The world-famous pyramid in Chichén Itzá
My Mexican friend and I left Mérida and headed for the famous Mayan pyramid Chichén Itzá, which belongs to the 7 new wonders of the world. It is located right in the middle of the Yucatán Peninsula, between Mérida and Tulum, our next destination.
In order not to have to drive the same long distance twice, we took all our luggage with us, stored it in Chichén Itzá and immediately after visiting the site we continued to Tulum. This is no problem. There's a special baggage room there.
Amazingly sophisticated and well-preserved World Heritage Site
The downside was that we had very little time in Chichén Itzá because we had to take the bus to Tulum in the afternoon. Even though we could see the whole thing, I wish it had been a little more relaxed, but you can't have it all. So we rushed through many years of history in less than 1 hour.
The central Kukulcán pyramid still shines with the glow of 1000 years ago. It is very clean and in good condition. Unfortunately you cannot climb it like the pyramids in Teotihuacán or in Palenque. You can't even get near it, it's sealed off. In the past, visitors leaned with their bodies against the pyramid to fill up good energies.
Unique here are the different architectural styles that appear side by side. The pyramid consists of 365 steps (the number of days a year), and each corner faces one of the cardinal points so that people can use it for navigation.
Absolutely amazing is the echo you hear when you clap your hands in the right place. The echo sounds like that of the Quetzal bird that the Mayans considered sacred. When you see the video on the Internet, you think it's fake, but I was there and it worked the same way.
Brutal, prehistoric ball games
Not far from the main pyramid is the ball court, the largest prehistoric court in Mesoamerica. There the inhabitants played a game called Pitz. The players tried to throw a rubber ball through stone rings without using their hands. The balls bounced down the slanted sides of the playing field and from there back onto the playing field below.
The players wore different but numerous protective pads on their hips, arms and legs. A wooden or leather yoke often protected her shoulders and trunk. The play equipment was extremely heavy and weighed up to 9 kg.
The people took the games very seriously and used them to settle political and social disputes. Differences of opinion between two parties were often also decided by a game. The captain of the loser team or the entire loser team was at risk of being beheaded.
However, some archaeologists presume that not the losers but the winners of a ball game were sacrificed. Because the Maya didn't see death as the end. For them it was a transition to another world. To sacrifice themselves to the gods was an honour and not a punishment.
a huge natural well
About 400 meters north of the pyramid lies another interesting place. The Cenote Sagrado (in English "natural well") with almost circular shape and vertical walls. It is a cave filled with water, where the ceiling collapsed.
Once Maya were proud rulers here, today poor salesmen
Of all the archaeological sites I have visited in Central America, Chichén Itzá is the best organized and of course the best visited. The pyramid attracts tourists from all over the world, all of whom are sun-drenched on the large open area of the site. Even crusaders or beach vacationers who need 1 day of culture for a change can be found here. The parking lot of Chichén Itzá is overflowing with tourist buses.
The once historic site is highly commercialized. This robs of the traditional flair of this monumental site. In some places you might think you're at a flea market. It is teeming with vendors selling visitors their crafts, magnets, carved figures, jewellery, children's toys, art plates and everything else.
They belong to the Maya tribe that used to live and throne here with pride until the Spanish conquered their land. Today the Maya have to fight with lawyers for their right to sell things on this site, because there are so many sellers nowadays. They make at least a little money from it, but that is of course only a fraction of what the organizers of this tourism industry earn.
If you prefer less tourists and commerce and want to spend less money, you better choose the no less impressive historical site of Uxmal near Mérida.