At the Mouth of the Well of the Itza
Welcome to Chichen Itza. The third pre-Columbian archaeological site we visit on our tour, and one of the finest of the entire Maya civilization for the size, history and how well preserved it’s been kept and excavated. An UNESCO World Heritage listed masterpiece. Incredible to see how some of the constructions seem to have been built recently, but in fact, they are even 2000 years old. Of course it’s been greatly restored and rebuilt, adding back the missing stones taken over centuries for the use on other constructions like the Spanish did for churches and cathedrals upon conquering the region and founding new cities.
The site is still not fully excavated, but it’s one of the most uncovered and studied Maya cities in the region, including as far as Guatemala. The jungle in here is not as dense any more as it used to be years back, something that helped in the other hand to uncover and discover new constructions. This is a subject I will come across again when talking about Tikal in Guatemala because in there that is the totally opposite side of the coin, pristine thick jungle where 80% of the ancient city still lies under the jungle.
From all the structures in the site, two will get your look immediately for being in perfect shape. The Castle (El Castillo) pyramid and the ball court. The pyramid is so well preserved that you can see the snake effect on the stairs, for this you will need to look to it sideways and there you will see the head of the snake and the body all the way up to the top.
As for the ball court it has been the finest and largest example of all the other ones I have visited in any other Maya city. Not even in Tikal it was of this size (although the main one is still to be discovered there). You can perfectly see both rings still standing at their original position and with their original carvings.
Other important structures are the Temple of the Thousand Warriors, easily recognisable for the hundreds of columns, which further extends into the market square, also fully surrounded by the hundreds of columns standing today. The Observatory has retained it’s original domed roof with spiral staircase inside although the interior is not accessible to the public.
Completing the site there are numerous pyramids, small structures and the chapel. This one fully decorated in Puuc style. Chichen Itza is said the have had the most diverse population in the Maya world and the melting pot for other cultures, resulting in an unique mix of different architectural styles.
For more information about this place visit Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Mexico’s currency is the Mexican Peso (MXN, MEX$ or $). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
How to get there
Chichen Itza lies in between of Merida and Valladolid, therefore one or the other are likely to be your base cities. I will provide all the information if coming from Merida as this was our base.
You have two bus options, one the fast direct, and the other a slower stopping at every village but also much cheaper. The direct buses depart from CAME bus station on Calle 69 between 68 and 70 and are ADO company. For 260Mex$ you can get a return bus departing at 09.15am, arriving at 11.00am and returning at 17.10pm, arriving in Merida at 18.55pm. These are the bus times we got but I can tell you that was actually too much time in total. Get an earlier return bus instead, or if not available, opt for the slower bus, but they don’t sell such tickets in the ADO counter of this bus station.
The slower buses depart from the bus station across the road of CAME, it is call Autobuses de Segunda Clase (second class buses). There you can buy the tickets and they have a return bus leaving Chichen Itza at 15.30pm. That is much better than having to wait until 17.10pm.
We were lucky in being able to swap the tickets once the 15.30pm bus came (but expect no refund of the price difference). So from our experience get yourself a one way with ADO and the return on the slower bus, this way the times will match perfectly.
Chichen Itza archaeological site opens from 09.00am until 17.30pm. As for the price be careful on this as the information we found over the internet was not accurate. Basically, except for Teotihuacan back in Mexico City area, all other archaeological sites in the country require 2 tickets. One is the entrance tax, and the other is the ticket itself. You will always need to purchase both.
145Mex$ is the entrance tax, plus 69Mex$ the ticket. 214Mex$ is the total cost.
How to visit the site
Have a map printed with you, or get one of the (thankfully) free maps available there. I say thankfully because in any of the other cities these are for purchase therefore I will not be surprised they start charging here soon for it too. You can find good ones in internet.
Once you enter, the first you are going to come across is the central square of magnificent Chichen Itza, with the main pyramid, The Castle in front of you. Don’t go to the pyramid area yet, instead head to your left to the Ball Court as this is one of the edges of the city, and start making your way from there, noticing the small path leading to one of the sacred cenotes. Get there before and come back the same way (there is no other way), now you have El Castillo pyramid from a better perspective. Visit it around before heading towards the Temple of the Thousand Warriors, then onto the market square, where afterwards follows another big space where the Observatory and other pyramids are. Heading further on that direction you end up at the other edge of the city, the Chapel area. From here it’s all the way back.
As you will see the city is not too big and since there is nothing else apart of souvenir vendors, male sense what I spoke about the transportation times to go back to Merida.