Here’s the one you guys were waiting for: Chichen Itza.
As soon as we told folks we were going to the Yucatan, people wanted to know two things:
“Are you going to stay on the Riviera Maya?”
“Are you going to see Chichen Itza?”
I can happily say that the answers to both of those questions were yes.
I can’t lie, the site is impressive in person.
Surrounded by level grass on all sides, El Castillo towers over the rest of the archaeological zone. You immediately feel the awe of the site when you step beneath its shadow.
We drove west on 180 from Valladolid, and were the first car in the parking lot when the site opened. Mind you, there were already 3 or 4 tour buses, with more on their way, but I thought we did pretty well. Chichen Itza gets busy early, so we went early to beat the crowds. If you want to really explore the site peacefully, be sure to get there early!
The ball court at Chichen Itza is massive, a level of magnitude larger than the courts we saw in Tulum, Coba, and Ek Balam. Standing at one side of the court, you could also hear a great echo of your voice throughout the grounds. About halfway down the walls in the photo above, you’ll see those impossibly high rings. Mayan ball players had to get the ball through those hoops..
..without using their hands.
Or so the story goes, anyway. I’m sure it would be hard enough for some professional basketball players to get the ball through those hoops with their hands, let alone having to use their feet, hips, or whatever else they could think of.
A little farther from El Castillo, and the ball court, there are plenty of other structures throughout the area. Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours at Chichen Itza, if you want to walk around and see it all.
The most interesting part of this experience for me, was the difference in architecture and style between Chichen Itza and Machu Picchu. I kind of lumped them together in my head, before having visited both. World Wonders? Check. Ancient ruins? Check. Western hemisphere? Check.
The sites are worlds apart. Chichen Itza had a very artistic quality about it. And although the structures at Machu Picchu were impeccably put together, there were no true decorative carvings or reliefs. The artistry behind some of the stone work at Chichen Itza was amazing.
Bring some sunscreen, small snacks, and a guidebook. Make sure to wear decent hiking shoes or comfortable sneakers too. Although the site is fairly level, their is a lot of walking if you want to see everything. The signage at the site is actually very good. With the signs in sight and a good guidebook in hand, I didn’t feel that we needed a guide. I can’t recall the going rates, but there were plenty of folks offering to guide you throughout the ruins for a fee.
You’ll find plenty of vendors hawking their wares throughout the site. Prices aren’t bad either, due to the number of vendors and competition between them. If someone isn’t giving you the price you want, just walk 5 feet further, and talk to the next person. Most of the vendors are set up along the path from El Castillo to the Sacred Cenote, or the path to the observatory and nunnery area. Spending a few hours at hiking around Chichen Itza wore us out, and we found some cool water at Cenote Ik Kil to swim at.
Cenote Ik Kil
Ik Kil is another one of the more commercialized cenotes. Look at that view, though, and I’m sure you’ll understand why. The site is well planned, and it attracts a large number of visitors. More than a few of those visitors are stopping by after Chichen Itza, just like we were (some from tour buses).
Pay for parking, walk by the gift shop, you get the idea. You have to shower before you can swim, to ensure you don’t bring any chemicals (sunscreen, mosquito repellant, etc.) into the cenote. The path to the water is carved out of the limestone walls of the sinkhole. Following the cave into the depths of the earth you’re greeted with another amazing view at the bottom.
The whole scene is surreal. The sun sneaks through the vines hanging down from above, and small black catfish swim along the edges of the water. You can dive right in and the water is clear. Better yet, walk up to one of the platforms (top center of the image above), and jump in! Definitely worth it, and definitely a jump you’ll remember.
Unfortunately, a few tour busses arrived shortly after this picture was taken. The platform soon became crowded, but the water was just as beautiful as when we first arrived. Ik Kil is very deep, so while the water is clear, you can’t see the bottom. I imagine if you’re staying nearby, and can get to Ik Kil early in the day, your only other friends in the water would be the small black catfish that hang out around the edges.
We spent the whole morning at Chichen Itza and Ik Kil, and drove back to Valladolid for some afternoon exploring and dinner. Still workign on the Vallaolid post, but it should be up by the end of this week!