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Uxmal is one of the best known Mayan cities in existence and it rated by most as the finest. It is located in the Yucatan state of Mexico, 78km south of Merida. Uxmal, or the Pyramid of the Magician as it is commonly known, was the largest city in the Yucatan peninsula and it is estimated it housed around 25,000 inhabitants at its height. The site is infamous for carrying out human sacrifices, where the priests would rip out the hearts of their still alive victims.
It is best to take a full day to take in the wonder of Uxmal. The site opens at 8am and closes around 5pm. If you get there early skip the museum until later as the midday heat can get rather unbearable. It costs $10 for admission although on a Sunday all the sites are free for some reason so schedule your week and save a couple of dollars. The site is home to a number of different buildings. The Pyramid of the Magician is the first site you will see as you enter standing 117 feet high. Climb to the top of this temple to get a great view of the site. Take a minute to look at the different Chac masks on the climb up.
The Nunnery Quadrangle is a collection of four separate buildings with 74 separate rooms. Each building is unique and ornately decorated in the Puuc style of the era. Interestingly the buildings had little to do with actual nuns, this was the name given to them when the Spanish first came upon them as they reminded them of convents back home. It is thought that their real use was for visiting dignitaries and administration offices.
The Palace of the Governor is the best known example of Puuc architecture to survive. Look out for the carved god-like figure above the main entrance. The House of Turtles, named because of its distinctive turtle carvings is the building where the population would pray to Chac for rain. The Great Pyramid is partly restored and was originally nine levels high. It seems it was never finished and was left in a poor condition.
Uxmal has its own cafes, shops and a restaurant to recharge in after you have viewed the site. There is also an evening light show that starts after sundown although beware that it is in Spanish. There are audio guides in English available and the show is enjoyable recounting the history of the site.
There are a number of package tours that operate from the Merida to Uxmal, these vary in price and activities so shop around. Some offer just the journey, whereas others include a tour guide, chance to enjoy the pool at the local hotel and a meal and show prices included. The most flexible way to see Uxmal is to rent a car. From Merida the site is 110km and follow highway 261 towards Campeche. It is almost impossible to miss as the entrance is very well signposted.
Uxmal is a wonder of the ancient world and is perhaps the best and most beautifully example of Mayan culture that still survives today. In a world where time is money, take an afternoon off wandering around Uxmal and feel the rich history the site has to offer.