My Earliest Travel Goal: Chichen Itza

el castillo

I have wanted to see Chichen Itza ever since I was a kid and it was used as the exotic backdrop for a television show I watched.  Ever since, it has been on my bucket list and has driven a number of my other trips to visit Mayan ruins.  Finally this week I was able to cross it off the list….but it wasn’t easy!   

Getting To Chichen Itza From Cancun 

The drive to Chichen Itza from Cancun is about two and a half hours along a direct toll road.  It’s a pretty easy drive as long as you stay on the federal toll road, though the toll cost is pretty high.  We paid about $20 US which we learned was well worth it on the way back.  Unfortunately we missed the entrance on the return trip and it took us four hours to drive back to Cancun, but we did see a lot of true Mexico.  You can also take a tour there and all travel arrangements are taken care of.  

Chichen Itza Tourism Market

When you arrive on site it’s a mad house.  Chichen Itza has been on the tourist circuit since the 1980s and definitely shows the commercialization effects of tourism.  Throughout the site there are vendors with tables set up and peddlers walking through trying to sell their ‘original’ carvings and art.  It’s the first Mayan ruins that I’ve visited where the vendors were not only allowed inside but had rows of shops between key areas of the ruins. 

Then There Was Rain 

At the start of the day the weather forecast showed the possibility for storms…..but why would it rain when I’m trying to do something 20 years in the making???  Well, before we even finished buying tickets and entered the site, the clouds opened up in hurricane fashion.  At first, with the help of some cheap ponchos and a water proof bag cover, the weather was only an inconvenience but then the clouds really opened up and the thunder and lightning began.  It was crazy!  Hundreds of dedicated tourists tried to huddle under anything that might block some rain.  Even with my poncho I was soaked underneath and worried about the contents of my bag getting wet.  Luckily the torrent stopped after about an hour and aside from the clothes on my back everything else stayed reasonably dry somehow.    

Exploring Chichen Itza 

Looking beyond the masses of people, tourists and crazy rain, the site is worth the visit just to understand more about how advanced the Mayans were.  What impressed me most was how the buildings were designed with acoustics in mind. 

When standing in front of the largest temple, you can clap your hands and hear a chirping sound in reply to your claps.  It sounds like a bird but it’s actually the echo reflecting off of the inside of the chamber at the top of the pyramid.  It demonstrates that anyone standing on top of the pyramid would be able to hear people on the ground clear as day and vice versa.  In addition, if you stand at one side of the pyramid stairs and have another person stand at the other side of the stairs, you’ll be able to hear the chirping when you clap your hands but the other person won’t.  In other words, the Mayan ruler could have private conversations with two groups of people where neither party would be able to hear each other of the ruler.  It was impressive! 

Likewise, Chichen Itza has the largest known ball court found to date that also has special acoustics.  Two people can stand at opposite ends of the court and still hear each other hundreds of yards apart.  I’m sure this would have come in handy given the size of the court and only 2-5 players per team.  The game they played was sort of a combination of basketball and soccer.  The players couldn’t use their hands or feet and had to pass around a small rubber ball with the intent to get it through a small hoop on either side of the ball court walls.  Throw in some bumper cars and its sort of like whirleyball, only whoever loses is put to death in order to ensure blessings from the gods. 

In the end, Chichen Itza isn’t the most impressive Mayan city I have visited but it was certainly an adventure and rewarding.  It’s amazing to me to think about who I was as a kid when I thought, ‘I want to go there one day’ and the fact that this week I actually did it.  

Have you been?  What did you think? 

chichen itza finally 500
El Castillo – the largest pyramid on site.  Amazing acoustics! 
el castillo
el castillo corner
el castillo serpent
On each equinox the stepped levels of the pyramid cast a shadow on the edge of the stairs leading to the serpent’s head so it looks like the stairway is the body of the serpent.  Next show is December 21, 2012! …..maybe.

el castillo long serpent

me chichen itza

me close chichen itza
Only pillars remain of an ancient building.  
Cenote – a water reservoir.  We really go to see the drainage in action with all the rain.  It poured down the site from the main city area into the cenote. 
A Mayan temple near El Castillo. 
A Mayan temple near El Castillo. 

mayan serpent pillars 2

mayan serpent pillars

mayan temple shaded
A smaller Mayan pyramid. 
A smaller Mayan pyramid. 
The Serpent is one of the most revered Mayan symbols, seen below watching over the Ball Court. 
The Serpent is one of the most revered Mayan symbols, seen below watching over the Ball Court. 
ball court
The full length of the Ball Court.  Can you see me?  No?  If you were standing here you’d be able to hear me. 
ball court hoop
There is one hoop on each wall that the small ball must be thrust though.  No hands or feet can be used! 

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