Mexican Standoff: The Ancient Ruins of Chichen Itza Versus Uxmal

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Mexican Standoff: The Ancient Ruins of Chichen Itza Versus Uxmal

Joseph HostetlerMexican Standoff: The Ancient Ruins of Chichen Itza Versus UxmalMillion Mile Secrets Team

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Located in Yucatan, Mexico, Chichen Itza is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World, flaunting the title alongside locations like Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China.  It’s a huge Mayan city filled with stunning ruins built between ~750 and ~900 AD.  And an impressive window into an ancient and powerful culture.

But its lesser-known nearby sibling, Uxmal, gives Chichen Itza a hard run for its money.

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
The Mysterious “Pyramid of the Magician” at Uxmal

I’ll compare the 2 archaeological sites, so you’ll know what to expect when you take your own trip.

Chichen Itza or Uxmal?

The 2 sites are different in many ways.  And in my opinion, there is a clear winner.  However, if you’re visiting either of these sites, it would be shameful to not visit both.

Chichen Itza is ~2 hours and 15 minutes from the Cancun airport.  And it’s right along the road to Uxmal.  If you visit Chichen Itza, you’ll probably never in your life be so close to Uxmal again!  So it’s definitely worth driving a couple hours farther for a visit.

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
Chichen Itza Is a Slight Detour Along the Road to Uxmal

Here are 5 quick comparisons of these amazing Mayan ruins!

1.   Beauty

In terms of structural beauty, I think Chichen Itza wins.  Its ruins have been handsomely restored and well preserved.  Everything looks much healthier than Uxmal.

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
El Castillo, the Crown Jewel of Chichen Itza

Uxmal has received its fair share of restoration, too. But the ruins felt dilapidated and neglected (which is not necessarily a drawback!).

The structures of Chichen Itza look much more symmetrical and unblemished.  It’s the more photogenic of the 2 locations.

Winner:   Chichen Itza

2.   Environment

The surroundings of each site are very different.

Chichen Itza is largely deforested, with a couple of flat, open fields accommodating the ruins.  It feels like the environment was altered to make room for all the tourists (I highly doubt that’s actually the case), and it diminished the experience for me.  The site is surrounded by jungle, though, and it’s super cool to exit the thicket to be immediately ambushed by gigantic temples.

Uxmal is nature-infused, with lots of trees, grassy terraces, and an unexpected number of brazen iguanas.  It complements the battered ruins very well, and produces a more interesting personality for the site, in my opinion.

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
Nature Played a Dominant Role in the Charm of Uxmal

Uxmal’s atmosphere oozed authenticity, and I much preferred it over Chichen Itza.

Winner:   Uxmal

3.   Crowds

After visiting both sites, I think one of the greatest qualities of Uxmal is that it’s NOT a Wonder of the World, like Chichen Itza.

One element that always disrupts a spellbinding destination is too many tourists.  It’s difficult to mentally transport back to 900 AD while dodging selfie sticks and declining aggressive vendors.  And Chichen Itza was flush with both.

Or maybe that’s what it was like back then, I have no idea. 😉

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
I Practically Had the Uxmal Ruins to Myself

During my visit to Uxmal, there were very few sightseers.  All was quiet, there were no big groups, and no lines to read the plaques.

Winner:   Uxmal

4.   Convenience

Chichen Itza is a ~2 hour drive from the Cancun airport.  There are plenty of day tours from Cancun, though I’d definitely recommend driving yourself.  Plus, it’s just a couple minutes away from the amazing Cenote Ik Kil!

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
Chichen Itza Is Definitely Worth the 2 Hour Drive From Cancun

Uxmal is a ~4 hour drive from the Cancun airport.  It’s more of a pain to visit, but also totally worth it.  Again, if you’re visiting Chichen Itza, it’s just another ~2 hours to reach Uxmal.

Both Chichen Itza and Uxmal have on-site hotels.  Though neither have any that participate in a loyalty program.  But you can use the miles you earn from cards like the Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard or Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card for a complimentary stay.

The city of Merida is ~1 hour and 15 minutes away from both sites.  You’ll find plenty of miles & points hotels there!

Winner:   Chichen Itza

5.   Interactivity

The single biggest disadvantage of Chichen Itza is that it is 99% no touchey.  Walking beside the stately Mayan ruins was cool, but it wasn’t much more exciting than walking through a glass-paned museum exhibit.

The ruins at Uxmal were a COMPLETELY different experience.  Nearly everything was touchable and walkable and climbable.  Its palpability placed it a league above Chichen Itza.

There are a few roped-off areas (including the Pyramid of the Magician, the temple I MOST desired to climb), but everything else was fair game.

5 Quick Comparisons Between The Ancient Cities Of Chichen Itza And Uxmal 5 Is My Favorite
A Museum With Very Few Restrictions. You Can Climb and Touch Almost Everything, Like the Towering “Great Pyramid”

Chichen Itza was very interactive for tourists until ~12 years ago.  So perhaps it’s a matter of time before Uxmal inherits its own ropes.

Winner:   Uxmal

Bottom Line

I visited Chichen Itza and Uxmal on my recent trip to Yucatan, Mexico.  While both sites have advantages, I preferred the lesser known archaeological site of Uxmal.  There were fewer tourists, prettier natural surroundings, and nearly everything was climbable!

Have you been to either of these sites?  Or do you recommend another location to get your fix of archaeology?

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What beautiful ruins. They remind me of the ones I saw in Belize!

For a more authentic experience, you can take the Ruta Puuc to see Uxmal (and a few other sites). It leaves from Merida, is cheap, and mostly carries other Mexican tourists.

Joseph Hostetler

Good tip! We’re all looking for an authentic experience.

I’ve visited the region a dozen of times, here is my impressions:

1) Chichen Itza is the largest ruins complex
2) Uxmal is the most beautiful
3) Tulum (I know is not in this post) is easy to get there and the best sight.

tips for visiting Uxmal:
stay at least one night in Merida, it deserves a visit.
I normally find Hampton Inn at 5K Hilton points, or 75-80 USD, it is not the best location in the city, but a 15 min taxi/uber to downtown is just 5USD.

there are plenty of hotels and lovely boutique hotels around main square too, from 40 to several hundreds USD.

Once in Merida Downtown there are plenty of tours available at main square, if you are not sure visit a restaurant called “La Jarana” they have some english fluent guides, who can take you to Uxmal and many other places.

try also the tours to Haciendas (old farms), if possible Sotuta but any other is worth the visit too.

Merida by itself gives enough to keep you busy for 1 week and at fraction of Cancun/Riviera prices.

Getting there is easy too, just an ADO bus, around 50 USD the Platino (business class) type, but any other ADO is perfectly good.

if your budget allows it stay on a Hacienda type hotel (300USD or more per night) .

Joseph Hostetler

Extremely informative! Thanks for sharing with everyone. Sotuta looks very charming. I’d like to know what makes Tulum stand out to you. It certainly looks very beautiful, but is its proximity to the beach the biggest selling point?

Definitely try to get to Chichen Itza at opening before the crowds of tourists and hot sun. That requires staying overnight or taking a very early bus from Cancun or Merida. The Dolores Alba, across the road from Ik Kil cenote, offers a free shuttle to the ruins (one way) if you don’t have your own transportation. The massive open area by Pyramid of Kukulkan was a ceremonial center during the Ancient Maya era and would have been just as open then.

Joseph Hostetler

Good tips, DaveS. And glad to know the landscape wasn’t altered to receive us curious foreigners.

I stayed at the Hotel Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza, which was a ~15 minute walk from the ruins. Excellent location!

Was LITERALLY at Chichen Itza five days ago. I wish we’d read this before we went. If given a do over, we’d drive over selves ( I despise group bus tours) to the Uxmal. Hit a hotel for the night then Chichen Itza on the way back (a few hours max). The hands off 99.9%, the hundreds of tourists and tourist buses and the seemingly hundreds of Knick knack hawkers makes Chichen Itza less a world wonder and more of a wonder why I bothered.

Joseph Hostetler

Hah! +1 to this. I also didn’t feel you needed to spend hours and hours at Chichen Itza. Very glad to see it, but it wasn’t quite the climax of the trip I thought it would be. Hope you made it to Ik Kil cenote!

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