Compared to its more popular sisters like Chichen Itza, Tulum, and Coba, Ek Balam is rarely visited by tourists and you may end up walking around all by yourself among the temples and jungle. This little treasure a Mayan city is a little off the beaten path because it is located about two hours and 30 minutes from Playa del Carmen. But if you are really fascinated by Mayan history, culture, and art and architecture, visiting Ek Balam should be included in your itinerary.
Ek Balam is the Mayan term for “black Jaguar”, in itself a very powerful name. It used to be an influential and important city. Whereas many other ancient cities in the Yucatan Peninsula had a life span of 500 to 600 years, Ek Balam thrived for around 1000 years.
Construction of the city began in 100 BC to 300 AD (late Pre-Classic period) and continued into 700 AD to 900 AD (Late Classic period). Ek Balam may even have been inhabited as late as the time when the Spanish conquistadors came in the 1500s.
Further evidence for Ek Balam’s importance is its monumental buildings. El Torre, is considered as one of the largest Mayan structures in all of the Yucatan Peninsula. The tower measures more than 500 feet long, 200 feet wide, and towers 100 feet. The ancient city also has a wall not high enough to function as a protective structure; the wall probably was built specifically for ceremonial purposes. Ek Balam also has other ceremonial features such as the ball court where important Mayan ball games were staged.
A road network has also been found. Sacbe (“white road”) and their roads are paved, wide, and built perfectly straight – a further evidence of the greatness and precision of Mayan engineering. The road’s wide system suggests frequent interaction with other Mayan cities. Many archaeologists theorize that Ek Balam was originally the agricultural center in the northwestern part of the peninsula. Today, the area still produces honey, corn, and vegetables.
Only a few principal structures have been excavated and restored at Ek Balam, but the grand size of this archeological site will give you remarkable examples of what the Mayan people were capable of.