Explore Chichén Itza

December 17, 2022
Nick

The ancient ruins of Chichén Itza are a world-renowned archaeological site and was designated a UNESCO Heritage Site in 1988. This Pre-Columbian Maya city has a history that spans more than 1000 years and includes the most famous of any Maya building, El Castillo or the Temple of Kukulcán. This building is so iconic, that any Google image search of the Maya is sure to include several views of this pyramid.

Visiting this amazing city is an incredible experience and one that is highly recommended. If you are looking for some tips as well as general information about Chichén Itza to make your visit even more, you’ve come to the right place! The city is open to tourists every day of the year, with each day having from 3,500-8,000 people visit. Read on to learn more about the history of this sacred site, explore how to get there, and discover what to expect once you arrive. 

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History of Chichén Itza 

Chichén Itza was founded in the Late Classic Period, around AD 600 when it was first just a smaller city center, especially in comparison to the grand city-states of the Classic, such as Tikal and Calakmul. The location was chosen due to its proximity between two natural water sources. The Yucatan Peninsula has a karst landscape, meaning that it is made of a limestone bedrock, with little free flowing water on the surface. Instead, water is mostly found in underground rivers and cave system. Often, when the surface breaks into a sinkhole, these fill with water and become wells, or cenotes. 

According to Maya history and archeological reseaerch, Chichén Itza and other cities in the Northern Lowlands did not become a major until the Terminal Classic Period, which corresponds to the so-called Maya collapse. While great cities in the Central Lowlands of Guatemala declined and were mostly abandoned during this period, Chichén Itza thrived. Migrations of Maya and Toltec groups (from Central Mexico) created a population and architectural boom within the city, with key structures having a mix of designs from the two cultures. By 900 AD, it was home to an estimated 25,000 people.

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According to Spanish Colonial records, Chichén Itza was conquered by the rulers of Mayapan, another Northern Yucatan city, in the 12th century. These records were written hundreds of years after this was meant to have happened, so need to be considered with a grain of salt. Archaeological works indicates that Chichén Itza began to decline in power and prestige around 1100 AD, prior to the rise of Mayapan. This decline was largely limited to elite activity; the city remained a thriving urban settlement until the arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century. 

Getting There

Chichén Itza is located in the eastern part of the Yucatán state in Mexico and can be easily reached by car or bus from Cancun or Merida. While only two and a half hours from Cancun, it may be fun to make it an overnight trip so that you can explore more of Mexico, stay overnight at hotels at nearby towns or near to the site entrance, and get an early start to beat the heat.

Once you arrive at the site entrance, you’ll need to pay an entrance fee before passing through security checkpoints into the site itself. Visitors are free to roam around and explore each area as they wish, alone or with one the well trained and incredibly knowledgeable guides available for hire in multiple languages.

If you want a more formal tour experience, don’t speak Spanish, or just don’t want the hassle, an organized tour with a set schedule may be the best option for you. Many tour companies operate from both Cancun and Merida, as well as other bases. These will be well-organized day trips and may include additional options such as swimming or eating traditional Mexican, Yucatec, and Maya foods. While at Chichén Itza itself, your guide will provide insightful information about each structure’s history and significance, as well as having an incredible knowledge of Maya history as a whole.

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What To Expect  

Aerial view of ancient Mayan city Chichen Itza

When visiting Chichén Itza during the high season (April - August), it’s important to be aware that there will likely be crowds of people visiting at any given time so plan accordingly for busy areas! Additionally, it is advised that visitors dress appropriately for the hot climate - wear light clothing such as shorts or skirts, materials that breath well, wear a hat or visor, and use plenty of sunscreen that you can reapply through the day. ALWAYS bring plenty of water so that you stay hydrated throughout your visit!  Food options are in place at the entrances of the site, so if you’ll be exploring inside for a while, bring some snacks. 

It may be tempting to climb the stairs on the structures, but this is strictly prohibited. Some structures may have wooden staircases built for you to travel to the top, but DO NOT climb the original stairs. These structures are at least 1000 years old, and though it is incredibly impressive that they have survived the rain and weathering of those years, if they were to hold the footsteps of thousands of people every year they would quickly fall apart. Also, remember that these buildings are temples sacred to the Maya people of the past and present. Be respectful.

Chichén Itza is also still an active archaeological site, so you may be able to meet some real archaeologists. While it may be fun to see what they are doing, remember that they are professionals working at their job. Be respectful and limit your questions so that they can continue to do their work.                                

Conclusion

A trip to Chichén Itza is sure to be full of historical exploration and breathtaking sights! With these helpful tips in mind—such as understanding the importance of dressing appropriately for hot temperatures—you will have no problem making your visit enjoyable and hassle-free. So don't wait any longer – start planning your trip today!

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