Logistics: Bring a hat, comfortable shoes and a if you have it, a fan. Chichen Itza sits in the middle of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and there is not much shade. As you walk through the sprawling complex, you can easily imagine the Maya sweltering in the sun as they gathered at the base of the pyramid or around the ball grounds..
We recommend renting a car, it’s cheap and, most importantly, gives you the freedom of moving at your own speed. There is so much to explore just around Chichen Itza, like the beaurtiful Cenote de Dzitnup. It also allows you to arrive closer to sunrise. Like all the archeological sites, the earlier you can arrive the better. Seeing the pyramids and the layout without the garish field of tourists really changes the entire experience. This is one of the main sites within easy distance of Cancun, Playa del Carmen, etc … The buses start arriving and don’t stop.
Access is a bit of a hurdle. It is a multi-step process that bears description (and improvement!). The fist booth just to the right side of the gate sells you entry tickets, then you must continue to another booth about 20 meters up on the left to pay the entry taxes. This two step process is not adequately explained, and from the moment you arrive you will encounter countless offers of guides who are all to happy to walk you through the swirling mass of confused tourists.
Here, like in any archeological site, getting a guide is recommended, but is always a lottery. On this occasion, our guide we hired for 500 pesos (about $35) was not good at all. He avoided major sections (The Ossario, Observatory and the Nunnery) and gave a lot of vauge answers (every area was ‘the market’!). As we were walking, we continually were eavesdropping on larger groups, and we heard other guides who where passionate about the Mayas and eager to share their impressive depth of knowledge. So take your time and choose a guide that you believe in. There are also new apps, like TimeTours: Chichen Itza, which offer a different experience. TimeTours offers interactive views of the current state and 3d renders of what Chichen Itza may have looked like in its full glory.
The name ‘Chichen Itza’ translates as the ‘mouth of the well of the Itza’. The Itza were an ethnic lineage group of the Maya civilization, while Chi signifies ‘mouth’ and ch’en ‘well’.
Chichen Itza was first settled in 750–900 AD and became one of the largest Maya cities, home to around 65,000 people. In the late 900’s a migration of Toltec warriors overtook the city. It was the Toltecs who imposed the rituals of human sacrifice and are responsible for much of what is considered “Mayan” today. By the time the Spaniards arrived to Chichen Itza in the 1500’s, the city had been abandoned as a consequence of civil war.
To this day, archeologists continues to dig and new discoveries arise every year. Recent excavations into the interior of the Kukulkan pyramid reveal that a smaller pyramid exists inside!
Dominating the landscape is the temple of Kukulkan, the Maya Feathered Serpent Deity. This massive four faced pyramid measures about 53.3 meters along each side, from the center of which rises a steep stair to the ceremonial platform on top. On the northeastern face, flanking the base of the staircase, are sculpted heads of serpents. During the spring and autumn equinoxes festivals are held to watch the dying sun align with the terraces of the pyramid, casting a shadow along the balustrade, giving the illusion of a snake descending the steps. Put in a photo of the snake
The sight of many standing in front of the Kukulkan pyramid madly clapping their hands is a bit strange until you arrive and begin to do it yourself. The clap produces and echo, designed to sound similar to the quetzal bird’s cry. It is amazing to imagine the ancient times, the grounds filled with people all rhythmically clapping and the air filled with the echoes of the quetzal cry.
Unfortunately visitors can no longer climb the pyramid due its soft lime-stone construction and that a tourist died after tripping and falling from the top, a new sacrifice to the Maya Gods!
The Ball Court
At Chichen Itza is one of the largest and best preserved ball courts from ancient times. The pitch measures 168m by 70 meters, with the parallel platforms aligning the playing alley being about 90 meters long and about 8 meters high. It was a brutal game where the teams would punt the 10 pound hard rubber ball around with their protected hips and try to get it to the captain, who would be running along the side platform. There he would try to put the ball up through the carved stone ring at the top center to score and win the game. After a goal, the captain of the winning team would be given have the honor of decapitation. It is from this we can glean that the Maya did not fear death, but looked upon it as an honor or gateway.
The Temple of the Warriors
Adjacent to the Temple of the Big Tables is a medium size pyramid with steep sides known as the Temple of the Warriors. It is surrounded by dozens of columns, each with carved reliefs depicting warriors. Unfortuneatly, very few of the warrior carvings survive. As is often the case, this temple encases a previous building, possibly a temple of Chac-Mool.
Platform of the Skulls (Zompantli )
At the exit ofthe great ball court sits the Zompantli, the Platorm of the Skulls. Here the skulls of sacrificial victims, game winners and others were pierced into beams or perched on stakes and exhibited to those filing out after the match.
Coordinates: 20.683180048819697, -88.5725149512291
9:00am – 5:00 pm. Daily