El Castillo (Pyramid of Kukulcán), Chichen Itza’s most spectacular Maya relic. Photo by Olaf Tausch. Sadly, you can no longer climb these monumental stairs, nor the Temple of the Warriors.
How to see Chichén Itzá
The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Chichén Itzá is a Maya city that peaked in importance around 600 AD.
This huge and partially ruined city in Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula features Kukulkan/El Castillo and half a dozen other magnificent structures, monuments and carvings in a grand green space, some well restored.
El Castillo is arguably the prettiest pyramid in the world, made of stone and measuring 65 metres high, 200 metres on each side.
This is not the biggest pyramid in the world, that’s the still overgrown Cholula near Mexico City.
Opening time 8. 0am to 4. 30pm unless you stay in the Mayaland Hotel which is inside Chichen Itza. However we hear that Mayaland facilities are shabby, the food and service poor and the prices high. Still. . .
Quite a number of visitors are disappointed by Chichen Itza and feel it should not be included in the listing of New Wonders of the World. So if you choose to go don’t have expectations that are too high and try to avoid arriving on a tour bus as 11am!
There are two major downsides to the Chichen experience. Unless you calculate the timing of your visit with care there will be an invasion of barbarians happening simultaneously that will make the conquistadores look insignificant.
And you can’t climb many of the better monuments, including the Great Pyramid of Kukulcán. But you can climb the very tall pyramid of Ixmoja at Coba that’s 56 miles (90 kms) east and gives a spectacular panorama over the forest.
Some of the more popular Chichen Itza monuments
The Great Ballcourt
The Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars, an elaborately carved platform located between the Temple of Venus and the Platform of Skulls, with stone jaguar, feathered serpent columns and murals
The Cenote Sagrado (a sacred cave/lake)
The Observatory (El Caracol)
The Platform of Skulls
Various Sweatbaths which played an important rôle in ancient Maya spiritual traditions as places to purify the mind, body and emotions.
The magnificent view – no longer visible to most – from the top of the Kukulkan pyramid towards the Templo de los Guerreros (Warrior Temple) giving a clear view of the flat, dense green vegetation of most of the Yucatan peninsula.
Unlike Egyptian pyramids which were solid stone, Maya pyramids were usually built over a mound of earth or rubble.
The Maya also constructed fresh, larger pyramids on top of older ones so tunnels have been excavated allowing tourists a view of the earlier temple of Kukulcan inside the current one. Look for the door at the foot of the north stairway and go up a steep interior stairway to the room at the top where you can see King Kukulcan’s Jaguar Throne, carved of stone and painted red with jade spots. It’s impressive but the climb up the constrictive passageway may be a struggle against screaming claustrophobia.