Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Chichen Itza, Mexico

Right in the heart of the Yucatan lies another Mayan great in Chichen Itza, one of the new seven wonders of the world. There are so many old Mayan ruins in Meso-America that it isn't surprising that one of them made the list, and with it's famous pyramid in the central plaza this is probably the most recognisable of the lot. Unfortunately, this comes at a price and as a result it is the most frequented and given it's close proximity to Cancun is something of a tourist trap. Still, this shouldn't take away from the splendour of the place.

Getting here is easy and there are transport links from several towns within a few hours drive from here. The easiest route would be to take a tourist bus but the local buses are so frequent and cheap that unless you want to be surrounded by a bus load of other tourists, you're as well off doing it on your own steam. In my opinion, just take the local buses. If you want a guide, just hire one on site.

Once at the park, there's the standard negotiating of crowds and buying tickets for the park entry and admission, not sure what the difference is there but you need both at these sites. As you go through a 
turnstile, the path is flanked by touts selling everything you have no doubt already seen before at exorbitant prices, so just ignore them unless the promise of 'almost free' goods is too good an opportunity for you to miss. I was definitely sucked in a couple times, almost free, are you kidding me?

After a short walk you come to the main plaza where the Kukulcan pyramid or El Castillo (The Castle) greets you. It is the centre piece of this archeological site and prominently stands out as there is nothing around it but grass. Two side of it have been reworked and if you get lucky you can sneak a decent photo in between the tour groups who incessantly clap to hear the echos from above. Unfortunately, you can't climb up, the same goes for just about all the structures here which isn't surprising given the through traffic.

Of course there is more to Chichen Itza than this momument which so easliy draws in the punters. To the north lies the sacred cenote which Mayans used as their main water source, on the way to this you also pass the Platform of Venus which like any good Mayan platform worth it's salt probably saw its fair share of ceremonies and decapitations.

To the west of the main plaza is the Great Ball Court, which I heard a guide saying was the biggest of it's kind in the Mayan world, (sometimes it is handy to eavesdrop on tour groups). Here they played a sport which could be described as a cross between football and Quidditch, no hands were allowed but you had to put the ball through a hoop attached to the wall. The pitch is surrounded by grandstands with carvings of, to put it mildly, death, and experts say that the captain of the losing team was probably sacrificed. Of course he was.

Adjoining the court is the Temple of Jaguars and just outside of the pavillion is the Lower Temple of Jaguars and the Platform of Jaguars and Eagles, which is adorned with beautiful carvings of skulls and eagles tearing hearts out of living men.

East of the great plaza is the Temple of the Warriors which is surrounded by the Group of the One Thousand Columns, I couldn't tell you if there are 1000 but there are a lot of them. Thankfully the Mayans didn't just build a load of stelae and it is widely acknowledged that they once supported a roof of some great hall or other.

To the south is the High Priest's grave, also known as the Ossuary, due to the fact that it has a communal graveyard in it's foundations. A little further down the path will bring you to El Caracol, the Observatory, where the Mayans were able to look to the skies for guidance and time bearings.

Most of the structures are within close proximity to one another and it is easy to walk around the site in only a couple hours, a day trip in the afternoon would suffice and if you feel the need, a guided tour would only add a little extra time to your day. Easy to get to and visually stunning, it is indeed a treasure and awe inspiring. However, I can't quite help but wonder why this got the nod over Tikal or Palenque, both of which still maintain that mystique, either due to the jungle and overgrowth that surrounds their structures or the fact that they are less busy, which I feel is imperative to a Mayan archeological site. All in all though, this makes for a worthy detour from the chaos of Cancun.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Grattan,
    My name is Toni and I'm with Dwellable.
    I was looking for blogs about Mexico to share on our site and I came across your great Yucatan post and pics...If you're open to it I would like to feature your work with us. Please shoot me an email at toni(at)dwellable(dot)com.
    Hope to hear from you soon!
    -Toni Floor