Chichen Itza is the ruins of a vast Mayan city on the Yucatán Peninsula. It was excavated in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Today the complex of pyramids, temples, ball courts and steam houses is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico. It is a World Heritage Site and was voted one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”
The centerpiece of the city complex is the towering Temple of Kukulkan, or El Castillo. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the sun casts an incredible shadow in the form of a serpent, that slides down the pyramid’s 365 steps and joins a monument of a serpent head at the base of the staircase. If you intend to visit Chichen Itza for the equinox, note that the site gets very crowded at that time.
Allow at least a day to explore Chichen Itza’s wonders, from the Temple of Warriors, to the Platform of the Skulls. Climb the narrow tunnel to the Jaguar Throne, walk out onto The Great Ball Court, gaze into the heavens from the observatory of El Caracol, and spend hours examining the intricate bas relief carvings that cover the city walls. Explore the nearby cenotes (sinkholes), some of which were once used in ritual ceremonies.
The site offers little shade, so bring sunscreen, and an umbrella or hat. Afterwards, cool off with a swim in the public cenotes, or unwind with a traditional Mayan beauty ritual in one of the nearby spas.
Chichen Itza is open 365 days and has an entrance fee. Maps of the site are available from the visitor center near the ruins. To get there, rent a car or take an organized trip from Cancún. Staying overnight will make it easier to catch the sunrise and sunset and to avoid the tour buses.