Upon check-in at our Valladolid hostel, the staff member we’d been dealing with started to give us advice regarding Chichen Itza. Namely that the site opened at 09:00 and that the first bus from here (Valladolid) ran about an hour earlier.
This sounded a little odd to us, so we simply nodded in agreement, before turning to Google a little later in search of some more information.
Here things got better, if a little more confusing…
Official websites confirmed that gates actually open at 8am. Perfect.
However two seperate pages on the same website had differing opening days, with one suggesting that Monday (the morning we’d be heading there) was a day the ruins would actually be closed!
Nevertheless, we figured it was worth the risk, so it was at some rather early hour that our alarm woke us the following morning.
A short traipse to the bus station where I quickly got to the ticket counter and asked for a ticket to Chichen Itza, only to be told the first bus was at 08:15!
Hmmm, that’s a bit late, but we quickly sorted it (I should have asked for the bus to Piste, which sits a couple of kilometres from the ruins) and by 07:30, our bus was trundling along, only 15 minutes later than scheduled.
As the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico after Teotihuacan, we expected it to get busy early, so in a manner similar to Uxmal, tried to hit the ground running. In another parallel with Uxmal, we were again stopped dead in our tracks by the first site of the day.
Emerging from the trees into an open, grassy field, our vision was dominated by the sublime looking El Castillo, otherwise known as the Pyramid of Kukulcan.
Better yet, even though we’d arrived half an hour later than the gates had opened (Chichen Itza opens at 08:00), there were still only a few people about and no large tour groups were yet to be seen.
We tried to wander around and then away, but our gaze kept being drawn back to this impressive structure.
I guess it is this awe inspiring feeling that it garners, even on a dull grey morning like the one we experienced, that lifted it into its position as one of the new ‘Seven Wonders of the World’.
Eventually we did manage to tear ourselves away (I think we were savouring our time at this most popular part of the site before the crowds came) and began to explore the rest of what was around us.
It was actually built on a much larger scale than first thought, but the boon of this was that the areas we explored in the earlier morning were often empty of other people (and as it got later, it still meant that those peripheral areas remained relatively quiet).
It was also here that we were able to set our eyes upon our first cenotes, of which the Chichen Itza site has at least two sizeable ones.
The latter we visited (Cenote Xtolec) was barely visible due to the better viewing areas being cordoned off and lush growth, however the first we reached, Cenote Sagrado was quite a site.
Considered a gateway to the netherworld, it was used for all sorts of ritual sacrifice in its pomp, but that has also meant that over the years it has been a veritable treasure trove for archaeologists, with many dives into its depths unearthing all manner of objects.
A few smaller sized tour groups began to appear, but these were okay and concerns about the larger sized posses that eventually began to appear, was offset somewhat by the fact that many of those mass market tours only seem to hover around the big ticket items within the site.
The demands of these folks was apparently too much for one of the ladies bathrooms near El Castillo (it was out of order), caused a little angst for Sarah as her need for relief became pressing, however the direction we wandered seeking an alternative took us again away from the crowds and into another cool part of the ruins.
There was another smaller pyramid, a lesser ballcourt, not to mention some incredible detail in some of the carving, but the coolest building in this southern section was El Caracol, or the Observatory, named as much for its look and shape, as for any confirmed astronomical purpose (although like so many structures of this place and time it does have some astronomical alignment).
It was a little by accident that we’d left the western part of the site until last, and this was possibly our only regret for the day, as after the impressive El Castillo, it was probably the sites 2nd most popular location.
This meant that by the time we got to the Gran Juego de Pelota after spending over 2 hours indulging in the rest of the complex, it was actually quite busy.
The Gran Juego de Pelota is simply staggering, and it’s no surprise that it is the largest ballcourt known to exist.
It may sound a little odd, but it actually cast my mind back to images of Nazi rallies at Nuremberg (and I’m sure that the ritualistic sacrifice after the contests held on these courts were as gruesome as some of the Nazis practices) with its solid block construction and imposing scale.
One thing the people that kept intruding on my photos have done I guess, is help convey truly the ballcourts scale…
Finally done with the site (which Sarah was quick to label the best of all we had visited in our Mexican adventure), we made our exit and unsure of where buses or colectivos may stop near the main carpark, made our way back out to the highway to flag one down there.
Although it felt like all of the buses we saw were passing us in the opposite direction, eventually one did appear going our way, and off we went back to Valladolid.
* To get to the ruins, we took a bus headed for Merida and simply asked to be dropped off at the turnoff (later buses actually stop at the Chichen Itza site) at a cost of $27.00 pesos per person.
* We walked back to the highway for our return to Valladolid, where we waited for a passing colectivo. The cost per person for the return trip was $25.00 pesos per person.
* Although we didn’t hire one personally, a couple we’d met at our hostel hired a private guide, bargaining him down to $300.00 pesos for about an hour and a half tour (sounded a bit pricey to us).
* Chichen Itza was the most expensive ruins we visited on our trip at $209.00 pesos per person (the UNAH still only charges $59.00 pesos, the Yucatan Government however has cashed in charging the rest).