This past autumn, when I returned to the ancient Maya ruins of Uxmal, I had the opportunity to spend a night in a nearby hotel and so could watch the evening light show at the ruins. The main action takes place in the Nunnery Quadrangle, but as you can see here, the Pyramid of the Magician isn’t left out of the fun.
Granted, the colors can get a bit… garish… but the show as a whole is pretty impressive. And if you know a little Spanish, you get to hear a concise history of the site while watching the colored lights splashing on various buildings.
In our case, as happens pretty regularly (I’m told), we also got drenched right after the part of the show in which recorded voices (portraying plaintive inhabitants during the site’s historic drought) chant the name of the Maya rain god Chaac. Interesting coincidence, that…
One of the iconic sites at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, seen from its north end looking to the south:
For some reason, this view doesn’t show up as often as does its opposite from the south end of the field. Still, you can really get a feel for the ball court’s size — particularly since those are two people just to the right of this two-frame panorama’s center.
A straight-on frontal shot of the House of the Cenote, in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum in Quintana Roo, Mexico:
No, it’s not the most artistic angle on this structure, but it does give you a good feeling for its size and design. This photo was shot from roughly the southeast (from the point of view of the sea, basically) and shows the face of the original part of the structure.
Some years later, a small shrine was added to the back of this building, directly over a small cenote that gives the whole construction its modern nickname.
The “marquis” structure at the ancient Maya ruins of Chichén Itzá, El Castillo (a.k.a. the Pyramid of Kukulkan):
What most tourist brochure photos don’t show you, though, are its two faces. The pyramid’s north and west sides have been fully restored (so, look as close to “new” as we can get), while the south and east sides have just been consolidated and stabilized (and so, look rougher). In the shot above, north is to the right — the pyramid’s north face is what you’ll most often see on postcards and such.
Along with all the amazing ruins, the ancient Maya site of Palenque also offers some really nice waterfalls not too far from the site center. Dubbed the “Queen’s Bath,” it’s actually a series of waterfalls with terraces. It can be a really amazing thing to see and photograph.
But can it ever change its appearance with the seasons.
Our most recent trip to Palenque was timed to fall just after the end of the wet season, in early December. Enough water was flowing in the Otolum creek to give the Queen’s Bath some life:
Note that this is a 1/13 second exposure, so you can see that you can get some nice blurring of the water without a tripod (note that you can’t use a tripod in the ruins without a permit requiring paperwork in advance, etc.). At least, an exposure like this will work if your camera or lens offers image stabilization.
For comparison’s sake, here’s a shot taken from nearly the same spot two years earlier (but at the end of the dry season, in mid-May):
With a bit of help from some HDR software (NIK HDR Efex Pro), here’s a scene of building storm clouds behind the Temple of the Seven Dolls at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltún:
As I mentioned in a previous post, you can’t climb the steps of this structure any more. Still, there’s plenty of cleared and accessible space available around it — so it’s not too tough to make a good photo of it. Here, one of the structures called “Adjoining Rooms” blocks your view of the fencing around the Temple’s base.
I made this photo from just west of Structure 12 (which is also now fenced off). On spring and autumn equinoxes, the Sun rises in the temple’s door, directly in line with the stela that frames the left side of this image. As you might imagine, that means those dates are quite crowded ones at this (normally sparsely visited) site.
It’s the Temple of the Frescoes, in the ancient Maya ruins of Tulum, Mexico:
Compare it to a photo from my previous visit, and you can see there’s been an unfortunate addition during the past few years — bracing in a couple of the doorways over on the photo’s left. Apparently, the structure’s developing some structural issues — hopefully they can be addressed without too much change to the building.
The star attraction at the ancient Maya ruins of Dzibilchaltún, Yucatán, Mexico:
The Temple of the Seven Dolls was named for some small clay figurines found in an offering under its floor. Sadly, a fence now keeps visitors from climbing its steps, much less looking inside the structure (likely due to vandalism seen at other well-visited sites).
Seen in the ancient Maya ruins of Calakmul, Mexico — five stelae at the foot of Structure II:
Calakmul has no shortage of the vertical monuments called stelae, 117 at last count (the most of any site in the region). Â Sadly, the local limestone is fairly soft, so most of them are eroded to the point where much of the once-rich detail has been lost to weathering. Â But they can still make strong elements of a photographic composition if you’re careful with the lighting you’re working with.
An angled shot of Building 2 (Temple of the Cormorants) at the ancient Maya ruins of DzibanchÃ© in Quintana Roo, MÃ©xico:
DzibanchÃ© is an amazing little site to visit — it doesn’t get the press of the bigger sites (so there are never crowds), but it still has lots of interesting structures to see.
The Temple of the Cormorants is the site’s tallest structure, but sadly you can’t climb it. Â Still, plenty to see from ground level. Â This structure contains three burial chambers, one stacked atop the next in its core. Â In the bottom one, archaeologists found the tomb of a member of the city’s elite, with a wealth of grave goods — including a polychrome vessel decorated with cormorants (giving the structure its modern name).
This shot’s taken from the northwest of the building — even from here you can see some of the structure’s many layers of construction, and you can just make out the stucco carvings under the sheltering roofs along the steps on its side.