Travel | One comment
By: Zdenko Kahlina
Day trip to Chichen Itza & Valladolid, in Mexico.
While they are not in the Riviera Maya but a two and a half hours drive deep into the land of the Maya (and in the Yucatan State), the new world wonder of Chichen Itza and the beautiful town of Valladolid are worth a visit for everyone visiting Cancún or Mayan Riviera areas.
Chichen Itza – Pyramid of Kukulcan at night
If you are driving to Chichen Itza from Cancun take either Hwy 180 or the Caratera de cuota (Toll Highway). There are signs all the way there to guide you and both highways are in excellent condition. The toll highway is the best and fastest route. Maps tend not to show both highways because they are close to each other. If you are driving from Playa del Carmen or Tulum then take the Coba jungle route as it is very safe and the road has been upgraded several years ago. There are gas stations if you take the main highways. If you go through the jungle then you have to wait until you hit a town with a gas station. Tha last gas station before jungle is in Tulum and next one is in town of Valladolid.
Good bus services are available in all hotels and towns along Mayan Riviera, but to get the most out of the location and to see some of the more off the beaten track attractions, I recommend renting a car.
The Coba jungle route – “Jugos” are welcome!!
The Coba jungle route
Since we were staying in Playa del Carmen and renting a car, one day our little group decided to go on a day trip to visit Chichén Itza. We drove from Playa to Tulum and than thru the jungle all the way to Valladolid. From this Hispanic Mexican town in the middle of Yucatan peninsula, Chichén Itza is only about 40 minutes further.
Chichén Itza was one of the most important cities before the Mayan collapse. It was an important religious and trading center. Here, the Mayas predict the future thanks to their astronomy studies, they used the stars movement to predict rainy and dry seasons, eclipses and dark and golden ages for their people. They created a pretty well advanced calendar and they also were the only contemporary civilization that uses the zero in their numerals. Mayan astronomy skills is pretty well observed in the Main Pyramid of Chichen Itza, the castle was built with such orientation that every Spring and Fall equinox, the sun position in the horizon, creates a light and shadow pattern in the sides of the pyramid that resembles a Snake getting down from the top of the building to the ground.
Valladolid, in the other hand, is a post Hispanic town near Chichen Itza. In Valladolid, we can find great Colonial Architecture, amazing caves and cenotes, and good Yucatecan cuisine (Lime Soup, Tacos de Cochinita and Panuchos are some of the prefered dishes in town). I will describe our short visit to Valladolid in a different blog.
At the main entrance
Vera and Zdenko by the main pyramid
Chichen Itza ruins
The ancient Mayan capital of Chichen Itza is an archaeological zone in the eastern region of the state of Yucatan. Chichen Itza was declared a World Heritage Site by the UNESCO and one of the seven new world wonders will take you back in time to the pre-Hispanic era.
Its about 2 hour ride from Merida, and 2:30 Hours from the beach resort of Cancun (178 km) or little more than 2 hours from Playa del Carmen (214 km). We arrived at the Chichen Itza entrance around 11:30 AM. Local artisans displayed their ware in the array of shops at the entrance, while street sellers crowded the steps hawking an assortment of stuff for a few dollars. However, we did not find them overly aggressive. Entrance fees were not expensive – our tickets said 51 pesos. Since we were not part of any group, we went straight in on our own without a guide. There were no lineups or waiting periods.
Our little group: Vera, Zdenko, Visnja and Elizabeth
The most imposing structure in the whole area is El Castillo (also known as the Pyramid of Kukulcan), a structure shaped like a pyramid with the top cut-off which stands 25 meters tall. It represents a Mayan calendar. The pyramid has 91 steps on each of its 4 sides, plus one additional step at the very top of the Pyramid (a place reserved for the warlocks). The total number of steps adds up to the number of days in a year (365) and each façade has 52 flat panels representing the 52 months of the Mayan calendar.
The most amazing aspect of the structure is the appearance of a shadow shaped like a serpent on the first day of Spring and Fall in mid-afternoon. During the Equinox sun rays hit the structure all at the right angles creating the shadow effect of a plumed serpent descending down the pyramid’s stairs, which lasts for about three hours. Another shadow effect is when the serpent’s head at the bottom of the pyramid appears to point to the Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado). Is this light and shadow image just a simple coincidence? The Anthropologist don’t think so…
Ball court where a whisper can be heard at 500 feet away
The ball court, the largest in Mesoamerica, is another impressive structure with an intriguing story. The game is played with a solid rubber ball, and the objective is to get the ball through a tiny circular opening high up on either side of the court. The connotations and culminated with a human sacrifice. It is not clear whether the winning captain or the losing captain got sacrificed. The current belief tends to the winning captain as the Mayans believed the winning privilege allowed for a direct ticket to heaven. Modern science is yet to solve the mystery regarding the acoustics of the ball court – directly beneath the ends of the ball court feature a “temple” structure, where a whisper can be heard at the other end – 500 feet away.
Road to cenote
The heart of Chichén Itzá is the Sacred Cenote, dedicated to the Chac God, the Maya God of rain and lightening. Located 300 meters north of the Chichén Itzá compound, and connected to it by a causeway, the cenote was central to Chichén, and in fact the site is named after it–Chichén Itzá means “Mouth of the Well of the Itzas”. At the edge of this cenote is a small steam bath.
The cenote is a natural formation, a karst cave tunneled into the limestone by moving groundwater, after which the ceiling collapsed, creating an opening at the surface. The opening of the Sacred Cenote is about 65 meters in diameter (and about an acre in area), with steep vertical sides some 60 feet above the water level. The water continues for another 40 feet and at the bottom is about 10 feet of mud.
Tourists exploring ruins close to Sacred Cenote
The use of this cenote was exclusively sacrificial and ceremonial; there is a second karst cave (called the Xtlotl Cenote, located in the center of Chichén Itzá) that was used as a source of water for Chichén Itzá’s residents. According to Bishop Landa, men, women and children were thrown alive into it as a sacrifice to the gods in times of droughts (actually Bishop Landa reported the sacrificial victims were virgins, but that was probably a European concept meaningless to the Toltecs and Maya at Chichén Itzá). Archaeological evidence supports the use of the well as a location of human sacrifice. At the turn of the 20th century, American adventurer-archaeologist Edward H. Thompson bought Chichén Itzá and dredged the cenote, finding copper and gold bells, rings, masks, cups, figurines, embossed plaques. And, oh yes, many human bones of men, women and children. Many of these objects are imports, dating between the 13th and 16th centuries AD after the residents had left Chichén Itzá; these represent the continued use of the cenote up into the Spanish colonization. These materials were shipped to the Peabody Museum in 1904, and repatriated to Mexico in the 1980s.
Croatian in Chichen Itza
The Maya originated around 3,000 years ago in present-day Guatemala, Honduras, Belize and Mexico. The Mayan empire flourished in the southern regions from around 250 AD to 900 AD. The empire in the south collapsed around 900 AD. No one knows the reason. Scholars have suggested, among other reasons, disease, political upheaval, overpopulation or drought. But while the empire in the south waned, that in the north, especially in the Yucatan, flourished until the Spanish conquests of the 16th century AD. Maya descendants can be founded all over the Yucatán these days…
Souvenirs for sale at the location
Souvenirs for sale at the location
Vera just purchased a table cloth from locals
The Maya were very skilled farmers and also created a very sophisticated written language; some think it might have been the first written language native to the Americans. The Maya also developed social class system which was a well-ordered and carried on trade throughout a network of cities that went as far south as Panama and as far north as Central Mexico.
Mathematicians, their number system included the concept of zero, an idea unknown to the old Greeks, expert mathematicians themselves. The Maya used their mathematical knowledge along with celestial observations to finesse a calendar created by the Olmec which is a culture from the Mexican Gulf Coast and to create monuments to observe and commemorate movements of the moon, the sun, and Venus.
Several other structures exist in the area and it is estimated that as many as 50,000 people resided in the surrounding area at one time.
Canadian in Chichen Itza
The extremely hot sun bearing down with little relief made it a little hard to walk around for more than 3 hours. We were ready to leave the site for the return trip to Playa around 3 PM. Plenty of cold drinks were on offer everywhere.
If you are planning on returning to Mayan Riviera in the same day, it is advisable to leave the site by 3 PM. Maybe plan like we did, and stop in Valladolid and have a good meal, and than continue to your hotel. Again, if you’re returning to Playa del Carmen or Tulum, take the Coba jungle route as it is the shortest and safe.
Vera and Zdenko in Chichen Itza
Have a good and healthy year.
Follow Zdenko’s Corner on Facebook !