Skip to Content

Chichen-Itza – Exploring The Ancient Mayan World

Mexico is home to unbelievably stunning ruins and archaeological sites. One such site became a UNESCO world heritage site in 1998 and then earned the title world wonder in 2007, and that’s Chichen Itza!

Location of Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is located in the south-central region of Yucatán State in Mexico. It’s 120 kilometres from the bustling city of Mérida and approximately 150 kilometres from Uxmal.

The area is arid and stunning. If you are planning a tour here right after arriving in Mexico, then we suggest you directly arrive at Mérida International Airport.

It’s closer than travelling all the way to Yucatán State from Mexico City (Capital of Mexico) – which can take about a day’s drive. While it simply takes 2 hours from Mérida.

Chichen Itza – History 101

The word ‘Chi’ translates to mouths, and ‘chen’ stands for wells, while Itza is the name of the Mayan tribe that settled in the region and left behind these ancient temples.

One thing that many historians have been able to gather is that the Mayans were an advanced civilisation that thrived in areas of astronomy, architecture, engineering and concerningly dramatic sacrificial rituals.

During 967 A.D. – 987 A.D., the Toltec warriors took over the place and established the 2nd settlement in Chichen Itza. It led to the unique marriage between the Mayan and the Toltec traditions.

A fusion that was well depicted in some of the buildings like the El Castillo, the Jaguar Temple, and even the Great Ball Court.

Touring the Chichen Itza

Exploring this ancient archaeological site was quite like travelling to a futuristic past. If that makes any sense.

Getting to Chichen Itza

You already know the least time-consuming way to make it here.

Given that Chichen Itza was not our first destination in Mexico to explore, we made our way slowly to the town of Valladolid, got up super early the next day and made our way to the ADO bus stand to save ourselves a seat in a Collectivo.

It’s a budget-friendly large van that carries a handful of travellers to other prominent tourist destinations like Chichen Itza.

It took us 45 minutes, and it cost around 2 USD per person. However, you will have to wait till the seats are filled, but the good news is it fills up fast.

Ticket Office

The Ticket Office is open from 8.00 a.m.

The sooner you make it, the quicker you can start exploring. A ticket per adult will cost around 29 USD and 4 USD for kids between the age of 3-12.

Once we grabbed our tickets, we made our way to the much-awaited world wonder.

El Castillo (a.k.a.Temple of Kukulkan)

Pyramid El Castillo

It’s the iconic symbol of Chichen Itza. The incredible pyramid is named to pay homage to a Mayan Diety that’s said to appear as a feathered dragon. The structure is approximately 100 feet high and stands out in an imposing grandeur despite being ancient.

It looks relatively harmless now, considering it was a stage for some of the bloodiest-human sacrifices in history.

Each side of the pyramid consists of 91 steps. With the final step right at the top, it adds to a total of 365 steps. While it would have been amazing if we could climb to the very top and get a once-in-a-lifetime view of the Chichen Itza landscape and beyond – it’s no longer allowed.

However, there was another experiment we did try. When we clapped our hands, it recreated the sound of the Quetzal bird (a sacred Mayan bird) and it echoes right back.

The sounds come directly from the pyramid, it’s insane, but the feat of brilliance in architectural and engineering design is astounding.

The Phenomenon of El Castillo

This incredible phenomenon happens at the spring and fall equinoxes as the sun sets.

Given how the structure is designed with mathematical precision, the light plays with the shadows, creating a form that appears similar to a body of a snake, which connects to the stone snake heads at the bottom – completing the form of a full snake.

The Great Ball Court

It’s safe to say it’s the game zone of the city. According to research, the ground is 160 metres long and 70 metres wide. It’s insanely spacious – BUT, even with scattered crowds all over this vast ground, we could hear their voices clearly from the other end. 

This space was used for a Mayan game called Pok Ta Pok, where a team played another attempting to put a ball through a ring made of thick stone, as many times as possible.

While putting a ball through that ring once, which is fixed nearly 7 metres above ground seems extremely impressive, the game had a very gruesome end for the losing team, who became sacrifices for the Gods after the game.

Talk about taking sportsmanship a little too much to heart (pun intended).

The Sacred Cenote

On our way to this ancient open well, we found many little stalls – packed with local goodies you can buy as souvenirs, one souvenir that caught our attention was a whistle which had been carved in the shape of a Jaguar’s head.

When you blow, it emits a sound of a Jaguar, which is pretty cool – we always encourage travellers to show support to the local businesses around the area when visiting.

When we reached the well, the first thing we noticed, is that the water looked green yet murky -unsurprisingly, given it’s quite exposed and abandoned. What was surprising is the size and depth of it.

The Mayans believed that there was a water god in the deep. So, it ended up becoming a watery grave for many Mayans, who were sacrificed to the Water God.

Temple of the Warriors

Temple of the Warriors

It’s another insanely epic temple left in ruins. What remains are square-cut columns, that depict faded carvings of Mayan warriors and other intricate patterns, which we believe tell stories of the warriors who brought glory to this Mayan Civilisation at the time.

Maybe because of its dilapidated state, we didn’t find the structure imposing in the way we expected it to be. However, you could spend a long moment observing these structures before moving on to the next.

The Thousand Columns

On the right side of the Temple of the Warriors, you’ll find a group of columns: it’s an area full of exposed columns that are believed to have supported a large roof.

There are speculations that it may have been a marketplace, but we can’t confirm 100%. The columns here are circular instead of square, unlike in the Temple of the Warrior.

El Caracol (a.k.a. The Observatory)

El caracol

The Observatory has to be the most incredible structure after El Castillo. What’s left of the dome is a cylindrical body and a dilapidated roof.

Since the tower was already in a highly elevated position, it no doubt gave the Mayans a clear, 360-degree view of the sky and the landscape beyond. A nearby guide even added that the tower was found to be carefully aligned with the motions of the planet Venus.

After all, Mayans considered Venus as the Sun’s twin and the symbol of their War God. It’s possible that the Mayans even planned their battles and raids based on the changing position of Venus.  

Frequently Asked Questions About Chichen Itza

What is the best time to visit Chichen Itza?

Early as possible. You can beat the crowds and the heat.

What time is the Ticket Office open?

The Ticket Office is open from 8.00 a.m. – 5.00.p.m. from Monday – Friday.

What Is the best season to visit?

The weather is perfect from November to March. The rainy season starts in June.

Is there a dress code?

No, come dressed to walk and explore. Walking shoes would be the most practical choice.

What else should you carry when exploring Chichen Itza?

  • Have a hat or a cap.
  • Plenty of water, it can get very hot
  • Wear sunscreen.
Editorially Reviewed By:

Nichola is a writer/editor and a shy foodie who shares a very soft spot for all things travel. She considers herself to be an island girl at heart, and nothing excites her more than learning about new places people can explore and biting into a slice of sweet melon on a hot and sunny day.

She has specialized in travel writing for over 5 years, all the while being a lifelong (die-hard) anime fan!