Uxmal (pronounced oosh-mahl) is situated in the western region of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula. While Uxmal is famous for its Mayan ruins, designated an UNESCO World Heritage site for its “outstanding universal value,” lesser-known attractions are a stone’s throw away and are interesting and exciting in their own right.
Visitors to Uxmal could easily spend a few days in the Yucatan countryside visiting ancient cave systems, convent towns, cenotes, and old haciendas. These are all easy day trips that visitors could mix and match with each other or with the Mayan ruins – perhaps visiting the ruins in the heat of the day and another attraction later on.
Visitors can enjoy the slow-paced, current Mayan culture of the western Yucatan peninsula without the hurrying about they might experience in larger Mexican tourist cities. They can actually take the time to enjoy the sites at their own pace – enjoy their vacation at their own pace.
Besides the spectacular Uxmal Ruins, there are quite a few other things to do in Uxmal.
Visit Ancient Caves
The Yucatan caves were sacred Mayan grounds and are fascinating places to visit.
Calcehtok Caves - considered the most adventure-oriented and less commercialized of all the caves along the Puuc Ruin Route (a stretch of road that includes Uxmal, Santa Elena, and Oxkintok). Visitors will see large chambers filled with stalactites and stalagmites, along with tiny rooms of human bones and other pre-Hispanic Mayan ceremony remains. While a very exciting guided attraction, these caves are not for everyone. If you are claustrophobic or don’t like bat dung, this cave might not be for you. Visitors should wear sturdy shoes (no flip flops) suitable for navigating slippery narrow pathways and scaling muddy passageways. Be prepared to get dirty.
Lol-Tún Caves - the largest and most studied cave on the Yucatan Peninsula. In this guided tour, visitors will find evidence of human contact going back 7,000 years, Mammoth bones, fresco paintings, grecos, and other ornate drawings. While still very fun and exciting, it’s a tamer choice amongst caves.
The Convent Route
The Convent Route is a string of villages along Highway 18, all of which have 16th or 17th century churches. The route begins in Acanceh with a colonial church and a Mayan pyramid, and then passing through the string of villages, the route ends in Mani. In Mani, tourists can tour a Franciscan church and convent, which has a small museum. Mani is known for Friar Diego de Landa’s 1562 order to burn thousands of Mayan statues and ancient historical literature. Important Mayan history, beliefs, and knowledge of astronomy and science went up in flames. Mani also features a great regional restaurant and shopping for many locally produced clothing articles.
Uxmal and the surrounding areas are excellent bird-watching grounds. Bird-watchers often visit Uxmal to sit quietly in the sun, listening to and watching the huge variety of birds known to this area. Known birds sighted include bright-rumped attila, dusky-capped flycatcher, brown-crested flycatcher, boat-billed flycatcher, rose-throated becard, yellow-olive flycatcher, and a yellow-throated vireo, among other tweeters.
Those were some of the bigger attractions, but visitors to Uxmal will find many other things to capture their interest. They can check out the authentic “live” Mayan colonial town at Santa Elena, a cacao plantation, or eco-museum.
How to Get to Uxmal
The nearest airport to Uxmal is the Manuel Crescencio Rejón International Airport in Mérida.
Uxmal is about 100 miles from Campeche and 50 miles from Mérida. Taking the inland route, buses run from both places, however, there are more scheduled departure and arrival times traveling to and from Mérida. Also, be aware that in either direction buses easily fill up.
Traveling by car, there are two routes to Uxmal from Merida: State Highway 18 (a shorter route) and Highway 261 (a longer route). Note: make sure that you fill up the gas tank before setting out and refill when you see a gas station. There are no gas stations in Uxmal.
If you are going to explore the caves, convent road, or any of the other attractions surrounding Uxmal, renting a car might be your best bet. The buses are not quite as dependable as you’d find in the larger tourist destinations. To avoid having to change travel plans due to bus schedules, rent a car from your place of departure, i.e., Mérida or Campeche.