Just twenty minutes north of Valladolid are the ruins of Ek Balam, a fantastic archaeological site which boasts some of the peninsula’s best-preserved Maya sculptures.
Mayan for “Black Jaguar”, Ek Balam was a powerful king who arrived in the area on April 7th, AD 770. The city which he founded would prosper for little more than a century, and was abandoned shortly after September 23rd, 896.
You might have noticed that the exactitude of these dates; in contrast to many other ancient cities around the peninsula, a lot is known about Ek Balam because of its wonderful state of preservation. Protected by the jungle and lost from knowledge for much of modern history, it was only excavated in the 1980s. The level of detail is astounding; we were sure that some of the sculptures must have been recently reconstructed, but that’s not the case.
There’s a lot to see here, but the highlight is undeniably the grand Acropolis, reaching 31 meters into the air, high above the jungle canopy. We climbed the difficult, irregularly-stepped staircase and surveyed the scene, pausing at a terrace halfway up, where white stucco decorates the structure’s facade. In almost perfect condition despite an age of over 1200 years, the sculptures depict a monstrous mask with jaw agape, symbolizing the gate to the underworld. In the monster’s eyes and atop its nose sit full-size human figures in strikingly lifelike poses.
We loved Ek Balam. The details on its ruins are simply amazing, and the site itself is so compact that it’s easy to see in just an hour or two. Definitely worth the short drive from Valladolid.