In addition to being a fascinating city in itself, rich in history and culture, Merida is also an ideal base for exploring the many surrounding Mayan archeological sites. There are so many to choose from, but here are some of our favorites.
Pyramids with rounded edges and intricate facades, Uxmal (pronounced Oosh-mal) is on our list of must-see archeological sites on the Yucatan Peninsula. The pyramid of the magician greets you on arrival as if to show the architectural skill of the Maya. This 15-foot-tall pyramid, mythically built in one night, has a small opening at the top that creates an echo when you clap. If the place is not afraid of the echo, the intricate mosaic facades of the so-called Quadrangle of the Nunes are sure to catch you. Look closely to see the figure of a snake waving along the structure. If you want a bird’s eye view, climb the Great Pyramid and look at this ancient city overlooking lush green wildlife.
The nearest Mayan archaeological site to Merida is Dzibilchaltun, whose name is believed to mean “the place with the writing on the stones.” Just a ten minute drive from Merida, it is a great choice for an interesting morning or afternoon trip. The most impressive structure is the Temple of the Seven Dolls, so named because of the dolls found there. Anthropologists differ on the importance of these dolls, but you can take a look at the museum and decide for yourself. The X’lacah (dolí) cenote located in Dzibilchaltun is one of the largest and deepest on the peninsula, with more than 130 feet deep.
The mighty Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world, is also close to Merida. Just an hour and a half away, you can visit it as a day trip. As it is the most internationally known Mayan site, it is surprisingly popular, but it is worth facing the crowds to see some of the most impressive restored structures in the Mayan world. Let yourself be amazed by El Castillo, the iconic pyramid of Chichen Itza that is so perfectly aligned with the sun that every year at the equinox the shadow of a snake descends through its steps. As with most archeological sites, it is worth going with a guide to truly understand the importance of all stone structures, inscriptions and carvings.
Traveling along the Puuc Route is a really fantastic way to see a wide variety of archeological sites that feature the particular architectural style known as Puuc. There are buses running all the way or you can rent a car and drive at your own pace. The route usually includes Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil, Xlapak and Labna. The sites are in various restoration states and each site has a feature of particular interest. A standard feature of Puuc architecture in the region is the representation of Chaac, the god of rain. At the end of your journey on the Puuc Route, you will be an expert at spotting his big, bent and distinguishable nose.