Chichen Itza is probably the most famous Mayan archaeological site in the Yucatan Peninsula, and would dare say in all Mexico and Central America. It was once the political and economic center of the Mayan civilization, between 750 and 1200 AD.
Visiting the site is an easy day trip from Cancun. Otherwise, a better way to see and absorb the unique atmosphere of Chichen Itza is to stay overnight at one of the hotels situated next to the site and visit the park early in the morning.
Currently, Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it was recently declared one of the New 7 World Wonders.
There, you’ll still see massive structures standing, demonstrating the extraordinary Mayan architecture, their knowledge in astronomy, and their sacred rituals. I wrote a post about the specific structure in Chichen Itza, so I’ll skip them in this post.
While Chichen Itza can be a World Wonder, a visit to it doesn’t necessarily mean it will be a “World Wonder experience”. To be quite honest, my visit to Chichen Itza has been one my least favorites among all the ruins I’ve visited. Why?
Well, the place is a “circus”!
Since the site is so famous, it is always crowded. The crowds didn’t necessarily put me off, but what did put me off were the sellers that were constantly harassing one. Contrary to the rest of the Mayan sis I’ve visited where the sellers are either concentrated in one area or simply gathered outside the actual archeological site, in Chichen Itza they are everywhere – in every corner, in every ruin, in any imaginable place. Seriously.
You are standing in front of “El Castillo”, marveling at its simetrical shape, the steps, and even the acoustical tricks, and suddenly… “Señor, comprelo por un dollar” – Sir, buy it for a dollar. It’s a seller interrupting you, showing the first thing he could find, offering for a dollar to catch your attention and then raise the price (yes, that’s their trick).
I personally think they affected my experience since they became pretty annoying with their pushy attitude. But anyways, I learned to tune them out and ignored them eventually.
One seller I found very funny was one that wanted to trade my sneakers for a small souvenir. “Are you crazy?!”, I replied. When he saw I wouldn’t even bite, he then offered another souvenir trade in exchange of my camera. “Seriously?!.
Anyways, while annoying, these things do add to the character of the site (or create a character, if I might say)… you just have to be ready to tolerate them. So if you like to be at peace when visiting archeological sites, Chichen Itza is not your place.
But, there’s a way to at least minimize the impact and have a more enjoyable visit with relative tranquility. The doors to the archaeology park open at 8:00 a.m. In order to be there at that time you’ll ned to spend a night in Chichen Itza (the town or any nearby hotel). Since the group tour buses have yet to arrive, you’ll have at least two hours to enjoy the park with almost no one there. Less tourists also means less sellers too, so you’ll be in relative tranquility.
Another benefit of visiting early in the morning is the lower temperature. Chichen Itza gets extremely hot by mid day (also the moment when it is more crowded), so at least you can take it easier by that time, since you’ll have already visited the major sights. Equally, by the time the park gets crowded, you can move to see less visited sights while the arriving crowds visit the major sights.
There’s the need to do a bit of planning to have a “World Wonder worthy” visit in Chichen Itza, so I hope this helps a bit when you decide to visit the ruins.