The Uxmal Light and Sound Show: Is It Worth It?

The Uxmal Pyramid of Wonders
The Uxmal Pyramid of Wonders

Are you a big fan of Light and Sound shows? I’ve been to many of them in my life as a traveler and yes, some (most?) of them are extremely tacky and can easily bore you after the first 10 minutes while others truly captivate you with their elaborate projections and the unique way they mix history and culture in an interesting narrative.

Last week I had the opportunity to attend the Uxmal Light and Sound show and well, my opinions are kind of mixed about it. But hey, how about we start at the beginning of this fateful day?

How to get to Uxmal

Uxmal is a Mayan Pyramid Complex located one hour away from Merida, capital of the Mexican State of Yucatan. This majestic site barely receives 100 visitors per day, so this is perfect for avoiding all the hassle and mass tourism of Chichen-Itza and Tulum. The unique architectural style of Uxmal is called the “Puuc style” and is fairly common to find it in the ruins near Uxmal.

Unfortunately, public transportation is not as good so it poses a BIG challenge to people who like to explore the ruins until closing time (17:00), stay for the Uxmal Light and Sound show (19:00 to 20:00) and come back to their hotels/hostels at Merida afterwards. Alternatively, you can arrive from Valladolid.

The reason for this is because the last Oriente bus to depart from Uxmal to Merida does so at 17:30.

So…what should you do? There’s basically 4 options:

  • If you have the money and prefer convenience, you can book a tour to Uxmal for about 50 USD, depart Merida at 13:00, explore the ruins, enjoy the free buffet (drinks not included!) and relax by the pool until the Uxmal Light and Sound show starts.
  • The other option is to hire a private driver at Merida for about 100 USD and have him take care of everything, as well to show you around the nearby Mayan site of Kabah. Of course, you can rent your own car too and do it yourself.
  • If you don’t want the hassle of traveling in the dark, you can book your stay at one of the three hotels found at Uxmal and worry about coming back to Merida the following day. Be warned though, prices are definitely not for the budget traveler.
  • Or…you can do travel on your own like me, risk being left stranded after the Light and Sound show was over and hope that one of the tour drivers has enough space in his van to take you back to Merida.

In total I ended up paying 50 pesos for the Oriente bus to Uxmal, 160 pesos for the buffet (it allows you to use to hotel’s facilities, including the swimming pool and deck chairs so it’s great to kill some time before the Uxmal Light and Sound show starts) and 70 pesos for the ride back to Merida. Total? 280 pesos, roughly 24 USD.

Exploring the ruins of Uxmal

The main building of Uxmal is the Pyramid of the Magician, a beautiful decorated Pyramid that honors the Mayan God of Rain, Chaac. In fact, you can find dozens of faces of this God decorating the front side of the Pyramid. Unfortunately, climbing is now prohibited, not unlike what’s happening at Chichen-Itza and Tulum. However, you can still climb the rest of the structures of this archeological site to get panoramic views of the place.

Common sense would indicate that the Uxmal Light and Sound show would take place in front of this Pyramid but, although the Pyramid itself does light up, the premise of the Uxmal Light and Sound show can be found a little bit to the east of the Pyramid, in one of my favorite plazas of the ancient world.

If you continue walking north of the entrance (east of the Uxmal Pyramid) you shall find the most amazing plaza of all of Mesoamerica: The Nunnery Quadrangle. This rectangular plaza is where the Uxmal Light and Sound show takes place. In each of its 4 corners you will be delighted to hear and learn about the Mayan civilization and their fascinating stories.

During the day, take some time to explore this plaza and to behold the richly detailed carvings of birds, Gods and all sorts of animals.

Climbing the Pyramids at Uxmal

As I said before, even though you cannot climb the Pyramid of the Magician, you can still climb the structures found north of the Nunnery Quadrangle (west of the main entrance), including the Great Pyramid from which you can witness an amazing panoramic view of all of Uxmal. Just be careful not to look down when descending, the vertigo is quite distressing for some.

On the way from the Nunnery Quadrangle to the Great Pyramid, you will also find the ball court of Uxmal and a few Iguanas. Actually, scratch that, you will find A LOT of Iguanas. I recommend you not to sit anywhere in this area unless you really want to befriend a green fellow!

Take your time to climb these ruins and, once you’re finished, you can kill some time at the buffet hotel and even take a nap next to the pool. Just remember to set your alarm to 18:30 in order to get some good seats for the Uxmal Light and Sound show!

Is the Uxmal Light and Sound show worth it?

Before you make any judgement about the quality of the Uxmal Light and Sound show (specially when you compare it to the ones at France and Egypt), it is important to realize that the show has been the same ever since 1975 when Queen Elizabeth II came to visit Mexico and was amazed at the quality of the show (specially when the narration summoned the Mayan God Chaac and a real torrential downpour took place!!!).

That being said, it is better to lower your expectations since you will not find projected images, this is strictly a show where the monuments’ walls change colors. I arrived quite early and the pre-show (where the workers actually test that the lights are functioning) is basically all that you will see during the main event. The narration is kind of cheesy but I have to admit that the chant to summon Chaac is kind of catchy, and well, the sound effects for the rain are really good.

Even when we consider that foreigners have to pay a very high price to see the show (177 pesos for entrance to the site + the Uxmal Light and Sound show, 72 pesos for the Uxmal Light and Sound show only), I would definitely suggest it. Specially because this is your only chance of seeing a Mayan Pyramid under the starry night sky (the Chichen-Itza Light and Sound show closed down in 2012).

Last but not least, don’t forget to use our Booking.com Affiliate Link of Wonders for making hotel reservations.

Same price for you and a small pocket money commission for this website of yours.

Sweet deal, uh?

Have you ever watched a Light and Sound show? Which one has been your favorite? Would you like to visit Uxmal? Share your thoughts and let me know what you think!

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22 Comments

  • Uxmal looks lovely to spend time wandering around and exploring during the day time and I love the fact that you can still climb some of the ruins. I have yet to visit a light and sound show so my expectations re almost not existence…perhaps this should be my first one if you are potentially saying that others you have experienced are better?

    • Yes, I would definitely recommend the Light and Sound show at Uxmal. Modern Light and Sound shows use projectors in order to bring images to life while the classical ones use only different colors of lights to enhance the narrative.

      In my opinion, the best S&L shows in the world can be found in France during “La Fête des Lumières” at Lyon and at the Blois Castle of the Loire Valley.

  • Ah the Mayan pyramid!

    Always fascinate me with the wonders of how people from ages ago can built such a monument.
    Plus, it looks well maintained and nice.

    Surely a traveller’s dream!

  • Oh, wow ! The money in Mexico is pesos? that’s the money in the Philippines, too ! USD 1 =Philippine pesos 42.

    Amazing place, by the way.

    • Yes, Mexican Pesos (MXN), most of Latin America countries use their own different kind of pesos (Argentinian Pesos, Chilean Pesos…) as well. I believe that the word is a derivative of the Spanish word for “peseta”. 1 USD = 13 MXN.

  • I went to Uxmal when I was in high school for my first international trip (and first time on an airplane — boy have I come a long way). It was a great experience although we were only there during the day. I remember getting pretty petrified climbing down those narrow steps and hanging on to the chain quite tightly. I know what you mean about light and sound shows. I did one in Montreal at Notre Dame last summer and it was so lame.

    • Was that the one that takes place inside of the Church itself? I remember watching it during a school trip back in 2010 and we all exchange students left unimpressed haha. Did you get to climb the Pyramid of the Magician at Uxmal? It’s closed now to climbers, unfortunately :(

      • It was in the church and it was terrible! Yes, way back then (1986!) you could climb the pyramid. I have a picture I will have to dig up next #tbt!

  • Wow! Great photos! The last light and sound show I went to was at the Pyramids and it was, as you said, a bit tacky.. with the sphinx all lit up and speaking. Haha this one looks great though. I’m dying to go to Uxmal now! (Not necessarily just for the light show but in general!) Thanks!

    • Oh, I remember it very well “I am the Mighty Sphinx, now let me tell you about the secrets buried in these sands…”. The effects were alright, although I wish the show had taken place closer to the either the Sphinx or the Pyramids, the fact that we visitors were so far away from them was a big letdown for me.

  • One of my greatest stories (in my opinion at least) comes from a night at the sound and light show in Uxmal. I fell in a hole and got knocked out. Woke up with a mild case of amnesia which lasted 2 days. It was a fun time trying to figure out where I was staying. Yikes! Was really great to see you photos and read about your experience.
    http://flattiresandslowboats.com/aboutme/

    • If you plan to travel from Merida I would say a budget of 40 USD per day is more than enough as long as you’re willing to stay at hostels. The main expense is the entrance to the site itself.

  • I fell in love with Uxmal when I visited the site. There was hardly anyone around which I loved, it’s so much better when there isn’t large crowds around yet I was very surprised because Uxmal is extremely impressive! We stayed for the light and sound show but didn’t pay the money for the headphones to translate the narrative into English. Even after all that though we loved the sound and light show, it was entertaining and enjoyable. :)

  • Hi Raphael,

    Since 14’Dec, Chichen itza has a new light and sound show, so i think it´s better to actualize your blog with this new information.

    Just in case,

    :)

  • Come Chaac….come!

    My first experience with Uxmal was in 1985. Our high school Spanish teacher escorted a trip every year during Christmas break. We stayed in Merida at El Hotel Paseo de Montejo. We crammed about 12-15 students in two VW vans, and headed off to Uxmal. We spent the day exploring the complex, and getting to climb the Pyramid of the Magician (easy to climb up, but terrifying to look back down). Then, we headed off to the hotel for buffet lunch and swimming. You nailed the description of the light show. I can’t really add anything expect, I do remember the mosquitoes were terrible that night.
    After a few nights in Merida, we traveled across the Yucatan to Chichen-Itza. From there, we went on to Cancun. At that time, there was only one high-rise hotel (El Presidente) on what would later become the hotel zone of Cancun. I was struck with wanderlust, and returned to make the same trip my junior and senior year of high school.
    After majoring in Education with a concentration in Spanish, I went on to teach for five years. During that time, I chaperoned two trips to the Yucatan that included Chichen-Itza (when you could still climb) and Tulum.

  • Might be a good idea to make mention of how HOT it gets during the day at most Mayan archeological sites.
    Best plan is to stay overnight at a hotel in Uxmal and see the ruins early in the morning and later in the afternoon. Siesta time back at the hotel is the way to go. A two night stay allows for a relaxing tour of the entire area.

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