Day 32/33: Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Travel Blog

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model of Chichen Itzá
 

Close to Valladolid are the ruins of Chichen Itzá. I guess these need little introduction. Because of its proximity to Cancún these are by far the most visited Mayan ruins in the world.

It is by far the largest Mayan site close to Cancún. I guess most tourists going to the beaches of Cancún would like to do at least one 'cultural' trip, so they go to the ancient ruins of Chichen Itzá, stopping at that very authentic Mexican city of Valladolid on the way.


But for some of the Cancún tourists the two hour bus journey is too taxing, and judging from the hotels I've seen in Cancún comfort is more important than money, so it would not surprise anyone that Chichen Itzá is also the only Mayan city in the world with an airport!


It's popularity has caused that Chichen Itzá has been voted as one of the New 7 Wonders Of The World, which, in my opinion, is ridiculous considering the much more impressive Mayan and Aztec sites of Palenque, Tikal, Calakmul and Teotihuacán it beat.

Sound&Light experience at Chichen Itzá
But hey, as we all know, you can't beat a voting contest.


Like Uxmal Chichen Itzá also has a nightly sound & light experience, and while we had found the Uxmal show slightly tacky, there is something to be said about seeing ancient ruins in the dark, lit up by coloured lights. So we decided to go once again.


A big mistake! What a waste of time and money! Because Robbel had had some trouble following the Spanish story at Uxmal, we had decided to hire a set of headphones so that we could hear the story in English. But this mainly caused that we were hearing both the Spanish and the English narration at the same time, while the English narration was completely out of sync with the light show.

Sound&Light experience at Chichen Itzá

Furthermore, where Uxmal had been a sesame street style tale, the Chichen Itzá narration was as dry and boring as your average School TV documentary. The lightshow itself was possibly even more boring. In Uxmal the ruins had been lit up with very nice colour combinations, but here it was just one ruin at the time, being lit in one colour, with barely any effects or colour combinations.


After 15 minutes we'd seen enough, but we were polite enough to remain seated until the 45 minute show had ended.


The next morning we decided to go back anyway. I mean, we had a car, we had the time, and we still had some hunger for exploring ruins left.


By daylight it looked slightly different - and that is meant in a positive way, although we had to get used to seeing so many other people again.

Chichen Itzá - Mayan ruins for the Disneyland audience...
Two days ago we were at a place ten times as big as this, with only 12 visitors. Here there were hundreds, if not thousands.

But I don't mind a place being popular. Hey, if it's popular for the right reasons, I urge everyone to go visit. But this was just... how do I say it? Too American!

The majority of tourists that go to Cancún are Americans, and a large majority of those Americans are of the type that don't particularly like anything un-American. So the Disneyland levels here in Chichen Itzá were a bit too high for my taste.


OK, there were no employees walking around dressed up as Mayan warriors (though it wouldn't surprise me if that happens as well), but there were very broad walkways, fences for queuing, hand rails to assist with climbing the steps on the ruins, completely restored ruins, which were so shiny and sterile that there was little pre-Colombian about them, and an ambulance parked near the main pyramid, just in case the heat or the steep steps would be too taxing for the overweight visitors.

Chichen Itzá

When you've just spent a day playing Indiana Jones in Calakmul, Chichen Itzá is, for lack of a better word, a travesty!


OK, one temple is worth a particular mention. The highest pyramid, El Castillo, has been so incredibly ingeniously built by the Mayans. The four stairways (one on each side) each have 91 steps, which adds up to 364. The temple at the top makes 365, and indeed, that is the exact same number as days in the Mayan calendar. Also references to the 18 months have been ingeniously worked into the design of the temple.

But most incredible is the way the pyramid has been positioned. Twice a year, during the equinox (start of spring and autumn, when the sun is positioned at a - oh bugger, google it yourself!) at sunrise the sun shines in such a way that by a combination of light and shadow a snake appears on one of the 4 stairways.

El Castillo in the mist
And as the sun rises, the light shining on the snake goes down, eventually lighting up a statue of a jaguar at the bottom of the temple.

Every year tens of thousands of people come to see this phenomenon. Unfortunately we had to make do with a simulation at the sound & light experience last night.


After about an hour we felt we'd seen enough. Though we hadn't seen the whole place yet, we just felt it was such a disappointment compared to all we'd seen in the past week, so we just left and started the drive to Cancún.

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model of Chichen Itzá
model of Chichen Itzá
Sound&Light experience at Chichen …
Sound&Light experience at Chichen…
Sound&Light experience at Chichen …
Sound&Light experience at Chichen…
Chichen Itzá - Mayan ruins for th…
Chichen Itzá - Mayan ruins for t…
Chichen Itzá
Chichen Itzá
El Castillo in the mist
El Castillo in the mist
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
at the top of El Castillo
at the top of El Castillo
snake head at the bottom
snake head at the bottom
El Castillo
El Castillo
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itzá ruins
Chichen Itza
photo by: ellechic