A Pedacito Of Chichén Itzá
Updated: Jun 2
Standing outside the gates of Chichén Itzá, you have few clues to suggest the ground you're standing on was an established, thriving civilization by just 600 A.D. The asphalt parking lot, the turnstiles, the landscaped palm trees all look so much like any other modern-day location you might encounter.
Yet, as soon as you step onto the grounds beyond the main entrance, you feel that there’s something different about this place. At least, that’s how I felt when I toured it last October.
Get A Local Tour Guide
If you ever get the chance to visit Chichén Itzá, I strongly recommend you go with a local tour group. These people know their history, and many of the local tour guides have heritage connected to the ancient Mayan culture from which Chichén Itzá was born.
Much of what I’ll tell you here will be recounted from what my tour guides told me, and the answers they provided to the many, many questions I asked.
A good tour of Chichén Itzá will be about two hours in itself. Our group also stopped off at a local Mayan community (contrary to popular belief, Mayans are still very much alive today) and a cenote (a cave-like pool of water) for swimming.
As far as the ancient city itself goes, here are some of the most memorable structures I saw there.
The Infrastructure Of An Ancient Culture
One of the most personally impactful experiences I had while touring Chichén Itzá was the ability to walk, I mean physically step on, ancient roads that dated back to 600 and 400 A.D.
Maybe I’m just a bit of a history nerd, but I thought this was surreal. To be able to walk the same paths that members of an ancient society did thousands of years ago is, if not a once-in-a-lifetime experience, then something very close to it.
You can even still see the white paint used to color the stone footpaths and their low bordering walls. According to my tour guide, these roadways were painted white so that they would be easier to see by moonlight in the dark jungle. I can’t believe the coloring has held up after so many centuries, but it’s still there.
See One Of The Seven Wonders
If you’ve ever considered going to Chichén Itzá, it’s probably been with the intent of seeing the Temple of Kukulcán, which is one of the New Seven Wonders of the World (I know, ironic considering how old it is).
This temple (also called El Castillo) is the tallest pyramid structure at Chichén Itzá and was built on top of a cenote, which was spiritually significant to the Mayans.
Due to an unfortunate accident, and the fact the tourists kept putting graffiti inside the temple room at the top of the pyramid, climbing the 91 steps to reach the top is no longer allowed. However, I promise you don’t need to climb to the top to be in awe of this structure.
During the spring and autumn equinoxes, a serpent appears along the side of the temple, formed by the shadows cast from the staircases. The most amazing thing about this apparition is that it was intentionally built into the design of the pyramid.
Like the snake built into the side of El Castillo, many pieces of architecture at Chichén Itzá were designed with a level of artistry and precision that would be impressive by even today’s standards. The fact that such feats of architecture were created with no modern technology whatsoever is one of the things that makes Chichén Itzá truly special.
Must-Sees Other Than El Castillo
Aside from seeing one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, there are two other locations within Chichén Itzá that I urge you to visit if you get the chance.
One, and my most favorite, is El Caracol, the astrological observatory of Chichén Itzá. The Mayans were deeply influenced by and observant of astrology and the movements of the stars.
Among other fascinating aspects of El Caracol is the fact that the ancient observatory was built with a flat stone courtyard off to its side, complete with stone benches. This area’s purpose? To serve as a reflecting pool when flooded with water so astronomers and their students could study the heavens without hurting their necks.
Along with the Observatory and the Temple of Kukulcán, I also highly recommend stepping into The Great Ball Court at Chichén Itzá.
The game played here could be described as a mixture of modern-day football/soccer, volleyball, and baseball. In addition to more beautiful old architecture, the acoustics of the playing field here is so well-designed that you can hear someone speaking from one end of the ball court at the other, no shouting needed.
So Much More
The pieces of Chichén Itzá I’ve described here were amazing to see in person. Not just because they’re artistically complex, architecturally ahead of their time, and fascinatingly historical, though these characteristics certainly make the city stand out.
Chichén Itzá is one of those deeply spiritual and mythical places, where the folklore, history, and culture of the site are so prominent you can practically feel it absorbing into your skin.
While many people seem excited by the prospect of visiting Cancun, I urge you to also visit Chichén Itzá if you’re even in the Yucatan.
Just a few hours away from the Westernized hotels, fancy restaurants, and shopping plazas that make up Cancun today, there’s a centuries-old city with more mystery and history than anything else you’re likely to experience in Mexico.
Furthermore, Chichén Itzá is still an active archeological site, meaning that new temples, buildings, and discoveries are still being made there. Who knows what will be uncovered next?
Join our community to network with other travelers around the world and to gain access to exclusive content and events. Submit your travel stories for a chance to get published! If you enjoy stories like this and want to support our community, join our Patreon by clicking the link below.