Mexican Standoff: The Ancient Ruins of Chichen Itza Versus Uxmal
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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.
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.
Here are 5 quick comparisons of these amazing Mayan ruins!
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.
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
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.
Uxmal’s atmosphere oozed authenticity, and I much preferred it over Chichen Itza.Winner: Uxmal
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. 😉
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.
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!
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
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.
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
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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