Edzna Ruins: A Complete Guide for the curious traveller

Edzna Ruins - The Temple of the Five Storeys

Much like the ruins of Pomona, Edzna ruins get far fewer visitors than the nearby Uxmal ruins or Chichén Itzá. Some may take this information as evidence that Edzna is less worthy of their time than other ruins, but this is definitely not the case. Even in ruins, Edzna is an impressive city of grand temples, mighty pyramids, observatories, palaces, an acropolis, a ball court and even remnants of a sophisticated water and road system. So, despite its quieter setting, Edzna is perhaps the best example of a ‘complete’ Mayan City.

In this Cultural Scribbles guide, meant for the curious traveller, we will provide a brief history of the ruins, as well as what the visitor will see once there. Additionally, we will equip the reader with all the practical knowledge they need to visit the ruins on a day trip. Including where to stay, how to get there and what to pack.

A Brief History of the Edzna ruins

The city of Edzna has its origins in the Late Pre-Classic period (300 B.C. to A.D. 300), though may well date back as far as 600 B.C. Despite this – and possibly because the city was completed in phases stretching over one thousand years – Edzna did not reach its peak until the Terminal Classic period of ancient Maya civilization. This was a period marked by a century of decline (800 to A.D. 900) and civic unrest throughout the rest of the Mayan world. As such, it is the era when the Maya population began to move northward. The city of Edzna’s population increased to roughly 25,000 inhabitants during this period. But, five hundred years later, the site had been completely abandoned.

Edzna Ruins
Edzna Ruins

Its not entirely known what brought an end to the great Mayan civilizations. Although current theories centre on three notable factors: war, overpopulation and drought. Ceaseless wars brought about societal chaos, growing populations meant the overexploitation of natural resources and continuous drought caused famine. In fact, the Terminal Classic period stands as a point in history for the rise of these changes, marking the beginning of the end of the fruitful times. During the time of inhabitation, the city of Edzna formed part of the Calakmul polity. Its government drew on the power of the divine to assert their authority; a notable change from the typical practice of hereditary rule that the Mayan societies had seen prior to the Terminal Classic period.

Edzna was discovered in 1907, but organized excavations did not begin until 1958. In 1986, the collaborating parties began to employ Guatemalan refugees to help excavate, restore and maintain the ancient city.

what will you see at the Edzna ruins site?

Visitors enter the site through the ‘courtyard of the ambassadors’. So named because the collective entities that worked to excavate the ruins wanted to bolster recognition of the international effort to restore the site. A small arrangement of structures line the courtyard, most of which sit on low-rise platforms. One particular structure in the courtyard carries the remnants of a corbeled vault that opens up on both sides, which guests can venture through.

Edzna ruins - Courtyard of the Ambassadors
Courtyard of the Ambassadors, Edzna Ruins

Overall, the site encompasses four major complexes, all of which house a variety of structures. The Mayans also built a sophisticated road system, or sacbeob (raised stone roads) which connects different complexes within the city. Additionally, visitors may notice the vast system of irrigation channels and reservoirs on-site. The Mayans built an impressive underground network of hydraulic works, used mainly for transport and drainage. Researchers have found more than 32 stelae (decorated stone slabs) in the area, as well as a unique hieroglyphic stairway. Edzna archaeological zone covers an area of roughly 25 sq. kms.

Edzna Ruins - Nohoch Na
Nohoch Na, Edzna Ruins

A short pathway takes visitors from the courtyard of the ambassadors to the Grand Plaza proper. Sitting on the northern perimeter of the plaza is the Platform of the Knives, so named because a group of flint knives were discovered there. It is a long rectangular platform with steps on each side. At both ends the remnants of vaulted rooms with columned entryways lead into open chambers. Visitors will find the enormous structure of Nohoch Na dominating the west border of the plaza. The platform is almost 140 metres long, and around 5 metres high. Two continuous hallways run along the top of the platform, punctuated by 24 different entrances. The structure, researchers believe, may have held a political or administrative function.

What else will you see at edzna ruins?

The South Temple

The south side of the Grand plaza proper opens onto a ball court and the South Temple. The South Temple is a five-storied pyramid with a puuc style temple sitting at the top. Two stairways, one on the north and one on the south side of the pyramid, both lead to the temple. The stairways date back to the Late Classic period (A.D. 600-900). Slightly further south, just past the ball court, lies the Temple of the Masks and the Small Acropolis.

Edzna Ruins - The South Temple
The South Temple, Edzna Ruins

The Temple of the Masks and the Small Acropolis

Researchers would uncover the Temple of the Masks in 1988, much later in the excavation period than some of the other structures. On the base of this temple, visitors will see two distinct masks. These masks represent the Sun God, Kinich Ahau. One mask symbolises sunrise and the other sunset. It is worth noting that these masks are made of stucco, not plaster, which means their continued existence throughout the centuries is somewhat incredible. Further, each mask is bordered by a series of astronomical symbols.

Edzna Ruins - The Temple of the Masks
The Temple of the Masks, Edzna Ruins

The Small Acropolis is a raised square platform providing the foundation for four structures situated around an interior courtyard. The platform is roughly 24 feet/8 metres in height and overlooks the Temple of the Masks. Supposedly, the Small Acropolis is the oldest structure within the site of Edzna ruins, dating back to around 300 B.C. Several of the sites stelae (decorated stone slabs) are said to have stood here between the 1st and 5th century, but they have since been moved for their protection and preservation. The Temple of the Relief Steps and the Temple of the Stelas sit atop the Small Acropolis.

Edzna Ruins - The Great Plaza
The Great Plaza, Edzna Ruins

From either end of the Nohoch Na structure, two sacbeob trail across the grounds of the Grand Plaza proper and converge at a large stairway on the east side of the square. This stairway leads up to the Great Plaza, the main square of the city which sits atop the Great Acropolis, a huge platform that is around 19 feet/6 metres in height and squares at roughly 400 feet/140 sq. metres.

what will you see in the great plaza?

The Temple of the Five Storeys

The most impressive and imposing structure in the Great plaza is the Temple of the Five Storeys. Standing on the east side of the plaza, this grand, five-tiered building houses around 22 vaulted rooms. A very wide and steep stairway leads up from the plaza to a temple that sits atop the structure. Though interestingly, a smaller stairway on the southeast corner is the only way to reach the first storey. In addition to the 22 rooms that make up the structure, there are five smaller rooms within the temple at the top. Two of these rooms feature inscriptions on their stuccoed vault capstones. Further, a pyramid dating back to the Early Classic period (A.D. 200-600) has been excavated from underneath the final construction phases of the structure, which itself dates back to the Terminal Classic period (A.D. 900-1100).

Edzna Ruins - The Temple of the Five Storeys
The Temple of the Five Storeys, Edzna Ruins

Just at the base of the main stairway of the temple, visitors will see four risers that display hieroglyphic blocks. This feature is known as Hieroglyphic Staircase 1, and includes 86 blocks in total. Researchers and other workers would find most of these blocks hidden beneath rubble at the base of the structure, but archaeologists have worked to reconstruct them. The blocks date back to A.D. 652.

Edzna Ruins - Hieroglyphic Staircase 1
Hieroglyphic Staircase 1, Edzna Ruins

In the centre of the Great Plaza, you will see a small square platform. Its name is the Solar Platform, and it perhaps had its use in religious ceremonies and astronomical rituals.

what else will you see in the great plaza?

The Temple of the Moon and the Southwest Temple

Southwards of the Solar Platform, two structures line the edges of the southern border of the Great Plaza. They are the Temple of the Moon and the Southwest Temple. The Temple of the Moon is a seven-level, truncated pyramid with a wide central stairway. The temple is very large, and only the north face has been excavated thoroughly. It is roughly 131 feet/40 metres long and 26 feet/8 metres high. The top level of the temple is split into three chambers, one long narrow room flanked by two smaller ones. Giving the three rooms, from an aerial view, the shape of a capital I. A long bench stretches along the back wall of the rooms.

Edzna Ruins - The Temple of the Moon and the Southwest Temple
The Temple of the Moon and the Southwest Temple, Edzna Ruins

The Southwest Temple sits in the corner of the Great plaza. It is fairly similar to the Temple of the Moon in that it resembles a truncated pyramid, and has several rooms at its summit.

The North Temple(s)

And then we have the North Temple, which sits on the northern side of the Great plaza. The North temple, as with most structures on the site, incorporates a combination of architectural styles practices over the centuries. In fact, the first temple was built between A.D. 300-500 and had a broad stairway that covered the entire south side of the building. However sometime between A.D. 500-600, the builders would fill in the outer portions of the stairway, leaving a much narrower set of stairs flanked by large, Puuc-style sloping slabs.

The North Temple
The North Temple, Edzna Ruins

And Finally, in the northwest corner of the Great Plaza, we have the Northwest Temple. Fit with a central stairway and three chambers at its summit, along with a side stairway that leads down to a small, contained courtyard known as the Puuc Courtyard. Which houses some remnants of smaller structures.

To the Northwest of the Great Plaza

A sacbe (raised stone road) leads out of the northwest corner of the Great Plaza towards another, smaller plaza. This plaza houses a number of structures and platforms known as the Old Sorceress Group. The most notable structure in this area is a semi-restored platform with a central staircase known as the Temple of the Witch.  

The Temple of the Witch
The Temple of the Witch, Edzna Ruins

practical information

Where are Edzna ruins and how do you get there?

You will find this magnificent archaeological site in the northern region of the Mexican state of Campeche. In fact, it is under an hour’s drive from the city of Campeche (also in the northern region of the state). So, generally speaking, the best place to stay to see the ruins is the city of Campeche. But we will go into more detail about where to stay under the heading where to stay in Campeche.

Travelling to Edzna from Campeche is very simple, and can be done in four ways.

1. Shuttle

In campeche, all you need to do is get to the corner of Calle Nicaragua and Calle Chihuahua. From there, you are able to jump on a ‘colectivo’, a public transport minivan that will take you to Edzna ruins. The colectivos leave this corner roughly every 30 minutes. All you will need to do is ask the driver to drop you off at Edzna, and they will be happy to do it. The journey will take approximately an hour, and the tickets will cost around Mx40 ($2). The driver will likely stop at the junction near to the entrance of the ruins, so you will have to walk for a few hundred metres to reach the ticket booth.

Once you’ve finished exploring the ruins, you can simply head back to the junction where you were dropped off, and a colectivo will appear before long. There isn’t a marked stop for the colectivos, so you will need to get the driver’s attention as they are approaching.

2. Bus

Similarly, if you wish to travel by bus, you can get one from the corner between Calle Nicaragua and Calle Chihuahua. The bus journey will take roughly one hour and 25 minutes. It is a longer journey because the bus does not go directly to Edzna. You will have to make one transfer. Take the bus from Campeche to Pich (these buses leave every hour), and then from Pich you will take a shuttle to Edzna. Pich to Edzna is only a ten minute drive. You can expect to pay around $2.75 for this method of transport.

3. Taxi

Almost ever taxi company in Campeche will service the Edzna route. Try using either Taxi Radar, Radio Taxi Murallas, Radio Taxi Aguilas or Radio Taxi Gaviota. This journey will set you back anywhere between $8.25-$11, and will take approximately 55 minutes.

4. Rental car

Alternatively, you may wish to hire a car whilst in Mexico, which you can easily do in the city of Campeche. The road to Edzna ruins is very safe and well-signposted, so you will have no trouble while driving. Conveniently, there is also a free car park near the entrance of the ruins.

Where to stay in Campeche

As this guide generally advises people to visit Edzna on a day trip from Campeche, the following accommodation recommendations will be places in the city. However, we have thrown in a few great hotels that are on the edge of Campeche, should you want to shave 20 minutes off of the journey in a taxi or car.

1. Hacienda Uayamon Hotel

Hacienda Uayamon Hotel

Possibly the most beautiful hotel in Campeche, Hacienda Uayamon is an admittedly pricey stay, but well worth the cost. The hotel is a restored mansion set in the countryside, offering a spa, outdoor pool, free Wi-Fi and Mayan-style suites with woven hammocks. The bonus, too, is that Edzna ruins is only a 35 minute drive from this hotel. Take a look at the place, here.

2. Castelmar Hotel

Hotel Castelmar

Set in Campeche’s historic city centre, Castelmar Hotel locates itself perfectly for those who wish to travel to Edzna by shuttle or bus. Housed in a building that dates back to 1800, this hotel features spacious, air-conditioned rooms with satellite TV and a private bathroom. Additionally, the hotel is right next to the sea and a whole host of restaurants and historic buildings. Take a look at the hotel, here.

3. AMBAR Rooms & Coffee

A thriftier option still, and well placed within the historic centre of Campeche, the AMBAR Rooms and Coffee house is a simple, pleasant place to stay. Guests can enjoy air-conditioning, free Wi-Fi, free 24 hour coffee and a free minibar fridge. You can view the accommodation, here.

4. Hotel Balamku

The colourful Hotel Balamku will make you feel right at home in the heart of Campeche. Set in the historic centre, this animated hotel will have guests gazing over the city from their patio; a luxury of each room. You can see the hotel here.

5. Casacadencia Remodelled Colonial House

For those travellers looking for something a bit different, this beautiful historic residence is particularly charming. Set in the centre of Campeche, this air-conditioned apartment offers 1 bedroom, a living room, a fully equipped kitchen with a microwave and a coffee machine, as well as a bathroom and a shower. A breakfast is also available everyday at the apartment.

further information about edzna ruins

when are Edzna ruins open to the public?

The site is open every day of the week from 8am to 5pm. However, every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 8pm in the summer and 7pm in the winter, Edzna becomes the subject of a magnificent light display. Named the “light of the Itzas”, the showcase illuminates the splendour of the site with light beams and flashing bulbs. It costs around 41 pesos ($2) to attend the show, and by all accounts it is well worth watching.

Can you climb the structures on the site?

Well here’s the all important question…can you climb to the top of the highest pyramid at Edzna and look down upon mere mortals, or, other tourists? Sadly, the answer is no, the highest pyramid is out of bounds for you more arboreal travellers. Fortunately though, you are welcome to journey up the steps of any other ruins on-site.

What to pack for a day trip

Whether you are travelling to Mexico in the dry season between November and May, or during the rainy season from June to October, it will be hot. The rainy season sees minimum temperatures of around 23 degrees Celsius and the dry season reaches heights of roughly 29 degrees Celsius. The main thing to note is that if you are travelling during the rainy season, then you’ll likely encounter showers in the late afternoon/evening time. So essential items to take on your day trip may include an umbrella, or a mac or poncho style top. It is advisable to also take a backpack with some food, because food is not available on-site. Additionally, a water bottle, sunscreen and a protective hat (there is no shade) would be useful. It is also worth noting that there is a toilet on-site, so no need to bring a she-wee, ladies.

How much do tickets cost?

Tickets to the ruins are 60 pesos ($3).

Thank you for reading the Cultural Scribbles guide to Edzna ruins, we hope this information has been useful and that it has further prompted your curiosity. If you consider yourself a cultural traveller, why not check out our guide to the art museums of Europe, here.

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