PHOTO: While staying at Oasis Hotels & Resorts, plan a day trip to Chichen Itza. (photo by David Cogswell)
Just outside the small town of Piste, Mexico, sits Chichen Itza, once the cultural and urban hub of Mayan civilization and today a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Its importance to the Mayans cannot be overstated. The city acted as the urban center of their empire. But more than that it was a site of great religious and cultural importance for Mayas and later, the Toltec, as the number of temples and other cultural ruins attest. Not surprisingly, it is one of Mexico’s most popular attractions and certainly one of the world’s most famous ruins – and easily one of the best day trips from your Oasis Hotels & Resorts property in Cancun.
Chichen Itza is a sprawling complex, encompassing numerous ruins that mark three eras of habitation – “pure Maya” from 550 to 800 A.D.; a transitional period from 800 to 1000; and life under Maya-Toltec civilization from 1000 to 1300 and its eventual decline in the mid-1400s.
Walking through the complex gives visitors a glimpse into what life in this thriving metropolis must have been like between 750 and 1200 A.D. when Chichen Itza was at its apex. It also speaks to the importance astronomy played in the daily lives of its inhabitants (Fun fact: The Mayans were the creators of the 365-day calendar).
Perhaps the most famous structure is the Temple of Kukulkan (also known as El Castillo), a towering stepped pyramid that has considerable astronomical significance: Each side has 91 steps with the top platform making the total step count 365, one for each day of the year. Twice a year, during the autumn and spring equinoxes, a shadow resembling a wavy snake creeps down the temple steps eventually meeting up with an intricately carved snake head at the base of the stairs.
Thanks to their skills reading the stars, Mayans were able to predict solar eclipses and even built a rather sophisticated observatory with a spiral staircase, inspiring the name Caracol.
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Other notable sites include the Skull Wall, the Jaguar Temple, the Temple of Warriors and the Great Ball Court. It was here that two teams vied to hit a rubber ball through stone rings located high on the court walls. At 554 feet long and 231 feet wide, it is the largest known ball courts in the Americas and is a marvel of acoustics. A whisper can be heard clearly from one end of the court to the other.
Chichen Itza is an easy day trip for visitors to Riviera Maya and Cancun, just about two and a half hours away by bus. Because the site is such a popular tourist attraction it can get very crowded especially around the time of the spring and autumn equinoxes, so it’s advised to stay close by if you want the best chance to tour the ruins before the buses arrive with day-trippers. After spending a day touring the ruins, stay for the light and sound show that brings the Maya complex to life.