Merida Day Trip: Mayan Puuc Route

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Nearly every visitor to the Yucatan visits Chichen Itza, voted one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But there are Mayan sites covering the plains of the Yucatan, and if you want to delve deeper into this ancient culture without a lot of crowds and souvenir sellers, you should definitely keep exploring. The Puuc Route is a grouping of five Mayan sites from the Terminal Classic period (800–1000CE) that are located just south of Merida. It makes a wonderful day trip from Merida as it’s only about an hour’s drive straight down Highway 261. Don’t be surprised to find out these sites are possibly more impressive than Chichen Itza! 

Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal

The Puuc Route
Where: 80-100km south of Merida
Hours: 8am–5pm daily
Entrance fee: varies per site
Time: 6-8 hours

The best way to see the Puuc Route is by renting a car and driving yourself as the roads are well paved and easy to drive without a lot of traffic. The whole trip takes about 8 hours. We started out from Merida at 7:45am, visited all five Mayan sites with lunch at Uxmal, and were back in Merida at 3:30pm. There are other sites to see along the Puuc Route including a cave system, natural swimming holes called cenotes, and old plantation houses that have been restored into restaurants and museums, but we found that the five Mayan sites alone made a long enough day trip for us.

Stop 1: Uxmal
Admission: $218 pesos plus $30 for parking
Uxmal is the most impressive of the sites, and it’s also the first stop from Merida, so you can enjoy it first thing in the morning before crowds arrive. We arrived at 8:45 and there were just a few other couples there, but by the time we left at 11:30, tour buses had arrived from Progreso and the place was packed! We were glad we got to experience the site in the cool quiet of the morning. The Pyramid of the Magician greets you as you enter the site, and though it’s no longer allowed to ascend the pyramid, it’s still the most impressive structure of the site. Don’t miss the Governor’s Palace with the longest facade in Meso America, as well as the Pok ta Pok ball court. If you visit in the evening, there is a light and sound show at 7pm every night during fall and winter, or at 8pm during spring and summer, with an admission fee of $89 pesos. We ate an early lunch at the on-site restaurant and would recommend the salbutes! 

Back of the Pyramid of the Magician. We recommend arriving early!

The pyramid towers above the horizon!

Archways on the Governor’s Palace

You can still climb the Great Pyramid behind the Governor’s Palace!

Carved details on the Great Pyramid

Stop 2: Kabah
Admission: $50 pesos
Kabah is located literally right off the highway, and impresses from the first view. The Palace of the Masks is the sight to see here, with a repetitious pattern of the rain god Chaac. Don’t forget to walk around the back side to see the large twin figures.

Kabah is famous for this repetitive facade.

A lot of well-preserved detail at Kabah.

Two figures on the back of the building.

Stop 3: Sayil
Admission: $47 pesos
It is estimated that this city once held a population of 10,000. It boasts a large pink palace with 90 rooms that once housed 350 people.

The large pink palace of Sayil.

Stop 4: Xlapak
Admission: free
There is a small but highly decorated palace on this site, with well preserved masks of the Mayan god Chaac. The site has about 14 mounds, is less restored, and is usually the first to be cut from the list for those running out of time!

Palace at Xlapak

Xlapak, Sayil and Labna all have walking paths that look like this and will lead you to the other less restored mounds. Bring drinking water!

Stop 5: Labna
Admission: $50 pesos
The well preserved arch takes center stage here, as it once led to the Mayan highway that connected this site to Uxmal.

The famous arch at Labna

Labna Temple

Getting there: From Merida, you take Highway 180 to Highway 261 and the route is a straight shot from there. It is well marked with signs for each of the ancient Mayan sites. It should take about an hour to drive each way.

We chose to visit only the 5 Mayan sites on this route, but you do have the option to combine your day trip with a visit to the Loltun Caves, or any of the many cenotes in the area. Also along the route are a few old plantation houses that have been restored into restaurants and museums. We visited Hacienda Yaxcopoil and the cenotes another day since we had a rental car for the whole week. If you’re only renting a car for a day and want to see a little of everything, my recommendation would be Uxmal, Hacienda Yaxcopoil and then a cenote swim.

The roads are well marked with signage along the way

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Mayan Puuc Route | Penny Caravan

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