One of the things we noticed during our visit was tourists clapping in front of the great pyramid. A chirping sound came from the pyramid with every clap. People say it was a sound similar to native quetzal bird. Was it intentional? We don’t know.
“Whoever designed that (El Castillo) didn’t say to the builder ‘Right, listen, I need some sort of structure, some sort of platform where we can cut heads off. When the heads are all down then just at the bottom somewhere that a clap sort of bounces back‘ that just wouldn’t be in the to-do list.” In case you are wondering, this isn’t some intellectual quote about Chichen Itza. It’s an interesting remark from Karl Pilkington, a British TV show host, during an episode of An Idiot Abroad when he visited this Wonder of the World. Karl Pilkington has a peculiar character and doesn’t really like travelling so he didn’t seem very pleased. (He goes to all the 7 Wonders of the World in the show. Watch the show. It’s funny!) Unlike him, we didn’t leave with unsatisfied looks on our faces, we left with much admiration for Chichen Itza.
Timing has a lot to do with our visit to Chichen Itza, we came in around 9:15am (the site opens at 9;00am), right before crowds of tour groups arrived so we had a lot of time to wander around the archaeological site on our own.
Apart from being declared as one of the Seven Wonders of the World, Chichen Itza is considered one of the greatest Mayan sites in Mexico. The name Chichen Itza (not chicken and pizza as tour guides comically refer to it) means “at the edge of the well of the Itzas” due to the its proximity to two cenotes (water-filled sinkholes). It is said that the Mayans sacrificed objects and humans to the Sacred Cenote as a form of worship to the gods.
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From 600 AD to around 1000 AD, Chichen Itza served as an important political and economic center of the Mayan civilization. However, it remains a mystery why the Mayans abandoned Chichen Itza. Nevertheless, the site remains an important pilgrimage site to the Mayans.
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El Castillo (Temple of Kukulkan)
We went straight to the centre of the archaeological site and saw the famous great pyramid, El Castillo also known as Temple of Kukulkan (Kukulkan is a Mayan feathered serpent deity similar to Quetzalcoatl). I never thought that we would see this pyramid so quiet. It was stunning – the structure was in perfect symmetry. They say that there are 91 steps in each of the 4 faces of the pyramid, with the top portion that makes 365 steps to represent 365 days in a year. Another incredible phenomenon happens twice a year during the spring and autumn equinoxes, when a shadow falls on the pyramid in the shape of a serpent. These are just some of the intricacies in Mayan architecture in relation to astrology.
Years ago, tourists could still climb up the great pyramid. Now, this is no longer possible. The view at the top must have been good but the view of the pyramid from below was already impressive. At least we don’t have to worry about having people in any of our pyramid photos.
Surrounding Structures in Chichen Itza
So I haven’t seen The Road to El Dorado. Jon said the game they played in the animated film must have been similar to the ancient games in The Great Ball Court, known to be the largest in the Americas. I still have no idea how the game works but the area and the surrounding walls for this game is huge. Surely it doesn’t end well for the losers, there must have been some human sacrifice involved afterwards.
While I am not a huge fan of skulls, the Wall of Skulls in Chichen Itza did not fail to impress. The carvings on most of the walls were also still visible and stone statues like Snake Heads still remain on site. The elaborate stone craftsmanship were astounding. Another Mayan site you should visit to see similar intricate details is Uxmal, located near Merida.
The Chichen Itza site is huge with plenty of surrounding ruins to explore. Other noteworthy temples in Chichen Itza are the Temple of the Jaguars and the Temple of the Warriors, La Iglesia and the El Caracol, which served as an old observatory.
Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote)
One of the most important areas in Chichen Itza is the sacred cenote. While some cenotes in the Yucatan have been open to public for swimming, the Sacred Cenote isn’t your typical swimming hole. Human skulls and other Mayan relics have been found underneath the sacred cenote (by scientists) which bear proof that it was once used as sacrificial ground for the Mayans during times of drought.
If you feel like swimming in a cenote after your visit, the Cenote Ik Kil is the closest one to Chichen Itza. A taxi from Chichen Itza will set you back $60 MXN. Entrance fee is worth $70 MXN and a locker $30 MXN. Bring your own swimsuits and towels.
How to Visit Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza is open daily from 9am to 5pm and the entry ticket to Chichen Itza costs $220 MXN for foreigners. You can easily visit Chichen Itza on your own (by bus) from cities like Merida, Cancun or Tulum but we highly recommend doing it from Valladolid, since it is the closest city to the site. Valladolid is a nice enough colonial town with many nearby cenotes and it only takes 45 minutes to reach Chichen Itza. The 2nd Class Oriente bus costs $26 MXN per way and runs every hour.
Do you want to visit Chichen Itza? Have you been to any other wonders of the world? Let us know!
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