If you dont know it by name, you will probably recognize it when you see a photo, as Chichen Itzas main structure is the most well known symbol of the Mayan Civilization and was, or is one of the 7 Modern Wonders of the World.
We had the option to take one of the tours to Chichen Itza, pay at the beginning and have everything done for you, but I am not one to enjoy being told when and where I can do things so my friend from Brazil and I decided to rent a car, and live by the "its about the journey, not the destination" mantra and find Chichen Itza ourselves!
Standing in front of the impressive temple at Chichen Itza
We rented a car in Playa del Carmen and as the day was very young we set out south towards Tulum. After a quick stop for some fuel for ourselves and the car, we took the road inland towards Coba and Chichen Itza. Passing numerous cenotes and a couple small towns, the evidence of civilzation becomes obsolete and the flat, straight road shows you your destination 10 minutes from now. Across the peninsula from Playa del Carmen to the capital of the Yucatan, the town of Merida, there is just an expanse of jungle, and very, very small towns. When the road is this flat, and straight, with the scenery on the sides so constant that it becomes a green blur, it is very difficult to stay focused on the road, which thankfully, has very few cars.
When coming through the very small "pueblos" they are lined with the long, gradual speed bumps, which give the locals enough time as you slow, to stand in the middle of the road and try to "yell-sell" you souvenirs. Being as you do not actually come to a complete stop over the bumps, they will hold out statues and models of Chichen Itza and yell things like "One dollar!" and shake it at your car. Since we were on the way to Chichen Itza, there didnt seem much sense to stop and buy a souvenir prior, and we also noticed the same sales technique inside Chichen Itza ... they say "one dollar" and shake a certain item that is quite impressive, and as you engage with them, they finally explain the one dollar cost is for the minuscule little souvenirs. Go figure.
We arrived at the entrance to Chichen Itza at about 10am, after a few hours on the road, and parked on the road leading up to where all the tour busses park. Another souvenir seller started speaking to me and I asked if I purchased a figurine from him, could he ensure that our car was safe and not ticketed? He agreed, we bartered, and I actually got a great little model of the main temple, and a couple little figurines for 100 pesos, or about 6-7 dollars. Seemed a great deal considering that parking and a security guard was included in that too.
Staring up in awe of Chichen Itza
The line to pay for tickets moves quite quickly and we took the short walk through the path to the open area where you get your first view of the enormous masterpiece.
You would not really call this a "ruin" as the main temple stands still in an incredibly well preserved state and towers over everything. Due to the death of an old lady a number of years ago falling down the main stairs, you can no longer climb the steps, but standing at the bottom, looking up at this marvel is worth the journey getting here.
The main side you see when you approach Chichen Itza temple is in much better condition than the other sides, for some reason, and if you stand at the bottom of those certain steps, and clap, the sound travels up the steps and into the room at the top and emits a sort of quacking sound that is extremely amusing.
You can rent a guide who will walk around and show you the area and give you information about all the temples and their significance. There are a few other ruins that are less grand and in a worse condition than the main temple, also a field of pillars that stands behind the main building. I am not a very spiritual person, but I have to admit there is a sort of feeling you get being at a place like this. Possible from all the brutally murdered people who were "sacrificed" here? Maybe, or maybe its just the feeling of the fact that the construction and significance of this thing I am looking at, is still up for interpretation. Other than what are essentially theories, no one really, truly knows what Chichen Itza signifies and how it was built in such close collaboration to the stars and with the absence of modern tools. Staring at it, your mind starts to wander which gives you an appreciation of what you are there to see.
Floating in the abyss of cenote Ik-Kil
In the foreground of the main temple are some more buildings that are also in quite good condition, and after soaking in all the culture for a few hours, we decided it was time to get something to eat, and take a dip in a cenote to wash off all the sweat from the journey, walking and baking in the hot sun.
Our little figurine investment had been a good one as we came back to see the gentleman still hovering around our car, selling his art work to other parking visitors. I thanked him, told some other tourists that the souvenirs are more expensive inside to hopefully push another sale for him, and we set off in search of Ik-Kil Cenote.
Was not a long drive or hard to find with the road littered with signs, we pulled into the parking lot and entered the gigantic hole cenote of Ik Kil.
As far as cenotes go, this one is one of the most visited, the largest, deepest, and best equipped. We sat down at the buffet and stuffed our faces, just like you should always do before swimming. I think thats how the saying goes ... anyways, we changed into our swim suits, and ascended the steps down the many stairs to the water level. As you enter the shade of the cenote, and the air coming off the water, you instantly cool off as the temperature drops considerably. By the time you get to the bottom you almost dont need the dip in the water to be refreshed any longer but there is a ledge you can jump off and so jump off we did.
View of Ik Kil Cenote from above
Since the cenote is so deep under ground, and with almost no direct sun light, the water gives off an appearance of being completely black, which throws off some people with fear of open water. Probably also with the fact that these cenotes have been known to be ancient Mayan sacrifice sites with countless situations of human skeletons being found at the bottom.
A refreshing way to end an amazing day. As the sun was no longer scorching hot and just lighting the horizon with a touch of gold, we hopped back in the rental car, rolled down the windows and set off back towards Tulum, and our home destination of Playa del Carmen.
Many people will feel more comfortable doing a tour where they do not have to drive in a foreign country, and run the risk of getting lost or what have you, but I was very happy with my decision to rent a car and do the journey ourselves. You are not bound by the limitations of having to set off and leave from places at a certain time. You do what you want, when you want, and at the end of the day I worked it out, and doing it ourselves had probably ended up saving us a few dollars here and there. Two must visit places checked off in one day. Win.