Chichen Itza – Mother of the Mayan Temples in Mexico

In grand style Chichen Itza is the mother of all the Mayan Temples in the Mexico, so you can expect it to be a popular and impressive place.  I know – Chichen Itza is touristy, but it’s a marvel we have to see. It’s hard not to be stunned by the massive structures of Chichen Itza.

We’d been to Teotihuacan in Mexico City, Ek Balam,Tulum and Tikal, but this was the famous picture we went in search of.

It’s one of the most visited sites of Mayan Temples on Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula and that’s where we’re headed today.


Words and photos can’t describe what it felt like to see this splendid pyramid right before my eyes.

We arrive at 8am, it’s peaceful and cool at this time of the morning. The giant, spacious and manicured grounds are desolate and quiet.

The peacefulness and space is all ours for now…

Chichen Itza – oh the Grandeur

I am suitably impressed with the grandeur and scale.  So much so, that I just had to act like a typical tourist, no apologies here.

Acting like a tourist…has to be done sometimes…

The most famous and important building in Chichén Itzá is ‘El Castillo’,  a representation of the Mayan God ‘Quetzalcoatl’ meaning Feathered Serpent – a Mayan supernatural deity.

Recently added as one of the Seven New Wonders of the World  this is one mean piece of architecture.

El Castillo – It’s a real work of art made with precision engineering and intricate mathematical calculations.

Standing in front and gazing upward…’El Castillo’ reaches 24 metres high up into the perfect blue sky and stands on a 55 metre platform from which 4 stairwells emerge, representing the cardinal points.

The number of steps, added, equate to the 365 days of the year. It’s a real work of art made with precision engineering and mathematical calculations.

It has me wondering…

  • How on earth did they build this here?
  • Where did they get all the materials from?
  • Where did everybody go that built it …and why did they leave?
Then I noticed something really interesting.
Watching others clapping in front of the pyramid; the pyramid “answered”, clearly in the voice of the quetzal bird, a messenger of the Gods.
Wow, an echo, how fascinating!
Now I am wondering again…
Were acoustics purposely built into the structure?

The crowds descend on Chichen Itza around 11am in the morning

But there’s more to this place that El Castillo, let me show you a bit more about the other famous structures here at Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza – The Temple of the Warriors

The Temple of the Warriors is another massive structure with a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved square columns depicting warriors.
At the top of the stairway on the pyramid’s summit is a ‘Chac Mool’ one of 14 or so here. Although a mysterious character the ‘Chac Mool’ figure more than likely had something to do with a religious or sacrificial ceremonies.

Would you agree, every structure at Chichen Itza is impressive.

Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system.


Temple of Warriors

Chichen Itza – Las Monjas

‘Las Monjas’ (The Nun’s) is another of the more notable structures at Chichen Itza. It is a complex of classic buildings constructed in the Puuc architectural style.
The Spanish named this complex Las Monjas but it was actually a governmental palace. Just to the east is a small temple (known as the La Iglesia, “The Church”) decorated with elaborate masks.
This place just goes on and on…

Up close and personal at the ‘Las Monjas’ – The Nunnery

Chichen Itza – El Caracol

Then there’s El Caracol (“The Snail”) is located to the north of Las Monjas.
 It is a round building on a large square platform. It gets it’s name from the stone spiral staircase inside.
The structure, with its unusual placement on the platform and its round shape (the others are rectangular, in keeping with Mayan practice), is theorized to have been an observatory with doors and windows aligned to astronomical events, specifically around the path of Venus as it traverses the heavens.

El Caracol (“The Snail”)

Wall of Skulls – Chichen Itza

The Tzompantli structure at Chichén Itzá is a Toltec structure, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed.

Chichen Itza Wall of Skulls

It’s a sobering story – the wall of skulls

The platform walls of the Tzompantli have carved reliefs of four different subjects. The primary subject is the skull rack itself; others show a scene with a human sacrifice; eagles eating human hearts; and skeletonized warriors with shields and arrows.

Chichen Itza Wall of Skulls

Wall of Skulls – Chichen Itza

There’s a quiet dignity to what physically remains of the Mayan civilization. Undoubtedly, that has much to do with their location.

Many of the Mayan sites have been deserted for centuries and have now been encroached by miles and miles of dense jungle.

It all adds to the sense of mystery that’s inescapable when you visit what’s left of these cities.

I leave with more questions than answers … that’s what we love about travelling and learning new cultures.

Unlike some other, smaller Mayan sites not far away like Ek Balam and Coba, Chichen Itza has been converted into a definite ‘tourist site’ with prices and crowds  to match.

It’s also pretty baffling the sheer number of stalls selling tourist nicknacks inside the complex. I love to buy a nick nack or two, but the constant in your face chant from the vendors make it unpleasant and too much hassle.

I got pretty tired of the pushy ‘Hola Amigo’ chant that’s actually translates – you tourist, you buy – and when you don’t buy they become rude.


Sadly there’s an overdose of souvenirs (many of them tacky) lining the entry and exit to Chichen Itza

Although it’s a massive area that can accommodate a lot of people,  arriving around 8.00 am and having a couple of hours before the tour buses, makes for a more pleasant and rewarding visit.

And at least some time to reflect on your own…

El Castillo, the grand pyramid – yes, of course I wanted to climb it… however since 2006 it’s no longer possible due to the death of a tourist and the decay mass tourism was causing. In fact, most of the best-preserved Mayan cities (Chichen-Itza, Uxmal,Tulum) of the Yucatan Peninsula can’t be climbed anymore and I expect all will follow eventually. Although as of 2014 you can still climb Nohoch Muul at Coba and the Acropolis at Ek Balam.

In any event the monuments left behind by the city’s inhabitants of Chichen Itza are some of the most spectacular in the New World and it’s a place not to be missed if you are in the Yucatan.

You can enjoy the Yucatan right here without even going to Mexico… just click on our video below.

Chichen Itza Traveller Info and Tips

  • Chichen Itza is located 40 minutes away from Valladolid, 2 hours from Merida or 2 hours from Cancun.  You can get a shared van (collectivo)  from Valladolid or an ADO bus from Merida or Cancun.  Click here for the transport options.
  • Get to Chichen Itza by 8am if possible – this means getting the 6am bus from Merida (totally worth it and highly recommended)
  •  Chichen Itza is crowded when the throngs of buses arriving from Cancun from about 11am on, but if you leave early from either Valladolid or Merida you will enjoy some peaceful time there.
  •  Although many will say 2-3 hours is enough to get a feel for the place, we spent the whole day here easily.
  • Take your own food and especially water – this is a total ugly ‘rip off tourist place’ for anything you might like to drink or eat. They charge 70 pesos for a beer and 35 pesos for an ice block – double the price of anywhere else.
  • More information about Chichen Itza
  • Read more about the Yucatan and the Mayan Culture here.

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