This month I visited the Chichen Itza archaeological site, which is approximately a two and a half hour drive from Villa del Palmar Cancun. I booked an Express Tour (half day) with Cancun Adventures from the Activities Office at the resort that departed from the resort around 6:00 am and returned around 2:30 pm.
Upon arrival in Chichen Itza, our tour guide led us through the site while narrating the history. I immediately noticed the expansive area and the size of the ruins, which were much taller then the ruins at Tulum or Coba (other nearby ruin sites in Cancun).
I learned that ‘Chichen Itza’ means ‘at the mouth of the well of Itza.’ In this location of the Eastern point of the Yucatan state here are many underground rivers, which made Chichen Itza an attractive area for settlers and a main trading port in Mexico. Archaeologists believe that Chichen Itza was a powerful Mayan city towards the end of the Mayan Classical period (around 600 AD) and fell around 1000 AD. Chichen Itza boasts a well-planned urban design that showcases clusters of pyramids and temples. The tallest pyramid here, the pyramid of Kukulkan, is one of the Seven Wonders of the World.
Our tour started with a tour of the archaeological zone and then we were given time to explore the site on our own. I enjoyed the central Mexican styles that the pyramids and temples were constructed with and learned that this was most likely due to the migration and conquest from central Mexico.
Chichen Itza is broken up into two regions based on the architectural style. One region is called the Old Chichen Itza area and houses the structures to the south of the central side, which were the initial structures built in this area. The second region is called the Great North Platform, which dominates the northern part of Chichen Itza and showcases many of the sites that you may often see in photos when you think of Chichen Itza. Below is a breakdown of the sights in both of these areas.
OLD CHICHEN ITZA AREA
This area showcases the Initial Series Group, the Phallic Temple, the Platform of the Great Turtle, the Temple of the Owls, and the Temple of the Monkeys. Amongst all of these sites in the Old Chichen area, I noticed the prevalence of serpent heads, which is believed to represent the serpent-god Kukulkan. Below are a few photos of these sites.
GREAT NORTH PLATFORM
The other region is called the Great North Platform and has El Castillo (the main temple of Kukulcan),and dominates the area at a height of about 98 feet tall and has nine square terraces with a six foot tall temple on the summit. In the late afternoon of the spring and autumn equinoxes, the northwest corner of this pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the pyramid on the north side that depict a serpent, which scholars believe to be a representation of the serpent-god Kukulcan. This site alone, which is deemed one of the Seven Wonders of the World, makes Chichen Itza a popular destination for all to visit and marvel at.
The Great Ball Court is another site in the Great North Platform and features thirteen ball courts and stretches all the way to the northwest side of El Castillo. It measures 551x 231 feet in size and I was amazed at how large this area was. This is the largest and most preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. When you stand in the middle of the ball court and yell, you hear an echo of everything you say; it is unlike any other echo I have ever heard before.
The Great North Platform also features the Sacred Cenote, where Mayans would conduct sacrifices during times of drought. There are many other smaller temples in this site, a central marketplace, homes, and temples. I was drawn to the Plaza of a Thousand Columns due to all of the pillars that once were covered by a roof (the roof long ago collapsed, just leaving the free-standing pillars that we see today). This plaza is believed to have once been a great town meeting hall and be the location where many important town decisions were made.
Chichen Itza was one of my favorite sites to see in the Yucatan as I enjoyed the history behind the ruins and seeing all of the artistic designs. Visiting Chichen Itza is a must for anyone looking to see gorgeous Teotihuacan (inspired by Central Mexico) architecture, learn more about the Mayan culture and see one of the Seven Wonders of the World!
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