Chichen-Itza was one of the largest Maya cities built by the Mayan people in AD 600-900. The site today still has many of the original structures including the Temple of Kukulcan, otherwise known as El Castillo, which is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world.
We set off early in the morning from Playa Del Carmen as we wanted to get to Chichen-Itza when it opened at 8am. There is a time difference of one hour between the Cancun area and Chichen-Itza so, with a 2 hour journey this meant leaving at 7am.
When we arrived at Chichen-Itza, we parked the car and joined the queue to get tickets. The queue was actually pretty confusing as there apeared to be more than one queue and there were also tour guides taking people a different way. After attempting to join the wrong queue we were directed to the right one.
Before going in, we visited the restrooms and Starbucks, which in hindsight was a mistake as you can’t take food or drink into Chichen-Itza. After rushing our drinks, we entered the site.
We managed to get there before all the trade stands had set up for the day and before most of the trips had entered. If you want it even quieter, I suggest arriving a lot earlier than opening time. We headed to the main pyramid, the Temple of Kukulcan, which is one of the 7 modern wonders of the world and the reason we knew about the site in the first place. The temple is impressively intact. You used to be able to climb the steps but this is not allowed any more to preserve the building, so instead we looked and clapped. I don’t mean we applauded, but we clapped because if you get close enough to the temple and clap at it, it sends a weird quack like echo back. The temple itself interested me greatly. Its positioning is important and it is built on top of a smaller temple for this reason. It has 365 steps due to the number of days in a year and it has snake heads carved in the stone at the bottom. On the equinox, when the sun shines on the temple, it makes shadows that look like serpents from the top of the temple to the snake heads. This in itself is amazing considering how long ago it was built.
We then made our way over to the temple of the warriors and the many impressive carved stone pillars. After this we wandered around to the sacred cenote. You can’t swim in this cenote but you really wouldn’t want to. It was once a sacrificial cenote that Mayans believed was an entrance to the underworld. They would sacrifice people in the cenote including many children and make offerings of jewels and gold. Now it is an eerie place where you can feel the past and look at the revolting green water.
The sacred cenote is a fair walk from the rest of the site and by the time we were ready to make the walk back, the path was lined with traders who loudly tried to sell us their products. We bought a magnet which we haggled down from the equivalent of £10 to around £3, and carried on feeling pleased we had managed to haggle without realising we probably would have got the same magnet for £1 in a shop down the road. I guess these people need to make their money somehow and unsuspecting tourists make a captive audience.
We walked back to the part of the site that fascinated me the most – the ball arena. This huge stone structure housed a bizarre Mayan game called Pok-a-Tok. Two teams would have worn padded garments and batted a heavy rubber ball with their hips, knees and elbows, attempting to get it through big stone hoops on the 8 meter high walls. The captain of the losing team was beheaded! The stone hoops are still there, though they were surprisingly high up and I can’t imagine many people managed to bat a ball through them. There were carvings in the stone depicting the games and one very intact, and rather poignant one, depicting the losing captain being beheaded. The ball arena was built so that a whisper at one end could be heard at the other end some 168 meters away.
By this time it was around 11.30am and the site was starting to get extremely busy with tourists and traders. We wandered back to the exit, stopping to look again at the Kukulkan temple on the way out.
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Taking an autistic child to Chichen-Itza?
Unfortunately my son lost his mask somewhere between the sacred cenote and the exit so, after our visit, I had to make the long walk back to look for it. I can confirm that the site was much busier and if you want a quiet visit you definitely want to get there as early as possible.
There was a very long queue to get the tickets. There is absolutely no need for everyone in the party to queue as the ticket queue is separate to the entrance. The whole entrance lobby gets quite busy, the quietest place to wait was past the ticket window and round to the left where there is a starbucks and little shop.
The only toilets we found were past the ticket window and to the right. They are outside of the site.
Stall holders do not leave you alone and actively try to sell you things. They set out attractive products and try to show them to children. By mid day they lined every path throughout the site with the busiest being the path to the sacred cenote and the path from the site entrance. To avoid this you need to get there very early in the morning.
There were signs saying no food and drink were allowed past the entrance gates to the site.
If you are staying near Cancun take into account the time difference between there and Chichen-Itza when planning your visit.
We coupled our visit with Oxman Cenote which I will write about in a seperate post. Oxman Cenote is around 20 minutes from Chichen-Itza and has both a cenote and a swimming pool. You can buy entrance tickets which include lunch and it is less busy than other well known cenotes in the area.
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