Chichén Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage area of immense cultural significance and is without doubt the most popular tourist attraction in the Yucatán Peninsula. It is probably the largest and most famous Mayan site and being only 125 kilometres west of Cancun and Cozumel is easily reached. This ancient Mayan ruin, a major tourist stop in the Yucatan Peninsula, is an awe inspiring place of soaring pyramids, colossal temples, detailed carved columns and home to possibly the first ball game court documented.
The focal point of the region, an amalgam of an older Mayan city and the newer Toltec settlement, is the towering Castillo pyramid, which is fraught with cosmological symbolism.
Its four sides contain 365 steps (depicting the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century as well as each week in the solar year) and 18 terraces (for the 18 months in the religious year).
Inside, the Castillo is an interesting temple accessible up a narrow stairway. During the fall and spring equinoxes, the sun’s shadow forms an enormous snake’s body, which lines up with the carved stone snake head at the bottom of the Castillo pyramid.
Across from El Castillo, the Temple of the Warriors is also known as the Temple of the Thousand Columns. On top of it there is a stone on which steaming human hearts were offered to the gods.
Several smaller buildings hold interest mostly for their sculptures depicting dire events of the time. But one that really makes you sit up and pay attention is the huge ball park, the largest in all of Mesoamerica. Its walls are 82 meters (270 feet) long and 8 meters high (27 feet). The walls are 30 meters apart (99 feet).
The ball court boasts amazing acoustics and it is said that a conversation can be held, in a normal voice, between people who are at either end of the court.
The ball game was played with a heavy rubber ball weighing up to 4 kilograms (almost 9 pounds). The ball would be sent through stone rings placed high on either side of the court.
The legend goes that the captain of the losing team was beheaded upon the completion of the game. However the guides at Chichén Itza tell you that it was actually the winning captain who was beheaded. The carvings, which appear at courtside, appear to back this version up. I don’t think I would have been trying very hard to win if that was the case.
• Open Daily 8:00 am – 5:30 pm
• Evening light show: begins at 7:00 pm each night
• Chichen Itza is open every day of the year
Parking is $10 pesos (less than $1 USD). If you get there late and the lot is full there is free parking along the road. You may freely re-enter the archaeological area, so feel free to leave things in the car and go back for them later. A good idea is to take a cooler and return to the car when you get hungry.
What to Bring
• Mosquito Repellent
• Water Bottle
• Sturdy Shoes – suitable for rough terrain
Chichen Itza is located in the town of Piste, in the state of Yucatan, along the Cancun – Merida highway. Chichen Itza is about 120 km (75 miles) from the city of Merida. Chichen Itza is just over 200 km (125 miles) from the centre of the city of Cancun.