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Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Chichen Itza - Visiting the Ancient Mayan City

This morning we headed out for our tour of the Ancient Mayan city of Chichen Itza or “Chicken Pizza” as Ashley likes to call it – which is actually located in the state of Yucatan in Mexico. Chichen Itza is considered on the 'new' or 'current' 7 wonders of the world -- it also marks the second one of the seven that I have seen in the last week and a half.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Entrance Plaza

In comparison to the journey to Agra and the Taj Mahal from New Delhi, Chichen Itza is about the same distance from Cancun, about 200 kilometers (120 miles). A big difference however is that the trip is only about 2 hours by bus rather than the 4 hours it takes to get to the Taj Mahal. In stark contrast the trip is smooth in our motor coach bus along a highway no frequent or dangerously sudden stops.

We decided to take the half-day tour of Chichen Itza as the full day seemed a little long to us. Spending just over two hours at the site that will be slightly longer than the visit to the Taj. With that in mind, the 1-hour guided tour (our tour guide, Carlos) and 1-hour of 'free' time should prove to be enough. Our tour today was provided by the Cancun Line of tours, although we booked with Olympus Tours. It appears that Olympus does not have a half-day tour of Chichen Itza and farm it out to the Cancun Line, which was fine.

Our Chichen Itza Tour Guide, Carlos

We arrived at the Chichen Itza and the tour spent a few minutes at the central area in order to enable some folks to use the restroom, grab some snacks, and take a quick look around in the entrance plaza. Interestingly, the plaza reminded me a little bit of entrance area to the Pearl Harbor memorial in Hawaii. After gearing up, we headed in.

The walk in is a nicely shaded area and it was still fairly early in the morning so the sun was still bearable. Along the length of the road there are numerous “open air” vendors setting up various stations. Carlos mentions that either they are not supposed to be there or we are not supposed to buy from them. Not sure what that really means, but with the number of them, it is clear that somebody let them in. It may be that the tour company simply recommends against any unknown vendors.

The Chichen Itza main Pyramid or the Chichen Itza Castle is a pretty impressive site at first. What I did not realize is that the climb to the top, even though seen in a lot of pictures is now shut down to the public. Apparently people we writing Jimmy loves Jamie and other things on there – defacing the monument so they shut it down. Sad from an experience perspective, but at least you can get some good pictures of the castle with no people on it. I wonder what the view from the top looks like....

Kenny and Ashley in front of the Chichen Itza Pyramid

The inner castle or temple is also close to the public. There are a couple of artifacts in there as well, but not visible – the door on the side is the only way one can tell something is inside. Also, during the equinox and other calendar dates, there are interesting occurences such as light creating the body of the snake on the north side of the temple.

Next we checked out the ball court, where a game similar to basketball and baseball was played. The only thing was that the captain of the winning team ended up as a human sacrifice, which was good for them. The acoustics in the court are pretty impressive where loud sounds like a clap echo or reverberate 7 times off of the walls.

Finally, our guided tour ended with Temple of the Warriors. The key there was that most of the columns had carvings of the warriors on them. Pretty impressive.

During our free time, we hit up the “Cenote” or the drinking / water well which was source of water, albeit it very dirty source for the Mayans. It was much larger than expected and we had our first sightings of an iguana at the Cenote. After that we wandered around to a few of the other places and also checked out some of the vendors we were not supposed to. The prices were actually pretty good – interesting to see if we missed some deals when we compare it back to Cancun.

Ashley at the Cenote

Chichen Itza was worth the visit, although we both prefer the seaside of Tulum. If it Chichen Itza could be a little more interactive and policed from tourists rather than being closed off – it would be a much better place to visit. The half-day tour ended up being just the right length for us, and as we were leaving hordes of people were entering. Great timing!

Enjoying a Fanta at Chichen Itza