I don’t know what the name “Edzna” means, but I would guess “Place of the iguanas”. I have never seen so many of these creatures anywhere else in my life! It seems they’ve taken over the city – prehistoric reptiles living among the ancient stones of the Mayan ruins at Edzna.
Whether iguana viewing is on your list or not, I’d recommend a visit to Edzná for anybody who’s fascinated by archaeology and ancient ruins. This city on the Yucatán peninsula is well worth a visit.
The Mayan ruins at Edzna
Edzná isn’t exactly unknown. It’s the second most important Mayan site in the state of Campeche, after the jungle power center of Calakmul. But it’s far enough from the tourist centers near Cancun that not too many tourists make it here.
Personally, I think the main pyramid at Edzná is more impressive than the famous Castillo at Chichén Itzá. The Chichén archaeological site has more different areas of the city that you can see, but the main acropolis at Edzná is pretty astounding. Since Chichén is also swarming with tourists and vendors, I’d choose the Mayan ruins at Edzna any day! 👍
The main pyramid at Edzna is called the Great Temple, or Building of Five Stories. It’s much more complex than most pyramids. There are rows of rooms at every level, and one giant staircase that ascends past them all. The temple at the summit is crowned by a tall roof comb, making an even more dramatic impression.
In fact, this is a very unusual design. At Mayan ruins, usually they call the long, low buildings with lots of doors, Palaces. Pyramids, on the other hand, are built up in levels in the classic way. This Building of Five Stories is a combination of a palace and a pyramid, and I’m not aware of another like it anywhere.
This pyramid is just one part of Edzná’s Great Acropolis. This is an elevated portion of the city ringed with massive structures. It’s an amazing collection, with a domineering presence.
Even today, standing in the partially restored ruins, you can feel the power and prestige emanating from this grand set of buildings. At the time, most of the people lived in simple thatched huts. It must have made an awe-inspiring impression on them. And the amount of labor that must have gone into creating this is pretty overwhelming too!
Super brief history of the Mayas at Edzna
Edzná was a significant Mayan city, the largest in what is today eastern Campeche state. Only the rulers and elites lived in the city center that you see today. Most of the people lived in small huts, scattered over the surrounding area. It’s estimated that the city once covered more than 17 square kilometers. (For comparison, that’s about 30% of the area of the modern city of Campeche.)
The history of the site spans more than 2,000 years, from 600 BC until the 1400s AD. Just let that sink in for a minute. As you wander through the site, abandoned to the iguanas today, you’re in a city where people lived, loved, worked and died for two millennia. The US and Canada are babies in comparison.
As you might expect with a history that long, most of the buildings here were built and rebuilt in stages over the centuries. For instance, the main pyramid has been rebuilt four times, each new architect building off the previous work, but with his own new vision and style.
The most active building period, and the time frame for most of the work you see today, is about 550 to 800 AD – the Late Classic period of the Mayas. That makes the buildings you’re looking at (and the iguanas’ homes) well over a thousand years old.
Tips for visiting the Mayan ruins at Edzna
Edzná is in the eastern part of Campeche state, on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula. You head southeast from the capital city of Campeche. It’s about 40 miles by road from the city to the ruins, with paved roads all the way.
During my late afternoon visit to Edzná, I saw a less than a dozen other visitors. That’s perfect! I love the places where you can get away from the crowds, and experience a place on your own. 😊 It’s much more atmospheric when you’re not surrounded by people posing for selfies.
Note: Early and late are the best times to visit Edzná. It’s not as hot, the light is better for photographs, and there are fewer other tourists around.
Like most of the Mayan sites, they have guides available on site who can take you through the ruins. The guides definitely provide a lot more info and insights than I’ve been able to find in books, but I often prefer to just wander around on my own and soak up the atmosphere.
If you’re seeing the Mayan ruins at Edzna on your own, a good way to plan your visit is to walk to the more distant Old Woman’s group first, about 800 meters away. This is a smaller grouping, with not too much restored, so it makes a good introductory stop. Then when you get back to the main portion of the ruins, and the Great Temple slowly comes into view, it will take your breath away.
Sadly, you can’t climb the main pyramid, but there are plenty of other structures you can climb to get different perspectives and views.
Also make sure to see the stucco masks, which are in a thatched building off to the side of the acropolis. There are two well-preserved carvings of human faces that are supposed to represent the sun god.
Camping at the Edzná ruins
If you’ve got a camper or van, you can camp right outside the Mayan ruins at Edzna. They don’t let anybody spend the night inside the fence, to protect the archaeological site. But I asked the guards, and they showed me where I could park just outside the gate, very near the night security light. Unfortunately,the bathrooms are inside the gate, so you can’t use them at night, so this spot is best if you’re self-contained.
The guard said he’d keep an eye on my rig during the night, and he also has a guard dog who alerts him to any night time visitors. It was free to stay at the Edzná ruins, though I gave him a bit of a tip. It was a very quiet night.
The best thing about camping at Edzná is that it’s easy for you to be the last person there in the afternoon, or the first person in the morning. If there are tour groups in the middle of the day, you will never need to see them!