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Since it was named a "Wonder of the World" Chichen Itza is the most famous of all Yucatan Mayan ruins. You can visit Chichen Itza from tours leaving from Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. If you are visiting the northern Yucatan area around Cancun and see no other site, Chichen Itza is a good choice unless you don't like crowds. Tours only allow for about 2 hours of visiting, and this is hardly enough time to see the site. It is easy to reach by bus or by car with well marked signs all the way. Coming and going at your own pace is the way to go. Also, if you want some solitude, and pictures without a hundred people in them, we recommend going fairly early in the morning. Tour groups don't usually arrive until about 10:30, so you have time to get pictures. If you are not on a tour, you might want to pay a private guide because Chichen Itza is a site with interesting history. Unfortunately, you will be inundated with vendors. Wait until you are ready to leave to buy - once they see a shopping bag in your hand you will be targeted as a purchaser and won't be allowed to enjoy the site.

Chacchoben site map
El Castillo in the morning (prior to the tour groups arrival)

Hours: 8:00 am- 5:00 PM

View of the temple of the warriors from El Castillo
Possibly the best known construction on the site is El Castillo (Kukulkan-Quetzalcoatl), a square-based, stepped pyramid that is approximately 75 feet tall. Unlike Tulum, where you are not allowed to climb the structure, there are few buildings off limit. El Castillo is certainly the greatest challenge as each step is like stepping up onto a chair. This pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3 P.M.. the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid's main stairway. This causes a series of triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent that creeps downwards until it joins the serpent's head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. Thousands of people visit the site on this day (a record 80,000 in 1997) so if you hate crowds, you might want to avoid the site on this day. Every evening, the site reproduces the effect with a light and sound show.
The pyramid of El Castillo is really a casing built around a smaller pyramid built exactly 52 years after the first to mark the ending of a calendar round. You can actually climb up inside El Castillo and visit the smaller pyramid. Its entrance is located at the base of the pyramid and is open from 11:00 am-1pm and 4-5 pm. its extremely narrow and hot inside with very slippery steps. Inside is a large Chac Mul, the Toltec reclining figure that is used as an altar for sacrificial offerings. Behind the altar is the Throne of the Red Jaguar, seen in the back of the picture at the right. There are iron bars that keep you from touching the altar. If you are claustrophobic, I wouldn't recommend this visit.

Chac mul and Throne of the Red Jaguar inside El Castillo.
Edifice 24 Near to the ball court is the Tzompantli, a word meaning 'wall of skulls.' It is a low T-shaped platform covered on all sides by rows of carved skulls. Human sacrifices are assumed to have been performed on this platform.

Casa de las Aguilas, also known as Platform of the Jaguars and Eagles, is close by the wall of skulls and is covered by carvings of serpents and reliefs of eagles and jaguars devouring human hearts. This platform is assumed to also have been involved in human sacrifices.

There is evidence of occupation in the area as early as 700 BC, but the city was not founded until 700 AD.

The view to the left is of the Nunnery, a highly carved temple that is located a few minutes walk from El Castile. Few tours make it this far, but it is truly remarkable in the carvings that decorate the panels. This is believed to have been the main palace and administrative area in the early years of Chichen. Take time to explore this set of buildings, they include a very remarkable set of well preserved Chac Mul carvings.

The nunnery as a group of buildings showing the ornate carvings.

Columns to the east of the Temple of the warrior -- assumed to have been supports for thatched roofs that covered a large market place.

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Caracol, or the Observatory is one of the most unusual of the the buildings at chichen Itza. It is a round tower on top of a large, two level platform. Most experts agree that this building was used as an astronomical observatory because openings in the building point to astrological events such as the setting of the moon at the spring equinox

Last updated: June 20, 2012

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