Although much of Uxmal has yet to be excavated and 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, this "Pyramid of the Magician" has a softer, 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. Ongoing excavations continue to reveal exciting new finds, still under study. Climbing is prohibited.
West of the pyramid lies the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas, often considered to be the
finest part of Uxmal. It reminded the conquistadors of typical convent buildings in Old Spain (Monjas means nuns). You may enter the four buildings, each comprised of a series of low, gracefully repetitive chambers that look onto a central patio. Elaborate 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. Covering five acres and rising over an immense acropolis, the palace lies at the heart of what may have been Uxmal's administrative center. It faces east while the rest of Uxmal faces west, and archaeologists suggest this allowed the structure to serve as an observatory for the planet Venus.
The Cuadrángalo de los Pájaros (Quadrangle of the Birds), takes its name from the repeating pattern of doves, which decorates the upper part of the building's frieze. The building is composed of a series of small chambers. In one of these, archaeologists discovered a statue of the ruler Chac (not to be confused with Chaac, the rain god), who was thought to have dwelled there.
A nightly sound-and-light show 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 narrated in Spanish, but earphones (M$40) provide an English translation. In the summer months, tarantulas are a common sight on the grounds at Uxmal.