Chichen Itza, Mexico

Chichen Itza is classified as one of the 'New Seven Wonders of the World!' When you look at the spectacular El Castillo, Kukulkan Pyramid it is easy to understand why. The highly detailed Mayan architecture and sheer size and scale of the pyramid will take your breath away.

As you explore the mysterious archeological site, you begin to question how it was possible to build such spectacular structures all those years ago.

The El Castillo Pyramid was originally built by the early pre-columbian Maya Civilization in 900AD. The city grew in prominence and importance between the 9th and 12th centuries. New structures were built and current areas were expanded. Influences from Toltec and Mayan culture can be found at the site. There are hundreds of buildings, but only a small fraction of them have been fully restored.

Chichen Itza is a popular site for archeologists, history enthusiasts and modern day tourists. We visited the fascinating Mayan site on our first vacation to Riviera Maya Mexico. I highly recommend the experience.

The Pyramid at Chichen Itza

The Main Buildings at Chichen Itza

There are three main sections at Chichen Itza. You can explore the iconic architecture and mysterious Mayan ruins in the North section, South Section and Central sections of the site.

The El Castillo Kukulkan Pyramid

The famous El Castillo Mayan Pyramid is the structure that most people come to see. The structure is located in the North section of the site. The intricate detail and accuracy of the pyramid is staggering.

Archeologists partly restored the condition of the pyramid, however the Southern and Eastern faces have been left untouched in their original form.

It is fascinating to see the transition between the different sides of the structure, it's almost like a journey through time as you travel around the two new sides to reach the two old ones.

The temple at the summit of the pyramid was built for the (Mayan Serpent god) Kukulkan. At certain times of the year, the sun casts a shadow on the stairway of the pyramid which forms the shape of a serpent descending the steps to the ground. El Castillo has 365 steps in total. Many people suggest that the structure itself is actually an elaborate Mayan Calendar.

The Mesoamerican Ballcourt

Mesoamerican Ballcourt

In the North section of Chichen Itza you can explore the largest Mesoamerican Ballcourt in the Mayan world. The Mesoamerican ball game was definitely not for the faint-hearted. This event itself would have been more like a battle rather than a game but it could still be described as an early sports activity. There is a mysterious atmosphere at the ballcourt, if you stand in a certain position and clap your hands, you can hear the consequential echo seven times back.

The Group of a Thousand Columns

Also in the North section is the Group of a Thousand Columns. This area features the Mayan remains of a thousand surprisingly straight and perfectly aligned columns. Many people think that there was originally also a roof positioned at the top of the columns. The columns provide visitors with some fantastic photo opportunities. The iconic and historically significant Temple of the Warriors is also positioned here.

El Caracol - The Observatory

Small image of the El Caracol Observatory

El Caracol (also known as 'The Observatory') is an interesting building to explore in the South section of Chichen Itza. This building provides a fascinating insight into the early Mayan form of astronomy. The El Caracol has a removable section in the central dome, the early Maya Civilization would have used this opening to achieve a greater depth and analysis of the surrounding stars in the sky.

The Mysterious Sacred Cenote

Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza

You can visit the Sacred Cenote in Chichen Itza, by following the White Mayan Road (sacbe) in the South section of the site. A cenote can be described as an ancient, deep water filled sinkhole or pool. It is said that the 60 meter cenote was used as a sacred place for human sacrifice. Although it seems shocking to visitors now, human sacrifice was a common religious practice for civilizations of this time.

La Iglesia - The Church

The La Iglesia building (otherwise known as 'The Church') features some spectacular carvings. As you explore the architecture you can see intricate depictions, the Chac Mayan god is present on the corners of the structure. If you look further you will notice the Mayan animal figures of the armadillo, snail, turtle and crab. La Iglessia is in close proximity to another popular building in Chichen Itza known as Casa de las Monjas (or 'The Nunnery).

The Jaguar Throne

The Jaguar Throne

There are many other notable areas to explore at the site, the Jaguar Throne for example is usually seen as a popular and iconic statue amongst tourists. Although the Jaguar Throne now looks fairly plain, It would have originally been painted with bright vivid colours by the Mayans. If you have time after visiting the main pyramid and surrounding structures then it can also be a good experience to explore the Mayan ruins in Old Chichen.

Our First Vist to Chichen Itza

Originally we were not really sure whether to visit Chichen Itza or not. It takes around two and a half hours to travel to the site from Playa del Carmen. To myself and my wife our days spent sunbathing on our vacation are very precious, however I am so glad we took the trip.

If you are planning your Riviera Maya holidays and only planning to visit a few attractions then this site should be somewhere near the top of your list.

Many people travel to Mexico just to visit the archeological site. So we felt whilst staying in the Mayan Riviera, we may as well take the opportunity to experience the fascinating culture and history. I suppose it's like traveling to the heart of Egypt and not taking the time to visit the Pyramids, it's something that we just felt compelled to do.

We traveled by coach from our hotel in Akumal to the Yucatan Peninsula. The tour guide (a local man called Carlos) was very good and explained some fascinating insights about Mexican history and culture.

It is best to leave your resort first thing after breakfast and arrive early. It can get really busy and really hot by mid-afternoon so it's always a good idea to arrive early to beat the crowds and the temperatures. This also leaves you with more time to experience the Mayan ruins at the attraction. Remember to take those all important photographs to show your friends and family back home.

El Caracol The Observatory

I highly recommend the Mayan Ruins excursion. The experience offers a great opportunity to find out more about the ancient traditions of the Maya Civilization and the fascinating history of Mexico.

If you plan to visit the site then take plenty of bottled water. It can get very hot when exploring the Mayan architecture.

After visiting the site, we travelled to a nearby Cenote. Swimming, snorkelling or scuba diving in a cenote can be a refreshing way to cool down after your day of sightseeing at the Mayan site, so remember to bring your swimming clothes just in case!

La Iglesia The Church

If you enjoy discovering historical sites on your Riviera Maya vacation then there are a wide variety of other places to explore.

The Yucatan Peninsula and Quintana Roo is home to many popular historical sites and prominent Mexico landmarks. You could explore further by visiting the Coba Ruins and the Tulum Ruins. There is also a small Mayan site in Muyil which would only take a few hours to fully experience and enjoy.

If you would like to book your trip to Chichen Itza, then the following package deals offer a good range of options;

Chichen Itza Tour from Riviera Maya - $108.99

Explore the famous archaeological site on this enjoyable sightseeing trip with transportation from your resort in the Mayan Riviera. Unearth the secrets of Mayan history. Lunch, snacks and entry fees are included.

Chichen Itza: Light and Sound - $78.99

Visit the archaeological heart of the Mayan world on a full day guided tour. After dark, an impressive light and sound show displays the dramatic history of the site. (This tour only includes transportation to resorts and hotels located in Cancun).

Chac Mool Statue at Chichen Itza

Read what others say about the Mayan History Experience.

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