Touring Mayan Ruins on the Puuc Route in the Yucatan

2005 01 18 Uxmal view

This was a fast week, our self-guided tour of Mayan sites inland on the Yucatan peninsula. Among the sites on the “Puuc Route” are the major site Uxmal and smaller sites like Labna and Kabah. But even before the “Hilly Route” there are a lot of fascinating places to see.
Best things about the trip
Stomping around 1000 year old pyramids playing archeologist
Worst things about the trip
2 hours to get through customs upon arriving in Cancun – too many flights arrive at once.

Puuc Route Map


Cancun to Valladolid

el Meson del Marques

Hotel El Meson del Marques

It’s an easy flight from southern California to Cancun. Cancun is the busiest airport in Mexico, and it’s small! It took 2 hours to get through customs – the line snakes around the shops in the middle of the building and then downstairs. Apparently there were lots of flight delays so everyone arrived at once. Combine that with an hour or so delay getting the car and we were going to arrive at the Hotel El Meson del Marques late. Good thing we had planned ahead and emailed the hotel from U.S. that we would be checking in late. The hotel was great and the food was Excellent – Pollo Pibil was a big hit. We had a charming room over the courtyard, no sleeping in though – the mornings were noisy. Bus tours have arrangements with this hotel and the courtyard is the dining area. Tip: Plan on extra time if you are picking up your rental car from an off-airport location.

Ek Balam, cenote Dzitnup, Balankanche Caves

Ek Balam is a small site but the sculptures are absolutely amazing, like nothing I’ve seen before.

Ek Balam sculptures

Ek Balam sculptures

It’s a small site and even taking our time and climbing up and down everything we were still done in about 2 hours. Some options in the area were to see the Samula and Zaci cenotes, we skipped those and went up the road to cenote Dzitnup. Dzitnup cenote is beautiful. You wouldn’t want to miss it when in this area. After spending enough time there we drove on up the road to Chichen Itza to check out some hotels I was curious about last year–Mayaland (very nice), Hotel Delores Alba Chichen Itza (not for us, but it IS cheap). On the way back to Valladolid we toured the Balankanche Caves, like going into a sauna inside a cave system, but I wouldn’t have wanted to miss that one either.

Balankanche caves

Balankanche caves with over 100 Postclassic incense burners


On the way to Merida – Izamal

Merida is a 3 hour drive from Valladolid if you don’t stop. We did a little side trip to Izamal, another fascinating place if you know the history! Here’s the condensed version: the enslaved population were forced to dismantle the top of their enormous Mayan pyramid and build a monastery and church on top.

Izamal monestary built from and on top of Mayan pyramid

View of the Izamal monastery from another flattened pyramid


Hotel Dolores Alba Merida was great – close enough to the center to walk everywhere.  We really enjoyed Merida, it’s a very nice colonial city and the capital of the state of Yucatan. While walking up Calle 60 we came across a place called Ay Caray – free tapas with your beer in the afternoon, all with great live music. Perfect to kick back for while. Later on we headed out to dinner at Portico del Peregrino near the University (Calle 57). The patio courtyard dining is delightful, but it’s pretty small so you should make reservations to make sure you get an outside table.

The Puuc Route


Drive an hour and 15 minutes south from Merida and you are at Uxmal.

Uxmal pyramid of the magician

Uxmal pyramid of the magician 117 ft high

Uxmal is fantastic. There’s a lot to see and it is big. We came back for the light show at 9:00pm, which some people say is “cheesy” but we thought was a lot of fun. For the next two nights we were staying at Hoteles Mision Uxmal. It has seen better days and bus tours book rooms here; breakfast was OK in the cafeteria style restaurant, we looked elsewhere for dinner. On the plus side – I got my reserved in advance top-floor balcony room even though it was a struggle – turns out the bus tour people take all those rooms. It was worth it to gaze at the Uxmal ruins in the distance from the room. Had a poor dinner at another property, Hacienda Uxmal, the grounds looked very appealing though. Went over to the Villa Arqueologica and had a wonderful dessert.

Kabah, Sayil, Labna, Grutas de Loltun

We had one more day for the other 4 top sites on my La Ruta Puuc tour. All interesting places to visit. 

Uxmal pyramid of the magician

Sacbe (ancient road) in Labna

First stop – Kabah with the famous Codz Poop. Second stop – Sayil – could have spent more time in Sayil, but this site is very spread out. Analyzing the time walking to time seeing ratio, we had to cut it short –  we didn’t want to miss Labna or the last English tour of the Loltun caverns at 3 or 4:00 pm. Labna was very tranquil, a small area reminiscent of a palace compound. Not at all like the Uxmal metropolis! Loltun caverns was an interesting tour with a personable guide.
Late afternoon dinner was at Los Almendros, famous for inventing Pollo Pibil – but this dish really was much better in Vallodolid! Tip: Los Almendros is no longer downtown Ticul.

Back to Merida

Yaxcopoil hacienda and Merida

Winding down the Puuc Route tour, there are options. Drive back to Merida via Hwy 261 for a half hour tour of Yaxcopoil hacienda and more time in Merida, or drive back to Merida via 180 to tour Oxkintok and the Grutas de Xpukil.

We decided on more time in Merida and a visit to Yaxcopoil hacienda. This turned out to be really interesting – first we were shown around the few rooms in the hacienda and then left to wander about on our own.

Yaxcopoil hacienda

Yaxcopoil hacienda

In the production plant we were greeted by an older man who had worked there when the place was producing hemp. He gave us a fascinating tour entirely in Spanish, which we were able to understand with the help of a lot of pantomine.
Back in Merida we checked in, then took a taxi up to Museo Anthropologica to see all the really fantastic artifacts that had been found at these sites we’ve visited. After the museum was a walking tour back to the hotel.

Merida Plaza mayor

Plaza Mejor, Merida

We were ready for another great dinner so it was back to El Peregrino de Portico again. Tip: Make a reservation for the patio.
Sauntering back towards the hotel after dinner, the free folk dance performance “La Serenata Yucateca” was colorful, entertaining and did I mention – free? Merida is a very nice place to visit. When we were back at the Plaza Mayor – I finally gave in to the all the guidebook suggestions about doing a horse-drawn carriage tour up Paseo de Montejo. I’m glad we did that, but at the same time I also felt sorry for the beast of burden transporting us, the horse. That poor horse was so tiny.

Coba, Quintana Roo

Merida to Coba

The drive from Merida to Coba was going to fill about 4 hours so before leaving Merida, we had more sight-seeing to do. And purchasing – a bookstore near Plaza Mayor had a great selection of Yucatan books.
Merida to Coba was an easy drive. We stopped in Vallodolid for a late lunch at El Meson de Marques (I mentioned the Pollo Pibil, right?) From Valladolid it was only about an hour drive to Coba – the road was excellent.


Coba bicycling on a 1200 year old Sacbe

Bicycling on sacbe, Coba

Coba is another fascinating Mayan site, miles and miles of straight sacbes (sacred roads) going to other Mayan cities and jungle all around.

Tallest pyramid in Yucatan Nochoch Mul

At 140 feet high, Nochoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in Yucatan

At 140 feet, Nohoch Mul is the tallest pyramid in the Yucatan! Its worth the climb to the top for a great view of the tops of other ruins poking through the trees. You can rent a bike here – the only way to go – there’s nothing like biking down a 1,000 year old sacbe (sacred road).

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