Although much of Uxmal hasn't been restored, the following buildings in particular merit attention:
At 125 feet high, the Pirámide del Adivino is the tallest and most prominent structure at the site. Unlike most other Mayan pyramids, which are stepped and angular, the Temple of the Magician has a softer and more-refined round-corner design. This structure was rebuilt five times over hundreds of years, each time on the same foundation, so artifacts found here
represent several different kingdoms. The pyramid has a stairway on its western side that leads through a giant open-mouthed mask to two temples at the summit. During restoration work in 2002 the grave of a high-ranking Maya official, a ceramic mask, and a jade necklace were discovered within the pyramid. Continuing excavations have revealed exciting new finds that are still being studied.
West of the pyramid lies the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas, considered by some to be the finest part of Uxmal. The name was given to it by the conquistadores, because it reminded them of a convent building in Old Spain (monjas means nuns). You may enter the four buildings, each comprising of a series of low, gracefully repetitive chambers that look onto a central patio. Elaborate and symbolic decorations—masks, geometric patterns, coiling snakes, and some phallic figures—blanket the upper facades.
Heading south, you'll pass a small ball court before reaching the Palacio del Gobernador, which archaeologist Victor von Hagen considered the most magnificent building ever erected in the Americas. Interestingly, the palace faces east, while the rest of Uxmal faces west. Archaeologists believe this is because the palace was built to allow observation of the planet Venus. Covering 5 acres and rising over an immense acropolis, it lies at the heart of what may have been Uxmal's administrative center.
Apparently the house of an important person, the recently excavated Cuadrángalo de los Pájaros (Quadrangle of the Birds), located between the above-mentioned buildings, is composed of a series of small chambers. In one of these chambers, archaeologists found a statue of the royal, by the name of Chac (as opposed to Chaac, the rain god), who apparently dwelled there. The building was named for the repeated pattern of birds, which decorates the upper part of the building's frieze.
Today you can watch a sound-and-light show at the site that recounts Mayan legends. The colored light brings out details of carvings and mosaics that are easy to miss when the sun is shining. The show is performed nightly in Spanish, but earphones ($3) provide an English translation. In the summer months, tarantulas are a common sight at the ruins and around the hotels that surround the ruins.
Uxmal, Yucatán, Mexico