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Chichen Itza

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Chichén Itzá is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in the Yucatan 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.

Official Website: www.chichenitza.com

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

Understand[edit]

Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancun, more than 100 miles away. This archaeological site is also an hour and a half away from Merida, 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. The site is open daily, 8am-5pm.

Note that, while Chichen Itza is a spectacular site, the atmosphere is greatly damaged by mass tourism. As an independent traveler, you'll be left waiting in a line for 1 hour to simply buy tickets, while organized groups will be marching straight in by hundreds. A majority of visitors will give the impression of being there simply because they had nothing else to do while their Cancun resort was offering the tour at a price they could afford. The entrance fee for foreigners is at an exorbitant amount of 481 pesos as of Aug 2019. Consider choosing another less visited and less marketed Mayan site nearby.


History[edit]

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 sinkhole) 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. The reasons for the final abandonment of the city are unknown, but Spanish documents show that the city was already abandoned on their arrival.

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[edit]

Chichen Itza is on the main highway between the capital city of Mérida and the resort city of Cancun. 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. If coming by bus, note that if you buy a ticket for Chichen Itza, you will be dropped right next to the ruins. If you want to go to a hotel in the nearby town, buy your ticket for Piste.

From Cancun: ADO bus service from Cancun costs $202 MXN one-way trip and takes 3 hours. You'll have about 4 hours to spend in the area if using the faster bus. A cheaper bus is available for 122 pesos and with a travel time of four hours per direction. If you are visiting in transit between different accommodations there is free, well signed, baggage storage after the cashier on the right past the restrooms.

From Merida: ADO buses leave from the CAME bus station (located at Calle 69 at the corner with Calle 70) daily at 06.30, 08.30, and 09.15. From Chichen Itza, they return at 18.20. Tickets cost $130 to $150 MXN one-way. Travel time is between 1h30m and 1h45m. Many car rental companies are located around the Fiesta Americana Hotel. A one-day small car rental costs between $800 and $2000 MXN. Be sure to shop around for the best price. Chichen Itza is 125 km (1h30m) away by car. If you take the toll road to and from Chichen Itza back to Merida factor in 2x $92 MXN. There's a $80 MXN parking fee at Chichen Itza.

From Valladolid: There are hourly buses that stop in Chichén Itza. Colectivos leave from a lot slightly east of the bus station on a regular basis.

A number of companies organize tours, including Entertainment Plus [7],Adventure Life, [8], Tours Aldebaran [9] Olympus Tours [10], Cancun to Chichen Itza [11]. TripAdvisor/Viator [12]

Entrance Fee

Update December 2020: The entrance fee is now $497 MXN ($417 to the state of Yucatan + $80 tax).

Luggage Storage

There is luggage storage on site. For a locker, it is $40 MXN for the day. If you have a bag that doesn't fit in the locker, it is $100 MXN to store in a large room that is always attended. Store here first, go to Chichen Itza and the Ik-Kil Cenote (if that's your plan), and pick up your bags after both activities.

Get around[edit]

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[edit][add listing]

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 download a guidebook app for your smartphone or you explore on your own with a guidebook and map.

  • Akab' Dzib - palace with hieroglyphic inscriptions
  • Cenote of Sacrifice
  • El Caracol - circular temple on a rectangular platform, also sacred to Kukulcan, served as an astronomical observatory.
    El Caracol aka The Observatory
  • 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.
  • Great Market
  • High Priest's Grave - a smaller version of the "Castillo" served as a tomb for one of the city's rulers.
  • House of Deer
Chac Mool - used for sacrifice at Temple of Warriors
  • Interior Temple The Maya would often build newer bigger temple-pyramids atop older ones. Archaeologists 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. Note to those traveling to Chichen-Itza post-March 2006: You are no longer able to climb the steps to the top of most of the monuments. These areas have been roped off due to erosion and destruction of some of the sacred monuments.
  • Nunnery Complex - Chichen Itza's royal palace back before the arrival of the Toltecs
  • Old Chichen - another group of buildings and temples a few minutes walk from the center of the site. Old Chichen is clustered within the private property of Hacienda Chichen and not open to public visits. This Maya archaeological site is south of the commonly visited Maya ruins. It is part of the Maya Jungle Reserve and Nature Trails and opens only to the Hacienda Chichen guests and visitors for birdwatching and horseback-riding tours. Currently, a few Maya temples are under reconstruction by INAH, they include:
    • Initial Series Group
    • Platform of the Great Turtle
    • Temple of the Phalli
    • Temple of the Monkeys
  • Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo - the most famous landmark of Chichen Itza. This was a temple-pyramid dedicated to the Feathered Serpent God, Kukulcan. It is nicknamed "The Castle". Sculptures of the Feathered 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. (As of January 2006, you can no longer climb El Castillo.)
  • Platform of the Skulls
  • Red House
  • Sweatbaths - there are many Zumbul che structures found in both Chichen Itza and Old Chichen sites. These Maya sweat baths played an important role in ancient Maya spiritual traditions as places to purify the mind, body, and emotions, thus getting in touch with one´s pure spiritual energy.
  • Temple of the Jaguars - Attached to the ballcourt complex, with stone jaguar, feathered serpent columns, and murals inside.
  • Temple of the Wall Panels
  • Temple of the Warriors (As of January 2006, you can no longer climb the Temple of the Warriors)
  • Xtoloc Cenote

Nearby are:

  • 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.
  • Cenote Ik Kil Beautiful cenote open for the public for swimming.

At night:

  • Light & Sound Show - Since December 2014, a new light and sound show called "The Night of Kukulcan" has been set up. The light show is really spectacular and lasts about 30 minutes. The narration is only in Spanish. Admission is free, but you need to write down your name on a waiting list to get a seat (if you don't, you have to enter after people with tickets and you have to stand, but it really doesn't matter that much).
  • Tales of the Maya Skies - is a dome planetarium show produced by the Chabot Space & Science Center in Oakland California. It is shown in English and Spanish (alternating) at the Mayaland Hotel. The "Mayan Planetarium" is a new building completed just in time for the celebrations of 12/21/2012; the building is modeled on the Caracol (the observatory) as depicted in the show.

Do[edit][add listing]

  • Birdwatching. The area has excellent birdwatching opportunities. Guests at the Hacienda Chichen have access to the hotel's bird refuge and extensive nature trails.  edit
  • Water sinkholes in the limestone. There are several fantastic "cenotes", fresh water sinkholes in the limestone, found near Chichen Itza. Some of them are surrounded by lush gardens with restaurants, washrooms, and showers. During a hot day, cenotes make for a great way to cool yourself off in the afternoon, take a break, and split up your day.  edit
  • Yaxkin Spa (Hacienda Chichen), +52-999-924-4222, [1]. Hotel offers holistic beauty rituals based on ancient Maya traditions. Hotel was built as 16th-century Hacienda, eco-friendly with land dedicated to the protection of local flora and fauna. Maya Nature Reserve and Bird Refuge. Dr. Merle Greene's "Rubbing Collection," Gallery and Yaxkin Spa are open to site visitors.  edit

Events[edit]

  • Descent of Kukulcan. During the three most celebrated days (the 19th, 20th, and 21st of March) which witnesses The Descent of Kukulcan, Chichen Itza hosts music, dances, and theatrical performances organized in the interior of the site, as well as at the access door.  edit

Buy[edit][add listing]

  • Toh Boutique and The Maya Hut sell Maya craft, textiles, and jewelry. Purchases support the Maya Foundation and the Nature Conservation and Bird Refuge Program, reforesting the region and preventing the illegal hunting of white tail deer and other animals in the area. They also have a tradition of dancing.
  • Random Vendors Vendors are situated in many areas around the ruins selling statues of Mayan gods, paintings on small pieces of leather, obsidian, and other collectibles. They'll tell you it costs a dollar to get your attention, but the price changes when you negotiate.

Eat[edit][add listing]

  • Oxtun, Interior Parador Turístico de, Chichén Itzá, Yuc., +52 985 851 0354. Mexican restaurant  edit

Drink[edit][add listing]

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

There are several refreshments stands on the archaeological site.

Sleep[edit][add listing]

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. There is a cluster of hotels that allow direct entrance to the ruins from the backside. However, once the ruins are closed, one cannot walk from one entrance to the other so make sure you end up on the correct side. The town of Valladolid, 40 km away, is a less-touristed alternate base.

  • Dolores Alba Chichen Itza Hotel, Carretera Merida - Cancun Km.122 Chichén Itzá, Yuc., +52-985-858-1555, [2]. 100 rooms, pool, convenient parking, downtown. Be sure to check out both pools - one is based on natural limestone formations and really quite spectacular!  edit
  • Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows, Km.120 Chichén Itzá Highway Merida Cancun, 97751 Chichén Itzá, Yuc., +52 998 887 2495, [3]. Rooms ranging from standard hotel rooms to suites or bungalows with jacuzzi or loft. With its own entrance to the ruins. (They own the park, but the government owns the ruins). You do not have to be a guest to use the entrance. Opens at 8:00 hours.  edit
  • Puerta Chichen Hotel, C-15 A No. 30x20, KM 117, 97751 Chichen Itzá, Yuc., +52 997 139 2883, [4].  edit
  • Villas Arqueologicas Chichen Itza Hotel, Valladolid Km 120 Carretera Merida, Chichen Itza, 97751 Pisté, Yuc., +52 984 188 8310, [5]. Pool, tennis courts, billiards.  edit
  • Y temazcal Guemez Chichen Itza Hostal, Calle 8 por 13 Alado de la, 97757 Pisté, Yuc., +52 985 126 9552, [6]. A very small and simple hotel run by a very pleasant local family.  edit

Stay safe[edit]

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 asked 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.

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

If visiting during the rainy season, consider bringing an umbrella and/or a rain jacket. 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.

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

If you bring a video camera, they might charge you extra. Digital cameras with video capability are exempted.

Tripods are forbidden unless you obtained special permits months ahead of time.

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

Get Out[edit]

There is a bus ticket office located just inside the main building at the entrance (before ticket check) and free secure luggage storage (also before ticket check).

Cancun, Valladolid[edit]

There are 10 daily second class "Oriente" busses (a/c, unreserved seating, make frequent stops do not use the tollway) leaving Chichen Itza for Cancun hourly beginning at 08:35 until 17:35, costing 133pesos. These busses also drop you in Vallodolid for a fare of 26pesos. The only first-class bus (a/c, reserved seating, uses tollway 180D and only makes one quick stop along the way in Valladolid) leaves for Cancun at 16:30 and is 244pesos. Colectivos back to Valladolid leave from a small roundabout at the far left (when exiting the visitor's center) of the parking lot next to the artisan market and cost 35 pesos as of November 2018.

Tulum, Playa Del Carmen[edit]

The first-class bus for Playa Del Carmen departs at 16:30 and costs 326pesos. There are two first-class departures to Tulum, at 08:25 and 16:30 (same as the Playa bus) - 180pesos. On Fridays and Saturdays only there is an additional second class bus that leaves at 13:05 for Tulum (95pesos) and Playa Del Carmen (135pesos).

Merida[edit]

For Merida, there are 9 daily second class departures costing 78pesos, between 09:10 and 17:10 (not always exactly one hour apart). The lone first-class departure to Merida at 17:15 is 142pesos.



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