CHICHÉN ITZÁ – the breathtaking Mayan heritage
October 7, 2018
Chichén Itzá is one of the 7 New Wonders of the world so no wonder that this ancient Mayan city is one of the most captivating places to visit on the Yucatan Peninsula. Huge crowds are coming here every day to walk in the steps of the Mayans. I brought you some tips to make the most out of your visit while on site.
1) Spend a night in nearby Pisté
This small town (or village) near Chichén Itzá is about 30 minutes loose walk away from the Mayan ruins.
Unfortunately very few brave people choose this city for a Mexican one-night stand. Visitors to Chichén Itzá either arrive by organised tours on buses in huge groups from the beachfront hotels or some stay in the city of Valladolid for a few days. Yet I believe that this authentic small town called Pisté deserves much more attention.
We arrived to the town from the 180D highway. The first impression… Well, wasn’t too impressive at first sight at all. Those who have not visited such places yet can have a smaller cultural shock from the tiny houses with tin- or cane roofs, the pye-dogs, the dirty little children on the streets, the stares of locals and the not too inviting restaurants with the colourful plastic chairs and tables. Some of us did mention the “OMG what is this place!” and “Good Lord, we’ll get robbed here!” sentences to be honest, but any kind of panic was completely unnecessary. The locals are super delighted to have tourists in their village who spend their money in Pisté instead of elsewhere.
If you are a big souvenir hunter, it’s definitely the place for you to gather all you’d like to buy. Nowhere, but nowhere we have found cheaper gadgets than in this city. And inside the Mayan site were the 2nd best prices. Remember to bargain!
We booked quite a new accommodation that at the end far exceeded our expectations. This small hotel is 25 minutes walk from the entrance to Chichén Itzá, the staff are extremely helpful, the place is clean and comfortable, outstanding value for money and I totally believe that it’s hard to find a better place to stay in the area. In the immediate vicinity there is a grocery store, souvenir shops, restaurants, pharmacy – so basically all you can want or need.
In the centre of the village, across from the church there is a very authentic eatery, I wouldn’t call it restaurant. This is La Gran Chaya, where local specialties are served, but you can ask for dishes that are not on the menu. Since we decided that we are going to taste guacamole everywhere we eat, we could not miss out on it here. Especially that this was the first eatery we tried out. So we asked. Immediately one staff member ran to the veggie market to buy fresh avocados for the Mexican specialty. And how right we were to ask for it! It was one of the best guacamoles we tasted throughout our whole trip.
2) Arrive early in the morning to the entrance of Chichén Itzá
Since crowded buses start arriving around 10am from the Cancun area, it is worth lining up at the entrance when the ticket windows open to avoid the massive crowds. We were at the gate at around 8:30 and there were quite a few people purchasing the tickets already.
If we arrive early, we can absolutely enjoy a tranquil walk around the main pyramid (El Castillo), with only few others hanging around. It is much more pleasant than staying to look thourgh hundreds of other people.
Inside the main entrance there is possibility to buy refreshments and use the bathroom
Opening hours: 8:00 – 16:30
3) Buying the tickets
Don’t be surprised when it turns out that you have to buy 2 tickets at 2 separate windows. It’s a bit confusing, yes. One of the tickets costs 70 pesos (this is some kind of a tax that goes to the government), the other 172 pesos, this is 242 pesos in total (about 11 EUR or 13 USD). Cards are accepted, but the terminal does not work all the time, so be prepared with cash too.
4) Check out the whole site and admire the tiny details of Mayan arts
This temple town, situated in the middle of a jungle, was once the major economic and political centre of the Mayans and then the Toltecs. Wonderful and exalted, yet quite a bloodcurdling place, with over 600 different buildings, churches and several ball game fields, some of which are still being explored.
While we were discovering the place, we listened to some guides’ explanations here and there and there were really many interesting things to hear about. For example, if we are standing approximately 10-15 meters away from the main stairs of El Castillo and we clap with our hands, the stairs repulse the sound of the quetzal (the sacred bird of the Mayans). During the construction of the city, but mainly known about El Castillo, the Mayans used their famous calendar: at every equinox exactly at sunset, the rays of the setting sun project Kukulkan’s (the Mayan snake-god) snake-body on the main stairs of the pyramid. It is absolutely breathtaking what architectural and astronomical abilities the Mayans had!
5) Sellers and souvenirs
There are plenty of merchants offering their goods in the whole area of Chichén Itzá. There are some who are quite trailing, so do not be afraid to say no. If you want to buy though, don’t be afraid to bargain as usually the first price they say is many times higher than what they’ll sell it for at the end. If you agree on a specific price, you should not back out from the deal and it is considered totally disrespectful!
We found out later on that it was much more worth buying anything here at the site than anywhere else. The closer we got to the beach, including Cobá, the more expensive everything became.
6) Sundays and national holidays
If you can, stay far away from Chichén Itzá on Sundays and national holidays. On these days Mexican citizens are free to enter the site so the number of the visitors can multiply!
7) Get ready for the heat
It’s warm in the middle of the jungle, very warm. And if the heat wouldn’t be enough, you have to deal with some humidity as well. So always have water with you!
8) Don’t try to climb the pyramid!
Yes, it was possible to climb to the top of El Castillo some time ago, but today it is strictly prohibited! If anyone wonders about the view from the top of the jungle, should visit the other, less known Mayan pyramids in Cobá. You can do there what you can’t in Chichén Itzá.