Located between Tulum and Chichen Itza, Coba is a very large archeological complex that spans over 80 km². Luckily, there are bicycle carriages easily hirable to scoot your around the vast area.
Built around two lagoons connect with series of elevated stone roads that reach up to 100 km (62 mi)! Coba was a teaming city that was abandoned when the Spanish conquered the peninsula – around 1550. Although some knowledge of the site remained, it was not until the 1920s that scholoraly exploration really began . The ongoing investigation of several large temple pyramids is active and viewable.
While it was never really a ‘lost’ city , Coba carries that feeling as it rises and dips through the jungle mists.
one of two ballgame courts
view from the top of the Ixmoja pyramid. Ixmoja is the tallest pyramid on the Yucatán peninsula
Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology opened in 1968 after careful design by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez in collaboration with Jorge Campuzano y Rafael Mijares. So striking was the concept, that was awarded the gold medal at the 1965 São Paulo’s Architectural Bienal before a stone was turned; merely drawings and renders !
Between the parking area and the entry there is the Danza de los Voladores, where high-flyers hang from one foot and spin, descending around a 10-story pole. Once you finish gawking at this spectacle is the massive statue of water god Tjáloc, welcoming the visitor to the museum. The statue weights about 168 tons and was brought in from Coatlinchan, a town east of Mexico city. Behind Tlaloc, from the subterranean parking, emerges a waterfall. The path towards the entry is set with relaxing benches; note on the wall over the main doors is a predominant national coat of arms disc (see below).
The museum is a two floor structure with a grand inner courtyard, inspired by the Cuadrángulo de las Monjas de Uxmal. At the front of the courtyard is el paraguas (the umbrella), a massive structure supported by a concrete pillar in the center as water falls from around the top . Note the top of the walls in this area for replicas of a Aztec codices (screenfold books).
On the far side, lays a large rectangular pond with clusters of long grass and Irises. You move in and out of this astounding courtyard to the surrounding anthropology rooms: Introduction to anthropology, America’s population, pre-classic, Teotihuacan, Toltecs, Mexica, Oaxaca cultures, golf cultures, Maya, western cultures and northern cultures.
The building is a modern achievement to show off the excitement of Mexican Heritage!
National coat of arms symbolizes a scene from the legend of the foundation of Aztec/Mexica capital of Tenochtitlan, now Mexico city.
The legend states that the Mexicas set out east from coastal Aztlán, present-day Nayarit, in search of where to settle and establish their empire. The trekked awaiting a sign from the god Huitzilopochtli telling them where to stop.
The sign they were looking for was quite specific: an eagle devouring a serpent while perched on a flowering nopal cactus on a small island in the middle of a lake.
After a long journey, the symbol appeared in the Valley of Mexico in 1325. The current site of Mexico DF and the seat of empire for 700 years!
For the ancient Mexicans, the eagle symbolized the cosmic force of the sun, while the earth’s force was embodied in the image of the serpent. The eagle devouring the snake represents the communion of these vital forces. The nopal cactus being an important source of food in prehispanic times.
TIP: If you are on a time crunch an have only one day to visit the large museum, skip the 2 first halls and jump directly in to the Teotihuacan hall on the ground floor and continue on to the following sections. Then, if you have time at the end, visit the first two halls on the ground floor, followed by a jump to their second floor; there you can view ta sample of the etno-linguistic diversity from different corners of Mexico, and dioramas of their customs such as crafts, religion, music and rituals. In this area, one can have a great look at some of the best examples of current Mexican handcrafts.
Toltec statue of Chac Mool from Chichen Itza; it’s name translates from Yucatecan Maya as “paw swift like thunder”. It is believed to represent a powerful warrior prince who had once ruled Chiche’n Itza.
Zapoteca Jaguar clay sculpture originating from Monte Albán, Oaxaca (100 B.C- 200 A.D) High 88.50 cm
Stone figure of Xiuhcoatl the fire serpent
The 3.5 meters high, the statue of Coatlicue is one of the more representative pieces of the museum. It belongs to the Mexica culture, is made out of Andesite, a volcanic rock, and dates 1325-1521 A.D. Coatlicue, is the goddess of earth and mothers.
Myth tells that Coatlicue was sweeping when a white ball of feathers fell from the sky. She picked it up and safeguarded it in her breasts. She then became miraculously pregnant by Huitzilopochtli, the sun and war god and patron god of Mexica. Her daughter Coyolxauhqui and the rest of her brothers, upset by the mysterious (immaculate) conception decided to kill their mother. At the instant in which they were ready to do the deed,Huitzilopochtli was born in all his warrior attire -holding the chimalli (shield) and the xiuhcoatl (fire serpent) instrument which he used to slay his new brothers and sister.
This myth symbolizes the birth of a new sun to govern a new world.
Mayan ceramic Anciano emergiendo del caracol (old man emerging from a shell), dating 600-900 A.D. For the Mayas, shells had a very special meaning; they represented the earth, the infraworld and death. At the same time, however, they were symbols of life and birth related to femininity and the moon goddess.
The Mexica Piedra de Tizoc was discovered in 1791 deep in Mexico city’s main square. It dates from 1481-1486 A.D. and measures about a 267cm (8′-9″) in diameter. On top of this monument, a ritual was performed in which a Mexica warrior would fight a war prisoner. The prisoner would be given a weak weapon and the warrior would be fully armed; turning this fight into a sacrifice.
On the face of the stone you can see the carved scene of a Tizoc governor grabbing the prisoner by the head – a sign of the enemies defeat. Also note the top right corner on each frame, at that corner there is an icon of the defeated town.
Many of the walls in the different chambers are decorated with murals replicas of of ancient frescoes, like this one of a Teotihuacan Fresco
Teotihuacan Fresco detail
Statue of Xochipilli, the Aztec god of art, games, beauty, dance, flowers, and song. Amazingly, traces of the red pigment in which the statue was originally painted are still visible. The Ear spools are a sign of noble status. Psychotropic flowers are sculpted on the body. Amongst them are the tobacco flower, used by the Aztecs to stimulate hallucinogens, morning glory – a vine with bell shaped flower – used as a visionary intoxicant to gain knowledge and. Sinicuichi, a yellow flower for memory aid. On the knees and at the pedestal of the statue are mushroom flower motifs that represent clusters of magic mushrooms or Teonanacatl (flesh of the gods). On the chest is the skin of a beast and on its ankle are its claws. Very powerful indeed!
Aztec Macuilxochitl, god of songs, dance and music.
Mexica andesite sculptere of a Ocelotl Cuauhxicalli (circa 1500 A.D.) resuming: 93cm high; 105cm; depth: 227cm. long.
The cuauhxicalli were sculpted in different shapes and served as offering containers. Often holding the hearts and blood of the sacrificed captives as well as other kind of offerings to the gods. This ocelot cuauhxicalli has a circular hole on the back decorated with the images of the gods Huitzilopochtli and Tezcatlipoca.
A small outdoor grove with a ‘jungle temple’ for those who don’t make it out of DF 🙂
19.6925° N, 98.8438° W San Juan Teotihuacán, Mexico
About 50 short kilometers north of Mexico City lies the Pre-Hispanic City of Teotihuacan or ‘the place where the gods were created’. According to hieroglyphic texts from the Maya, the region is believed to have been called “Puh”, or “Place of Reeds”
Built about 200 BC, Teotihuacan is believed to be the creation of ether the Toltec or the Totonac cultures. Through the centuries, the city was inhabited by the Maya, Mixtec, and Zapotec. Teotihuacan was one of the most powerful cultural centres in Mesoamerica; thriving with an estimated population of 150,000 – 250,000 people.
Teotihuacan was mysteriously abandoned in the 7th Century and lied silent for five hundred years. Then around the 12th century, it was reoccupied by the Aztecs, who gave the city the name we know today; complete with thousands of residential compounds on raised beds, called Chinampas, pyramid temples, and the central ‘Street of the Dead’.
The famed ‘Pyramid of the Sun’ was completed by AD 100. followed by the ‘Pyramid of Moon’. The entire intertwining area was laid out on geometric and symbolic principles; and you can feel the power in the air.
We recommend going as early as you can – get there and be the first to arrive while the air is cool and the buses safely parked in their hotels !!!
Protected by 12 meter sea cliffs on the ocean side and a 784 meter wall complete with watch towers, one can quickly conclude that Tulum was very important to the Mayas. A major trade hub and the only Mayan city built on the coast, Tulum served as the seaport for the empire, trading mainly in turquoise, obsidian and jade.
With an estimated population of 1,000 to 1,600 inhabitants, Tulum was one of the last cities inhabited and built by the Mayans prior to the conquest – Surviving a full seventy years after the Spanish started their brutal occupation of the country
Nowadays Tulum is one of the only archaeological ruins that begs you to take off your clothes and jump into the same shining sea that it was built to protect against! So don’t forget to bring your bathing suit for the tiny beach behind el Castillo. The water is beautiful and incredibly refreshing after touring in the hot sun. The experience of swimming in the ocean and at the same time viewing the site is truly unique. Be sure to bring a water resistant bag, to put in your camera and personal belongings if you decide to go for a swim. Just place the bag on top of one of the tall rocks to keep it away from the splashing waves and to have an eye on it.
The best way to get there, is via catamaran (from Papaya Playa Project) or a rental car – that way you are on your own schedule. Like most of the Mayan ruins, the earlier the arrival time, the better. An ideal Itinerary is Tulum ruins early in the morning and from there to the Cenote Dos Ojosfor a dive.
Temple of the Frescoes
The ‘Temple of the Frescoes’ was used as an observatory, specifically for tracking movements of the sun
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, likeTimeTours: 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!
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
Temple of Kukulcan
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!
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.
Zompantli (skull) Platform
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.
Temple of the Big Tables
Temple of the Big Tables
This smaller pyramid’s name comes from the series of altars at the top of the structure that are supported by small carved figures of men with upraised arms.
Temple of the Warriorsviewed from the Temple of the Big Tables
Temple of the Warriors
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.
Southeast Colonnadenext to the Temple of the Warriors