Welcome to the true treasure of the Yucatan Peninsula! Stretching until the north of Yucatan, the Chichen Itza ruins refers to a vast pre-Columbian site of the Mayan civilization. The name itself means ‘at the mouth of the Itza well’, which point towards a flourished city of the history as the main trade hub in the northern Maya lowlands. Today, a majority of tourists plan for a day trip from Merida (1.5 hours) or Cancun (2.5 hours).
The Chichen Itza ruins reveal a mix of various stone architectural patterns all accessible via a dense web of some 100 cobbled roads that are known as sacbeob. All of the structures are well arranged in a systematic manner to form architectural groups as per the styles: Great North Platform with El Castillo, the Great Ball Court, and Temple of Warriors; the Central Group encompassing the Caracol and Las Monjas; and The Ossario Group holding the Ossario pyramid and the Temple of Xtoloc. Now, this does not mean there are only these many structures here; in fact, the list is very vast that can make your trip to extend beyond a day.
One of the most impressive Chichen Itza ruins is the El Castillo (The Castle), but in reality, it is not a fort. It is the Temple of Kukulkan in the shape of a step pyramid with staircases to be atop as well as floor with square terraces. This is worth a watch especially on the days of spring and autumn equinox when the sunrise and sunset generates a serpent shadow at the corner in the north staircase’s west. When you see this wonder, you know as to why the temple is named Kukulcan or Quetzalcoatl (serpent). Just below this temple, there is one more temple with a figurine of Chac Mool as well as a Jaguar-shaped throne.
The Great Ball Court here is the largest of its kind in Mesoamerica and can be seen to the north-west of the above temple. It features a series of interlinked serpents on the soaring walls’ tip as well as the sloping benches with the ball players’ panels on the floor. Between the El Castillo and Cenote Sagrado, there is Platform of Venus dedicated to the planet and adorned with huge stone cones. Just a few steps away, the Sacbe Number One can be seen, which is the largest white road here and leads one to the Cenote Sagrado.
Cenote Sagrado is one of the natural sinkholes for pushing ground water upwards, but is a sacred one as well as impressive with steep cliffs. This was where the Mayas performed sacrifices in times of drought to gain water. And yes, many offerings like skeletons of children, shell, gold, jade, obsidian, cloth, and wood were found here. To the east of the el Castillo is the Temple of the Tables, the northernmost edifice named so for its series of altars on the top connected by the figurines of raised arms of men.
Temple of the Warriors is also worth a watch. This is big stepped pyramid featuring columns of warriors (thus its name) as well as a stairway leading to the top where a Chac Mool temple resides. Along its south wall, the Group of a Thousand Columns that once might have supported a vast roof. All the columns are divided into three groups: the north group with pillars as well as soldiers’ bas-reliefs by the side of the south wall; east group in the temple’s front; and a northeast group with the sculptings of gods, animals, people, and serpents.
Steam Bath is also visible among the Chichen Itza ruins with a waiting gallery, a steam chamber with the heated stones, and a water bath. Do explore the Ossario with staircases perched on all sides as well as a temple atop taking one inside until a natural cave underground. Located in the south of the Ossario, the House of the Metates and House of the Mestizas are miniature structures that are assumed to be the VIP homes.
The Temple of Xtoloc with a myriad of inlaid pilasters reveals the carvings of birds, plants, people, and mythological episodes. One more remarkable structure is the Las Monjas that holds Terminal Classic buildings revealing the Puuc architectural style. Here, look for a small Church that boasts beautiful masks of the rain god Chaac. There is also something called as the Old Chichen that encompasses the south structures of the main site: the Phallic Temple, Initial Series Group, the Temple of the Owls, the Temple of the Monkeys, and the Platform of the Great Turtle.
I would recommend to stay overnight in one of the nearby hotels to explore the ruins with adequate time. Options: Hacienda Chichen Resort & Spa from $189, Hotel Chichen Itza from $50, and Villas Arqueologicas from $60.
8 am to 5 pm daily
Chichen Itza Photo Gallery