Chichén Itzá is the largest of the archaeological cities of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization
It is one of Mexico’s most visited tourist destinations. It was granted World Heritage Site status by UNESCO World Heritage Site and was recently selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities and it was likely to have been one of the mythical great cities, or Tollans, referred to in later Mesoamerican literature. The city may have had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site. The main pyramid, El Castillo is also called Temple of Kukulcan.
Many tourists visit Chichen Itza as a day trip, especially from Cancun, more than 100 miles away. This archaeological site is also an hour and a half away from Merida, the capital of Yucatan. The Maya communities near Chichen Itza have developed many wonderful sites for travellers to rejoice in the Maya Cultural heritage. It is recommended you avoid a day-trip visit to Chichen Itza and schedule a night or two to enjoy all the activities nearby. This allows time to see more than just a portion of this large site. If you stay a night here, come to the archaeological site early in the day before the sun is so hot, and before most of the day-trippers arrive. This is a large park and usually visitors are on a tight schedule, consider the services of a guide. They can be found in the museum at the entrance and are very nice and reasonably priced. If you tire of their company, they will not be offended if you mention that you would like to visit on your own. A guide can give you information on sleeping overnight at the site. Entrance fee to the area is 177 pesos and if you want to film with a video camera, you’ll need to pay an additional 45 pesos.
To See & Do
These are the vestiges 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.
- The Pyramid of Kukulcan or El Castillo — 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. (As of January 2006, you can no longer climb El Castillo.)
- 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 (As of January 2006, you can no longer climb the 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.
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The Kingdom of the Maya • Locations & Activities