The Temple of Kukulkan at Chichén Itzá is truly a sight to behold! Recently voted as one of the new seven wonders of the world, it is a very popular archaeological site in North America. In this post we cover our visit to this beautiful Mayan city as well as another small ruin nearby called Ek’ Balam.
After visiting Coba and swimming in the cenotes, we continued northwards, toward the city of Valladolid. The old Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is located just outside the city limits. We checked in to our Hotel – Hacienda Chichèn – and rested for the night. This property was once an old colonial Spanish estate. This property shared a wall with the archaeological site and had a private backdoor access! We chose this Hotel specially for this reason, so that we could start our visit of the site early in the morning, just before the arrival of the fleet of tour buses from Cancun. You can find more about the hotel towards the end, in the “Where to Stay” section.
Visiting Chichén Itzá
Since this is an important and large historical site, we decided to avail the services of a tour guide to take us through the complex. It was 900 MXN for two of us, for a 2 hours tour, which was sufficient to cover all the major buildings. By the time we were done with breakfast next day morning, the guide was waiting at the lobby, and the hotel receptionist had arranged entry tickets for us!
We entered the site through the Private entrance reserved only for the guests of the Hotel! As we walked through the small path through the jungle, stone ruins started appearing, just like out of an Indiana Jones’ movie!
As we delved deeper into the complex, we could appreciate why this is more popular than the other ruins. All the buildings are of a different scale altogether, and the carvings are well preserved and intricate!
Our guide gave us a brief introduction to the Mayan mythology and the way of life when this was once a sprawling city! As any urban settlement this city had houses, noble residences, observatories, royal residences, playing fields and much more. When the Spanish found this site, it was in an abandoned state, with no records! They named different buildings they found here after places back home in Spain, basis their resemblances! For example the building below was named ‘The Nunnery’ because the arched windows reminded them of the convents in Europe! But they were government or civic buildings. Another building with meshes was named ‘The Church’ because the mesh represented confession rooms in a Church.
As you can see from the map below, we started from the small backdoor private entrance to the site at the bottom, covering first the ‘Nunnery’ first and working our way towards the north side.
The next building is the Observatory. Every town seemed to have one, circular as usual.
Another area referred to as just Temple of Deer – because they found a painting of deer inside.
Next was a miniature version of the Temple of Kukulkan. This was made more like a scale model, before the construction began on the main pyramid – sort of trial construction. A taste of what was yet to come!
Finally we reached the pièce de résistance – The Temple of Kukulkan or El Castillo (The Castle)! And what a majestic sight that was. When we reached, there were hardly any tourists! Mission accomplished – we got the pyramid for ourselves for a few minutes!
This Pyramid is constructed as a series of square terraces, diminishing in dimension as one moves upwards. It is an architectural marvel because of many reasons. Firstly, during the two Equinoxes of the year, when the Sun shines directly over the equator, the terraces cast a series of triangular shadows on the stairs that join them, giving an illusion of a snake crawling down the stair wall. This was intentional and meant to represent the deity Kukulkan, who was believed have the form of a serpent with feathers!
Secondly, the altar at the top is acoustically engineered to amplify sounds emanating from the base, to produce a chirping sound. This resembles the chirping of the Quetzal bird, sacred to the Mayans. Our guide stood at the base of the Pyramid and clapped his hands twice to give us a demonstration. In a fraction of a second, the sound of a bird echoed back from the altar -something like ‘Pau Pau’! When the temple was functional, instead of claps, drums were used to create this sound, and the drummers synced the beats and echoes with the ‘crawl’ of the snake during the Equinox, to create a mystical atmosphere!
This Pyramid was so beautiful, we maximised our opportunity to click some pics before it got crowded!
The drummers were positioned in three big platforms facing the pyramid. Each platform was richly decorated with stone sculptures.
Next Area was the Ball court. This Ballcourt was so huge, almost 10 times that of Coba!
The guide gave us more background on the Mayan Ball game. This was played on special ceremonial occasions, by the best athletes in the city. The winner got the opportunity to get his head chopped off!!! Yes! The loser got the opportunity to cut the head of the winner! Apparently, it was considered a great honour to sacrifice oneself this way, and a shame to be the loser who decapitates the winner. Strange rituals! This is depicted in carvings on the sides of the court!
The next and last section was the Group of Thousand pillars. As the name sounds, it is a grand construction with many pillars standing upright.
On top of the raised platform, is a ‘Chacmool’ statue. It resembles a man in a reclining position, with a bowl over his stomach. Believed to be representing slain warriers, with bowl for placing offering to Gods!
That was the last section. With that the tour of Chichen Itza was complete and our guide left us so that we can do some exploring on our own. But it was getting hot and after clicking few more pictures, we decided to bid farewell. On the way out, there were many souvenir shops offering interesting items.
We traced our way back to the hotel, this time from the main entrance. After enjoying a relaxing swim in the pool, we checked out and continued our journey to the final Mayan ruin in our tour – Ek’ Balam.
Visiting Ek’ Balam
Ek’ Balam is a small but interesting Mayan ruin that lies between Chichén Itzá and Playa del Carmen, which was our next destination. We dropped by for a quick visit.
Here the thatched roofs are reconstructed like the olden times and gives you an insight into how the buildings would have looked when they were in use! The main structure in this complex is the Acropolis, believed to contain the tomb of a King that ruled this place once.
Here you can climb the structures (much easier than Coba). Another important feature of this site is the well preserved plaster and carvings that gives an insight into the culture of Mayans!
Upon reaching the top, you get beautiful view of Mayan structures jutting out of the jungle!
With that, we ended our tour of the Mayan ruins and continued our drive to Playa del Carmen on the coast.
Where to Stay
Hacienda Chichen is a wonderful hotel to be based out of, to explore Chichén Itzá! The Hotel as we mentioned earlier is located right next to the complex and has a private entrance. It was an old Spanish Colonial villa or Hacienda, recently refurbished into a hotel. The rooms are spacious and cozy! There is also a large pool in the complex, with tall tropical trees on one side and beautiful lawn on the other! Perfect for a relaxing dip after the visit to the site. The Hotel room rate was ~Rs 13K per night, but we got it almost for free after utilising one of our Free Nights from Hotels.com! The Hotel staff will help arrange a guide for you at standard rate and buy tickets from the counter, just inform on the day before your visit.