Chichen Itza & Valladolid April 2017

Today we head inland to visit one of the largest Maya cities that ever existed: Chichen Itza.  Chichen Itza translates to “At the mouth of the well of the Itzaes” and was built between the Late Classic (600-900 AD) and the Terminal Classic Period (800-900 AD).  It is located near two large sinkholes called cenotes, Cenote Sagrado and Cenote Xtoloc.  Cenotes are sacred to the Maya and other than a source of water, they are believed to be the portals to the underworld.  Here Cenote Sagrado was often used to worship the Maya rain god Chaac.  Chichen Itza was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World as well as a UNESCO World Hertiage Site.  It remains the most important archaeological vestige of the Maya-Toltec civilization in Yucatan Peninsula.  Chichen Itza served as the primary ceremonial center for the Mayas until about 1000 AD when the Toltecs invaded the area.  Toltec practices then fused with Maya ones to create a cohesive community.


Chichen Itza is a very large site with the most photographed El Castillo, also known as the Temple of Kukulkan (a Maya feathered serpent deity), dominating the Great North Platform.  It is a step pyramid about 30 meters high, built over an older temple pyramid.  Each of the four faces of the pyramid has 91 steps which together with the shared platform at the top add up to 365 steps which is the number of days in a year.  During Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts shadows that look like a serpent is slithering down the northern staircase.  It took us a good couple of hours to cover the major points of interest here including the Great Ball Court, Temple of Warriors, Group of a Thousand Columns, Temple of Carved Columns, the Osario, Las Monjas, La Iglesia, and El Caracol, etc.

DSCF3728El Castillo

DSCF3776You can see a face in between and above the 2 columns.  That is the Maya Rain God Chaac.


DSCF3774We were told that during the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, the square around El Castillo is completely packed with tourists.

DSCF3781Here you can see the different layers of foundation where El Castillo was built over an older smaller pyramid.

DSCF3732The Great Ball Court here is the largest and best preserved ball court in all of ancient Mesoamerica.

DSCF3734Two stone rings representing the feather serpent were carved on both the 12 meter high walls.  They are believed to be mainly for decoration but some claim that players had to hit a ball through these rings which to me seems like quite an incredible feat.

DSCF3738The most intricate carvings are found here at the Great Ball Court.

DSCF3773The Temple of Jaguar next to the Great Ball Court

DSCF3746Tzompatli or Skull Platform

DSCF3749The serpent motif can be seen all over the site.  Here on top of the wall.


DSCF3785Temple of Warriors is a large stepped pyramid with rows of carved columns depicting warriors in front.

DSCF3788The Group of a Thousand Columns was believed to support an extensive roof system.

DSCF3793This is where people used to come and gather

DSCF3797Temple of Carved Columns

DSCF3804This looked like a game of tic tac toe but the guide said it may have been some other game.

DSCF3815The Osario is a step pyramid with staircases on each of its four sides like El Castillo.  This is in the older part of the Chichen Itza site.


DSCF3826A smaller ball court here in the old part of town

DSCF3830Casa Colorada or Red House is one of the best preserved structures at Chichen Itza.  Inside are extensively carved hieroglyphs dating to 869 AD.

DSCF3835El Caracol gets its name “The Snail” from the spiral staircase inside.  It resembles the shape of a modern observatory with all the doors and windows of the central dome aligned to astronomical events, especially those linked to the orbit of Venus.

DSCF3846Las Monjas or Nunnery in the Central Group of structures was a governmental palace for the Maya royalty.  The name Nunnery came about because the myriad rooms resembled a convent to the Spanish conquistadors.

DSCF3842La Iglesia in the Las Monjas complex is a temple decorated with elaborate masks.

DSCF3843Here you can see the face of the Maya Rain God Chaac


During the 1400s, the Maya abandoned Chichen Itza and left no known record for the reason.  It was speculated that droughts and perhaps disease or war contributed to Chichen Itza’s downfall.  Walking amongst these amazing stepped pyramids and temples, one can only imagine what it was like back in the day.  While Europe was still in the Dark Ages, the Maya already mapped the heavens, invented the calendar, and constructed vast cities in the jungles without metal tools or the wheel.  From Chichen Itza, we continued to Cenote Ik Kil nearby which is one of the most photographed cenotes in the Yucatan Peninsula and rightfully so.

DSCF3860Cenote Ik Kil is open to the sky with beautiful vines dropping down into the water.

DSCF3877From the ground down to the surface of the water is about 26 meters.  The denote measures about 60 meters in diameter and 40 meters deep.

DSCF3881Come for a look see but don’t bother swimming here.  It is usually super crowded with locals and tourists.

Instead of taking a dip in the crowded Ik Kil with people jumping off the side into the water and others in life jackets bopping around, we went for a quick visit to the cute little town of Valladolid.  In 1545, Valladolid was built on top of a Maya town called Zaci where original buildings were dismantled to make use of the stone in building the new Spanish colonial town.  This town has witnessed many conflicts between the Maya and the Spanish including the Yucatan Castle War.  Today, Valladolid became part of the Magical Villages Program where buildings, funded by the Mexican Tourism Department, were restored.


DSCF3902Colorful buildings in Valladolid

DSCF3932Convent of San Bernadino de Siena


DSCF3912The beautiful Coqui Coqui perfumery

DSCF3923Coqui Coqui also has a men’s store complete with a traditional barber shop inside.


This concludes my two weeks in Central America.  Stay tuned for my next trip to see the Giant Pandas in Chengdu, China!

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