Located about 1.5 hours from the capital Mérida, Chichen Itza is the biggest tourist attraction in Yucatan and one of the only things I was familiar with in the region before booking my trip. Its most famous pyramid, named Kukulkan, is one of the new seven wonders of the world – right up there with Machu Picchu, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China and the Colosseum in Rome (the only other one I’ve seen in person). However, upon arrival, someone unfamiliar with Mayan history might take a look at the archeological site and think “huh – a pile of rocks.”
Kukulkan’s non-restored side (the missing stones were never found)
That’s why my #1 advice for visiting Chichen Itza is to hire a guide. If you read my last post about flamingos in Celestún, you’ll know that hiring a tour company for day trips in Yucatan is a total rip off. Usually the price they’re charging each person for the tour is the price a group of five could split if they went on their own. Unless you’re traveling solo, it’s simply not worth it.
The typical day trip to Chichen Itza costs around $75 per person, whereas one can enter on their own for $19 USD and hire a guide at the entrance for around $60 USD. For a group of 5, $155 sounded a lot better than $375!
Well, tour company rant over, back to the Mayans, who are pretty much superior in intelligence to anyone in today’s modern civilization. That “pile of rocks” is actually a work of pure genius. In addition to serving as a ceremonial site, the Kukulkan pyramid is perfectly symmetrical and was built to serve as a calendar and indicator of the seasons based off of the solar system. On the equinox, the rising and setting of the sun casts the shape of a serpent along the side of one of the staircases. The architecture is so perfectly thought out that when one claps in front of it, the echo sounds eerily like the chirp of a Quetzal, a bird very sacred to the Mayans.
No one knows how they figured all of this out, and how they possibly knew so much about the solar system. And remember that time in 2012 when everyone was talking about how the Mayan Calendar was coming to an end and the apocalypse was imminent? We completely messed that up. If the Mayans were still around, they simply would have built another pyramid on top of Kukulnan and begun the cycle again.
While the Mayans might have been very smart, they were also possibly insane or at least sick in the head. Their biggest form of entertainment was a ball game where teams played against each other in a seemingly impossible attempt to knock a ball through a hoop without touching it with their hands or feet. And best of all? The winner of this game got his head chopped off by the loser at the end. And he wanted that to happen because he thought he was becoming a god. Imagine being disappointed and ashamed that you’re the one who has to keep on living? Sorry Mayans, you may have gotten that calendar right but I just can’t comprehend your passion for human sacrifice.
The ball court
Once your head is chopped off, you earn a spot on this wall. That’s a lot of heads.
If you visited Chichen Itza without a guide, you would have a hard time understanding any of the above because there are almost no signs explaining what each building represents. The Mayan culture is fascinating and there are so many little things you’d miss out on without a knowledgeable companion.
Many of the people who live in Yucatan are descended from the Mayans, and while today most of them have converted to Christianity and done away with that crazy ball game, they still hold onto some of their ancient civilization’s culture and superstitions. Almost every restaurant we ate at in Yucatan had Mayan-inspired or influenced dishes on the menu and many people we met were quick to tout their Mayan heritage. I thought it was very cool that people were so proud of the region’s history, and hey – if I was descended from geniuses, I’d want everyone to know it too!
A word of warning for those planning to visit Chichen Itza: during high season, this place gets packed. Of course I went during the busiest week of the year and waited in a 30 minute traffic jam to get into the parking lot and a 1.5 hour line to get into the site. I would recommend going early to beat the crowds!
Celestún is a small fishing village in Yucatan near the border of Campeche, and on a day trip there I...