Chichen Itza is the most famous, most enchanting and best restored of the many Maya sites in the Yucatan Peninsula. With ancient palaces, temples, plazas and ball courts, the ruins are an absolute delight and, although largely hyped and publicized, will astound even the most knowledgeable and cynical traveler. A visit to the archaeological site and great wonder of the world, dating back to the 9th century, is a must when touring Mexico and provides a fascinating insight into the mystical history and culture of the Maya people.
Located around 75-miles east of Merida and 125-miles west of Cancun many choose to visit Chichen Itza on a whistle-stop day tour. With excellent bus links running between Merida and Cancun a day trip is understandable, however, to capture the sites true glory it deserves at least two days of exploration. The nearby village of Piste is an ideal base when visiting Chichen Itza as it is home to a host of accommodations, ranging from budget posadas to luxurious resorts, a handful of decent restaurants and the chance to pick up some Maya souvenirs. Further down the road, Valladolid is another convenient option, although, with its prime location and being walking distance to the ruins, Piste slightly gets the edge. Should you be passing through in March then stop by for the Autumn Equinox but be prepared to do some hard searching around for a bed.
Things to do in
Chichen Itza Sound & Light Show - Definitely worth hanging around for as it is included in the admission to the ruins. The main show is in Spanish, although headsets in English are provide and tell an interesting story. The main highlight is seeing the true beauty of the ruins lit up and beneath a starry sky.
El Castillo - Otherwise referred to as The Kukulkan Pyramid, the steeped pyramid on a square base is the most well-known structure within the ruins. The four sides of the pyramids have 91 steps and including the main platform totals 365, one for everyday of the year, reflecting the Maya calendar.
Juego de Pelota - The Great Ballcourt is a colossal 225ft wide and 545ft long and encircled by temples, goals and targets. At the base of each side are sketches depicting the games which were once played.
El Caracol - Winding staircase and tower dating back to 600-850AD that was used as an observatory. It is great significance as it appears to be arranged in a line with the movements of Venus. Today it provides superb views of the whole site.
Cenote Sagrado - The Sacred Cenote was once a site of grand pilgrimage for the Maya people and served as the water supply for the city. On the north side of the plaza the cenote is a huge waterfall sunk 30m deep into the limestone cliffs. On visits, pilgrims would throw offerings of incense, jade and gold.
Chichen Viejo - Old Chichen dates back to 400AD and contains images of Chaac, the Maya rain god. The area is only open to archaeologists at it is believed to be of great importance.
Plataforma de Venus - There are in fact to structures named Venus Platform. The most famous sits in the GreatPlaza and the other close to the Grave of the High Priest. Both would have been used for the reading of religious rites.
Tzompantli - The Platform of Skulls is a T-shaped platform adorned with skulls and served as display of the skulls of sacrificial victims.
Eagles and Jaguars - Between the platforms dedicated to Venus and Skulls is a temple decorated with eagles and jaguars that are said to symbolize the warriors who brought their gods sacrificial victims.
Grutas de Balankanche Caverns - Around 3-miles east of Chichen Itza is a set of eerie caves opened up in 1959 following the discover of a secret passageway. Inside the caves are stalagmites, stalactites and ceremonial offerings such as ancient pottery and deity.
Yaxin Spa - For anyone wanting to pamper themselves then this spa is the place to go using holistic healing rituals and ceremonies based on the ancient Maya traditions.
Budget Hotels Chichen Itza
Yucatan Mayan Retreat - Eco-hotel and camping grounds just 10-minutes from the ruins. Tel (52) 985 808 0805.
Villa Arqueologica - Great location close to the ruins and pleasant lodgings. Tel (52) 222 273 7900.
Midrange Hotels Chichen Itza
Dolores Alba - Great value hotel with spotless rooms, good restaurant and natural-spring swimming pool. Tel (52) 999 928 5650.
Piramide Inn - Great location and large gardens with a hippy vibe. Tel (52) 985 851 0115.
Luxury Hotels Chichen Itza
Hacienda Chichen Resort - Stunning boutique hotel in a colonial mansion with a leafy garden. Tel (52) 999 920 8407.
Mayaland - Luxury suites and bungalows in a resort in nearby Piste. Tel (52) 985 851 0100.