Chichen Itza, Dzibilchatun & Ek Balam — Mayan Ruins in the Yucatán Peninsula

The Yucatán Peninsula is home to some of the most beautiful, well preserved Mayan ruins. The Mesoamerican civilization built temples, pyramids and ceremonial sites that are still in great condition–even after thousands of years! The Mayans covered a lot of territory throughout their prime (250 – 900 AD) which spanned across Mexico, Belize, Guatemala and Honduras. When visiting the Yucatán Peninsula it’s a must-do to learn interesting facts about the civilization and explore the amazing Mayan ruins.

yucatan, chichen itza, maya, mexcio, world heritate site, unescoChichén Itzá
The most important city during the Mayan culture also happens to be the most popular site for tourists to visit. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Chichén Itzá is only a 45 minute drive from Valladolid. Tours from Cancun as well as cruise passengers docked in Progreso bring thousands of visitors daily. If you want to experience the full grandeur of this ancient city it is best to beat the masses by arriving early, around 8 a.m. Not only does that guarantee the picture perfect photo, but you also avoid the fairly aggressive souvenir vendors that are selling souvenirs throughout the site during the day. If you arrive early morning, when the gates to Chitchén Itza open, you arrive at the same time, the vendors are allowed in. At that point, they haven’t had the time to setup yet, meaning you can roam freely without being interrupted. Also, we found it really interesting to watch them setup and see how they were organized. In order to avoid having to get up at 4 a.m. you will want to stay in the area. There are good options in Valladolid as well as Izamal, and some touristy hotels, right by the site.

ChichenItzaMap aavtravelKukulkan’s Pyramid is the best-known construction on site. The square-based, stepped pyramid is about 75 ft tall and served for astronomical purposes. During the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) around 3 p.m. the sun hits the western balustrade on the main stairway. Seven isosceles triangles form, which imitates a 37 ft long body of a serpent that creeps to join the serpent head carved at the bottom of the staircase.Chichen Itza aavtravel

Other buildings on site includes the Great Ball Court, where the Mayas played “Juego de Pelota,” The Temple of the Warriors, The Cenote Sagrado, which was used to perform sacrifices, and El Caracol, a rare round building which is believed to be used for astronomical purposes.

CenoteChichenItza aavtravelOpen daily and the entrance fee is about 10 USD. For more detailed information and opening hours refer to the official site. Because this site is so popular and large, it is best to stay nearby so you can really explore and see all the buildings rather than rush. Keep in mind: is it a very hot and sunny location, so make sure to bring lots of water, wear a hat and pack sunscreen!

Pronounced “Ts’iibil Cháaltun,” it is a smaller ruins site located about 10 miles north of Mérida. It is extremely north of the Maya Region and not too far from the Gulf of Mexico. Dzibilchaltun was the longest functioning city in the Mayan World and had a peak population of 20,000, though it declided with the rise of Chitchén Itzá.

Dzibilchatun aavtravelThe most famous attraction is the Templo de las Siete Muñecas (Temple of the Seven Dolls), aptly named for the seven dolls that are located inside. The temple was discovered in the 1950s under the ruins of another larger temple–building temples over top each other was common practice with the Maya. The dolls were found in the smaller temple, but now are located in the museum. During the spring and fall equinoxes, a spectacular feature happens at the temple: the doorways were created to capture light of the rising sun on those days and as the sun rises, it is visible directly through one door of the temple to the other. On these days the site opens at 5:30 a.m. so visitors can experience this phenomenon.

Dzibilchatun Cenote aavtravelThe park site is open regularly from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. while museum hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a small entrance fee, but that allows you entrance to the ruins and grounds, museum, cenote (swimming) and the church. There is also a restaurant on site, gift shop, parking, handicapped facilities and restrooms.

Ek Balam and Temozon
About an hour from the Cancun airport, Ek Balam was abandoned by the Mayans and the jungle has now engulfed the ruins. After some restoration it is now a tourist attraction when visiting the Yucatán. Ek Balam is a more natural site to see the Mayan Ruins and not overrun with tourist like Chichén Itzá. Also, you are free to roam and can climb all the structures.

The Acropolis is the largest restored building standing at 104 feet tall. Make sure to bring a pair of sneakers if you want to climb up the steps! On the way up, you can see the entrance that resembles the mouth of a monster. There are lots of sculptures of humans and animals as well, so make sure to pay close attention to detail. Climbing Ek Balam

The view from the top is absolutely stunning, you can see all of the Yucatec horizon.

EkBalam Mexico aavtravel Other buildings on the site include the Palace, which has six different levels and it’s thought where the governors and upper class lived. There’s also the ball court and observatory. The site is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily and there is a 122 pesos entrance fee for foreigners. There’s one washroom on site, but no place to buy refreshments, so make sure to pack a lunch!

When visiting Ek Balam make sure to also visit the close by Cenote. X’Canche. The sacred waterhole is located about a mile from the Ek Balam site and you can either walk or rent a bike to get there. Bike rental cost is negotiable. We found ourselves all on our own, swimming in the sacred waterhole surrounded by little black fish and a very mythical setting.

ek balam, cenote, mayaThe Ek Balam site is not very developed so you won’t find a restaurant there. However, this works out in your favor because you should absolutely take the time to stop in nearby Temozon and try some of their famous smoked meat.

Temozon is located on the Timizin highway, between Valladolid and Ek Balam.  They are famous for their traditional carne ahumada recipe–or to us, smoked meat–it’s a stop you can’t afford to miss!

EkBalam Mexico If you decide to venture off the beaten path and visit those less touristy sites make sure to carry some Mexican pesos as using foreign money or credit cards gets harder. If you plan on renting a car to explore the reason check out our El Mundo Maya post for additional information and tips.

If you are intrigued by the Yucatán and want to see more pictures, check out our Facebook page!

Stefanie Pichonnat is the Yucatan Peninsula Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at


She co-wrote the article with

Stephanie Jellett travel writer AAV Travel

Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at

The Yucatán Peninsula – El Mundo Maya

Located in the south-eastern part of Mexico, the Yucatán Peninsula was home to the Maya civilization before it was taken over by the Spanish in the 16th century. The Maya and Spanish heritage created the new culture of Yucatán. The Mexican states of Campeche, Yucatán and Quintana Roo make up the peninsula. Quintana Roo was the gateway into the Maya world–between 300 and 900 AD,  the Mayans built various cities in the Yucatán. There are seventeen sites that have been restored and opened to the public, the most famous ancient Maya ruins being Chichén Itzá, Uxmal and Ek Balam.Early mornin at Chichen ItzaThe Legend of Yucatán
Francisco Hernández de Córdova, a Spanish Conquistador, arrived on the coast of Yucatán in 1517 to explore the shores of southern Mexico. The legend goes that Córdova, asked the natives what the land they had just discovered was called. They replied in their native tongue “I don’t understand you.”  Because Córdova thought their answer sounded like the word Yucatán, he gave that name to the region.

Closest airports
Cancun International (CUN) welcomes numerous flights daily from all over the world. It  is one of the airports where a window seat is particularly rewarding. The approach boasts beautiful views of turquoise blue water and white sandy beaches! Cancun is a great starting point to explore the Yucatana. However, depending on where exactly you want to go you might prefer Merida (MER). Flying into Cancun International airport

To rent or not to rent a car in the Yucatan?
Renting a car is really inexpensive and allows you to get wherever you want. These are a few suggestions when it comes to renting and driving in the area:

  • Stick to the well known rental companies: Hertz, Sixt, Avis…they are reliable, well represented, and you know what you can expect.
  • Don’t skimp on insurance. Protect your vehicle and yourself. I am a great advocate for insurance. It might cost a little but the peace of mind when something happens is priceless.
  • Remember, Cancun is notorious for time-share sales. Airport, resorts wherever. You will likely also find them at your rental car company so be warned and steer clear.
  • Check-points: Likely you will come across several police security checkpoints. They will check your paperwork and might make you get out of the car to search it (with dog or without). It’s not a big deal just be polite, have your stuff in order and you will be on your way in no time.
  • Speed limits: Nobody wants to get pulled over and have their passport confiscated so please, just respect them.
  • Gas: There are numerous Pemex gas stations along the way. Make sure to carry cash as some do not accept credit cards. You can usually use US Dollars, but it is better to have Mexican Pesos. Also, don’t forget to tip as all gas stations are serviced and the attendants will fill up your tank, likely even clean your windows.

Area Guide
Visit Mexico publishes a wonderful guide covering the Yucatan Peninsula.

Stefanie Pichonnat AAV Travel

Stefanie Pichonnat is the Yucatan Peninsula Specialist at AAV Travel, a boutique travel firm specialized in creating and customizing personalized travel itineraries. You can contact her at


She co-wrote the article with

Stephanie Jellett travel writer AAV Travel


Stephanie Jellett is interning as a travel writer and social media manager at AAV Travel. You can contact her at



Review — Excellence Playa Mujeres Resort, Mexico

Unlike many other resorts in Cancun and the Riviera Maya, Excellence Playa Mujeres is located North of Cancun in an area called Playa Mujeres Resort. This unique, 930 hectare piece of land is nestled between the Caribbean Ocean on the east and the Chacmochuc Lagoon  on the west. Ancient history, undisturbed tropical plants were waiting to be revealed, including a 1,200-year-old Mayan Temple which was studied, restored and opened to guests for tours.

The drive along the small coastal road will keep you guessing what to expect until you pass through the gates and finally pull up in front of Excellence Playa Mujeres’ impressive lobby. The welcome at Excellence Playa Mujeres was one of the best we’ve ever received. It was heart-felt, welcoming and despite it being our first time, made us feel like coming home.

A 35 minute drive from Cancun’s International Airport will take you to this all-inclusive resort, catering to adults 18 and over, looking for romance or wishing to escape on a relaxing getaway. Excellence opens its arms and makes you feel special.

Excellence Playa Mujeres Cancun aavtravelOne of Excellence’s key strengths is the beautiful, state-of-the art spa. One of the reasons why this resort isn’t just great for people in love but also friends looking for a rejuvenation getaway. A huge hydro-therapy awaits, several massage packages, everything you could possibly want to relax and get pampered. Miilé Excellence Resort Spa is the ultimate retreat for your mind, body and soul where relaxation is natural.

Excellence Playa Mujeres Spa

Excellence Gourmet
Excellence Playa Mujeres offers nine wonderful and unique restaurants. The themed locales are authentically decorated and create a world of their own. Whether you wish to dine in a traditional Mexican Hacienda style restaurant, eat at the hip sushi bar, or are looking for an Indian dinner, gourmet dishes await. Best of all, Excellence makes it easy, no dinner reservations required. Day or night, there are 11 bars that will quench your thirst. Did anyone say signature cocktails? Never forget to ask for one.

Adult-only all-inclusive fun
There are so many options included in your stay that you’ll never be bored. Walk the two mile white sandy beaches, or swim in one of the seven pools located on resort. Feel like just laying back and relaxing? Close your eyes and let yourself truly relax in an outdoor jacuzzis or in an in-pool whirlpools. As a guest, you’ll have access to the fitness center, jogging and bicycle trail and the use of non-motorized water sports, such as: Hobbie Cats, windsurfing boards, sea kayaks, snorkel gear and paddle boards. There’s also table tennis and billiards, darts, board games, archery and rifle shooting available. And don’t forget about access to the Main Theatre for a night of entertainment and fun!

Excellence Mexico aavtravel travel

Excellence Playa Mujeres is also located within walking distance of the marina and the Playa Mujeres Golf Club that was designed by golf pro Greg Norman. The 18 hole, par 72 course is challenging and features beautiful views that you can’t get back home. Imagine yourself teeing off on one of the lagoon and ocean-front holes.

Romancing in style
Excellence is the perfect place for a romantic escape. Whether you just want to enjoy each other, tie the knot, or celebrate your marriage, Excellence will welcome you with open arms and has a package that meets your need. Celebrate your love with a romantic night on the beach having a private sunset dinner. Or dining in-room on your rooftop terrace. Looking for a romantic way to propose? Contact us, we have some ideas (wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise!).

Excellence Playa Mujeres is a dream come true to those who stay. From the gorgeous resort, to the multiple dining areas, endless activities and five-star accommodations, your stay will feel luxurious. Enjoy the stress-free lifestyle the Caribbean has to offer.

Have you stayed at Excellence Playa Mujeres? Please share your experience in the comment section!

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