Chichen Itza

Chichén Itzá is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatán Peninsula of Mexico. It is one of Mexico's most visited tourist destinations. It was granted World Heritage Site status in 1988 by UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

While the ruins themselves are amazing, you will probably be disappointed by the large number of vendors allowed in the park. The vendors certainly don't "ruin" the experience (pun intended), but they do diminish it. They are ubiquitous, often loud, and sometimes aggressive. This is in contrast to other Mayan historical sites where vendors are prohibited (e.g. Tikal in Guatemala).

The Kukulcán Pyramid or El Castillo (The Castle) - Chichen Itza

Understand

Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancún, more than 100 miles away. This archaeological site is also an hour and a half away from Mérida, the capital of Yucatan. The Maya communities near Chichen Itza have developed many wonderful sites for travelers to rejoice in the Maya Cultural heritage. It is recommended you avoid a day-trip visit to Chichen Itza and schedule a night or two to enjoy all the activities nearby. This allows time to see more than just a portion of this large site. If you stay a night here, come to the archaeological site early in the day before the sun is so hot, and before most of the day-trippers arrive. This is a large park and usually visitors are on a tight schedule, consider the services of a guide. They can be found in the museum at the entrance and are very nice and reasonably priced. If you tire of their company, they will not be offended if you mention that you would like to visit on your own. A guide can give you information on sleeping overnight at the site.

Entrance fee to the area is 177 pesos (Feb 2012) and if you want to film with a video camera, you'll need to pay an additional 45 pesos. Digital camera with video capability are exempted. Tripods are forbidden unless you obtained special permits months ahead of time.

If visiting during the rainy season, consider bringing an umbrella and/or a rainjacket. Otherwise, vendors will sell plastic ponchos for $5 USD or 50 pesos. However, the rain comes and goes quickly, so it may be worth it to just tough it out.

History

Chichen Itza was a center of pilgrimage for the ancient Maya for over 1,000 years. The Sacred Cenote (a large natural well or limestone sink hole) was holy to the ancient Rain God "Chac".

About 987 the ruler of the Toltec people of central Mexico came here, and with his Maya allies made Chichen Itza the most powerful city in the Yucatan. The ruler called himself "Kukulcan", the name of the Mesoamerican Feathered Serpent deity (also known as "Quetzalcoatl") and Chichen Itza became a center for worship of that god as well. More buildings were built here in a mixture of Maya and Toltec styles.

About 1221 the Maya revolted against the rulers of Chichen Itza. The city was not abandoned, but as political power shifted elsewhere it declined and no major new buildings were constructed. Chichen Itza remained a place of pilgrimage for the Maya until it was conquered by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 16th century.

The structures of Chichen Itza were overgrown with jungle and slowly decayed until major archaeological projects began in the 1920s. Since then, more of the ancient structures have been cleared and restored and more and more tourists come to visit.

Get in

By road, Chichen Itza is on the main highway between the capital city of Mérida and the resort city of Cancún. If you have time and are looking for a more adventurist route, the "libre' road that runs parallel to the toll highway goes through and by many villages and gives a better feel for the area. If you take the "libre" route, you will need to be more alert for pedestrians and animals on the road, as well as the numerous "speed bumps" you will encounter. If after dark, stick to the toll road. Come by automobile or take the very regular bus service.

ADO bus service from Cancun costs 180 pesos one way trip and the trip takes three hours. You'll have about 4 hours to spend on the area if using the faster bus. A cheaper bus is available for 117 pesos and with travel time of four hours per direction. If you are located outside of Chichen Itza, a number of companies organize tours.

Get around

At the site you get around on foot. Wear sturdy, comfortable walking shoes; consider that you may want to try climbing rough stone stairs in them. Sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat may be good ideas too. There is very little usable shade in the middle hours of the day. Bring a pair of binoculars, star-gazing and birding is incredible in this region. Also, if you want to know more about the Mayan local communities, their cooking, religious rites, calendar system and ancient arts, visit the small towns around Chichen.

See

View from the top of El Castillo

These are the vestiges of a fascinating civilization of times past. Well informed guides speaking all major languages are available for hire here, or explore on your own with a guide book and map.

Chac Mool - used for sacrifice at Temple of Warriors

Nearby are:

At night:

Do

Buy

When dealing with vendors; Many will say "Only 1 dollar" or "1 Peso", please do not assume that is the actual price of items they are selling. Once you try to complete the transaction it will be actually 1 dollar off or 1 peso off and you will be ask to further "negotiate" with them. This might delay you unnecessarily if you are with a tour group. Don't be afraid to walk away, they will follow you with a better offer, they enjoy the challenge, it's Mexico!!!

If on a tour, note that prices at a souvenir stop will be much more expensive than those offered by other vendors. Regardless, souvenirs will still be much cheaper than those found in Cancun.

Be sure to have cash pesos; changing money may be difficult here, especially on weekends.

Many of the items sold are treated with gasoline, especially products made from wood.

Eat

Drink

Be sure to drink lots of bottled water. Those not accustomed to the tropical heat and sun can otherwise risk dehydration.

There are several refreshment stands in the archaeological site.

Sleep

There are a handful of hotels by the ruins, along the highway nearby, and in the nearby town of Piste, in a variety of price ranges. Some have good swimming pools and restaurants. The town of Valladolid, 40 km away, is a less-touristed alternate base.

Stay safe


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