Chichén Itzá and the Mayan Ruins

Chichén Itzá is one of those places that I never really believed I would get to until we were actually there. It seemed like something out of an ancient legend. The ruins of a Mayan City, about three hours away from Playa del Carmen and Cancun and surrounded by sacred cenotes. I honestly thought that maybe when we got to Mexico it would be too difficult and we might not make it. I am so glad that we did.

Chichén Itzá was like nowhere else I had ever been. It was excruciatingly hot. The type of hot that makes you feel like you can’t breathe and where no amount of water or fanning can cool you down. But it was beyond amazing. Words can’t describe what it’s like to amongst this piece of history. It’s hard to imagine that it’s real and that this is what life used to be like. The door ways and ceilings are so small, and some of the pyramids and buildings are so high. Every archaeological site on the grounds of Chichén Itzá was spectacular. Like a sensational work of art that was crafted for a specific purpose.

We had booked a tour through Xichen, run by the same company as the Xcaret theme park we had fallen in love with the day before. There are several different tours that they run to Chichén Itzá, but we chose the Xichén Clásico Tour – because it also took us to a very specific cenote that I was dying to see. It was going to be a long day, with a coach picking us up at 7am and the tour expecting to go for about 12 hours.

The tour guides on our bus were fantastic. They knew so much history about Chichén Itzá and the Mayan culture. They were so proud to be Mexican, but also so interested in everyone else’s heritage. They made sure that everyone in the group felt included and were enjoying themselves. The bus ride to Chichén Itzá was about three hours. On the way our tour guides entertained us with stories of legends and Mayan warriors. They passed around artifacts and all kinds of items from the Mayan times, including the script story in the picture above.

We had a quick stop on the way for a snack break and some shopping. It was a tiny shop in the middle of nowhere, but it had the most beautiful items I have seen. These images are only a small snippet of what was on offer. Everything was of such good quality and so beautifully crafted. It took a lot of restraint not to grab everything I could get my hands on!

Chichén Itzá was one of the largest Mayan cities, located in the centre of the Yucatán Peninsula with the site’s core covering at least 5 square kilometres. Smaller sites and what used to be residential properties extend well beyond this for an unknown distance. Chichén Itzá contains many fine stone buildings in various states of preservation, with quite a few of the building being restored to their original glory.

The Osario is a step-pyramid temple dominating its platform. It has four sides with staircases on each side. There is a temple on the top and at the centre is an opening into the pyramid which leads to a natural cave 12 meters below.

La Iglesia is a small temple, part of the Las Monjas area of Chichén Itzá, decorated with elaborate masks.

El Caracol is located to the north of Las Monjas and is a round building with a square platform. It was constructed before 800 CE and was used as an astronomical observatory, especially of Venus, and is thought to have also been a temple to Kukulcan. A large flight of stairs on two levels leads to the circular tower structure which has windows not aligned with the steps, giving the illusion the tower is turning.

The Great Ball Court is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. It’s about 168 by 70 metres. At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man.

El Castillo, the main pyramid and most well-known structure in Chichén Itzá. Constructed before 1050 CE the pyramid is 24 metres high and has nine levels. On each side of the pyramid is a staircase which leads up to a single square structure. Each stairway has 91 steps, except for the Northern side which has 92, adding up to 365 in total. On the Spring and Autumnal Equinox triangular shadows from the different levels of the pyramid are cast onto the sides of the Northern staircase, giving the illusion a gigantic snake is climbing the structure built in honour of the feathered-serpent god.

The Temple of Warriors complex consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. The building at the top of the pyramid has a doorway framed with feathered-serpents and two chambers – one contained a chacmool and the other contained a throne.

We had such a great time at Chichén Itzá. The Mayan ruins are just amazing and visiting one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Definitely worth the trip if you are in the Yucatan area. My photos from Chichén Itzá are some of my most treasured travel photos. Sometimes I still can’t believe that I actually got there and experienced this beautiful place in real life. Be prepared though for the intense heat! Chichén Itzá was probably the hottest place I have ever been in the world! Be prepared with a hat, sun protection and lots of water – trust me, you’ll need it!

Prices for the Xichén Clásico Tour start at $71.10 USD when booking online. It was a fantastic day, and one of my favourite memories of Mexico. The tour includes round trip transportation, access to the Chichén Itzá archaeological site and a guided tour, access to Ik’Kil Cenote and a buffet meal at Ik’Kil Restaurant.

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Emma Shaw

Emma is a travel photographer and blogger, living in Melbourne, Australia with her husband Thom in between adventures. She started A Make Believe World to share her experiences, travel tips and destination advice, and to inspire others to travel the world and their own backyard whenever they can.

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