Chichen Itza. Temple in Mexico, North America

Chichen Itza

Temple in Mexico, North America

Chichen Itza Photo © Duane Storey

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Chichen Itza

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	Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza. Photo by unknown
Chichen Itza is one of the new Seven Wonders of the World and sits on the Peninsula of Yucatan in Mexico (Wikipedia Article). This temple was the ceremonial center of the Yucatan. Even though we know Chichen Itza as the temple, the name is actually derived from the largest Mayan City, where the people were called Itzas. The city was abandoned numerous times and in the 1500s, the Spaniards found the city in ruins, overrun by the surrounding jungle. The city was rediscovered in 1842 by a lawyer from [New York.

A funny story that tour guides will tell you is that you can pronounce it like “chicken pizza” without the “P” in pizza, in order to remember how to say it.

What is Chichen Itza?

What was once called El Castillo by Spanish explorers, Chichen Itza is a large pyramid that represents Mayan culture. It's more than that however, the large monument has an interesting feature – it is a Mayan calendar. It was built almost 1,000 years ago and is now a popular spot for tourists.

The Mayan calendar differs from our modern day calendar in that it has 18 months instead of 12. The Chichen Itza pyramid has exactly 18 terraces on each side of it and 365 steps leading to the summit; each representing a day in a year.

On the spring and autumn equinoxes, there is an even more impressive feature that Chichen Itza showcases. By a trick of light, visitors during these equinoxes can see the serpents move that are carved into the structure. The afternoon sun creates this illusion and it is a sight to behold.

El Castillo,
	Chichén Itzá - Chichen Itza
El Castillo, Chichén Itzá - Chichen Itza. Photo by Paul Simpson

The History of Chichen Itza

What many people may not know is that the Mayans were just as advanced as the ancient Romans and Greeks in their knowledge of civilization. Like the Romans and Greeks, the Mayans were advanced mathematicians, astronomers, architects, and athletes.

While no one knows for sure what caused the Maya Collapse, leaving everything abandoned, some have theories such as drought, disease, an environmental disaster, and even climate change. There are also non-ecological theories like peasant revolt, overpopulation, foreign invasion, and collapse of key trade routes. Even with scientific advances and the ability to gauge data such as rainfall with high resolution climate models, no one knows what really happened that caused the Mayans to basically abandon their home.

Chichen Itza, Yucatan Discovery Trip
Chichen Itza bus. Photo by David Gordillo

Visiting Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is just a 90-minute drive from Merida or Cancun and a popular tourist site. Along the road that carves its way through the jungle, you'll see spotted pigs, large vultures, jungle flora, and even Mayans who make their home along the way.

Many tour buses visit the area fare price? admission fee? and although you can rent a car, keep in mind that road signs are in Spanish.

Keep In Mind

One thing to keep in mind when visiting Chichen Itza is that you can no longer climb or touch the ruins. Up until 2006, you could indeed climb the ruins inside and out. However, the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia (Wikipedia Article) had talked about closing it so as to preserve the area since the climbs were corroding and wearing down the steps. With so many people on the climb, it became dangerous due to people getting too close to each other, sweat forming on the stairs, and a very steep staircase. When a woman fell to her death from the climb, it was finally closed. Still, you can enjoy the picturesque view and experience the culture and history of the Mayan people at this location and the many temples of Mexico.

Places to Visit Nearby

If you're not taking a tour bus to Chichen Itza and want to visit some of the places nearby, there are a few you may enjoy.
  • Balankanche (Wikipedia Article) Caves is a refreshing underground walk where you can see caverns of stalagmites and stalactites. It is a Mayan ceremonial shrine so you're also exposed to more of the Mayan culture and it is just 6 km (or 4.8 kilometers) away from Chichen Itza.
  • Tulum is another pyramid close by and while it is not as large as Chichen Itza, it is closer to the hotels in the area and has a beach where you can swim after a hot day.
  • Just three hours away, you can enjoy a day of fun at the Eco-park, Xcaret. It's not extremely close to Chichen Itza but if you're enjoying the Yucatán Peninsula (Wikipedia Article) for a few days, this is a trip well worth making.

There is also plenty of bird-watching you can enjoy since a bird refuge is located nearby. You may see a variety of birds including flycatchers and these are easily seen from many areas, even hotels.

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Author: Karsun. Last updated: Apr 17, 2015

Pictures of Chichen Itza

1000 Pillars_Chichen Itza_Mexico_Sep12 - Chichen Itza
1000 Pillars_Chichen Itza_Mexico_Sep12 - Photo by Ian


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