Chichen Itza is a Mayan City in Yucatan, Mexico that was declared as one of the seven Wonders of the World. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The name means “at the mouth of the Itza well”. Chichen Itza is one of the most visited sites in the whole of Mexico.
Chichen Itza was considered as Mayan’s sacred center of the Yucatán peninsula. The ruins at Chichen Itza were excavated in 1841 A.D. Because of the building techniques that the Maya had, the designs and beautiful architecture remained intact and is visible today. In 1986, the president declared Chichen Itza an archaeological monument, following the protection bestowed in 1972 by the Federal Law. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site because the cultural value that Chichen Itza brings. The monuments at Chichen Itza are recognized as masterpieces of Mesoamerican architecture and important Mayan artifacts in Yucatan.
Attractions to See at Chichen Itza
1| El Castillo (The Kukulkan Pyramid)
El Castillo, which means ‘the castle’, is the most popular attraction at Chichen Itza. It is approximately 75 feet tall and was built for astronomical purposes. On March 20 and September 21, the sunlight covers the western rail of the main stairway of the pyramid at exactly 3 pm. As the result, a serpent like body appears in the form of lit triangles and adjoins the carved head at the bottom of the stairs. Apparently, this was associated with agricultural rituals. There are 365 steps, each side of the pyramid has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th step.
2| Great Ball Court
Sports was part of the Mayans entertainment. All their games were played in big ball-courts they built. This particular ball-court is 225 x 545 feet. Apparently, when you whisper while standing at one end, you can be heard clearly from the other end. Try it and let us know if this is true.
Also known as The Wall of Skulls, it is where the heads of people who had been sacrificed were placed. Strangely, the other platforms in the Great Plaza were dedicated to comedy to showcase how fun Itza was.
4| Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
Jaguars and eagles were symbols of brave men who went out to find victims of sacrificial ceremonies to gods. Eagle Knights represented archers who were fighting at battles before other soldiers fought.
5| Platform of Venus
You will find Venus Platform near the Grave of High Priest. The Serpent Bird Man found there is the symbol of the ‘Morning Star’. It is said that the platform served as the podium for ceremonies and rites.
6| Scabe Number One
Sacbe is the 270m white road that leads to Cenote Sagrado. Vendors fill the sides of this road selling ornaments, bags, clothing items, fridge magnets and other souvenirs.
7| Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote)
The ancient Maya people used Cenote Sagrado as a place of pilgrimage. Archaeologically, things like gold, shell and skeletons of people have been found and removed from the bottom of Cenote Sagrado. This natural waterhole was significant to the Maya people socially and religiously.
8| Temple of the Big Tables
Temple of the Big Tables is found to the east of El Castillo. It is called this name because of altars that are at the top of this structure.
9| Thousand Columns
These columns once acted as a support to a decoration and a roof that has since collapsed. The warriors on the pillars act as a symbol of religion and military aspects of the site.
9| The Temple of the Warriors
There are four platforms here with 200 columns on the sides.
11| Steam Bath
It is believed that the steam bath once served as a sauna for the Maya people. It is very tiny, the height of the door is only less than 1 meter.
12| El Mercado ( The Market )
Named by the Spanish, El Mercado is a large Toltec building that has interior gallery space that is open, with a large patio in front of the entrance. Some believe it was used for domestic activities, while other say it was likely used as a council or ceremonial house.
13| The High Priest’s Grave – Ossario
Ossario is a pyramid temple very close to El Castillo. At the center, the pyramid has an opening leading to a cave that is 12 meters below. The cave was excavated in the 1800’s by Edward H. Thompson.
14| Las Monjas
Casa de las Monjas is the name that came from the Spanish who thought the place looked like convent buildings in Spain. There is a stone at the front of the building which is believed to have been a sacrificial stone.
15| El Caracol
El Caracol stands for a winding staircase or snail. The building dates back to 600 AD. The height of the tower is 48 feet and was used as an observatory.
16| Akab Dzib
Akab Dzib is believed to be the most ancient discovered structure by archaeologists in Chichen Itza. The name means ‘obscure writing’ because of the strange writings on the jar that the sculpture of the priest is holding.
17| Light and sound show at Chichen Itza
When you visit Chichen Itza and you have the evening to spare, don’t miss the light and sound show at the main attraction, El Castillo (The Kukulkan Pyramid). The pyramid is illuminated with colorful lights backed by images and sound.
How to get to Chichen Itza
There is no airport close to Chichen Itza, visitors usually drive from nearby cities such as Cancun and Cozumel, very early in the morning on the tour day or they drive the night before and stay in one of the nearby hotels.
Driving from Cancun: Take the 180D road (Kantunil – Cancun highway) via Valladolid. When you have about 6 km left there is a junction where the 180D road meets the 79 (Dzitás – Pisté) road. Exit 180D and turn left into the 79 Road towards Calle 15/Carr. Costera del Golfo. When you get to Piste, you will take another left into 180 Road. Go straight, passing well known landmarks, Tinum 1, Yuc (orange in color) and Hotel Chichen Itza. When you reach PEMEX Gas Station, bear right, exiting from Carr. Costera del Golfo, then turn right after 400 meters. The parking lot for Chichen Itza is just 350 meters straight ahead. There is a parking fee of around 10 pesos.
Please note that if you buy a ticket from the vendors that will flag you on the highway as you are going to Chichen Itza, you will be directed to park your car in a different parking lot (Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows). At PEMEX Gas Station, instead of bearing right, you will continue with Carr. Costera del Golfo towards the Old Airport of Chichen Itza. This looks very confusing, but all you are doing is entering the Chichen Itza grounds from the other side. I think the only benefit of buying tickets from the highway vendors is that you don’t get to stand in a long line at Chichen Itza ticket office. However, when we got to Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows parking lot, there were some unnecessary delays before letting us in. I suspected that they wanted to sell us guided tour tickets that’s why they kept us there for a good few minutes. My advice is that once you get there, make it clear that you are not buying any guided tours and demand that you quickly go in.
Tour Buses: Most hotels in areas like Cancun will have preferred tour companies that they recommend to their hotel guests. If for any reason you are not happy with suggestions offered by your hotel, you can book a Chichen Itza tour on Viator.
Public Buses: Merida to Chichen Itza takes 1-2 hours; Cancun to Chichen Itza takes 2-3 hours; Playa Del Carmen to Chichen Itza takes 3-4 hours; Valladolid to Chichen Itza takes 45 minutes. Buses depart approximately every hour to these destination except for Cancun which has fewer schedules. In Cancun, you can get Autobuses de Oriente (ADO) to Chichen Itza from ADO Bus station very close to downtown Cancun. More information on public transportation is here.
Taxis: You will find taxis in the parking lot at Chichen Itza.
Address: Chichén Itzá, Yucatan, Mexico
Where to stay near Chichen Itza
- Mayaland Hotel & Bungalows
- Hacienda Chichen Hotel
- Villa Chichen Itza
- Hotel Chichen Itza
- The Lodge at Chichen Itza
Other Useful Information
Opening hours and entrance fee
- Chichen Itza site is open 365 days a year, 8 am – 4:30 pm.
- Light and sound show is at 7 pm in the fall and winter and 8 pm in spring and summer.
- Individual tickets costs 111 pesos (including the light and sound show).
- You will pay 25 pesos to rent headphones for translations.
At noon, it can get very hot at Chichen Itza, try to go there early in the morning and bring with you a hat and bottles of water. If you finish the tour by noon, you may dedicate the afternoon to a picnic lunch under a tree or other sheds on the grounds; you may also visit nearby places in Yucatan.
- You are not allowed to climb to the top of the Pyramid.
- There are safe boxes at the entrance for bags and suitcases.
- There is quite a bit of walking, you may want to bring comfortable shoes, hat, water and sunscreen.
- Bring cash to buy souvenirs. Be aware that vendors on the grounds can get very annoying when selling you their goods. They just don’t take no for an answer.
- Official Website of Chichen Itza is here.
Other nearby places to see
- Cenote Ik Kil (5.7 km from Chichen Itza)
- Cenote Dzitnup (41 km from Chichen Itza, as you approach Valladolid)
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