In Playa del Carmen I was so close to one of the 7 Wonders of the World – Chichen Itza, so I had to visit. And I was not the only one, as visiting this site is extremely popular.
Mexico is currently the 8th most visited country in the world with 31.5 million tourists (2015), and Chichen Itza alone receives 1.4 million of those. So I knew I was going to join in the well-organised, cattle-herded tourist trail, but I was determined to find the bright side!
The Package Tour
I asked my lovely airbnb host to set me up with a ride to Chichen Itza. I didn’t really think to ask what was included, so when the mini-bus picked me up at 7.50am, I wasn’t 100% sure what I was in for. But for US$45 it seemed like an all-inclusive fair price.
Here’s what I learned it covered throughout the day:
- Initial pitstop near Tulum
- A Cenote swim
- Buffet lunch
- The “Chich”
- Pitstop in Valladolid
The benefit of being on a small bus, was that it didn’t take too long to pick up the other passengers. By 9am we made out first stop just off the highway near Tulum. There were heaps of other mini-buses and coaches at the same stop.
It was a good idea as everyone needed a post-breakfast toilet break.
There was a cafe and shop, but I had already packed a small “brunch” in my bag to cover me until lunch.
Second Stop – Cenote Ik’kil
By 10.45am we had reached our second stop, which was for a swim in a cenote.
“A Cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath.”
Of course I didn’t bring my swimmers because I had no idea we were stopping for a swim. Also there were SO many tourists there, it just looked like a human soup to me.
So I just wandered around instead.
There was a cafe and restaurant on site, and some hotel bungalows too.
Third Stop – Lunch
Around midday we stopped at a hotel/ restaurant for a buffet lunch. I opted for some fish, rice and salad and it was better than I expected. There was also some traditional dancing, but it was so loud I went outside to relax.
Fourth Stop – Chichen Itza
I was a bit excited by the time our bus rocked into the “Chich”. The whole morning had felt like foreplay, so I was keen to see the big tamale…
“Chichén Itzá is a world-famous complex of Mayan ruins on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. A massive step pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the 6.5 sq km ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200s. Graphic stone carvings survive at structures like the ball court, Temple of the Warriors and the Wall of the Skulls.”
With so many tourists on site, I was determined to just focus on the wonder of it all, and ignore the selfie sticks.
The entrance area was very well set up and looked appealing. I just had to keep my head down while walking up the stairs to avoid the hawkers.
The queue into the park moved very quickly, and it was good that the ticket price was included in the tour price.
Shortly after being scanned in, you walk down a tree-lined passageway past many vendors.
As you know, I don’t buy stuff, but some items looked quite nice.
Then it’s quite a cool moment when you see it through the trees…. the main temple.
It’s been wonderfully preserved in the dense forest.
There are some wonderful artist impressions online of what the area might have been like.
Our tour bus, and a few others were herded together to listen to an included “guided tour” in English, but I opted out, and headed off on my own.
There are some helpful plaques around the park describing what you are looking at.
It’s amazing to see what they built nearly 1,400 years ago.
Only a small section of the whole site is accessible to visitors, and in this area you are not allowed to walk on the ruins. Previously tourists have caused damage (bloody idiots) so strict access measures needed to be put in place.
All the ruins are beautiful to look at.
You can almost imagine what it was like when it was inhabited.
The more time I spent exploring on my own, the more I enjoyed the beauty of the ancient site.
“The statues – some of which are quite elaborate – obviously had an important religious and ceremonial uses for the different cultures that created them. The statues had a utilitarian purpose and were not, in themselves, worshipped: this is known because of their relative positions within the temples. When located in temples, the Chac Mool is nearly always positioned between the spaces associated with the priests and that associated with the people. It is never found in the back, where something revered as a deity would be expected to rest.
The purpose of the Chac Mools was generally as a place for sacrificial offerings for the gods. These offering could consist of anything from foodstuffs like tamales or tortillas to colorful feathers, tobacco or flowers. The Chac Mool altars also served for human sacrifices: some had cuauhxicallis, or special recipients for the blood of sacrificial victims, while others had special téhcatl altars where humans were ritualistically sacrificed.”
Kukulkan (“Plumed Serpent”, “Feathered Serpent”) is the name of a Maya snake deity that also serves to designate historical persons.
The Wall of Skulls
To represent the heads cut off after a ball game.
There were some colourful characters visiting the site, and these were my favourites…
Regardless of the “touristy feel” I still thought the site was beautiful and wondrous to experience.
The Great Ballcourt
The entrance of the Ball Court (Juego de Pelota)
Inside the Ballcourt was an ancient Mesoamerican ballgame where priests played to get a ball (some guess it was a human skull wrapped in rubber) through 2 hoops.
Creepy? yes. Empty near closing time? even better.
Without the masses, this place is magical.
But it was time to exit.
It was back on the buses and we headed down the highway.
Last Stop – Valladolid
I thought we were just driving through Valladolid on the way back to Playa, but soon we pulled over and the driver said we had 45 minutes.
The church looked grand.
I thought I would just stretch my legs and go for a wander. It truly was a quaint, colonial-feeling town.
And all the action was at the centre.
A nice stop to wrap up the day.
I finally made it home at 9pm. What a day.
Also published on Medium.