The history of Chichén Itzá is not for the faint of heart. These ancient Mayan temple ruins in Mexico are shrouded in mystery and brimming with gruesome stories.

Once you finally get past an army of local vendors at the entrance, the ancient stone carvings of fearsome creatures and bloodthirsty warriors at Chichen Itza inspire awe.

This pre-Hispanic city (and UNESCO World Heritage Site) has a fascinating 1,000-year-old history. It is the second most visited archaeological site in Mexico, partly due to its close proximity to Cancun.

Located in the Yucatan Penninsula, the ruins are extensive and cover 740 acres. Many sections have still never been excavated.

While wandering around this massive archaeological site in Mexico, I kept wondering what hidden treasures lay undiscovered beneath my feet.

In this travel guide, you’ll learn tips for visiting Chichen Itza, along with some interesting history about the most popular Mayan ruins in Mexico.

Table of Contents

The History Of Chichen Itza

One thing that makes the Chichen Itza so intriguing, other than the giant stone pyramid, is the mysterious decline of the Maya people themselves.

By the time of the Spanish conquest of the Maya, this great city and others like it were virtually ghost towns.

Historians have several theories as to why. Overpopulation may have depleted environmental resources. A great drought or another catastrophe may have wiped out the civilization.

Competing city-states were constantly at war too — the Maya may have simply done themselves in.

In any case, Mexico’s most famous ruins are astonishingly well-restored site compared to other Mayan ruins in the region. Which is why it’s considered one of the New 7 Wonders Of The World.

El Castillo the Temple of Kukulcan
El Castillo Pyramid at Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza Highlights

El Castillo Pyramid

Once you enter Chichen Itza, you can’t miss the 98-foot tall pyramid Temple Of Kukulkan (aka “El Castillo”) which dominates the northern part of the city. Not as large as the pyramids of Giza, but impressive nonetheless!

Kukulkan is a feathered snake deity in the Mayan religion. The pyramid is guarded by enormous carved serpent heads at the base of the stairs.

The Mesoamerican fascination with stars and planets mean the pyramid’s four stairways represent the four points of a compass. There are 365 steps too, one for each day in the solar calendar.

Nine terraces probably symbolize the Maya belief in a nine-level heaven too.

If you REALLY want a treat, visit El Castillo in March or September during the annual equinoxes. At sunset, a play of light and shadow creates the eerie effect of a snake gradually slithering down the staircase…

Scientists recently discovered this pyramid actually has two more pyramids inside it.

Clapping At The Pyramid

One cool trick to try in front of the temple is to clap as loud as you can. The sound echoes up the side of the structure, mimicking the sound of the local Quetzal bird, a spiritually important animal to the ancient Mayans.

This feature was engineered into the pyramid on purpose, which is pretty crazy to think about!

Stone Columns
Hall Of A Thousand Columns
Warrior Temple at Chichen Itza
Temple Of The Warriors

Chichen Itza Tours

If you’re the type of person who prefers joining a tour, there are guided tours of the Chichen Itza Ruins, some of which begin from Cancun and include transportation.

Chichen Itza Pyramid
Different View of the Pyramid

Chichen Itza Conservation Programs

A group of scientists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico(UNAM) has been researching the existence of a second structure located insidethe Kukulkan pyramid. They found the pyramid-within-a-pyramid using three-dimensional electrical tomography.

It’s believed the current structure was built on top of the other one. Both sit on top of an underground cenote cave filled with water. Archaeologists continue studying the site, and you may be able to see some of their excavations as we did behind the main pyramid.

Tips For Visiting Chichen Itza

  • Tourists can no longer climb to the top of the Kukulkan Pyramid due to UNESCO status and a few deaths over the years from falling.
  • The sun is unrelenting. Wear a hat, apply sunscreen and take plenty of water. If possible, arrive as soon as the gates open in the morning.
  • Avoid the vendors selling souvenirs at the entrance. Yes, tourists support their livelihood

Chichen Itza Map

Chichen Itza Map
Getting Around the Ruins