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Chichén Itzá

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  Mexico's Most Popular Mayan Site

 

 

 

  

Best Places to Visit  in Chichén Itzá, Mexico

The Splendor of Chichén Itzá

 El Castillo, the castle of the plumed serpent Kulkulcan

Chichén Itzá was the most significant Mayan town in the Yucatan from the 8th century to the 13th century.  It is the most well-preserved and interesting of the Mayan ruins in eastern Mexico.

Approximately 124 miles  (200 kilometers) west of Cancun and 74 miles (120 kilometers) east of Merida, Chichén Itzá is the most popular  Mayan archaeological destination in the Yucatan.  You should see this landmark site if you have the opportunity and interest.

Chichén Itzá was founded  in the 5th century and grew in significance during the Mayan Classic period (between the 6th and 10th centuries A.D.). Additional buildings were constructed during the Mayan -Toltec period from the 10th to the 12th centuries.  It is these "newer" buildings that form the majority of the "masterpieces" on the site. 

The thousand columns at Chichen ItzaThe fusion of the indigenous Mayans and the Toltecs, from the highlands of central Mexico, created a new and unique architecture that is often called Maya -Yucatec.  In a simple sense, this architecture incorporates Mexican influences with the Mayan style of art and architecture. 

Various records indicate that the city declined late in the 12th century, although it continued in use for several hundred years.  It  was sparsely populated when "discovered" by the Spanish invaders in the early 16th century.  Chichén Itzá fell into disuse after its discovery and its ruins were not excavated until the mid -19th century.

       .Intricate facades near the section of Chichen Itza known as the Nunnery

Chichén Itzá is located near two large cenotes (limestone sinkholes)  that tap the local underground water system.  Cenotes were the Mayans only reliable source of water and the existence of two in close proximity  was an important reason for the Mayan choosing this site for a settlement and its growth through the centuries.  After the Toltec invasion, at least one of the cenotes was used for human sacrifice based on ceremonies and religious beliefs that appear to have been imported to the region by the Toltecs.

 

 

 

The steps of El Castillo are reputed to show a shadow of the serpent at the EquinoxChichén Itzá is a large site (approximately 700 acres - 300 hectares - slightly larger than a square mile). There are a number of outer districts  connected to the main site  by  raised stone causeways, but these exterior sites have not yet been excavated and are not open to the public.

The number of buildings open to visitors in Chichén Itzá  is far richer than at any other site in the Yucatan.  Unfortunately, many of the monuments in Chichén Itzá  have crumbled to piles of stone while others have decayed to the point where they are dangerous to explore. 

Although you can enter some of the chambers in the monuments that are open, you may not feel comfortable doing so.  Most of these interior rooms can be approached only through small passageways that are usually dark, hot, humid and generally uninviting.  In addition, it is likely that the Mayan people were smaller than you, so if you are claustrophobic, you may want to avoid entry. 

Although a popular activity in the past was to climb to the top of the Castillo, the main pyramid on the site, we have heard (but have not been able to verify at this time) that visitors are no longer permitted to climb its stairs.

    The feathered serpent looking towards El Castillo

Highlights

Chichén Itzá is masterpiece of Mayan architecture and highlight of your visit should include the Castillo (Kulkulcan's Temple), the Temple of the Warriors, the Great Ball Court, the Group of the Thousand Columns, the Observatory, and the Nunnery.  By the way, the famous plumed serpent that you will see adorning many of the buildings is Quetzalcoatl, one of the Mayan gods. 

Chac-Mool, the god of rain, reclining and waiting for the rain to fallBe sure to see the famous statue of the Mayan rain god Chac-Mool (another Toltec influence), in its famous reclining pose. close-up view of the feathered serpent During the  Equinoxes, the date on which the day has exactly 12 hours of sunlight, the shadows cast on one of the stair-ramps of the Castillo are believed to represent an undulating serpent traveling down the pyramid.

Practical Advice for visiting Chichén Itzá

Time your visit for as early or late in the day as practical in order to avoid the crowds that arrive at mid-morning.  The temperature can be warm here and the sun  can feel oppressive at mid-day and in the early afternoon.  We advise that you pace yourself, wear a hat and take an adequate supply of a high-UV protection from the sun.   You won't have the cool sea breezes you find in Cancun to moderate the temperatures, so be sure to stay hydrated.  If you have forgotten water, lotion or hats, you can purchase replacements at the gift shops and stands at the entrance to Chichén Itzá .

          The Observatory at Chichen Itza was an important center for the Mayans

In addition, this commercial website features information on tours of Chichén Itzá,  that might be of interest when planning a trip to this location.

  Temple of the Warriors at Chichen Itza


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Chichén Itzá is a Mayan settlement that was influenced by the Toltecs who migrated here from central Mexico in the 10th century.  It is thought that the Toltecs introduced "human sacrifice" to the area's religious beliefs.

 

 

 

 

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Chichén Itzá was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
Chichen Itza Day Trip from Cancun

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