Chichén Itzá, one of the greatest Mayan cities ever built, is the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico. Tens of thousands of people once lived here and, at times, it can feel like there are that many tourists at the site. Here’s why it’s worth braving the crowds and how to avoid some of them.
Exploring the Chichén Itzá archaeological site
Chichén Itzá is a pre-Columbian site and geeky Indiana Jones types believe 50,000 Mayans may have lived here at the city’s peak. Today it’s a huge, well-groomed site with a lot of rules and a lot of ropes preventing visitors from getting too close to most structures. And you can forget about climbing to the top of anything. Here are some highlights.
Your entry ticket to Chichén Itzá includes the price of the nightly sound and light show whether you want to see it or not. We’re not usually into those things since they’re inevitably cheesy and some archaeological experts believe they damage the ruins. However, since we’d already paid for it we decided to check it out.
See the sound and light show at Chichén Itzá for yourself in our video, below, taken during the hour-long spectacle.
Where to sleep near Chichén Itzá
When our friend Pancho told us that he knew the family that “owns Chichén Itzá” we thought something must have been lost in translation. After all, nobody owns something like Chichén Itzá, right? Wrong.
The Barbachano family literally owned Chichén Itzá until March 2010 when they sold just over 200 acres, covering the core area of the site, to the Yucatan government for 220 million pesos (just shy of USD$18 million).
The Barbachano family may have sold the Chichén Itzá site, but part of the family has retained a number of hotels situated right on its doorstep. In fact, their Hotel Chichén Itzá, built in 1923, is the first hotel ever built within an archeological site. Over the decades it’s hosted the likes of Jacqueline Kennedy.
We stayed at The Lodge at Chichén Itzá, which is also owned by the Barbachanos and run through their Mayaland Resorts group. When musicians play concerts at Chichén Itzá this is where they stay—which explains the Elton John room (huge wet bar, raised king size bed, double jetted tub) and the Placido Domingo suite.
Sarah Brightman also stayed here when she performed at the ruins and the hotel management is assuming that Sir Paul McCartney will continue the tradition and stay at the hotel when he comes to perform at Chichén Itzá in 2012.
Our room made us feel like stars with tons of space, a Jacuzzi tub, a virtually private pool, and (best yet) a huge rocky mound of unexcavated Mayan ruins just off our patio. As hotel guests, we also got to use the hotel’s much more pleasant private entrance to Chichén Itzá which allowed us to avoid the bus crowds and hawkers at the main entrance to the site. We wandered over to the main entrance once, however, to check out the museum which was closed with no opening date posted.
Here’s more about travel in Mexico
Here’s more about Archaeological Sites