After leaving Palenque, made a quick stop in the old colonial town of Campeche before heading on to the most famous Mayan site in the Yucatan Penninsula: Chichen Itza. Current evidence suggests that construction Chichen Itza took place between 600 AD and 1200 AD.
We decided to camp at a motel called the Piramide Inn – which is located 1 km from the park entrance. It was actually pleasantly cool in the evenings, so we slept in our van, but made full use of the motel’s pool and lounge areas.
The main pyramid at Chichen Itza is called “El Castillo,” and in 2007 it was declared one of the “New 7 Wonders of the World.” This pyramid is especially interesting because it’s architecture incorporates days of astronomical importance and the Mayan calendar. On the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the western balustrade on the north side that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase: representing the feathered-serpent god Kukulkan. The temple has 4 stairways of 91 step each: representing the number of days in the Mayan calendar (4×91=364). The beams of the temple are oriented toward the four cardinal points.
Chichen Itza is one of the most visited sites in Mexico, due to its proximity to Cancun. In speaking to the owner of the Piramide Inn, we learned that there have been days when upwards of 40,000 people have visited the site. Because of this traffic, it is no longer possible to climb any of the ruins. Additionally, this mass of tourists has led hundreds of vendors to come to the site to sell souvenirs and artesanias. We read in a local paper that the crush of vendors has actually become so bad that the World Heritage Foundation is currently considering revoking the site’s World Heritage Status.
Because we don’t like to compete with lots of tourists, we decided to start our day early at Chichen Itza, arriving at the gate as soon as it opened. Beside the “El Castillo” pyramid, my favorite site was the great ball court. The Chichen Itza great ball court is the largest discovered in Mesoamerica. The game had important ritual aspects, and major formal ballgames were held as ritual events, often featuring human sacrifice. You could definitely feel the importance of the game while standing in the stadium.
We toured around the site until around noon – when we decided to adjourn for lunch. As we were leaving, however, a beautiful bird caught our attention. A local guide informed us it was called a Mot Mot. Out of all the hundreds of tourists passing by, we seemed to be the only ones who saw (or cared) about this beautiful bird.
That night we went back to Chichen Itza for the sound and light show. If you are in the area, and wondering whether you should see the show…you DEFINITELY should. It was one of the coolest things I have seen on this trip. Apparently visitors are supposed to have tickets to see the show, however we never learned where one gets the tickets. We just showed up at the gate and spoke with a friendly security guard who waved us through the gate. The narration for the show is in spanish, but the effects are so good that the show is worthwhile even if you do not understand what is being said.