Santa Elena is a very small town near the historic site of Uxmal which is the big draw for the area. Interestingly there are several businesses in and near Santa Elena that are owned by expats either from the U.K. or the USA so we had the good fortune of familiar service levels and some great conversations with fluent English speakers.
First of all the historic sites are nice with Uxmal being the largest and most exciting but some of the smaller site nearby were also quite nice like Kabah. Uxmal was pretty touristy which was fun because most every site we have visited in the southern Yucatán Peninsula region were almost void of people, in fact many sites we visited we were the only people there or there kids got be a few others which of course is really nice. But Uxmal is so pretty and well laid out it was totally fine to be there with a lot of other people. They also had a few souvenir shops and a coffee stand which was nice for a change.
Uxmal also offer a huge pyramid right at the entrance plus several really nice “palaces” and a great plaza that I really enjoyed. We also saw some great detailed carvings of birds and of tortoise which was different that other places we have been. It was just a great site overall. I think we were there for about three hours.
In addition to the really great structures we had a chance to see some of the local tropical birds like the motmot which is a really showy bird with a long tail and blue feathers. I don’t have a photo because honestly I couldn’t get close enough but they are really pretty and fun to see.
The other site in the area that I really liked was Kabah. The carvings and the layout was really nice and the display of carvings in front of one of the palaces was nice just to see the scope of the work that goes into a reconstruction. I would recommend this site.
We ended up visiting 13 historic sites on our driving tour of the Yucatán Peninsula. The best sites were Calakmul, Becan, Uxmal, and Kabah. Most of the other sites were ok but some I would skip. For example we visited Coba on our way out of Santa Elena on our way to Playa del Carmen and it really wasn’t nearly as nice as any of the sites we have visited elsewhere. But it’s close to the tourist areas and has good services for day trippers. For Brad and I after so many really expansive and remote sites Coba didn’t have much to offer.
One of the better experiences we had in Santa Elena was our stay at the Fly Catcher Boutique Hotel. The owners are from the United States and we enjoyed several really interesting conversations with both James (an Archeologist and Virgina a former software professional turned hotelier). It was just such a pleasant place to stay with comfy beds and good air conditioning. Plus nearby there is a couple of really good restaurants that we enjoyed. It was just such a nice change from Xpujil. Plus we learned a bit from James the Archeologist and that was really nice too.