safe, and it just finished in 2015, so it’s very well-maintained. It will cost you 133 pesos each way (about $7 USD), but it will save you about two hours of driving on each leg of the trip.

Visiting Uxmal from Merida

Uxmal and the Pyramid of the Magician are roughly an hour and and fifteen minutes outside of Merida’s city limits.

By Bus: You can take a TAME bus from Merida to Uxmal for 65 pesos (about $4 USD). The trip takes about ninety minutes, and the buses run daily from 6am to 6pm every two hours. This is the least expensive option available.

Taxi or Rideshare: You can take an Uber to Uxmal, but the application does not allow you to request a return ride to Merida so you will need to take a taxi or a bus back to your hotel. If you decide to take a taxi, you should expect to pay about 2000 pesos, and we always recommend agreeing to a fixed rate with your driver before you depart.

Renting A Car: If the idea of driving in another country doesn’t scare you, there are lots of car rental agencies in the Merida area and at most of the nicer hotels. The cost for parking at the Uxmal ruins is 30 pesos per day.

Take a Tour: We decided to use the Lawson’s Original Yucatan Excursions for our trip from Merida to Uxmal. This also allowed us to visit some of the surrounding ruins along the Ruta Puuc trail including; Kabah, Sayil, Labna, and X-Lapak.

What is Uxmal and Why Should I Visit?

Uxmal is a well-preserved ancient Maya city that was not destroyed by the Spanish Conquistadors during the 16th century. During this time, the Spanish erased most of the Mayan culture, but Uxmal was far enough away from the Spanish-controlled areas that it was able to remain mostly intact throughout its history.

Once  a sprawling city with close to 20,000 inhabitants, the ruins of Uxmal cover approximately 150 acres and once connected four other neighboring cities. Like other ruins from Mayan, Inca, and Aztec cultures, the architecture feels centuries ahead of its time, and the western staircase in the Temple of the Magician aligns with the sun during Summer Solstice.

The ancient city of Uxmal offers ruins that are just as impressive as well-known locations like Chichen Itza, but without the dense crowds, heckling street vendors, and rules that prevent you from really getting to experience everything that these ancient wonders have to offer. Uxmal is also recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site.

Can You Climb Uxmal?

Unlike Chichen Itza, climbing some of the ruins in Uxmal is allowed and encouraged. These ruins are extremely well-preserved and the crowds are minimal compared to what you’ll find at the ancient sites near Cancun. Unfortunately, climbing the Pyramid of the Magician is not allowed though.

However, the surrounding ruins and courtyard are accessible and you can climb them to gain a better view of the landscape and nearby buildings. We always recommend wearing a comfortable pair of shoes with good traction, preferably trail shoes. The stones on the face of the buildings are worn and the steps are narrow.

Who Built Uxmal?

The ancient city of Uxmal was built by the Mayans between 600AD to 1000AD. Most historians believe that the last building constructed at the site was the Palace of the Governor which was likely finished in 987AD. During the late 800’s, Uxmal was a flourishing city, but eventually they were conquered by competing communties located nearby.

Uxmal was derived from the name “Oxmal” which means three times built or thrice built. This is due to the fact that the tallest structure in the city, the 115 foot Pyramid of the Magician, was built on top of another pyramid. In fact, architects believe that there may have been as many as four smaller pyramids underneath the larger pyramid we see today.

Unlike most of the Mayan cities located on the Yucatan Peninsula, Uxmal did not have access to cenotes, they relied on collecting rain to supply the city with water. The stone-colored disk that resembles a donut in the photo below shows a rain-collecting cistern in the center of a courtyard. Because of their dependence on rain, the inhabitants of Uxmal paid most of their homage to Chac, the Mayan god of rain.

When is the Best Time of Year for Visiting Uxmal?

The weather in Uxmal, Mexico is sunny and warm year-round, The in Yucatan, the rainy season is the opposite of our’s with more rainfall in the summer than during the winter. To avoid the rain, and the risk of climbing wet and slippery ruins, we recommend visiting Uxmal in the Winter (December through February) or in the Spring (March through May). During this time of the year, rain is rare and the humidity is minimal.

Visting Uxmal during the summer you might save some money on your hotel accommodations, but we don’t recommend it. It could have a big impact on your trip, and it won’t save you much. The site doesn’t draw big crowds, so you won’t have to worry about getting trampled during the tourist season.

What Should I Wear to Ruins in Uxmal?

The weather in Uxmal is usually warm and sunny, so we recommend wearing athletic clothes like you might wear for a walk or to the gym. Shorts and a t-shirt are always a good idea, especially if you’re not used to temperatures that can easily exceed 90 to 100 degrees fahrenheit.

We also recommend bringing as light rain jacket or a sweatshirt and rain poncho. If the weather is nice, leave it behind on the bus, in the car, or with your tour guide. Even though rain is rare during the Spring and Winter months, when it rains it the Yucatan, it pours!

What Should I Pack for Uxmal?

As we mentioned earlier, the weather in Uxmal is generally warm and sunny year-round. Their rainy season is the opposite of ours, so expect more rainfall during the summer. We usually bring a backpack or a fanny pack with us anytime we take go on an excursion. It’s better to carry around the extra weight than risk being without something you might need.

Here are some items we recommend bringing on your trip to Uxmal:
Sunscreen (If possible bring biodegradable sunscreen so you can use it at the Cenotes and Waterparks like Xel Ha)
Mosquito Repellent (We didn’t see a lot of mosquitos in Merida but the forest surrounding Uxmal has plenty)
A wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses (Expect lots of direct sun)
Comfortable trail shoes or hiking shoes (Preferably something with a good grip if you intend to climb the ruins)
Plenty of Drinking water (Even if you have a tour guide, bring at least an extra bottle)
Pesos in small denominations (Unlike Cancun the businesses in Merida and Uxmal don’t accept US dollars)
Passports (We never leave them at the hotel and some museums in Mexico will ask to see them)
Camera (Any modern cell phone will do. We took our pictures with an iPhone 7)

Items to Leave at Home or at Your Hotel:
Selfie-Sticks (Most of  the sites have signs warning you not to use them)
Pets (There are lots of dogs roaming around the ruins, please leave yours at home)
Loud stereos or speakers for your cell phone

Are you considering a trip to Merida to visit Uxmal and the Pyramid of the Magician? We can help you prepare and plan for your trip. Please ask any questions you have in the comments section below.

1 Comment

  1. Adam Axford

    This is great information about Uxmal. Thanks for sharing such detailed information. I have been visited this place last year and was such a great experience. This place beautiful architecture. I would link to visit it again.

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