©istock.com/JuanIgnacioSoto
©istock.com/JuanIgnacioSoto

Exploring the majestic pyramids of Chichen Itza

3 minutes to read

Chichen Itza is deemed one of the seven wonders of the world and for good reason; these mighty and mysterious ruins convey the uncanny intelligence of the pre-Colombian Mayans in the execution of an architectural feat so perfectly and poetically connected to the earth´s rotation around the sun. Chichen Itza is located in the state of Yucatan and lies at the mouth of a giant cenote, the main source of water for which the city was named; Chichen Itza in Maya means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” According to scholars, the ruins show a diversity of architectural styles indicating a culturally diverse population and the immensity of the ruins themselves reveals Chichen Itza to have been one of the largest Mayan cities to have existed. The city itself declined before the Spanish conquest and the cause of its demise still remains a disputed mystery amongst archeologists and historians today.

Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza
Chichén Itzá, Yuc., México

For those unfamiliar with Mayan culture and history, their spiritual beliefs and culture revolved around the connection between the sun, the moon and the harvest for which they consequently developed an incredibly complex and accurate calendar and study of planetary alignment. This is evident in the construction and placement of the largest pyramid in Chichen Itza known as el Castillo or el Templo de Kukulcan (temple of the plumed serpent). Ancient Mayan astronomers were able to accurately calculate the spring and fall equinoxes as well as the summer and winter solstices all equally distributed with 92 days between each event creating the 365-day calendar we use today. In reverence to these sacred days, architects of the temple of Kukulcan designed the temple and mapped its precise location with detailed deliberation so that during the equinoxes, the sun casts a shadow in the shape of a serpent that descends the pyramid and aligns perfectly with the two serpent heads erected at its base. This phenomenon can still be witnessed today during the equinoxes and the days leading up to and following them.

©istock.com/Eder Maioli
©istock.com/Eder Maioli

How to get there

The cheapest yet longest way to get to Chichen Itza from the Riviera Maya is by taking a bus. Bus rides range from 4 to 5 hours in duration depending on whether you purchase first, second or third class bus tickets since the cheaper bus lines make more stops. Renting a car cuts the duration of the trip nearly in half as most people report car travel between 2.5 and 3 hours. In a car, Chichen Itza can be a day trip, but if four to five hours round trip is too much for you, I recommend breaking up the road trip by staying a night or two in the quaint town of Valladolid and touring the surrounding cenotes before driving the remaining 45 minutes to the pyramids.

Valladolid Yucatan
Valladolid Yucatan
Valladolid, Yucatan, Mexico

Private tours are highly recommended because not only do they provide an abundance of interesting and revelatory information about the archeological site, but they also generally stop off at a cenote on the way back.

©istock.com/ventdusud
©istock.com/ventdusud

When to go

Based on the aforementioned description of the majestic architectural design and layout of the pyramids, obviously the ideal time to go would be during either of the equinoxes or the days leading up to and or following them so that you can witness for yourself the shadow of Kukulcan the serpent descending its temple. That being said, the pyramids are open year-round and are fascinating and well worth visiting whichever day of the year you may be vacationing. I recommend coming during the week for smaller crowds. Sundays in Mexico are the most crowded days for archeological sites and museums as citizens get in for free so its best to avoid the Sunday crowd.

Whether you are a history buff, a beach bum or a water sports junkie, a trip to the Riviera Maya warrants a visit to Chichen Itza. These powerful and magnificent ruins live up to their hype as one of the seven wonders of the world.


The author

Julia Holland

Julia Holland

Hello, I am Julia and I live in Mexico. I came to Mexico as an anthropologist working in Chiapas and I fell in love with this country: the pure and savage beauty of nature, the humility and warmth of the local people, the rich and varied culture. I decided to stay and Mexico is what I call home.

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