These Chichen Itza facts for beginners are designed to help you get a better understanding of these Mayan ruins.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, the archaeological site is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and considered one of the Seven New Wonders of the World.
Behind Teotihuacan outside of Mexico City, Chichen Itza is the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico.
However, with all the disperse information available online, many are left trying to distinguish Chichen Itza facts from fiction.
Allow us to remedy that situation.
Chichen Itza Facts for Beginners
People love to visit the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza.
But what should they know before visiting?
It’s hot, for starters.
The history of the site is as fascinating and mysterious as the ruins themselves.
To go to the answer, simply click on the question.
- What’s the history behind Chichen Itza?
- Where is Chichen Itza located?
- What’s there to see at Chichen Itza?
- Who lived in Chichen Itza?
- When was Chichen Itza discovered?
- How do I get to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen?
- Which is better Chichen Itza or Tulum?
- How long does the Chichen Itza tour take?
- How much does a tour to Chichen Itza cost?
- What’s the weather like in Chichen Itza?
- What are the opening hours at Chichen Itza?
- Is it worth going to see the equinox at Chichen Itza?
- Should I visit the cenote at Chichen Itza?
- Are there any good places to eat around Chichen Itza?
- What should I bring on a Chichen Itza tour?
What’s the history behind Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza thrived from around 600 A.D. until 1000 A.D.
The Itza people, a Mayan group who emigrated to the Yucatan Peninsula sometime around the 6th century, are credited with having started the building of this monumental site.
The construction of Chichen Itza stretched out over hundreds of years and included many different influences including that of the Toltec empire from Central Mexico.
The name Chichen Itza translates as “At the mouth of the well of the Itzaes.”
At its peak, Chichen Itza had the most diverse population of all the Mayan kingdoms, which stretched out over the region of southeastern Mexico as well as parts of Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras.
Where is Chichen Itza located?
Chichen Itza is located in the northwestern part of the Yucatan Peninsula.
By car, it’s about a one hour drive southeast of Merida or about a 2.5-hour drive from Playa del Carmen.
By plane with Fly Playa?
Playa del Carmen to Chichen Itza takes just 35 minutes!
Did we mention the views?
What’s there to see at Chichen Itza?
Lots of ruins, for starters.
A complex and fascinating history that scientists, archaeologists, and anthropologists are still trying to understand.
On your guided tour of Chichen Itza, you’ll have the opportunity to observe and learn about several important buildings or structures.
Here are just a few:
The famous Kukulcan pyramid, also known as El Castillo or The Castle, is the site’s most iconic and massive structure. Recently, archeologists discovered that the pyramid was built over a large cenote, a.k.a sinkhole. What’s perhaps most impressive and awe-inspiring is the fact that the Kukulcan Pyramid has 365 steps — one for each day of the year.
El Caracol Observatory
The ancient Maya were experts at many areas of civilization. High on their list of accomplishments? Astronomy. Their calendar proved to be even more precise than the Roman calendar we use today, and many of their structures located throughout Mexico and Central America were built in accordance with the movement of the stars. The Observatory, also known as El Caracol (the snail) is where their astronomic scholars had their headquarters.
The Great Mayan Ball Court
The ancient civilizations that occupied the area known as Mesoamerica created hundreds of ball courts spread out all over the massive stretch of land reaching from northern Mexico all the way down south to what is now Central America. The largest of all these ball courts, however, can be found at Chichen Itza (the length of over two American-style football fields). Moreover, the brilliant brains behind the construction of the Chichen Itza Ball Court designed it in such a manner that you could perfectly discern whispered conversations from one extreme of the field to another.
Temple of the Warriors
While this may sound like something straight out of Game of Thrones, the Temple of the Warriors pre-dated the most pirated series in world history. The Temple of the Warrior is comprised of a large pyramid upon which rests the figure of Chacmool. The figure, which can be found in different variations throughout Mesoamerica, did not represent a deity but rather a warrior. Rows of carved columns, meant to represent the warriors of Chichen Itza, can be found in front of the pyramid.
The Sacred Cenote
There are over 6,000 registered cenotes or sinkholes in the Yucatan Peninsula. For the ancient Maya, these sacred bodies of water not only provided the essential element to sustain life and large population centers. In reality, they were understood to be portals to Xilbaba or the Netherworld; a space that connected the realm of the underworld to that of the earthly realm. At Chichen Itza, the Sacred Cenote served as a place of offering, and many sacrificial remains and objects have been discovered in its interior.
Who lived in Chichen Itza?
As mentioned above, the Itza people are credited with founding this modern-day New Seven Wonder of the World. However, over the years, different rulers from the Mayan kingdom ruled over what proved to be one of the most important ceremonial and political centers of the entire region. Today, the people and language of the local indigenous population are known as Yucatec Maya.
When was Chichen Itza discovered?
Discovery is perhaps an unfair term. Just like Christopher Colombus didn’t “discover” the already inhabited Americas, Chichen Itza was never lost. It had, however, been abandoned by the time the Spaniards arrived in the 16th century. Then, in the mid-1850s, the famous explorers Frederick Catherwood and John Lloyd Stephens traveled to the region and began to document their findings. Their publications, Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan (1841) and Incidents of Travel in Yucatan (1843), became worldwide sensations.
How do I get to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen?
There are several ways of getting to Chichen Itza from Playa del Carmen. You can take the bus from the ADO bus station in Playa del Carmen at 8:00 a.m. and arrive at the site 3.5 hours later. Likewise, you can rent a car and make the drive to Chichen Itza, which takes you near Valladolid, in about 2.5 hours. Or, you can travel in style and comfort with Fly Playa from the Playa del Carmen airport. Not only will you get there in just 35 minutes, but you’ll also take in some spectacular views of the Yucatan Peninsula.
Which is better Chichen Itza or Tulum?
This one has no easy answer. Both Chichen Itza and Tulum are amazing places to visit and learn about the fascinating history of the ancient Maya. However, there are a few things to take into consideration. If you’re going by car or bus, Chichen Itza will take up much more of your day just getting there and back. Tulum, which is located just 45 minutes away from Playa del Carmen by car, has spectacular views of the Caribbean Sea. While Chichen Itza is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and New Seven Wonder of the World, and a great place for those interested in learning about the history of the Maya, Tulum allows you to combine a day at the beach with a visit to some Mayan ruins. If you want to visit both Tulum and Chichen Itza, as well as Ek Balam and Cobá, you can also go on our Ultimate 4-in-1 Mayan adventure and take in these majestic sites by air!
How long does the Chichen Itza tour take?
It all depends on your tour and your guide, but calculate anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 hours inside the archaeological site. Add to that lunch and possibly a visit to the nearby Ik’ Kil cenote, and you’re likely to spend around 3 to 4 hours in total.
How much does a tour to Chichen Itza cost?
Again, that depends on how you prefer to travel. If you go on your own, you can just pay the entrance fee and decide whether or not you want to hire a guide or not. However, our advice is to always go accompanied by a guide so that you can learn about the truly amazing history of Chichen Itza and the Mayan civilization. Otherwise, guided tours vary greatly in price depending on whether or not you go on the big tour busses or on a private or semi-private tour of the Mayan ruins. With Fly Playa, you can go on your own or arrange a small group and share the costs. For more information, see our Chichen Itza excursion page.
What’s the weather like in Chichen Itza?
Hot. Really Hot. On the scale of 1 to 10, it can reach 12 — especially during the summer months. That’s why it’s always best to get there early and beat the crowds, when possible. Be sure to drink plenty of water and try to stay in the shade as much as possible. For more information on what to expect weather-wise in the Yucatan Peninsula, be sure to see our article on Playa del Carmen weather.
What are the opening hours at Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza is open daily from 8:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. At around 4:00 p.m., however, park guards begin to politely ask everyone to leave.
As mentioned above, the best time to visit Chichen Itza is in the early morning hours.
Is it worth going to see the equinox at Chichen Itza?
That all depends on how much you can deal with large, white-clad crowds. Each Chichen Itza equinox, as the sun begins to set on the Kukulkan Pyramid, a shadow of what is considered to be the feathered serpent known as Quetzalcoatl descends down from the heavens, slithering down the steps and disappearing into the head of the serpent located at the base of the pyramid. It’s a spectacular sight, but one that you will have to share with thousands of other festive people, most of whom will be dressed in all white and smelling like patchouli.
Should I visit the cenote at Chichen Itza?
Yes. You should always visit cenotes. Centoes are a phenomenon found in few parts of the world, and they represent one of the biggest attractions in the region. And while you can’t swim in the Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza, you can visit the nearby Ik KIl Cenote for a nice, refreshing swim.
Are there any good places to eat around Chichen Itza?
There are many options for eating in Piste, the town located just outside of Chichen Itza. Likewise, if you visit the Ik Kil Cenote, you can combine lunch with a visit to the iconic sinkhole.
What should I bring on a Chichen Itza tour?
Wear comfortable clothes and shoes you feel walking around in. Make sure to bring sunscreen and sufficient water. In addition, if you plan on going for a swim in the cenote, be sure to bring a swimsuit, towel, and change of clothes.
Have any questions about our Chichen Itza facts?
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