Ek Balam and X’cane Cenote
One of the joys of running our B&B is being able to take our guests with us on some of our day trips. That’s exactly what we did on a Saturday this June when we spent the day at Ek Balam and its cenote, X’cane.
The young lady staying with us for a week wanted to see a cenote and a Mayan civilization site, but we could not find a tour operator going to the site that day. So Steve and I thought we would go ourselves and invite our guest along with us. Ek Balam was on our list of Mayan sites to visit this summer, so this was definitely a two-birder.
We rented a small car, loaded ourselves in, and headed for Ek Balam, a Mayan civilization site just a few kilometers north of Valladolid. The trip takes about an hour and a half, and the roads are excellent all the way, IF you ignore the pot-holed driveway into Ek Balam itself.
When we parked the car a young boy was waiting, and told us he would “watch” our car. Yes, we were kind of being shaken down, but it is really a tradition in the Yucatan to tip people who help you park your car. A lot of these people are very poor, so who can begrudge 5 or 10 pesos?
Inside the entrance to Ek Balam we paid our two entrance fees to the two government entities that run the site. One government department collects for the administration of the site and the other is for maintenance and buildings. It is always amusing to me that the government cannot figure out how to charge one fee and split the appropriate monies to the two departments, but it is this way at every Mayan site we have visited.
Ek Balam is not Chichen Itza, thank goodness. It is smaller, with less tourists (at least on this day), but no less spectacular. We first approached a small building that was open on all four sides. We thought it might be some sort of entrance building. As we continued through the site we came across two pyramids across the grounds from each other. The Oval Palace is the smaller of the two, and we climbed it first. We reached the top and surveyed the area. The green canopy of trees of the Yucatan spread out across the countryside. This was a very good spot to get a feel for the layout of the entire site. We looked across to the Acropolis and suddenly couldn’t wait to climb that one. So down we went.
About 100 steps take you to the top of the Acropolis. It’s a bit of a slog, but your reward is a spectacular view of the Ek Balam area and about 30 kilometers in all directions. We could see that there were probably many more buildings yet to be uncovered; indeed, one of the site employees told us that Ek Balam extends at least 4-5 kilometers beyond this main section. It must have been quite a civilization and makes me want to know how and why this great culture collapsed.
We spent quite a bit of time at the main site, but eventually wound our way to X’cane, the cenote nearby.
At the Ek Balam entrance there is a rough road that leads to the cenote. You can rent a bike for 20 pesos, or take one of the bicycle taxis for 30 pesos, round trip. We decided to just walk, which normally takes about 20 minutes. I say normally because about 5 minutes into our trek the clouds opened up and it poured rain the rest of our way to X’cane. By the time we made it to the ceonte entrance we were, of course, soaked. But that was no problem; after all, we were there to get wet anyway!
Cenotes are like snowflakes: every one is different. X’cane has a very large, round opening, and it drops down about 150 feet to the beautiful water below. There are two sets of very steep, wooden stairs on opposite sides of the cenote, with wood walkways and two suspension bridges connecting them. Outcropping of rock jig-jag in and out as the stone walls drop dramatically into the water. As nature will always find a way, lush greenery is everywhere. Trees dip their long roots all the way to the water and vines have spent decades twining their way along the stone walls.
There are ropes hung from various trees at the top of the cenote that swimmers use to swing out over and into the water. Several teens were taking advantage of them. One guy with very long hair – we called him Fabio – stood on one of the wood stairs about 60 feet up and dove into the water to much appreciation and applause.
We swam about 45 minutes, then sat on the wood boardwalk and watched the other visitors enjoying the water, then headed to the little restaurant on the grounds and had beers and a wonderful jamaica (ha-MAY-ka).
The walk back to the car was drier, if not any less muddy, and by this time we were pretty hungry. We headed to the wonderful town of Valladolid and ate at the restaurant connected to the hotel El Meson del Marques. By the time we got back home, we were all pooped and headed off to a restful nights’ sleep.
Jordy and his partner, Steve, welcome guests to Casa Del Maya Bed & Breakfast in Merida, Mexico. Their six rooms offer hand-crafted Mayan furniture, pasta tile floors, talavera sinks, air conditioning, pool, full breakfast, and much more, all centrally located for easy access to Merida attractions and the Mayan ruin sites of Chichen Itza, Mayapan, Uxmal, Ek Balam, area cenotes, Celestun, Progreso, and many others. For information and reservations, visit www.CasaDelMaya.com.