The prehispanic city of Chichen Itza remains as a vestige from the well-known Maya civilization that occupied the Yucatan Peninsula in México during the Late classic to Early post classic period. Chichen Itza received the denomination as a “UNESCO World Heritage site” in 1988 and the Kukulcán temple, located in the center of the ancient city, was voted as one the “New 7 wonders of the world” in 2007 together with Machu Picchu in Perú and the Taj Mahal in India.
If you check those popular lists about “Place you need to visit before you died”, you will probably find it on it and let me assure you right away It´s totally worth the trip!
Survivor tip: Take with you an umbrella, a hat big enough to cover your face, sunglasses, sunblock and enough water since the weather condition are very hard on the Yucatan Peninsula. During the months of april and may the temperature can go up to 40°C but it´s usually hot and humid during the rest of the year.
I took a tour to Chichen Itza from Mérida, the capital of the Yucatan State. From here, it´s an hour and half trip. The tour costs around 850 pesos mexicanos, approximately USD 50, which included the roundtrip and lunch at a local restaurant.
You also have the option of taking a bus to Chichen Itza. You can find all the information in the website of the Merida State.
If you happen to be in Cancun, there are many tours leaving from there as well, it´s about 2 hours trip.
Survivor tip: Right now it´s a perfect time to visit Mexico since their currency has devalued against the American dollar, so you can get more pesos mexicanos for each dollar.
To get to the main buildings, you will have to pass first a line of Mexican vendors offering different types of souvenirs.
Get your best poker face and don´t buy the first thing you like in the first place you see it. In Mexico, like in many cities of Latin-America, bargaining is an extended activity to buy at a good price. They will try to sell you at a higher price if you don´t say anything, so you get over your embarrassment and make a counter-offer (usually half or even a quarter of the offered price) and start from there. When you explore the zone, you will find more sellers, so you will probably find a cheaper seller if you´re patient enough.
THE KUKULKAN PYRAMID
The most notorious building in this ancient city is definitely the famous pyramid of Kukulcán, where the Mayans used to worship the feathered serpent deity of the same name. The pyramid is about 24 meters tall and it has images of serpents that run down the different sides of the staircase structure.
Because of the significant connection the Maya people had with the earth, the best days to visit Chichen Itza are during the Spring and Fall Equinoxes (22nd of March 2016 and 22nd of September 2016), considered sacred dates since they respectively indicate the beginning of the spring (the preparation of the land for the planting circles) and the beginning of the harvest.
During those days you can witness how the shadow of the sun will go down from the top to the bottom of the pyramid creating a serpent-form that gets to a snake´s mouth at the end of the staircase. The Maya civilization was considered way ahead of their time, details like these are clear examples on how accurate was their calendar and how exact was their knowledge in astronomy and mathematics.
There is a temple inside the pyramid that was closed down a few years ago because tourists started to write on the walls “important” things like “Joseph was here” or “Maria&Peter forever”.
THE GREAT BALL COURT
Across from the pyramid, you will find the Great Ball Court, a space designed to play a game similar to our contemporary basketball.
According to my tour guide, a direct descendent of the Maya, this game wasn´t always play as a hobby or for entertainment. At some point in history, this game was considered a political event. It was meant to determinate which families will lead the people for the next era. According to the myth, the winner team will get their head chopped off as a sacrifice for their families to receive the maximum honor of being part of the ruling families. The losing team will remain alive but their families and them will go down the social scale and will be forced to hard labor for the rest of their lives.
OTHER VESTIGES WITHIN THE ANCIENT CITY
If you have enough time and a good sense of orientation, you can walk through the city and find other archeological building such as the Observatory (El caracol), The temple of the descending god, the temple of the jaguar and the temple of the warriors.
Just be careful because the city is very big and not all the paths are marked. You might get lost if you wonder around without prevention.
AFTER CHICHEN ITZA..THE CENOTES
My guide offered us the option of visiting a Cenote after we finished our tour in Chichen Itza. It was located at the hotel Ik Kil, about 10 minutes from the ancient city.
A Cenote is a natural swimming pool that results from the collapse of the limestone bedrook that revel the groundwaters. Call me ignorant but I didn´t know about the existence of these magnificent caves until I visited México.
There are no words to describe this experience other than AMAZING. When the water first touches your skin, it will feel very cold and heavy because of the minerals that run through it. Because the liquid is natural and emerges from the ground, you will need to push yourself to the surface really hard, otherwise you will get suck by the pressure of the water that will try to take you to the bottom of the hole.
I was only able to visit this Cenote but many tour companies have special tours in which you visit all kind of cenotes. In fact, there is another Cenote, Yokdzonot, about 20 minutes from Chiche Itza, not so crowded as the one in Hotel Ik Kil, so you can probably swim in a more peaceful environment.
If I have to choose a synonym of the word Cenote, it will be Oasis. They are truly a natural gem of the earth and the good thing is that we can find around 3000 cenotes in all the Yucatan Peninsula.