Chichén Itzá: Run over by tour groups, yet enjoyable

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery

Chichén Itzá (चिचेन ईत्सा) is a beautiful Maya archeological site and one of Mexico’s top tourist attractions. The place features in UNESCO’s world heritage list and was chosen as one of the new seven wonders of the world. Back in the day, this was a thriving Maya city, complete with beautiful buildings, squares, markets and residences.

↑ El Castillo, the castle, is the famous stepped pyramid with carved serpent heads at the base of its stairs and a temple at the top. During the Spring and Autumn equinox, light and shadows along the stairs evoke the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase. You can’t climb this pyramid but there are plenty of other pyramids to climb!

Should you avoid visiting here?

Due to its proximity to Cancun and Mexico’s party and beach resort zone, this place attracts a huge amount of tourists. Most tourists visit Chichen Itza get picked up from their resorts, driven to this site by luxury buses and get dropped back in the evening after some souvenir shopping, in a very insular form of tourism.

On my return flight to Toronto, I met a number of people at the airport who, despite having spent two weeks in Mexico, were not only terrified by the idea of stepping outside their beach resort but also gave me sympathetic looks for being forced to rely on second class public buses for travel. On well, I don’t want to impose my idea of fun. 🙂

↑ Intimidating sculptures of feathered serpent heads. The feathered serpent is a prominent supernatural entity or deity, found in many Mesoamerican religions, where being feathered represents its divine nature or ability to fly to reach the skies and being a serpent represents its human nature or ability to creep on the ground among other animals of the Earth.

About a million tourists visit Chichen Itza each year in this fashion. You see people shouting, running around, insulting locals and doing things that are prohibited, such as climbing restored pyramids and buildings. Besides being disrespectful, this model of tourism is against everything I stand for.

Most independent travellers I met told me about this and the general tone on several blogs suggested that this site can be skipped especially if you have visited Uxmal. Nevertheless, I decided to go because the presence of tour groups is not a convincing reason to avoid a place. At the end, I think it’s really difficult to not like Chichen Itza. If you can ignore the annoying crowds around you, nothing will keep you from enjoying this place.

↑ “El Caracol” observatory temple with stone spiral staircase inside. Is theorized to have been a proto-observatory with doors and windows aligned to astronomical events, specifically around the path of Venus.

This sacred site was one of the greatest Mayan centres of the Yucatán peninsula. Throughout its nearly 1,000-year history, different peoples have left their mark on the city. The Maya and Toltec vision of the world and the universe is revealed in their stone monuments and artistic works. The fusion of Mayan construction techniques with new elements from central Mexico make Chichen-Itza one of the most important examples of the Mayan-Toltec civilization in Yucatán. Several buildings have survived, such as the Warriors’ Temple, El Castillo and the circular observatory known as El Caracol.
UNESCO World Heritage website.

↑ “Templo de los Guerreros”, Temple of the Warriors, is a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This is remarkably similar to the Toltec warrior statues at Tula.

Tip: Chichen Itza has a baggage storage office and it’s very cheap. I took a morning bus from Merida, stopped at Chichen Itza and hopped on an afternoon bus to Valladolid, the next big town. Very simple and much better than doing a round-trip.

↑ Chichen-Itza’s main pyramid partially restored. Each of the pyramid’s four sides has 91 steps which, when added together and including the temple platform on top as the final ‘step’, produces a total of 365 steps. hmm…

I am always curious to hear people’s thoughts on visiting famous and crowded sites. I don’t mind checking out the star attractions, do you?

This post is part of my Mexico travel series: Travel stories | Photo gallery