Mexico has always been a really popular destination for a lot of my friends, and some of them revisit year after year. I wasn’t particularly bothered about the destination itself but Chichén Itzá has always been near the top of my bucket list!
We stayed in the Occidental Grand Xcaret hotel in Riviera Maya on an all inclusive basis. We choose this hotel because it’s full of animals and tropical plants in spectacular gardens, and has two Mayan ruins and a cove where you can swim with tropical fish.
Those who know me very well know that I absolutely love lizards and iguanas so I was in my element in Mexico!! Great big huge lizards EVERYWHERE!! Wish I had brought them home!! Hubby and brother in law weren’t so keen though!
We also had a couple of really lovely parrots living in the hotel!
Located next to the hotel is the Xcaret eco-archaeological park. The park features river formations, five outdoor pools (three of them fresh-water pools, one adults-only salt water pool and one kids’ pool), a swim-up bar and a private cove with soft white sand and so much more it would take too long to list here! Find out more information here.
Whilst we were here we saw tropical birds, huge marine turtles, jaguars, and manatees. We did the tropical jungle trail and admired the paradise river. There is so much to do here we were kept occupied for the entire day!
In the evening we attended the Xcaret Mexico Espectacular which was an amazing performance depicting Mexico’s rich culture and history from pre-historic times all the way to modern day times through dance and other performances. The show was well worth a watch!
The best part of the holiday was our trip to Chichén Itzá which we booked through Viator.
Chichén Itzá is a world famous complex of Mayan ruins. A massive pyramid known as El Castillo dominates the six and a half square kilometre ancient city, which thrived from around 600 A.D. to the 1200’s. The city may had the most diverse population in the Maya world, a factor that could have contributed to the variety of architectural styles at the site. Chichén Itzá is one of the most visited archaeological sites in Mexico; and estimated 1.4 million tourists visit the ruins every year!!
El Castillo (The Kukulkan Pyramid)
Possibly the best known construction on Chichén Itzá is Kukulkan’s Pyramid – a pyramid approximately 75 feet tall. Kukulkan Pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) at about 3pm the sunlight bathes the western balustrade of the pyramid’s main stairway. This causes 7 triangles to form, imitating the body of a serpent roughly 37 yards long that creeps downwards until it joins the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway!
The Great Ball Court – Archaeologists have identified thirteen ball courts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichén Itzá, but the Great Ball Court about 150 metres to the north-west of El Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica and it measures 168 by 70 metres! A whisper from one end can be heard clearly enough at the other end 500 feet away and through the length and breath of the court as the sound waves are unaffected by wind direction or time of day and also night. Legend says that the winning captain would present his own head to the losing captain, who then decapitates him. While this may seem very strange reward, the Mayans believed that this to be the ultimate honour!
At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated; the wound emits streams of blood in the form of wriggling snakes.
At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man. This small masonry building has detailed carving on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair.
Built into the east wall are the Temples of the Jaguar. The Upper Temple of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. In the entrance to the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, which opens behind the ball court, is another Jaguar throne, similar to the one in the inner temple of El Castillo, except that it is well worn and missing paint or other decoration.
Tzompantli – The Wall of Skulls
The Tzompantli structure at Chichén Itzá is very interesting structure, where the heads of sacrificial victims were placed. The platform walls of the Tzompantli have beautiful carvings – the skull rack itself, scenes with human sacrifices, eagles eating human hearts and skeletonized warriors with arrows and shields.
Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
The elaborately carved platform is located on the central plain between the Temple of Venus and the Platform of Skulls. The pedestals that top the platform are crowned with serpent many heads, over which it is believed that there had been standard bearers in the form of jaguars. The figures of jaguars and eagles devouring hearts are said to represent the warriors who were responsible for obtaining victims to sacrifice for the gods. The “Eagle Knights” were archers who attacked the enemy before all other soldiers fought hand to hand. The aggressive eagles which sculpted on the walls of the platform are the symbol of these elite vip group of archers who stood out on the battlefield because they wore clothing of feathers from the bird for which they were named.
The “Jaguar Knights” were believed to be the army fiercest members, modeled after those found elsewhere in the Central Mexico. They fought hand to hand, with wooden clubs tipped with obsidian knives. They covered themselves with armor made of jaguar skins and also helmets of jaguar heads. The figures of jaguars represented the soldiers who were often charged with obtaining prisoners for sacrifice to the Gods of city.
Platform of Venus
There are two different structures with this name at Chichén Itzá, the first is located at the Great Plaza and the second one is located near the Grave of the High Priest. In the corner of one of its panels, there is a Serpent Bird Man, which is considered to be the Quetzalcoatl-Kukulkan’s representation as the ‘Morning Star’. The Round Platform, one of the few buildings so shaped in Chichén Itzá, held a small stone-paved area and a container with offerings. The function of these buildings was probably as podiums for rites, ceremonies or dances.
The Temple of the Warriors is one of the most impressive and important structures at Chichén Itzá. It consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of around 200 carved columns depicting warriors. All square columns are carved with Toltec warriors; in some places they are cemented together in sections, painted in brilliant colors and covered with plaster. The Temple of Warriors has a broad stairway with a plain, stepped ramp on either side, and each ramp has figures of standard-bearers to hold flags. On the top there are serpent columns which had S shaped supported wooden lintels (which are now gone) above the doorways. Astronomical signs and decorative features on the head of each serpent are carved over the eyes. On the top of each serpent head is a shallow basin that could have been used as an oil lamp.
El Caracol, the Observatory, is a unique structure. El Caracol means ‘snail’ in Spanish and is so named due to the spiral staircase inside the tower. It is suggested that the El Caracol was an ancient Mayan observatory building and provided a way for the Mayan people to observe changes in the sky due to the flattened landscape of the Yucatán with no natural markers for this function around Chichén Itzá. The observers could view the sky above the vegetation on the Yucatán Peninsula without any obstruction and Mayan astronomers knew from naked-eye observations that Venus appeared on the western and disappeared on the eastern horizons at different times in the year, and that it took 584 days to complete one cycle. They also knew that five of these Venus cycles equaled eight solar years. Venus would therefore make an appearance at the northerly and southerly extremes at eight-year intervals.
Of 29 possible astronomical events such as eclipses, equinoxes and solstices believed to be of interest to the residents of Chichén Itzá, sight lines for 20 can be found in the structure.
The High Priest’s Grave is the name given to this pyramid because it contains an ossuary (which is a communal graveyard) beneath its foundations. The High Priest’s Grave includes a pyramid about 30 feet high with four stairways on each side, with a sanctuary in the center and a gallery in the front. The sides of the stairways are decorated with interlaced feathered serpents.
Between the first two pillars is a square stone-lined vertical shaft in the floor which extends downwards to the base of the pyramid, where it opens up on a natural cavern. The cave is 36 feet deep and when it was excavated, bones from several human burials were identified along with offerings of jade, shell, rock crystal and copper bells.
After our visit to Chichén Itzá we were lucky enough to visit the Ik Kil cenote. A cenote is a natural pit, or sinkhole, resulting from the collapse of limestone bedrock that exposes groundwater underneath. The cenote is open to the sky with the water level about 26 metres below ground level. There is a carved stairway down to a swimming platform and the cenote is about 60 metres across and about 40 metres deep. There are vines which reach from the opening all the way down to the water along with beautiful small waterfalls and there are also black catfish which swim in the cenote.
Hubby was very brave and jumped into the sinkhole but seeing as I am not a good swimmer I thought it best I just stood back and took photos! A very beautiful and calming place despite the huge amount of tourists passing through!
I’m so pleased I got to go to Mexico and see Chichén Itzá! A really lovely location and great hotel! The only downside to our visit was the scores of mosquitos we encountered! Even the locals and the lovely people working at the hotel said they had never known there be so many at that time of year and the sprays and creams were just not keeping them away! It was frustrating at the time but looking back at all these amazing memories and adventures I think it was well worth being bitten for a few days!