Ek Balam, also spelled Ek' Balam or Ek' B'alam, is an important archaeological site of the late classic Maya culture. Ek' B'alam means Black Jaguar or Star Jaguar in the Yucatec Maya language, but inscriptions indicate that the original name of the site was probably Talol. Rare and original stucco sculptures are protected by modern thatched roofs on the remains of the Acropolis. Such stucco sculptures generally do not survive because they are just plaster and weather rapidly. As Chichen Itza became more powerful, eclipsing Ek Balam, the Maya themselves buried the Acropolis at Ek Balam, preserving the stucco sculptures and many painted hieroglyphic inscriptions. This gives us an illustration of what many other Maya sites must once have looked like.
There is no museum on site. The small visitors' center charges for entry and has restrooms. Hotels and restaurants can be found in any nearby town, including Mérida and Valladolid. This site is becoming more popular with tourists, but is still much less visited than the much larger Chichen Itza.
An hour and a half is plenty of time to see the site, unless you are an archaeologist. Ek Balam can easily be combined with visits to other sites.
This temple is right in the middle of a big part of jungle.
Flora and fauna
As at many of the maya temples, there's a lot of Iguanas here. Also a few stray dogs who will enjoy it if you bring a snack for them.
Hot, humid, often with blazing sun. Bring water, sunscreen, and a hat.
Ek Balam is easily reached from major highways in the state of Yucatan. It is close to Mérida, Valladolid, and Chichen Itzá. The usual blue and white tourist signs indicate the direction on the highway (these signs are few and far between, and as of July 2007, were accurate).
There are no buses that go to Ek Balam, you need to take a car, taxi, or collectivo taxi. Collectivos are vans or regular taxis that take multiple people to the same place, and are cheaper than taking a private taxi for just your group.
The Collectivos to Ek Balam pick up on Calle 37 between Calle 42 and 44. Collectivo cost is 50 pesos per person or 200 pesos for a taxi (Sept 2015). They don't run a van but just put several people into the same taxi. You might be able to bargain the price down if you're 2 or more.
When departing there is a shaded waiting area outside the entrance where you can decide if you want to wait for more passengers to go via collectivo or you can just pay the full taxi price and leave immediately. They tend to overcharge a little on the ride back but give them 10 minutes if it's calm, they are not able to wait around all day either.
Admission fee was 181 MXN on Sept 2015. This does not include the cenote.
See the cenote nearby. There is a path by the main entrance that leads to it, and there are often people with rickshaws who will taxi you to it for a small fee. The path is 1,5km (about a mile) and is shaded by the trees. Cenotes are freshwater sinkholes dozens of feet deep, and were considered sacred to the Mayans. Ek Balam's cenote has stairs leading down to the water, a boardwalk around the edge of the water, a rope swing from the boardwalk and a kayak. It's great for swimming on a hot day or just watching the catfish that live in the water.
This Cenote is now being operated by a tour company. You pay 30MXN for the entrace, 40MXN extra if you also want to use a bike and 250MXN for the 'full package' which includes bikes, the rope swing and rappel. The guys on rickshaws charge less then the tour company does and you can probably use the rope swing for free or just jump of the stairs into the water.
The small town/village of Ek Balam is near the site. The village has at least one restaurant (Italian).
Very close to the site there is a small "cafe" dispensing cold drinks.
If you climb the ruins, be aware that the descent can be visually disorienting. Do not climb the Acropolis if you are subject to vertigo. The stairs are small and uneven, so take caution coming down, as medical help may take a while to arrive if you fall.
The area around the site seems quite safe.
Vendors near the site may direct you to park next to their shop and may pressure you to pay them to watch your car. If you do not desire their services, you may safely turn them down.