It had been on my radar for many years, up to a point where I felt embarrassed I had never been: Chichén Itzá, one of the Modern Wonders of the World. So when the opportunity to go there presented itself, I never had second thoughts. Three ladies joined me, and we drove later than anticipated from Cancún towards the west. The main road soon turned out to have extensive road works, making the going slower than expected. When we finally reached the entrance of the great Mayan city, it turned out the parking lot was full, so we had to park at the roadside and walk. Plenty of tour buses and a long queue at the ticket counter gave us visions of a site overflowing with people. Soon after entering the complex, however, we find that the crowds dispersed. Moreover, because of conservation concerns, all the structures are fenced off. Thus it feels like Chichén Itzá is not swarmed by tourists. Like a huge magnet, the Kukulcán pyramid draws us directly towards it. Often called El Castillo, the Kukulcán Temple was dedicated to the feathered serpent deity of the same name. It is a pyramid with four sides with nine platforms, topped by a square temple. Each side has a steep staircase, but unfortunately visitors are not allowed to climb. Inside, a room was found with a red Jaguar throne with inlaid jade, but it is currently off-limits for visitors. Excavations have revealed that under the foundations of the pyramid, an older structure and even a cenote were located. The heyday of Chichén Itzá was between 900 and 1100.
While there is a strong identification of Chichén Itzá to the Kukulcán Temple, the complex is much, much more extensive than just that. We start exploring Chichén Itzá by following one of the many paths fanning out from the central area. We arrive at the dozens of columns of the Grupo de las Mil Columnas, an appropriate name for what once must have been a huge building supported by the many columns we see today. Close by, we see the Temple of the Carved Columns, a much smaller structure that apparently has a Chac Mool sculpture inside - again, no inside visits allowed unfortunately. From here, we decide to walk south to the small Xtoloc (iguana) temple, and especially the nearby Xtoloc Cenote which we can unfortunately only seen from above. We try to locate the Ball Court, but after searching for a while, we conclude that it must be the fenced off ruins we see covered in vegetation. From here, we walk to the Mercado. So named because it could have been a marketplace, researchers now believe it had a ceremonial function. The platform with rows of columns is higher up, and se stretch our necks (and duck under the fence to be able to step up) to get a little better views. Close by, we find the ruins of the Steam Bath.
It is time to explore more of the Great North Platform, so we walk straight to the Temple of the Jaguar. Here, we see a Jaguar Throne between two columns, which are richly decorated in well-preserved carvings, just like the walls behind. Parts of the carvings are still coloured red. I'm using my zoomlens to get a better look, as this site is also off limits. Just around the corner, we find the Great Ball Court. At the south side is a ruined temple, at each end of the court a sculpted serpent and in the middle, high above us, the two stone sculpted rings where the players of the typical Central American game had to get the ball through. Considering they moved the ball with their hips, it seems impossible to achieve. At the north side of the court, we find the well-preserved Temple of the Bearded Man, which has several columns and red sculpted decorations behind in its wall. Around the corner, we find the Platform of the Skulls, or Tzompantli in the local language. As can be expected, its sides have skulls carved into them. We also see finely carved representations of warriors, with arrows under their arms, holding a severed head. There are beaks of birds, with a heart in their claws. We walk past the Venus platform, dedicated to the planet Venus, to reach the Temple of the Great Warriors: an enormous structure. It has many columns at the ground level, but up the stairs we see a sculpture of Chac Mool in its characteristic position. We see an opening in the ground where excavations are going on at the foot of the Kukulcán Temple, and walk to the Osario Group. We soon realise that most visitors don't make it here: there are much less people around. The temples are smaller, too; but that doesn't make them less attractive or interesting. There is another Venus Platform, there is the Ossuary Pyramid, the Observatory, the Nunnery and the Iglesia temples. Especially the Iglesia and the east side of the Nunnery complex are very impressive with their carved facades. We walk past the many souvenir stalls where vendors are desperately trying to sell us their wares, and are off to one of the cenotes on the way back to Cancún to cool off, and let the beauty and history of Chichén Itzá sink in.
Around the World in 80 Clicks
Personal travel impressions both in words and images from Chichén Itzá (Mexico). Clicking on the pictures enlarges them and enables you to send the picture as a free e-card or download it for personal use, for instance, on your weblog. Or click on the map above to visit more places close to Chichén Itzá. Read more about this site.