Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Temple history and FriFotos from the PEAK

Having just returned from Playa Del Carmen, I have many wonderful photos from the PEAKS of Mayan temples and ruins. Thus, finding out that is the theme for this week’s FriFotos was a delight! While I visited Coba as well, today I will focus on Ek Balam Mayan ruins — one of the lesser-known Yucatán Mayan sites.

Ek Balam Mayan ruins panorama

Loved this viewpoint at Ek Balam!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Brief overview

Not only in Ek Balam, but throughout most (if not all) Mayan sites in the Yucatán, you will find that doorways have “peaks” — they are not perfect arches. They are called corbel arches.

The Canadian Museum of Civilization states that the Mayans created these type of arches, with 9 layered vaults, in order to represent what they believed to be the nine layers of the Underworld. The addition of a keystone, or 10th layer, would be a representation of a body outside the Mayan cosmos (Examiner.com).

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, doorway

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Corbel arch

Ek Balam Mayan ruins is one of several sites built by the Yucatec Mayans. Located 32 miles (51 m) from its famous cousin Chichen Itzá and 30 km north of Valladolid. It is an easy day trip from several resort towns on the Riviera Maya.

As you know, I visited the Ek Balam Mayan ruins on a combo day trip (including Río Lagartos) from Playa Del Carmen. I felt I had plenty of time at the site and was not rushed at all. Thus, it is quite possible to combine a visit to other site on the same day you visit Ek Balam.

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, main temple

Ek Balam’s main temple

Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Climbing to the top of the main temple

Unlike Chichen Itzá, tourists are still allowed to climb to the very top of the main temple at Ek Balam Mayan ruins. The views from the jungle and other ruins throughout the site are amazing! A *little* scary to climb down, but I believe the steps are big enough for you to have plenty of room to step firmly and safely. I had doubts about climbing for a second or two, but went for it anyway! So glad I did 🙂

Ek Balam Mayan Temple climb

At the top of the Ek Balam Temple!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins top view

Me on top of the Ek Balam Temple! So glad I made it

Ek Balam view top


Ek Balam Mayan ruins jungle view

View of the jungle from Ek Balam temple top

Ek Balam jungle

Don’t forget to visit the Mayan burial temple on your way up —  or down!

The temple (tomb!) of Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ was quite fascinating. Its entrance is shaped like the mouth of a jaguar, teeth and all. In fact, the name Ek Balam means “Black Jaguar” in Yucatec Maya language — thus the name of this Mayan ruins site.

I never thought I would see such beautiful carvings inside Mayan ruins before. Clearly, my knowledge about the civilization was very limited! I was like nothing I had ever seen before (i.e. Chichen Itzá). Thus, if you’re thinking about skipping the Ek Balam Mayan ruins because you are visiting Chichen Itza or Cobá, think twice before doing so! I’m sure these images will change your mind:

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, jaguar teeth

The “jaguar teeth” at Ek Balam temple’s

For a very cool interactive panorama of this Mayan temple, click here.

Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' temple, Ek Balam Mayan ruins

Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ temple, also known as El Trono in Spanish (“The Throne”)

It is believed that Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ was one of the rulers of Ek Balam. What I found the most fascinating about this character, and Mayans in general, though? The reason Ukit Kan Le’k Tok’ rose to power is because he was cross-sighted and possibly albino.

According to our tour guide, Mayans venerated anyone who was different — thus his rise to power. It is believed that certain objects were placed on the nose or the middle of the foreheads of children in order to try and make them cross-sighted. What for? In the hopes that they would become someone important one day. Oh, how have times changed!

Ek Balam Mayan ruins, carvings

LOVED the well-preserved Mayan carvings

Ek Balam Mayan ruins carvings


Take your time to explore other ruins throughout Ek Balam

You’ll have to walk through other ruins before you reach the main temple at Ek Balam, so take the time to look at the intricacies and differences between all structures. I found it fun to draw comparisons between the structures I had seen at Chichen Itzá and Ek Balam. Additionally, trying to capture the nuances and different angles in photos is a game in itself 😉

Ek Balam Mayan arch

Mayan carvings at Ek Balam

The temple at Ek Balam is too wide to fully capture!

Definitely add the Ek Balam Mayan ruins to your travel bucket list!

18 thoughts on “Ek Balam Mayan ruins: Temple history and FriFotos from the PEAK

    • as I went several years ago, prices may have changed, so I would contact Karma Trails directly 😉 their team can surely help you!

  1. Excellent post about Ek Balam. I have enjoyed reading your blogs after discovering you on International House Hunters. Ek Balam was previously not on my radar. Next time in the Yucatan I will plan to visit.

    While in Merida last Fall, we visited Uxmal and Kabal. These are also wonderful sites and well worth the visit. Uxmal has a large number and types of ruins and many can be climbed. Kabal is smaller, quiet, and facinating. Kabal is relatively close to Uxmal.

    Being off the beaten path and away from Cancun, these sites are not commercialized like Chichen Itzá and have far fewer visitors.

    • aww, you saw me on TV Frank hee hee! Welcome to my blog 🙂

      yesssssss, I want to visit Merida and lesser-known attractions around it. I’m planning up trip back to Mexico and Uxmal and Kabal will definitely be considered! Ek Balam is the place I wouldn’t mind going back to by the way, the carvings and design of the Temple was just so different from any other my insight had previously visited. You should go there yourself!

  2. Maria, I’m a 68 year young Maya traveler. I discovered Playa twenty odd years ago, when it was a fishing village. Imagine when the Big Red Boat would dock in Playa, the population would double. A far cry from now. I’ve visited Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza and plan to visit Ek’ Balam this October for my birthday. Thank you for all the photos…awesome. I would love to climb the Acropolis in spite of my vertigo. Your photos convinced me that a climb is mandatory. I climbed the Castillo in Chichen Itza right before that drunk American fell and the climb was made off limits. I’ve been studying the Maya culture, art, hieroglyphs the past few years and I’m all pumped for Ek’ Balam.
    Thanks again,
    Beni Reyna
    Thanks again for your photo tour.
    Beni Reyna

    • Playa has changed a lot in the past 2 decades, indeed. However, it is still a very lovely place. I’m so happy that my post got you pumped to visit the Ek Balam ruins! Conquering our fears is the best thing about travel, isn’t it? 😉

  3. Great post Maria, I’m hoping to go to the Yucatan next year and it’s on my list. I was always a bit nervous about going to Mexico but went earlier this year and visited Mexico City and the towns on Central Mexico. Was gorgeous and I’m now a Mexico fan.

    I’ll check out the rest of your blog.

    Frank (bbqboy)

    • you will LOVE the Yucatán, Frank! Here’s a comprehensive photo essay I published on art of adventuring about Playa Del Carmen, possibly my favorite town in the Peninsula:

      Playa Del Carmen: pocket travel guide

      ^^ It will come handy for when you visit next year. Let us know how your trip goes! 😉

  4. Very interesting, Maria. I’ve never heard of Ek Balam before. I was at Chichen Itza many years ago and we were allowed to climb the pyramid then. That was the best part – sitting on the top, looking out on the surrounding compound and the vegetation; very meditative. More challenging to climb down than up there, too.

    • I wish Chichen Itza could be climbed when I went! Unfortunately, that was not the case. I wonder how the view was from there, as that pyramid/structure is way higher than the ones I visited on this trip to Playa Del Carmen I believe. Do you happen to have pictures of that trip? I would love to see them!

      I would agree — definitely more challenging going down than going up! Weird sense of vertigo

  5. I love exploring ruins, its like I walk around thinking just maybe I’ll discover something that’s been missed by a million other tourists and experts before me

    • oh haha 😛 I wonder if that would ever happen to one of us. Wouldn’t it be awesome?! do you think they would give us a payout? 😛

    • I’m a sucker for facts like that too Stephen, so you will love my posts! 😉 I’m a history nerd. Glad to see readers appreciating it

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