Ekʼ Balam: A hidden gem in the Yucatán

When planning our family’s 2022 Christmas holiday in Cancun, Mexico the first thing on my list was to schedule a tour to the archeological site, Chichen Itza. Even though Chichen Itza is a 3+ hour journey from Cancun, it is such a significant place to visit and see with your own eyes. Even though my wife and I visited this site before, we wanted to make it a priority for the kids to see. After all, Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

But, while visiting Chichen Itza was worth the stop (especially because we got there early and left before the big crowds arrived), the highlight of our tour was visiting another (lesser-known) archeological site, Ek’ Balam.

Ek’ Balam is an archeological site about 35 miles north of Chichen Itza in the Northern Maya Lowlands of Yucatan, Mexico. It was first built between 700 BC and 300 BC, and has many excavated sites within the site to view and explore. In my opinion, it is also better than Chichen Itza for 3 specific reasons:

Reason 1: View one of the most perfectly preserved facades you will ever see.

The stucco facade at Ek’ Balam. Photo: Heather Ng

I have seen many archeological sites in my travels around the world but the preserved stucco facade of the tomb of the ruler Ukit Kan Le’k Tok is one of the best. It is very hard to imagine that what we were looking at was created almost 1500 years ago and yet every detail has been preserved. This is due to the fact that excavation to reveal the facade from the exterior walls protecting it was only exposed in the late 1900s.

The facade has a main element of a fanged mouth that opens up into a chamber that housed the tomb. Around the opening is a motif of geometric shapes, and winged statues. There is a lot to see on this facade. It’s a good thing too because the steps were steep to get to this level and we needed time to catch our breath!

Video of the view from halfway up the acropolis at Ek’ Balam archeological site and in front fo the stucco facade. Video: Heather Ng

Reason 2: You can climb on the structures!

Climbing the 102 steps of the acropolis at Ek’Balam Photo: Gregory Ng

Unlike Chichen Itza, you can climb all the structures at the archeological site, Ek’ Balam. This meant, not only were we able to climb up the steep steps all the way up the acropolis, we could capture the amazing views from the top.

My sons enjoying the view from the top of the acropolis at Ek’ Balam. Photo: Gregory Ng

We could also climb up to the top of other structures like El Torre in the Central Plaza.

This gave us time for great photos and time to study the textures of the structures.

Reason 3: No Crowds!

No crowds at Ek’ Balam Photo: Gregory Ng

One of the biggest reasons Ek’ Balam is better than Chichen Itza is there are no crowds! Anyone that has visited Chichen Itza knows that it is a very popular tourist attraction. This means that hordes of tour busses pack the parking lot and it is virtually impossible to grab a photo that doesn’t have some rando in it.

The entrance to Ek’ Balam with no lines! Photo: Gregory Ng

Ek’ Balam is accessible by a narrow road that is sometimes just a dirt road. There is no way a bus can make it down the path let alone find a place to park. This created a fantastic opportunity for us to appreciate the views, listen to the history, and grab photos with very little distractions.

If you are taking a trip to visit Chichen Itza, I highly recommend you spend an extra couple of hours visiting Ek’ Balam!