chichen itza

Posted by susan on July 18th, 2010. Filed under: getaways.

There are few times in life when you approach something so amazing that it literally takes your breath away. I mean the kind of things you’ve seen online and in books and even on TV, but that you never imagined you’d see up close. Lisa and I dedicated our last day in Mexico to such an encounter.

There are countless reasons why El Castillo, the Pyramid of Kulkulkan at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan Peninsula, is an amazing structure. For one thing, it represents the Mayan calendar. I can’t recall all of the intricacies, but our tour guide explained that the number of steps, sides, blocks at each level and more, are deliberate and represent a particular time or element of the calendar.

Also, when you clap while standing right next to the pyramid, it emits a unique echo, or a chirp. Our guide explained that the chirp resembles the sound that a Quetzal makes, which is an endangered bird that is sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec civilizations.

pyramid of chichen itza

The pyramid is also perfectly positioned so that when the sun rises and sets on the Spring and Autumn equinox, a shadow zig zags from the topĀ  to bottom, showcasing the serpent’s head at the base.

serpent at chichen itza

For those reasons and many more I’m sure, Chichen Itza’s El Castillo was named one of the Seven Wonders of the World in 2007. And since then tourism has grown a lot. Tourists used to be able to climb the steps of El Castillo, but it is now prohibited. Looking up from that view, I was perfectly fine with keeping my feet on the ground.

We also had the opportunity to walk through The Great Ball Court, which is where the Mayans played athletic games. It was hard to imagine how they played just by standing in the court, but we were taught that part of the game included hurling a ball through a large ring that hovers over the court.

ball court in chichen itza

The way that sound waves travel through the court is unique in here too. Apparently, you can hear a whisper from one end of the court to the other. Also, when our tour guide clapped, this time there was no echo – the sound waves aren’t impacted by the wind. We also learned that once the game was over, either the winner or the loser was sacrificed by beheading. From what I’ve read, I think most assume the winner was sacrificed, which was considered to be a great honor. However, our tour guide stated that though that is assumed, it is not proven.

Speaking of sacrifice, not far from the ball court is a natural sinkhole called Cenote Sagrado, also known as the Well of Sacrifice. The landscape naturally opens up to the oval shaped pool of water below.


Right next to the pyramid was The Temple of the Warriors. Eerily enough, we got a close up right as the sky turned dark before it started to rain. The altar below was for human sacrifices.

chichen itza

We booked our excursion through Olympus Tours and we thought they were fantastic. On the way down we got a thorough overview of Mayan history, anecdotes of the surrounding areas and more. The tour also included breakfast on the bus, all the Corona you could ever want, lunch at a nearby restaurant and a dip in another Cenote. I’ll get to all that, but for now, I just wanted to relish in the magnificence that is Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza Pyramid

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