Chichen Itza is by far the largest and most well-recognized site of the pre-colonial Mayan people. It is located on the Yucatan Peninsula, approximately 100 miles west of Cancun. It is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Mexico and the 2nd most visited archaeological site. It also has the distinction of being one of the “New Seven Wonders of the World.”
The first settlement at the site is dated to sometime during the 5th century. These earlier Mayans built many monuments of their own in an area now known as Chichen Vieji. These buildings cover a time period from the 5th to the 10th centuries while the site of Chichen Itza extends from the 10th to the 15th centuries.
There are too many monumental buildings at the site to list them all. The political, economic and spiritual structure of the Mayans’ world is reflected in the designs and purposes of the many constructions. El Castillo, or the Pyramid of Kukulcan is perhaps the most well-known of all the buildings. It has become the universal symbol for the site, a towering buildings covered in elaborate carvings and reliefs. El Caracol, the city’s observatory, is another famous building. Chichen Itza is also home to the Great Ball Court, where the Mayans played their famous violent ball game. Though many Mayan sites contain such ball courts, Chichen Itza has the largest of them all.
The architecture at the site is a mixture of Mayan and Toltec elements, as the Toltec migrated south and conquered the existing Mayan culture around the turn of the millennium. They merged with the existing population, creating an entirely new culture that is reflected in the design of Chichen Itza. This site has managed to survive well over the last 500 years and has been the subject of excavation and restoration for nearly a century now. Though the Mayan kingdoms are no more, the monuments they left behind attest to the greatness they once held.
Those visiting Chichen Itza are advised to find a local place to stay and spend a few days in the region. There are many local Mayan communities that cater to tourists and it can be the perfect chance for a visitor to experience some unique modern Mayan culture. The site itself is rather large and difficult to see all in one go, so a multiple-day journey is best. In addition, there’s a spectacular nighttime light show where they illuminate the ruins and tell the tale of the people who once lived there. Anyone who visits the Yucatan Peninsula should take a stop through Chichen Itza and see this wonder of Mesoamerican history and culture.