Visiting Kabah: Deeper in The Heart of Puuc

Last Updated on: 30th May 2023, 01:16 am

Kabah is one of several Mayan sites in the Puuc region, named after the nearby Puuc hills. But many visitors only see Uxmal, which is a shame, as sites like Kabah have much to offer while allowing one to avoid the crowds. Learn more below about visiting Kabah in tandem with nearby Uxmal, which is even possible via public transport.

Kabah was likely inhabited since as early as 500 BC. But like Uxmal, it hit its peak from around 600-1000 AD. At its height, the city was likely home to around 10,000 residents.

We know little of Kabah’s history, though for most of its existence, it was surely dominated culturally and politically by Uxmal just 30 km to the north. With that being said, we don’t know very much about Uxmal, either!

After Chichén Itzá became the dominant city in the Yucatán Peninsula, the Itzá people briefly occupied Kabah in the 11th century before ultimately abandoning it.

What visitors have access to today is only a small portion of the entire site. This is not related to the pandemic (as is the case at Uxmal), but simply because much of the ancient city has yet to be excavated. Archaeologists believe that Kabah once extended several square kilometers, most of which is now covered in dense forest.

Visiting Kabah Ruins

Visiting Kabah

After purchasing your entry ticket ($70 MXN at the time of writing), you’ll see the main royal place ahead of you in the center and a large elevated platform to your right. Let’s begin by heading to the platform.

Codz Poop

Accessible via by a 22 step staircase is the administrative temple known as Codz Poop (no, that’s not a typo!). The name translates to ‘Palace of the Masks,’ and you’ll find out why shortly.

Visiting Kabah Ruins

Ascending the staircase and walking toward the main facade, you’ll find a small square platform which measures out to 6.4 meters on each side. Looking closely, you’ll see that it’s been entirely inscribed in detailed hieroglyphs.

Unfortunately, it was already found looted when archaeologists John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood visited the site in the 19th century. As a result, its original message remains a mystery. 

Interestingly, it likely once featured at least one staircase, bringing to mind something akin to the Venus Platform at Chichén Itzá.

To its side is a chultun, or cistern that the Mayans dug out to collect rainfall. This is just one of eleven on the platform, which is appropriate considering the temple’s consecration to the rain god Chaak. 

The Yucatán Peninsula’s geography is rather peculiar, with its flat terrain and lack of rivers and lakes. That’s why the Mayans needed to take water storage extremely seriously, especially during the long dry season which stretches from November to April.

All along the main platform, stones salvaged from the ruins have been lined up in neat rows. Many of them appear to have fallen off the main temple, situated on yet an even higher platform.

Visiting Kabah Ruins
Visiting Kabah Ruins

The impressive facade contains no less than 250 long-snouted masks of the rain god Chaak. Incredibly, each one is comprised of no less than thirty pieces of mosaic stones!

It also features five doorways leading to twelve rooms, some of which contain an even larger Chaak mask at the base. And as we’ll go over shortly, there are even more rooms in the back.

Heading around to the other side, the eastern facade of Codz Poop is nearly as impressive. The highlight here is its well-preserved statues that have remained in place along the upper wall (after some restorations, at least).

The statues likely depict rulers or warriors (or both). Around the corner, meanwhile, you can find numerous carved reliefs. And many of the motifs common in the Puuc style of architecture are abundant here as well.

The Puuc style is known for its geometric patterns placed on building facades, oftentimes resembling a woven mat. As we saw on the other side of the temple, and to a certain extent here, Puuc architects also commonly utilized stucco figures of Chaak and occasionally other deities.

Visiting Kabah Ruins
Visiting Kabah Ruins
Visiting Kabah Ruins

The Palace

From the back of Codz Poop, you can head on over directly to the main palace area, situated atop its own multi-tiered platform. There are three main buildings in the plaza containing a collective total of 34 vaulted rooms.

For those just coming from Uxmal, at which most structures are unclimbable, those visiting Kabah will be delighted the find the central staircase here accessible. What’s more, is that Kabah only gets a fraction of the tourists, so you’ll likely have the plaza to yourself.

Visiting Kabah Ruins

Two of the larger structures of the palace area appear nearly identical, while the remaining structure may have served as a royal kitchen.

While I’ve seen pictures of an even more intricate building consisting of numerous columns, I didn’t end up coming across it. The decoration might be on the opposite side of the central building, though getting there was off-limits.

Visiting Kabah Ruins

The ruins featured above are all located in what’s known as Kabah’s ‘East Group.’ But as mentioned, the entirety of the original city was huge, and archaeologists have discovered multiple other groups. 

At the time of writing, only one other group is accessible to tourists visiting Kabah today.

The Central Group

Passing the ticket gate and facing the highway, you’ll spot a gate on the other side of the road. While it looks like it may lead to someone’s private property, this is actually another part of the Kabah ruins known as the ‘Central Group.’

Visiting Kabah Ruins

There are only a couple of landmarks to see here. And the first one, the Grand Pyramid, is situated to the right of the forested path.

Despite its name, it doesn’t appear so grand at all, as it’s almost completely obscured by overgrowth. Supposedly, a four-room temple sits at the top, though this can hardly be made out. 

Nearby, archaeologists discovered ceremonial reliefs of figures wearing bird helmets, though they’re not on display on-site.

Visiting Kabah Ruins
Visiting Kabah Ruins

Walking a few minutes deeper into the forest, you’ll come face to face with a large arch which once functioned as the official entrance for those visiting Kabah in ancient times. 

Amazingly, the sacbe (elevated stone road) just past it leads straight to a site called Nohpat about 15 km away, after which it continues on to Uxmal.

The arch was likely built in the 7th or 8th century, and many have commented on its striking similarity to the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

Visiting Kabah Ruins

For those visiting Uxmal and Kabah by public transport, you’ll have a long wait before the 15:00 return bus to Mérida. As there’s no food for sale near Kabah, nor are there any restaurants nearby, be sure to prepare ample snacks and water before setting out for the day.

Learn more details on visiting Kabah just below.

Additional Info

As mentioned above, there are several different archaeological sites in the Puuc region. Aside from Uxmal and Kabah, other sites include Sayil, Labná and Xlapak. But taking both the bus schedule and local geography into consideration, those exploring the region by public bus will only be able to visit Uxmal and Kabah.

Before the pandemic, there used to be a special bus departing from Mérida on Sundays which stopped at all the Puuc sites. But at the time of writing, it seems to have ended for good, leaving the regular daily bus as the only option.

Coming from Mérida, you’ll want to stop at Uxmal first. While the ruins open at 8:00, you only have two options for the bus: 6:00 and 9:00!

The bus ride lasts about an hour, so you’ll have to wait around by the entrance if you take the 6:00 bus. But as painful as it can be for many to wake up so early, putting in the extra effort is well worth it, as a large majority of tourists take the 9:00 bus. Furthermore, getting to Uxmal at opening time allows you to beat most of the organized tour groups.

The bus is managed by a company called Sur, but nevertheless departs from the main ADO terminal in Mérida’s historical center.

Finished with Uxmal, a bus headed further south should pass by at 10:00 or 10:30 (you can confirm this with the staff), and it can drop you off at Kabah.

Returning to Mérida, you can wait by the road for the afternoon bus, which unfortunately doesn’t arrive until around 15:00. As mentioned above, you should come prepared with snacks and also a book (there’s no cellphone reception out here).

One benefit of visiting Kabah after Uxmal is that you’ll likely get to grab a seat on the return bus. At the time of my visit, so many people got on the return bus at Uxmal that many were forced to stand.

It’s also technically possible to visit Sayil via the Sur bus, though not on the same day as Uxmal and Kabah. Learn more in a future guide.

In Mérida, I highly recommend people stay as central as possible. Some popular mid-range hotels in the center include Casona 61 and Kuka y Naranjo. Those on a tighter budget should also enjoy the highly-rated Hotel Santa Maria and Hotel Real Toledo.

As Mérida is so spread out, things may be much farther apart in reality than they appear on a map. Before making any booking, it’s best to confirm the precise walking distance from your accommodation to the city’s main square, Plaza Grande. From there, you can easily get around to most of the major sites and bus terminals.

Also within the historical center is the main ADO bus terminal that can take you to the ruins. It’s especially important to be close to this terminal if you plan on visiting Uxmal first thing in the morning (see above for more details).

While there are various Uxmal tour options out there, if you’re going to take a tour, you should also visit some of the nearby Puuc sites as well.

This tour will take you to Uxmal, Kabah, Sayil and Labna in the same day. It’s the only such tour that I was able to come across online.

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