Yesterday we went to Chichen Itza, one of the largest Maya cities, a major archaeological site and a must-see tourist attraction when in Yucatan. We drove two hours through a few small towns and made a pit stop in one of them after we saw a “cornbread and coconut candy” sign for a roadside bakery (treats: my favorite reason to stop). The bread and the candy were fresh and quite tasty; our treats vanished quickly as we obviously had to “sample” everything right away.
Once we arrived at Chichen Itza we were welcomed by countless tour buses that filled the parking lot and lots of white people in cargo shorts and panama hats, so we knew we were in the right place. We headed to the ticket booth and asked about the nightly light show, that we had read about on the official Chichen Itza website, which we were told was cancelled…over a year ago. Nevertheless, we purchased our four tickets (yes, you need to purchase two tickets per person from two separate booths… absurd!) and went in.
As soon as we passed through the ticket gate, we were immediately at the base of “El Castillo” or Temple of Kukulcan (the Maya feathered serpent deity), a 30 meter-high step temple that dominates the site. El Castillo is probably the most well-known building in Chichen Itza, not only because of its impressive, near-perfect condition, but due to the wondrous occurrence on each spring and autumn equinoxes where shadows cast down the northwest corner of the pyramid evoke the image of a serpent wriggling down the staircase.
Other main structures that we visited were the Great Ball Court, which was used for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame (which was also where our camera battery died and we had to rely on Greg’s low-battery point-and-shoot the rest of the way); the Temple of the Warriors complex that consisted of a large stepped pyramid with several carved columns depicting warriors; and the Cenote Sagrado, a 60-meter diameter sinkhole with water where the Maya performed sacrifices during times of drought to satisfy the gods.
I visited Chichen Itza over 15 years ago and a lot has changed since then. It is a beautiful site, but Greg and I were disappointed to see that, from the time you entered the parking lot, the site was full of vendors along each and every pathway. The magic of Chichen Itza was interrupted by the constant noise of drums, man-made jaguar noises and “hello amigo, free today. OK, one dollar, 10 pesos only for you!”.
After two hours of wondering about we heard a few whistle blows from the staff as they told everyone to leave as they were now closed. This was the best time of our visit as the large tour groups had already left and the few stragglers that remained started to head to the exit and the vendors busily packed up their tables. The site emptied out quickly, which gave us some quiet, magical moments to appreciate the beauty of the site and the opportunity to take some fun photos.
As we were walked to the exit past the vendors who were still busy packing up for the day, we came across a super cool wood-carved serpent that had caught both of our eyes. After some negotiation for a closing-time deal we agreed to pay $400 pesos for it. Little did we know though, that we only had $375 pesos left in our pockets, which in the end worked to our advantage in negotiations as we got it for that price. The only downside was that we were left with just 10 pesos in our pockets and a two hour drive back home. We hoped that nothing would go wrong on our drive back or we would be doomed. We took the free road back to Merida and refrained from eating or drinking along the way; the serpent was definitely worth it however.
If you are around the area, don’t miss seeing this UNESCO World Heritage Site as it is definitely a beautiful thing to experience.
Enjoy the photos!