This New World Wonder has an astounding 1.2 million tourists visit every year, but when you’re there it can feel like that many people visit the ancient Mayan temples every day. However, when I visited Chichén Itzá I was the first person in the park, and we hardly saw another person until we were ready to leave 3 hours later. It was the highlight of my time in Mexico, and you can have the same experience!
Most people visiting will choose to take a tour from either Cancun, which is over two hours away by coach, Merida which is an hour and a half to the West, or the much closer city of Valladolid, which is still almost an hour away.
If you want to beat the tour buses and have this World Wonder to yourself for a few hours then head to the tiny town of Piste. The best part? It’s a 5-minute drive to Chichén Itzá so you can avoid the crowds!
We caught a bus from Cancun and arrived late at night, our only option for accommodation was Posada Kary, basic rooms with AC and an ensuite bathroom, but there are a few options for every budget, including some luxurious resorts inside the archaeological park.
To make the most of your day you need to be up early, grab some breakfast and catch a taxi to the main gates of the park for US$5, or walk the 3km, but be there at 8am when the park opens. You’ll be able to leave Piste that same afternoon!
Your first stop will be the famous El Castillo (the Castle). It’s the one everyone comes to see. It is magnificent. It’s also very clever… it symbolizes the Mayan calendar with its 365 steps and if you stand at the base and clap your hands the sound magically imitates the call of a Quetzal bird.
Chichén Itzá stands at one side of the Toltec Plaza. Behind it stands the Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) surrounded by the Grupo de las Mil Columnas (Group of the Thousand Columns). On the west side is the Gran Juago de Pelota, the ball court, host to a brutal game that involved a bit of decapitation.
Don’t miss the Templo de los Jaguares, the Platforma de Venus and the Tzompantli where heads of the enemies were hung on display. You can also walk to the Cenote Sagrado, the largest in the city.
The southern half of the site is less visited by tourists because the ruins have not been as well restored, but they are the most sacred part for contemporary Maya.
A short distance from the towering El Castillo is the smaller El Osario (the Ossuary) that contains a tomb on each of the five levels and a huge underground cavern where the High Priest was buried.
El Coracol (the Observatory) looks like a modern-day observatory and is quite fascinating. The slits in the roof align with different points of astronomical significance. Nearby Las Monjas is a huge nunnery with an elaborate facade.
You can explore even further into the park and visit the oldest ruins on the site. They are unrestored but it’s a peaceful place to end your visit, because by 11am the tourists will be arriving in the thousands.
As you make your way back to El Castillo you will notice that every path is now lined with local businessmen selling their crafts. Some will be willing to tell you whatever they can about the site, just repay them by buying something small! I bought a tiny Chichén Itzá statue from a little old man and he taught me how to say a few words in the ancient Mayan language.
Leaving the park you will have to battle your way through literally hundreds of people beginning their guided tours, and you will be so thankful that you made the effort to get there early! It makes all the difference!
Cenote Ik Kil
After a long, hot morning walking around the ancient temples of Chichén Itzá what better way to cool off than a visit to the famous Cenote Ik Kil? It’s another US$5 taxi to get there, and you’ll pay Mex$70 (£2.80) to get in, but it’s well worth it.
As you enter the park you look down at the black water 26 meters below you and the green vines overhanging the edge of the sinkhole, reaching the surface of the pool. There is a place to change into swimsuits and lockers to store your valuables.
Follow the stone steps down to the edge of the water and jump in! It’s a crowded spot but it’s fun to watch other people jumping off the different platforms before trying it yourself. The pool itself is 150 meters deep and was used for the 2014 Red Bull Cliff Diving World Series. Absolutely nuts!
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