Chichén Itzá is a Maya archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula that served as the political and economic center of the Maya civilization between 750 and 1200 A.D. Its impressive structures which remain standing today demonstrate the Maya's extraordinary use of architectural space, vast astronomical knowledge, as well as their keen sense of artistry. It is a must-see site on a visit to Cancún or Mérida, although it is about a two-hour drive from either of those tourist destinations, it is definitely worthy of a day trip.
On your visit to Chichén Itzá, you shouldn't miss the following features:
- El Castillo - This is one of the most striking buildings in Chichen Itza. It is dedicated to Kukulkan, the Plumed Serpent. Every year on the fall and spring equinox the sun strikes the side of the building making a play of light and shadow which appears as a snake along the steps of the building.
- Temple of the Warriors - Hundreds of columns surround a massive temple structure carved with reliefs. Square columns remain that once held up the roof of the temple. These columns are carved on all four sides with figures of feather-bedecked warriors.
- Great Ballcourt - This is the largest known ballcourt in Mesoamerica, at 545 feet in length and 225 feet in width. Each end has a raised temple area. The acoustics of the ballcourt are remarkable: a whisper from one end can be clearly heard at the other.
- Sacred Cenote - This sink-hole was the recipient of a great many sacrificial objects.
Chichen Itza is located 125 miles from Cancun and 75 miles from Mérida. It can be visited as a day trip from either location, and there are also a few hotels nearby in case you would like to arrive the previous day and get an early start visiting the ruins before the heat of the day sets in and the crowds begin to arrive.
The site is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm. Time spent visiting the site generally ranges from 3 hours to a full day.
The admission fee for Chichén Itzá archaeological site is 188 pesos per person (for non-Mexicans), free for children 12 and under. There is an extra charge for use of video camera or tripod on the site.
Dress appropriately: Natural fiber clothing that will protect you from the sun (a hat is a good idea too) and comfortable walking shoes. Use sunblock and take water with you.
If you visit Chichen Itza as part of an organized day trip from Cancun you will find that it makes for a long day, and you'll arrive at the hottest time of day. Another option is to rent a car and either make an earlier start or arrive the afternoon before and stay overnight at one of the nearby hotels.
Take a bathing suit and towel to enjoy a refreshing dip at the nearby Ik-Kil cenote after your tour of Chichén Itzá. It is open from 8 am to 5 pm.