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The Wonder of Chichen Itzá

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When traveling anywhere in the Yucatán Region of México, and/or in certain parts of the Quintana Roo region, one simply must sojourn to Chichen Itzá.

Chichen Itza (9)

Stating that Chichen Itzá is one of the Seven Wonders of the World is truly an understatement, in scope, grandeur, and significance. Named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it is visited by well over 1 million people a year from around the world, and is also recognized as the most well-known Mayan archeological site in all of México.

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Located approximately 2-1/2 hours from both Mérida and Cancún, Chichen Itzá—whose name means “at the mouth of the well of Itza” encompasses approximately 2-1/2 square miles separated into two distinct architectural zones—the first an area completely influenced and built by the Mayan people dating back to the 7th century (the Southern Zone); the second of both Mayan people and Toltec warriors (the Central Zone) thought to have once fought against each other for control of the region, and later becoming a fusion of the two cultures somewhere around A.D. 750 to 1200 that had a significant impact on the further development of this now historic site.

Together, these two zones feature several structures that each reveal a unique aspect of the life of the people here and how much their beliefs, ceremonies, culture, and astounding knowledge of astrology, engineering, and architecture have played an integral role in modern civilization the world over.

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The most impressive of these structures is the jaw-dropping Kukulkan Pyramid, also known as El Castillo (The Castle).

Soaring almost 100 feet high, the pyramid is based on the Mayan calendar, with four staircases, each with 91 steps, plus the temple at the top, equalling 365 – the number of days in the year.

Attractions - Chichen Itza - Google Free Image - Chichén_Itzá_pyramid

The symbolism of the Mayan calendar, which is based on 20 days in a month and four seasons of the year (the Mayan did not use weeks in a month as we do in modern day society), is reflected in their highly advanced knowledge of astrology, including of the precise timing of solar eclipses and equinoxes.

These are reflected at the appropriate times and seasons of the year in conjunction with the symbolic ascent and descent of Kukulkan (hence the name The Kukulkan Pyramid)—The Feathered Serpent—whom the Maya revered and pay homage to with stone heads situated at the base of the pyramid and where the shadow of the slinking serpent creeps during the vernal equinox and autumnal equinoxes (March 20 and September 21, respectively).

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Among the other significant structures on the site are a sophisticated observatory, thought to be perhaps where their early astrologer, engineer, and architect met to make their precise calculations based on the arrangement of the cosmos to build the grand pyramid.

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The Juego de Pelota (Ball Court), measuring 554 feet long by 231 feet wide, is thought to be the largest known Mayan ball court in the Americas, and where crucial competitions took place at the command of the nobility.

Here, two teams fought against each other using a 12-pound rubber ball that could be volleyed (looking similar to today’s soccer) using any body part other than the hands and feet to pass the ultimately ball through stone scoring hoops set high on the court walls. The first team to score a point wins, the captain of the losing team, and perhaps some of its players as well, put to death as part of a ritual of sacrifice.

The acoustics are so well formed in the Juego de Pelota, that if you clap your hands anywhere in the arena, it will echo loudly over half a dozen times. And, if two or more people have a conversation in a normal tone of voice at one end, every word can be heard very clearly at the other.

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Chichen Itza (44)

The Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote), Plataforma de Venus (Platform of Venus), the Mil Columnas (Thousand Columns), Plataforma de los Águilas y Jaguares (Platform of the Eagles and Jaguars), and El Templo de los Guerreros (Temple of the Warriors) are but a few of the other sacred structures here.

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Chichen Itza (107)

Because Chichen Itzá is such a worldwide tourism destination, you will find dozens of artisans dotted throughout the site selling beautifully handcrafted statues, pottery, stone carvings, bags, hammocks, t-shirts, jewelrmy and other items, for which you can bargain to get the best deal. There is also a restaurant and snack bar inside the main entrance before you get into the actual site.

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Chichen Itza (47)

Although most people visit Chichen Itzá just for the day (and have use of baggage storage located at the main entrance), you can also choose from one of several hotels located close by, allowing you to divide your visit over a day or two. Three of them are connected to, and have private entrances into the site, through which you can enter one hour prior to the public opening, which helps beat the heat and the crowds.

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Among these is the Mayaland Hotel, built in 1923 and reminiscent of the grand haciendas of that era found all over México.

Whether you tour Chichen Itzá with or without a guide, although it is highly beneficial to have a guide, whether one designated with your tour group or by hiring an individual guide, as your comprehension of the history and significance of the site will be greatly enhanced, if at all possibly go early, again, to help beat the crowds and the heat!

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Chichen Itza (140)

You also would not want to miss (at no charge but reservations are required), the nightly Sound And Light Show, where the history of the site is presented in a colorful and captivating program projected onto the face of The Kukulkan Pyramid.

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Chichen Itza (161)

If you’re lucky, upon departing after the 25-minute show you can enjoy a traditional Mayan ceremony dance at the top of the entrance stairs.

Steeped in history and recognized as the most well-known Mayan archeological site in all of México, Chichen Itzá is truly one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

Check out these other great México features!

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