CHICHEN ITZA is known around the world, a site visited by over a million tourists a year. Without a doubt it is the most famous MAYAN site in existence inviting visitors to come from far reaches to marvel, and yet others come to simply check something off their bucket list or take a foto as proof for bragging. My experience was quite the opposite. Having heard about/read about/ and most definitely seen pictures of the gorgeous Mayan architecture existing just a little south of my home in neighboring México in what is now el estado de la Yucatán, I only recently decided it was somewhere to visit that could help me in my current life/heart journey. I’ll explain what I mean by this later.
Yucatán is actually a Mayan term, which means “te escucho hablar” or “I hear you speak.” When the Spanish arrived to the peninsula in 1528 and spoke to the Mayans in a foreign tongue, the Mayans responded: “YU-CA-TAN” acknowledging the Spaniards although they did not understand them. The Spanish thought the Mayans were responding with the name of their land, which was not so. So the Spaniards called the whole region YUCATÁN. Chichén Itzá was both an important city and ceremonial epicenter of the Mayan civilization. The historical timeline of this empire is confusing to say the least, because there seems to be evidence of different stages of this Grand City. The varying architectural styles here, like these older buildings in Puuc Style,
serve as proof of different stages of rule and development. Some say in the 10th century (987 AD) the TOLTECAS arrived to this MAYAN LAND. The Toltecas, Fierce Warriors known for their violence and love of sacrifice and ritual, soon imposed their traditions of sacrifice when they conquered. Others say it happened in reverse and that when Chichén Itzá was abandoned (due to famine and drought) that the Mayans traveled north to Tula and merged with/conquered the Toltecas. Those that argue this use Language as part of their argument. Had the Toltecas really conquered Chichén Itzá, wouldn’t the Mayan language have been replaced with Nahuatl (language of the Toltecas and Aztecas)?
Are you confused? Well so was I, but what is clear is that the two civilizations have similar art, architecture and a tied History.
Some things that came out of this new bigger empire include an improved infrastructure & trading system and an expansive rule and/or influence over neighboring tribes/people. The lasting impact is that both the Mayan architecture and their written language endured.
The most important structure here at Chichén Itzá is EL PIRÁMIDE DE KUKULKÁN. Kukulkán, the Plumed Serpent/el Serpiente Emplumada, is their supreme god/creater god. He is made up of the 4 elements: maiz/corn (earth), a fish (water), a lizard (fire), and a vulture (air). It is believed this god was brought by the Toltecas to the Maya. What is most amazing about this structure, or pyramid, is that it is a three-dimensional calendar. The four sides (each with 91 steps) added together make 364 steps, plus one platform at the top: making 365 total days = A SOLAR YEAR/UN AÑO SOLAR.
The Mayan calendar was so precise, so perfect. They tracked planets like Venus moving through the sky. They predicted eclipses (All while parts of Europe were living in the Middle Ages). They even knew when the Autumnal Equinox and Spring Equinox would be and built this Pyramid so that precisely on the equinoxes, an optical illusion caused by the Sun’s shadow forms on the steps leading all the way to the Serpents’ Heads at the base. In other words, triangles would form the body of the serpent (or Kukulkán) from the top of the pyramid all the way to the bottom. They called this event, THE DESCENT OF KUKULKÁN/ EL DESCENSO DE KUKULKÁN.
Built in the 6th century, this pyramid is a MARVEL. I dare you to stand next to it, look up and not feel like you are tiny, like you are a speck in the Cosmic Dance of our Universe. I arrived early when the site opened so that I could take fotos without dozens or hundreds of other tourists around. I also wanted moments to myself to simply appreciate these people, the Maya, masters of Mathematics, Geometry, and Astronomy.
Nearby, you find the Temple of 1000 Columns, which leads you to the Temple of the Warriors. It is believed to have been built around 1200 AD, the architecture likely influenced by the Toltecas. This temple displays alternating animals with human hearts, representing those sacrificed here. Atop the temple, an altar of Chac-Mool.
The Temple of VENUS was especially beautiful. The carvings are some of the best preserved in the site.
The Mayans call Venus NOH EK’, which means GRAN ESTRELLA/GREAT STAR.
Venus is pictured above and in the foto below as a great star.
Venus represents all tangible beauty in the world and sensuality and the arts. I genuinely marveled at the beauty at Chichén. Since we are speaking about the Cosmos, I might as well tell you about the Mayan TLACHCO, or Campo de pelota. Chichén Itzá holds the largest known Tlachco in the Americas. It is 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide (pictured below).
Here, they played an important “BALL GAME.” Este juego no era para la gente común. This game wasn’t for the common people. This game was witnessed by the prominent people in Maya society, the kings/rulers and their families, the priests and governors, etc. They each had a designated place from which to watch the game. Some form of this game has been played in Mesoamerica since 1400 BC, and so throughout the thousands of years it was played, it was surely adapted by the people playing it. According to my tour guide, the game represents the important Mayan Theme of DUALITY. La dualidad: el dia y la noche, la vida y la muerte, la luz y la oscuridad. Cómo estas temas eran tan importantes a los Maya, por ejemplo, en su libro sagrado POPOL VUH jugaban este juego Hun Hunahpú and Vucub Hunahpú, it is thought that later the Maya honored these beliefs and traditions to remind the people that there is both day and night, life and death, light and darkness, we are in the Cosmic Dance. There may be duality in our lives, all around us, but we are duality ourselves as well. Ever had a bad day and you find yourself angry and feeling low, but then you feel and you forgive and you come back to a balanced place, you become calm and content and your spirits are raised? THIS IS DUALITY IN US.
At the end of the game, the captain of the winning team would be killed, his head cut off in sacrifice (offered to the Gods). There are those that say that the loser was killed, but my tour guide assured me that it was AN HONOR to die after this game and that the Mayan King and priests believed it was best to SACRIFICE THE BEST, to give your best player. Standing in that huge court at Chichén Itzá, luckily with very few people around to bother me, I imagined how intense it must have been to play that game with everything you had to give to a crowd of thousands cheering, WINNING the game, and then being SACRIFICED.
5 TIPS FOR VISITING CHICHÉN ITZÁ
Arrive when the site opens to avoid annoying selfie stick moments and huge crowds. Buses and buses of tourists arrive daily between 10am-12pm normally from nearby Mérida, Cancún, Tulum, etc. Arriving early in the day will save you in two ways, because the Yucatán is also HOT HOT HOT. The later you arrive, the HOTTER IT WILL BE. Really HOT, tropical and humid hot and SOL will wear you out faster, trust me. To be honest, I was sweating even in the early morning here, although I had toured the entire site already before the hottest time of day which is the afternoon. With so much to see here at Chichén, get an early and cooler start and find shade whenever you can.
BE CAREFUL IN THE RAIN
Do be careful of your footing, especially in the Rain or if it has rained earlier that day. HAVING BEEN IN THE SITE ALL OF 3 MINUTES, I slipped in the mud and fell on both my ass, knee and leg somehow. My tour guide was worried about me and the mud on my clothing and leg. He went to retrieve some napkins and helped wipe some of the mud off of me. I was mostly embarrassed, thankfully I wasn’t hurt. I think I was too eager/hurriedly trying to start seeing the site. Perhaps it was a sign to slow down my pace and enjoy this place, this gift. And so I did. I slowed my pace in order to really see and feel the Energy here at Chichén Itzá.
STAY THE NIGHT IN VALLADOLID
Stay in nearby Valladolid and travel by Colectivo to/from the site (40 Pesos each way). It’s cheaper. It’s easy enough to do. It’s quick too, only about a 35-40 minute ride. Also, when you leave Chichén in the afternoon you can enjoy the nearby colonial town at night, or hit up some of Valladolid’s surrounding cenotes for swimming and exploration.
SKIP THE LIGHT AND SOUD SHOW
I don’t recommend the RAZZLE DAZZLE show de “Luces y Sonido”. I was recommended to stay until nighttime to watch it but opted not to. There is an extra fee on top of your ticket in order to stay and watch it, and at the end of the day, it’s a “DISNEYLAND-esque” attraction that although inviting to some, turns me off. This site is HISTORY, living HISTORY. What is special about this place is that I could stare up in awe at a pyramid, temple, or structure and imagine how they lived in their era. How innovative, how advanced this civilization was. They mapped the planets and Moon’s cycles. They documented in carvings their practices, their traditions. Why add neon lights and who knows what type of music to make it like a Rock Concert or theme park? To each their own. Again, if that is appealing to you, then be my guest. But I will tell you, I spoke to many locals who criticized the Mexican Government, who have supposedly SOLD OFF most of México’s archeological sites, historical sites, and basically any land that has foreign interest, including this site: Chichén. In 2010, The state of Yucatán finally bought back Chichén Itzá’s lands after having been owned privately for centuries.
THE SOUVENIR STANDS ARE A BIT OF A NUISANCE
Beware of those trying to sell you a bunch of stuff/souvenirs, although I ended up making friends here on site Chichén with these very people. They happened to be the local vendors (many/most of Mayan descent) selling all the things you don’t want to by. Or maybe you do want a handmade whistle that sounds like a JAGUAR GROWL. I was visiting this place for the experience and to appreciate the history, not to shop for statues and tshirts to take home. While I respect that they need to make a living, it was distracting at times. Nonetheless, I am happy that most of the vendors are people who descended from the original MAYA from Chichén and surrounding areas of Yucatán. As I relaxed under a tree for shade near Venus’ temple, they started chatting with me and began teaching me DIFFERENT MAYAN WORDS. They taught me how to say:
AK AH: noche/night
BIN A BIHIL: como te llamas?/what’s your name?
COOLE SHUUP: mujer/woman
BAAX KOOM JAANTEE: que vamos a comer? What are we going to eat?
They also asked me to stay a long long time with them in their village and said that they would teach me much more Mayan. (Was that quite possibly a marriage proposal?) awww I missed my chance. . . Beautiful to connect with them for the short time we spoke. Final words of advice of what I learned here from the Maya: