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Chichen Itza

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Mexico : Yucatán Peninsula : Yucatán : Chichen Itza
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Chichen Itza is the largest of the ruined cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico. It is one of Mexico's most visited tourist destinations.

Understand

Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancun, more than 100 miles away. This allows time to see only a portion of this large site. Those with more than a casual interest in seeing this grand ancient ruined city should consider spending a night at one of Chichen's hotels.

Background history

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

About 987 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 diety (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 archeological projects began in the 1920s. Ever since then, more of the ancient stuctures 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 Merida, Yucatan and Cancun. Come by automobile or take the very regular bus service.

Get around

At the site you get around on foot. Wear sturdy comfortable walking shoes. Sunscreen and a broad-brimmed hat may be good ideas too.

The regular stream of buses makes it no problem for those without a car to get back and forth from the ruins to their hotel and nearby attractions and restaurants.

See

The ruins of a facinating civilization of times past. Well informed guides speaking all major languages are availible for hire here, or explore on your own with a guide book and map.

  • El Castillo or The Pyramid of Kukulcan -- the most famous landmark of Chichen Itza. This was a temple-pyramid dedicated to the Feathered Serpent God. It is nicknamed "The Castle". Sculptures of the Feathereded Serpents run down the sides of the northern staircase, and are set off by shadows from the corner tiers on the Spring and Fall equinox. Carefully climb up one of the steep staircases for a great view of the site and some carvings in the temple on top.
    • Interior Temple The Maya would often build newer bigger temple-pyramids atop older ones. Archeologists have constructed tunnels allowing a view of the earlier temple of Kukulcan inside the later one. Go in the door at the foot of the north stairway, and you can go up a steep interior stairway up to the room on the top where you can see King Kukulcan's Jaguar Throne, carved of stone and painted red with jade spots. It is an impressive sight, but the climb up the narrow interior passageway may be too much for those with some claustrophobia.
  • Temple of the Warriors
  • The Great Market
  • Great Ballcourt - there are 7 courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame at Chichen Itza. This one is by far the largest and most impressive, not just at the site but in all of ancient Mesoamerica.
    • Temple of the Jaguars - Attached to the ballcourt complex, with stone jaguar, feathered serpent collumns, and murals inside.
  • Sweatbaths
  • Platform of the Skulls
  • Cenote of Sacrifice
  • El Caracol - circular temple on a rectangular platform, also sacred to Kukulcan, served as an astronomical observatory.
  • High Priest's Grave - a smaller version of the "Castillo" served as a tomb for one of the city's rulers.
  • The Nunnery Complex - Chichen Itza's royal palace back before the arrival of the Toltecs
  • The Red House
  • House of Deer
  • Temple of the Wall Panels
  • Akab' Dzib - palace with heiroglyphic insciptions
  • Xtoloc Cenote
  • Old Chichen - another group of buildings and temples a few minutes walk from the center of the site, missed by many visitors. Includes:
    • Intial Series Group
    • Temple of the Phalli
    • Platform of the Great Turtle

Nearby are:

  • The Caves of Balankanche, where a large selection of ancient pottery and idols may be seen still in the positions where they were left in Pre-Columbian times.

At night:

  • Light & Sound Show - after dark in the center of the ruins. Some find it enjoyable, others cheesy.

Tips

If you stay a night here, come to the ruins early in the day before the sun is so hot and the site is less crowded before most of the day trippers arrive.

Eat

Drink

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

There are several refreshment stands in the ruins.

Sleep

There are a number of hotels by the ruins, along the highway nearby, and in the nearby town of Piste.

They include the Hacienda Chichen, a Club Med, and others in a variety of price ranges. Some have good swiming pools and restaurants.

Further away, one can stay in the small colonial city of Valladolid, Yucatan, some 25 miles distant.


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