Key information: Chichen Itza
- A large Mayan site, influential both culturally and politically from the Late Classic through to the Early Postclassic period.A remarkable mix of architectural styles in its buildings and plazas: of which there are many. More than ten temples are found throughout the site, plus the unique Group of a Thousand Columns.Chichen Itzas soaring buildings and sprawling, colonnaded streets offer a surprisingly intact vision of the ancient Maya. El Castilo, The Castle, was recently named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.On the Spring Equinox, thousands of visitors gather to see the sites famous spectacle of light and shadow: on the Temple of Kukulcan, the feathered serpent-god can supposedly be seen crawling down the temple steps.
- Walkopedia rating85
- Natural interest10
- Human interest18
- Negative points3
- Total rating85
- Length: Variable
- Maximum Altitude: Not high
- Level of Difficulty: Variable
The ruins at Chichen Itza are the third most visited on the entire Yucatan Peninsula, with good reason. The buildings, arranged after the common Mayan fashion into groups (by type), shine a bright white in the strong sun, connected by criss-crossing plaster and stone sacbeob (roads); set upon a shared plinth.
The Temple of Kukulcan rears imposingly at the head of one such platform, once awash with sacrificial blood. The enormous Sacred Cenote also saw sacrifice: gold, jewellery and art have been hauled from its depths. Sinisterly, at the Cenote Sagrado bodies too were dredged bearing wounds inflicted by sacrificial instruments. Savage religion pervades facade and stelae (sculpted/inscribed stone panels) alike.
The combination of such artifacts and a variety of architectural styles make Chichen Itza fascinating, archaeologically. There are over ten temples across the site, and the remarkable Group of a Thousand Columns.
The rituals and tradition that speak of the Maya as an advanced society are still freighted with resonance today. On the Spring Equinox, hundreds gather to witness the Feathered Serpent-God flow slowly down the Kukulcan temple steps in light and shadow, an astounding parallel to Stonehenge at Summer Solstice: light, filtered by stone. The temple (nicknamed El Castilo, The Castle) was reproduced and copied across the Mayan Empire.
If manipulating the sun thus speaks of mathematics, the masonry itself speaks of engineering brilliance. Stonework remains resolute in thousands of unexpected and improbable structures, across thousands of years. It is much like Incan building, with a mesmeric tessellation. It lends the structures a sense of solidity and permanence that echoes the Pyramids of Giza.
The feeling is reinforced by the density of buildings in the central core of the site. On the Great North Platform, El Castillo, the great ballcourt and the Temple of Warriors. The Ossario Group stages its eponymous pyramid, as well as the Temple of Xtoloc. In the Central Group: the Caracol (snail), Las Monjas and Akab Dzib.A RouteChichen Itzas centre is, as with so many Mayan ruins, a matter of wandering and gawping, with the highest concentration of structures and marvels. Further groups away from Chichen Itzas core lead to overgrown wilderness, and yet more smaller structures and sites.Turn south from the main site: a sacbe leads past the Grupo de la Fecha and Grupo Principal del Suroeste to Old Chichen. You only stay on the ancient road for part of the way, with marked paths deviating to protect certain ruins and take in hidden others. Rising out of the jungle here are the Phallic Temple, the Platform of the Great Turtle, the Temple of the Owls and the Temple of the Monkeys.Go back to the centre. North of Chichen Itza proper this is a T rather than circular route lead two sacbeob. The Sacred Cenote is a must; but the less explored Grupo del Noroeste offers a fantastic extension through jungle and overgrown-undergrowth on the second. Four miles west, the sacred Balankanche cave network, with pottery and artifacts unmoved since their abandonment. Tunnels both natural and manmade extend backwards behind what had been a false wall, discovered only recently.Walking in Mexico can be tough; through rainforest, in hot sun and intense humidity. So, come prepared.Map of Major Classical and Postclassical Mayan Sites
By Wikipedia user Kmusser. License: Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported
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Books and Maps
Books on this walk
Yucatan and Mayan Mexico – N. Rider
Yucatan – Lonely Planet (Regional Guides)
Cancun, Cozumel and the Yucatan – Lonely Planet (Country and Regional Guides)
The Rough Guide to the Yucatan – Z. O’Neill and J. Fisher
Mexico – Lonely Planet (Country Guides)
Northern Yucatan / Maya Sites– Adventure Map
Central America – Nelles Map
Map of the Yucatan Peninsula – ITMB
Best times to walk/weather
Best times to walk
September is ideal; after the summer high season but before the October rains, which last through to January. Furthermore, accommodation is cheaper and there are more vacancies.
In the wet seasons it can rain every day, all day. The further inland, the more it is a case of regular showers. In June and July this can offer some welcome respite from the intense heat. Rainy seasons are October – January, and April – July.
Hurricanes and other natural disasters can devastate large swathes of the Yucatan during the rainy season, and are not particularly uncommon.
Flights into internal Yucatan run from either Mexico City (Mexico’s capital) or Cancun, both international airports. However there are no flights into Cancun during the off-season. Those on organised expeditions are likely to be transported from/to arranged start/departure points.
Tour buses and coaches arrive daily; there is a substantial car park and accommodation at the site.
Chichen Itza is privately owned, and will charge an entry fee at the site entrance.
See the Walk Summary, above.
Map of Chichen Itza
Possible problems, health, other warnings
- Heat and strong sun. Humidity too is especially high, here; making the jungle oppressive, and any trek demanding. Carry enough water and protect yourself.
- Dangerous/harmful animals of all shapes and sizes, including snakes and other jungle fauna; mosquitoes, stinging/biting insects and plants. Take all appropriate precautions.
- Some ruins are in remote country: food and other supplies will not be readily available and help will be hard to get if things go wrong, particularly if on an extended trek.
- Health risks: parts of Mexico are relatively undeveloped, and you will not get prompt medical help of a standard available elsewhere if you become ill. Come prepared, including getting all appropriate inoculations/medications.
- Drug cartels: in Mexico City and some other urban areas, drugs gangs fight a daily war against the authorities and, in particular, the army. ALWAYS check your country’s consulate advice before travelling to Mexico.
See also the websites in our useful links page for more detailed, and up-to-date, information.
Safety and problems: All walks have inherent risks and problems can arise on any walk. Many of the walks featured on this website involve significant risks and possible problems. This website cannot, does not purport to, identify all actual or potential risks, dangers and problems that may relate to a walk or a country. Any person who is considering undertaking this walk should do careful research and make their own assessment of the risks, dangers and possible problems involved. They should also go to “Important information” for further important information.
Make sure you have appropriate insurance.
Guided or independent?
Most will have a tour guide in their party; their insight, knowledge and experience can be invaluable. It is equally easy to do this walk on your own, however.
As at many of the larger sites, dedicated guides loiter. They are for the most part knowledgeable, and picking out the best parts with a knowledgeable guide has real advantages.
If hiring a guide locally, best practice is to meet him/her and get comfortable before committing. Make sure all requirements are understood and agreed – including how you will eat and the importance of avoiding illness, as well as overnighting and (of course) remuneration.
Expedition organisers include:
- Explore! - www.explore.co.uk - reputable and experienced organisers. No less than eight tours in the Yucatan!
- Wilderness Travel – www.wildernesstravel.com
- Exodus – www.exodus.co.uk
- Audley Travel – www.audleytravel.com
Chichen Itza has three hotels in situ:
Other information and tips
Useful websites and information
There are many websites with relevant information. Here are some that we think are useful or have been recommended to us.
- Wikipedia is absolutely essential, when you think about the sheer range of ruins across Central America.
- UNESCO Page - http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/483
- Try www.flickr.com for pictures of this walk.
Other things to do in the area
Mexico has a huge variety of great walks, and that is only taking into account its ruins. There is likely to be a good walk (ruin) within range wherever you may be: see our Mayan Ruins overview page.
Other activitiesSwimming (in the cenotes that aren’t too boggy) or in the crystal Gulf waters. Not in the Sacred Cenote!
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