Monday, August 8, 2011

A Day at Chichen Itza

Special Edition Post: Melissa Ghazi, Marketing Manager at The Travel Authority / ALTOUR

If you are in the Cancun area on vacation I highly recommend you to take a day trip to the famous Chichen Itza, or as the natives tell us tourist to rhyme it with “Chicken Pizza”. I was only in Mexico for 5 days, but there was no way I was going to miss going to this archaeological wonder! In 2007, Temple of Kukulkan became one of the 7 New Wonders of the World. Our journey would start in Puerto Morelos and head 3.5 hours north into the Yucatán Peninsula. As a devoted world traveler, there was nothing that was going to stop me from scratching one more “to do” off my bucket list!
Temple of Kukulkan

Before you start your journey, I recommend speaking to your travel specialist before you depart. We noticed the prices once in Mexico increased significantly, unless you’re in Cancun area and have excellent bartering skills, book at least two days in advance. Prices will definitely vary depending on the budget and the comforts you expect. If you want a large spacious bus with unlimited alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks then I would advise on going with VIP package. They are priced around $100 per person. However, my husband and I tend to take the route less traveled. We booked with a tour operator for $50 per person. It was a much smaller bus, no drinks, and you are mixed with Spanish/English speakers. To be honest, it was mostly 70% Spanish and 30% English, but “Hey! When in Rome…” The week we went on vacation was also one the two weeks out of the year when many Mexicans take vacations with their family. We left at 7:30am and our bus consisted of one Canadian couple, one Venezuelan family, three Mexican families, and two single ladies from different cities in Mexico. Let our journey begin….

Speed Bumps on Interstate
Our route from Riviera Maya to the city of Mérida, where Chichen Itza resides is a long bumpy road. There are many speed bumps along the interstate and lots of police check points. No worries though. The police never stopped our bus and everything went smoothly. The small town of Mérida is such a spectacular town. The Mayan people still live in this town today. You will see much of their culture is still an important part of their life. The women wear the traditional Mayan dress and they have many of the physical characteristics of early Mayans. It was such a fascinating town! Catholicism is also an important part of their life now. There are many churches and we even got to witness a saint festival being paraded down the street. 
Festival of a Saint (see the women's Mayan attire)
Once you get out of the town, Chichen Itza is probably about 20 minutes away. My eyes were big the entire time I was there just absorbing all the ancient ruins that surrounded me. I have to admit I’m a big history geek! It brought me back memories of standing on Egypt’s Pyramid of Khufu at Giza and looking down at the fighting ring of Rome’s Colosseum. I had goose bumps all over when our tour guide spoke about the sacrifices and the bloody endings many of the Mayans experienced during their rule. Their history is unbelievably fascinating! Just an important little tidbit I learned: Temple of Kukulkan’s square base is approx 80 feet tall. Each of the four staircases has 91 steps. Counting the top platform as an additional step gives a total of 365 steps: 1 step for each day of the year. Temple of Kukulkan or some call it El Castillo was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. This causes 7 isosceles triangles to form imitating the body of a serpent that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway. Also, important to note the famous pyramid never had any sacrifices happen on it. I always believed that is where it all happened, but it actually is believed to have been in the pyramid to the left, called Ossario. Also, something to know you can no longer climb the steps of any of the pyramids. Due to age and deterioration everything is roped off.  I won’t get into all the interesting facts that I learned on the tour. I’ll leave that for you to discover when you journey there. However, Chichen Itza is very large. We didn’t get to even see all that is there. We did take the 5 minute walk over to the Sacred Cenote. Cenote is a large limestone sink hole filled with water. This one was about 75 feet deep. They do not allow anyone to swim in it anymore after a German woman disappeared in it a while back, so the guide said. This also was another place where they did sacrifices, which they have found bones of children and woman and other offerings like pottery and jewelry.

Ossario- Temple known for Human Sacrifices 

Sacred Cenote

After seeing as many of the sights that we could, we jumped back on the bus to go eat at an authentic Mayan restaurant. The Mayan women and men put on a nice little show of traditional dances. They have great balancing skills I must say! They can dance with glass bottles on top of their heads and without spilling one drop. Once our bellies were full, we left to go see another cenote, Cenotes Ikil (Blue Cenote). The water there was 125 ft deep and very cold. I passed on swimming in it, because frankly knowing people were sacrificed in them and there are underground rivers that can suck you down into was not my cup of tea. Pretty scenery though! The Yucatan area is a tropical jungle and we got to experience one of their powerful rain storms. Having to run to the bus that is about 500 feet away in heavy rainfall was an experience I won’t forget any time soon. Once everyone made it to the bus, we left for our long 3 hour journey back to our hotels. It was more like 4 hours after you add all the drops off stops at each of the resorts. We arrived back to our resort around 10:30pm.  

Long day, life time memories! 
Blue Cenote- Swimming is allowed
Check this video of the equinox and the light going down the pyramid’s main stairway! Look for the body of a serpent that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.

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