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In the area near Santa Elena, there are more ancient Maya sites than you can visit in a day. And cast your net a little further, and you’ll be exploring for weeks!

Perhaps the closest Maya site is also one of the most astounding: Uxmal. The stone buildings of Uxmal spread out beyond a lovely visitor’s center at the entrance, starting with the amazing pyramid, The Pyramid of the Magician. This amazing stone structure is a pyramid with rounded edges, five levels and many secrets. You cannot climb the pyramid anymore, but do spend time walking around it and seeing the sculpted stones that grace the entrances and stairs. The Nunnery Quadrangle is just beyond, a vast interior courtyard surrounded by low, columned buildings and decorated with sculpted snakes and other depictions of Maya deities. The grounds of Uxmal continue and you can walk for hours exploring the Governor’s Palace, the ballcourt, the Turtle Palace and more.

Just down the road from Uxmal are a trio of Maya sites: Labna, Kabah and Sayil. All amazing sites in their own right, Kabah is actually the second largest ruin in the Puuc region after Uxmal. At Kabah you’ll find the Palace of the Masks, where hundreds of stone masks of the rain god Chaac cover the façade. Sayil features the two-terraced Great Palace and the El Mirador temple, among others, all laid out along a sacbe, or white road. But our favorite of the three has got to be Labna, where stone buildings of various sizes are gathered in a beautiful park-like setting. Labna’s beautiful Gateway Arch looks today as magical as it did when Frederick Catherwood first drew it in 1842.

Another nearby site, in the opposite direction down the road, is Oxkintok, where stone ruins include a fascinating small spiral structure and many as-yet-unrecovered pyramids hidden under grassy knolls.