Chichen Itzá - ¨The well of the Itzás¨

Location: Yucatan, Mexico
75 miles east of Merida, 115 miles west of Cancun,
160 miles northwest of Playa del Carmen.


Chichen Itzá, most famous of all Mayan archaeological sites, is a vast site dating from 600 to 900 AD. A breathtaking and powerful site it is a "must see" for the first time visitor to the Land of the Maya. There are six square kilometers of archeological zone. With its authentic and conscientious restoration and some of the most powerful and moving frescoes in the ancient Mayan world, it is a most impressive site. At its height it was undoubtedly a bustling metropolis, with its population taking part in a prosperous and artistic society.  Chichen Itza is a pivotal site when studying the Maya Late Classic period. Its rise coincided with the steady decline of the other great Mayan cities. Plagued by inter-dynastic blood feuds fought to determine kingships, the powerful kingdoms of the Middle Classic period were faltering. Wedged between two great kingdoms, that of Coba and Uxmal, the site boasted no great structures or temples until the arrival of a group of Mayans called the ¨Itzᨠwho forever changed the political thinking of the entire region. The Itzá are believed to have been sea faring merchants who traded extensively from a base on the western coast of the Yucatan, bringing rare goods such as obsidian from Mexico. Not only good merchants, the Itzá were a warrior people, and through their excursions into the Yucatan they challenged the military might of the cities and alliances of Coba and Uxmal. Bringing Mexican military and political concepts they had learned as a result of their trade relations, they were eventually victorious, and built their capital city around a large cenote, or natural well, calling it ¨the well of the Itzá¨.

The different architectural styles (classified as ¨New¨ Chichen Itza and ¨Old¨ Chichen Itza) led scholars to assume that the older section exhibited the building styles prevalent to the Puuc Maya while the newer section was attributed to a foreign invader such as the Toltec. In particular, the glorification of the Toltec god Quetzalcoatl in his Mayan form as Kukulcan, the Feathered Serpent, led many to believe that the Toltecs had taken over this formerly Mayan city. Now, however, scholars are beginning to dispute the idea of a foreign invasion and takeover. Contemporary thought is that Chichen Itzá must have been a cosmopolitan endeavor that was inhabited by a diverse group of peoples from the Puuc to the Toltecs.

In a period when dynastic blood feuds were bringing down many Classic Maya kingdoms, Chichen Itzá introduced a new system of rulership unique in the ancient Maya world because it lacks the fundamental relationship of its people to a king. Both portions of the city lack documentation of kingship that is characteristic of cities using the system of dynastic rule. Hieroglyphic texts tell of a matriarchal lineage that produced five sons who shared rule. This concept of co-rule among brothers was unorthodox at the time. According to Linda Schele and David Friedel in A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya, ¨They turned away from the dynastic blood feuds of the past and moved toward effective alliance and consolidation .... The reassertion of the idea of brotherhood marked the dismantling of that first principle undergirding kingship: dynasty.¨  This dynamo city developed into a military machine that defeated and absorbed the surrounding provincial cities whose government was still based on kingship, offering the loser an opportunity to join their alliance. If the loser refused they became the sacrificial offering to the gods of the ¨New Deal¨.

The Maya were adepts in the understanding of how the earth and the planets worked together in the yearly cycle. At Chichen Itza this knowledge is encoded in the great pyramid and the city itself. The observatory, or Caracol, located in the Old City is unique as the only truly round building found at any Mayan site. Its function as an observatory for astronomical study is obvious. El Castillo, the grand pyramid, has staircases on all four sides, each with 91 steps that totalled with the last step on top equal the 365 days in a solar year.

Twice a year, on the Equinoxes, light and shadow create an effect that make it appear as if the Feathered Serpent is descending down the stairway of "El Castillo" the grand pyramid. Each spring, thousands of people from all over the globe come to witness this event. After a millennium of existence, this pyramid still functions as a highly reliable way to pinpoint the changes of the seasons.

The Maya ruins at Chichen Itza are also well-known for their chacmools, or receptacles for offerings to the rain god Chac. To the Maya of the inland jungle, rain was the most precious of nature´s gifts. If rain was not forthcoming the crops suffered and indeed so did the whole society. The rain god Chac was an important deity for these Maya who had very little water without rain. It was the chac mool who received the human hearts as offerings for his beneficent rainfall.

Chichen Itza has numerous monuments to explore: El Castillo; the Main Ball Court, which is one of the largest discovered from the ancient Mayan world; the Sacred Well or Cenote, where archaeologists have discovered a number of well-adorned skeletons of sacrificial victims; the Temple Of The Warriors, with its 1,000 columns dedicated to the warriors of Chichen Itzá; and the Caracol or Observatory. From its Old City to its newer structures that attest to its tremendous political influence in the Late Classic Era of the Maya, you should plan to spend at least 3 hours visiting Chichen Itza.

What to bring when visiting Chichen Itza:
Your curiosity and spirit of adventure ... and sunglasses and/or sun hat, a lightweight rain poncho or collapsible umbrella (in tropical climates occasional showers can happen any time of year) and water. You can buy cold bottled purified water at the entrance to the ruins and at several places within the ruins. Chichen Itza is best seen beginning at 8 am before the big bus crowds arrive.

MayaSites Travel Services Excursions to Chichen Itzá:  

1 Day Guided Excursion to Chichen Itzá & Ek Balam

For other tours that include Chichen Itza
visit our Yucatan Excursions page

Traveling May to mid-December?
Private tour to Tulum, Coba, Chichen Itza and Ek Balam
is included in our Off Season Vacation Packages


Spring Equinox at Chichen Itza & Dzibilchaltun
March 19-22, 2015
With Archaeologist & Maya Expert
Alfonso Morales Cleveland
Plus Ek Balam, Uxmal, Labna,
Tulum, Coba & More!

For more information or to make a reservation contact MayaSites Travel Services:
U.S. office toll free 877-620-8715
Outside of the U.S. (country code 1) 505-255-2279
Or e-mail us at
[email protected]

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