Chosen as one of the new seven world wonders in 2007, Chichen Itza is the most famous of all Mexican archaeological ruins. But is it worth all the hype?
Where is it?
Chichen Itza can be found in the Yucatan province, in the southeastern part of Mexico. It is 200 kilometres (2-3 hours of driving) west of Cancun, around 100 kilometres east of Merida. The quiet colonial town of Valladolid is the perfect jumping base, just please don’t disturb the peace of the lovely village. There are direct buses leaving from Valladolid bus terminal.
Why is it famous?
You will know Chichen Itza because of El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulcan. It’s a pyramid with 91 steps on each side, culminating in a temple on top. This is where everyone takes their selfies.
More to see?
Yes, there’s more than El Castillo. The ball court is on your left side before the central pyramid, and it’s the biggest in Mexico. A game called ‘pok to pok’ was played there, a tradition that is still being kept alive once a week in Merida.
Behind the Temple of Kukulcan is a group of structures around the Mil Columnas, the thousand columns you will instantly recognize. The Table Temple and Los Guerreros can also be found in this quieter part of the area. All are examples of the local Toltec architecture.
The second big group of structures starts with El Osario, a smaller pyramid than El Castillo. Further on is the Grupo de Las Monjas, including the beautiful El Observatorio, which probably functioned as an observatory. Akab Dzib is the last meaningful ruin here.
If you arrive late in the afternoon, wait for the light show which is held every evening.
Worth the buzz?
Yes and no. The main attractions (Castillo, Observatorio) are impressive achievements of civilization. But you can’t climb them, only admire from a distance. Then there are the massive amounts of market stalls. You actually feel more at an open air market than at an archaeological site. You even have to walk through a covered markat at the main visitors building to reach the exit. Mayan Disneyland, that’s what Chichen Itza is.