Chichen Itza

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Chichen Itza

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Chichén Itzá 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. It was granted World Heritage Site status in 1988 by UNESCO World Heritage Site and is considered as one of the new wonders of the world.

El Castillo - Chichen Itza


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


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 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. Ever 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 Cancun. Come by automobile or take the very regular bus service.

If you are located outside of Chichen Itza, a number of companies organize tours, including Tours Aldebaran [1].

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.


View from the top of El Castillo

These are the ruins 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.

  • 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, 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. 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. 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 travelling to Chichen-Itza post March 2006: You are no longer able to climb the steps to the top of the most of the monuments. These areas have been roped off due to erosion and destruction of some of the sacred monuments.
  • 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 columns, and murals inside.
  • Sweatbaths - there are many Zumbul che structures found in both Chichen Itza and Old Chichen sites. These Maya sweatbaths played an important rule in ancient Maya spiritual traditions as places to purify the mind, body, and emotions, thus getting in touch with one´s pure spiritual energy.
  • 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 hieroglyphic inscriptions
  • Xtoloc Cenote
  • 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 open 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
    • Temple of the Phalli
    • Platform of the Great Turtle
    • Temple of the Owls
    • Temple of the Monkeys

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 - If you visited the ruins during the day, you can return re-enter with the same ticket for the night show, which takes places in the center of the ruins. There's a light show and a narrative in Spanish (headsets for other languages are available for a small fee). The show lasts around an hour and while it may not be the most exciting, on a nice night it is a pleasant way to relax, watch the stars and see the ruins lit up.


  • Yaxkin Spa (Hacienda Chichen hotel) [2] offers holistic beauty rituals based on ancient Maya traditions.
  • The area has excellent birdwatching opportunities. Guests at at the Hacienda Chichen have access to the hotel's bird refuge and extensive nature trails.
  • 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 your self off in the afternoon, take a break and split up your day.


  • Toh Boutique and The Maya Hut sells 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.


  • Hacienda Chichen [3]. Offers regional, international and vegetarian dishes, in a 16th Century colonial terrace built with Maya carved stones (appropriated from the ruins site by Spanish conquistadores) overlooking lush tropical gardens. Some of the vegetables and fruits are organically grown by the owners in the south end of the gardens.


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.


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.

  • Hotel Dolores Alba[4] Km.122 Mérida-Cancún, Free Road (180) +52-985-858-1555, 100 rooms, pool, convenient parking, downtown. US$35-45.
  • Hacienda Chichen,[5]. +52-999-924-4222, from US/Canada: 1-877-631-4005. Boutique Colonial hotel 16th-century Hacienda, eco-friendly witn 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. US$120-160 (single/double), US$165-225 (master suite).
  • Mayaland Hotel and Bungalows [6] Rooms ranging from standard hotel rooms to suites or bungalows with jacuzzi or loft. Very close to ruins. US$88-244.
  • Villas Arqueologicas Club Med, Carr. Merida - Valladolid km 120. Pool, tennis courts, billiards. Very close to ruins. US$112 (standard room), US$225 (suite for 4).

Get out

This is a usable article. It has information for getting in as well as some complete entries for restaurants and hotels. An adventurous person could use this article, but please plunge forward and help it grow!