Editor’s note: The following blog entry is based on experiences from Smarter Travel’s company trip to Cancun, which took place from January 11 through 15.
Chichen Itza is about a two-hour drive from the Cancun area, which makes it an easy enough day trip (though there are a few hotels, including the pretty Mayaland Hotel that are a few minutes’ walk from the entrance).
Because the public isn’t allowed to climb El Castillo pyramid right now (According to various rumors, the reasons for its closure range from the pyramid suffering from so much foot traffic to the legal fallout of a litigious tourist. It sounds like it will reopen again soon.), the whole site feels more like a museum than most Mayan ruins I’ve visited recently, cities such as Tikal (Guatemala), Yaxha (Guatemala), and Caracol (Belize), where it’s possible to climb pyramids and temples and get the amazing views and the feel the exhilaration of ascending the same steep steps as the ancient Mayas.
However, two things stood out for me that make Chichen Itza uniquely appealing among Mayan ruins. The first is just how huge the ball court is, much larger than any I’ve seen before (and according to Lonely Planet, the largest ball court in Mesoamerica). The other element that stands out is the cenote, a pond-sized limestone sinkhole that was a sacrificial site. It’s possible to get close to the edge of the cliff that plunges straight down, and to see little caves along the opposite sheer face leading down to the green water.
If you do go to Chichen Itza, try to get a guide, since the history and details of the site are hard to grasp without a good storyteller. For instance, I would have never known that if you stand close to the east-facing side of El Castillo and clap, the echo produces an amazing sound that is supposed to resemble the call of the famous quetzal bird.