Visitor Info Guide to the
Mayan Ruins of the Riviera Maya
information on the the Maya people and their ruins, please follow these links:
For a Detail Map of Chichen Itza please follow this link
By Dr. Eduardo Vargas
This archaeological city of the state of Yucatan was
founded by the Maya-Itzas who came led by Itzamna
after separating from Acalon. They arrived in the
Peninsula around the year 435-455 A.D.. Chichen was
occupied twice. The first occupation was from 495
to 692, and the second from 948 to 1204. The architecture
of the first period is considered to be authentically
Maya, and the second is considered to have Toltec
influence, since it has certain elements in common
with those found in Tula, the ancient capital of the
The zone measures 3 kms from North to South and 2
kms from West to East. This zone contains so many
constructions that it gives us an idea of how important
this city was to the Maya. In general these buildings
can be divided into two groups, according to the era
in which they were built:
Those of the Classic Maya period, which covers the
Seventh to Tenth centuries. In this group these buildings
are found: The Nunnery and its annexes, the Akab Dzib,
the Temple of the three lintels, the Red House , that
of the Phallus and that of the Deer. In the Maya Toltec
group constructed between the Tenth century and the
Thirteenth century, we have the Castle, The Temple
of the Warriors , the Ball Court, the Thousand Columns
group, the Tzopantli, the Osary , the platforms of
Venus and of the Tigers and of the Eagles. The Astronomical
Observatory (Caracol) belongs to a transition phase.
The city has as its main axis two cenotes , Xtoloc,
which provided the city with water, and the Sacred
Cenote, where offerings of maidens and children were
made to the gods. It has a diameter of 60 meters with
a depth of to the water of 12 meters. In 1900, the
North American, Edward Thompson, who lived in the
Hacienda Chichen extracted a multitude of objects
from this cenote. Other explorers who studied Chichen
were: Francisco Montejo, "The Advanced",
the conqueror of Yucatan in 1527; Stephens and Caterwood,
in 1841-42,; Le Plongeon in 1875; Maudslay, Maler
and others took care of divulging this Maya city to
Among the buildings of outstanding beauty and worthy
of being seen are: The Castle, a pyramid 60 meters
on each side and 24 meters in height and ending in
an flattened summit. On top of it there is a temple.
The pyramid has nine terraces and four stairways-
one toward each cardinal point.- leading to the temple
consisting of a portical , a perimeter gallery and
a sanctuary at the top.
This pyramid is believed to be superimposed over one
made at a prior time It has a passageway on one side
of the North stairway. You can climb some steps to
a place where there are the sculptures of a Chac-mool
and a jaguar painted red and encrusted with jade and
turquoise . The High Priest is believed to have sat
on its back while passing down judgment, during the
era when the priests occupied the office of civil
and religious authority. (Classic Period)
The Ball Court is an enormous construction 168 meters
long and 70 wide. It is made up of two vertical walls,
one facing the other with a distance of 36 meters
between them. In the center part there is a circular
ring decorated with intertwined snakes and cosmic
glyphs. At the extremes of the patio are two tribunals
which were supposedly for the principal lords. This
construction has an echo effect and impressive acoustics
. If a person stands under one of the rings and claps
his hands or shouts , the sound is repeated seven
times. The people in the tribunals can have a conversation
in a whisper with a person at the opposite end of
the patio. This is an experience not to be missed.
In recent times, this enclosure has been used for
concerts, symphonies and choral groups from different
countries. At this time the magno-concert of Italian
opera singer, Luciano Pavaroti, is being prepared.
The walls rest on platforms in talud where there are
mosaics and glyphs in bas-relief representing warriors
and principal lords in different poses and scenes.
On top of the eastern wall there is a temple with
some serpentine columns holding the jamb. It is supposed
that the Main Chief watched the ball game, a ritual
for the Maya, from the interior of this structure.
This temple can be reached by an exterior stairway
on the South side.
The Temple of the Warriors is a pyramid, also ending
in a flattened summit, with a square base 40 meters
on each side . It is lower than the Castle because
it only has four superimposed terraces which have
scenes decorated with personages, eagles and tigers.
The upper part has walls of what was a a ritual building
, rectangular in shape 21 meters on each side The
roof is sustained by a series of pillars decorated
with figures representing the monster of the Earth
, a priest , and the Bacab who to the Mayas was the
one who held up the world. The pillars are located
in each of the cardinal directions, each with its
own colour. On the facade of this building there are
columns forming the entrance. These are very similar
to those in the main building of the Ball Court .
Both support a wood lintel with decorations and glyphs.
This building is reached by climbing a stairway on
the west side of the entire structure. But before
getting to it , one passes in front of a low platform
where there are a multitude of pillars forming part
of the group called The Thousand Columns .
This structure is very similar to one found in Tula,
the ancient capital of the Toltec Hueytlapallanecas
, called the Temple of Tlahuizcalpantecutli "the
Lord of the Dawn ". This , together with other
temples with Toltec elements, is the reason that Chichen
is considered as the city of Yucatan with the most
influence of the Toltec culture. The group of the
thousand columns is made up of a series of columns
whose position is in the form of an irregular square.
On the south side it is completed by a building called
the market , but it is obvious that it formed a part
of the columns according to the Maya idea of architecture.
In its conformation, three sections can be distinguished:
The northern section, consisting of 156 columns placed
four deep with a length of 125 meters by 20; the east
section made up of 134 columns, including some that
are in a temple on the same side. , and the west,
by the ones that form the entrance of the rectangle
and are placed in four rows in an extension of 125
by 11 meters . On the south side, which is closed,
is the rectangle of a large construction called the
Market , which has a small ball court on its east
side. Other constructions found around the Castle
are: The platform of Venus, a small monument in the
northern part of the castle. It has a square base
and each of its sides has a stairway with serpentine
decorations ending with the sculptured head of the
mythical reptile, a presentation of a man-bird -serpent,
the symbol of the Quetzalcoatl and of Kukulcan. It
also has a chronological sign associated with the
planet Venus,from which it gets its name. It has been
called "The tumb of Chac-mool" , the sculpture
of this personage having been found there.
Between there and "The Ball Court" is The
Platform of the Tigers and Eagles and the "Tzompantli.
The Ball Court is a construction like that of Venus,
except that on its wall jaguars and eagles with human
hearts in their claws are carved . Since this is of
the toltec period, it probably was used for sacrificing
the captives. Very close to the platform , there is
a foundation with walls decorated with human skulls
called the "Tzompantli." Perhaps the skulls
represented the people who had been sacrificed. In
this zone, on the north side of the castle, is the
Sac-be, or white road, which was a wide foot path
leading towards the "Sacred Cenote". This
was a natural depression with borders cut vertically
with a diameter of 60 meters and a depth to the water
of 12 to 15 meters.The southern part has a small altar
from which , according to legend , after a religious
ceremony , victims who had been chosen to be sacrificed
to the gods were thrown.
On the south side of the Castle is a series
of buildings which include "The Osary",
"The house of the deer", "The
red house", "The Caracol",
"The Nunnery", "The Church",
"The Temple of the Panels " and
"The Akab-Dzib". The Osary has its
name because there is a row of seven tumbs
of Maya personages in the interior, with jade
and ceramic offerings. This building is a
flat topped pyramid, with 4 stairways on each
side and a height of 10 meters. At the summit
are the ruins of what was probably a temple.
This building belongs to the Maya-Toltec style,
and has stairways decorated with serpentine.
"The Red House": This building has
its name because it has a sash of red colour
on its facade. It is considered to be a part
of the Maya constructions of the Puuc style,
those which do not have a marked toltec influence.
It rests on a platform with round corners
. It is made up of a portico with hieroglyphic
inscriptions, three rooms, that which represents
it and sets it apart are some "roof combs"
, ornaments that give the building addition
height. One of these is of medial mouldings
and the other has a mask of the god Chaac.
Close by, on the west side, is the "House
of the Deer", named for a picture with
figures of these animals found inside. It
is like the Red House , but simpler in its
Leaving this part and going south, there are
some buildings in the process of restoration.
Then finally a wide square is reached. In
the east of this, is "The Observatory"
or "Caracol", as it is commonly
known since it has a winding staircase in
its interior. This building is made up of
a rectangular platform with a narrow stairway
in the western part giving access to the terrace
where the observatory rises . It has openings
in various cardinals points, which must have
served for the observation of the
stars, since it has a circular structure similar
to contemporary observatories.
Still going south, we find the temple of the
Sculpted Panels ; several figures in relieve
of warriors, trees and animals are conserved
on its walls. And further on is the building
of "The Nunnery", a colossal fortification
with a foundation of 70 by 35 meters and a
height of 18 meters. It has a staircase divided
into two bodies, in the northern part it gives
access to a structure with a rectangular base
made up of two large parallel halls . Its
decoration of tapered medial mouldings, is
pure Mayan style without toltec influence.
On the east side, an annex is found . This
construction has two richly ornated facades;
The one on the north side has three doors
with stone lintels and masks of the god Chaac
in its corners; the other facade on the east
has extremely complicated ornaments. It has
masks and a cornice on which there is a series
of noses of the god Chaac.On this is a panel
with medial moulding, and in the middle, a
richly dressed personage in high relieve in
the center of a circle of beams or feathers.
The other building which forms part of the
"Nunnery" , is the "Church".
It is rectangular with a single entrance door
found in its western part. The lower part
of the front only has worked stones without
decoration, but on the level of the doors,
is a thick cornice having a series of medial
mouldings surrounding the entire building,
where there is a panel with masks, on which
the four Bacabs in their representations of
snail, armadillo, turtle and rabbit appear.
There is a moulding over this that enclose
a sort of sash between two inclining columns,
next there is a border of medial mouldings
supporting the roof combs, that have a series
of masks, identified with the god Chaac. This
building is the most richly carved, considering
Behind this building at about 90 meters, is
the "Akab Dzib", so called for the
lintels inside that "only the pure"
can read . Since the building has thick walls
, its interior is dark and it is not easy
to read its content. Also the name can be
translated as "the writing that is read
at night". It is in pure Maya style and
is formed by a solid center, a hall to the
west and constructions to the north and to
the south. In this last one are sculptures
of warriors and some inscriptions, as well
as some red hands, which are believed to be
the hands of Zamna, the major god of the Mayas.
Besides these two section, in which we can
distinguish or try to distinguish two construction
styles: the Maya and the Toltec , Chichen
Itza has another series of constructions much
farther to the south. These building which
are a little difficult to get to, are given
the name Old Chichen. Among them we have:
The Date Group which are two Atlantides supporting
a lintel with some calendar type inscriptions
corresponding , according to the GMT correlation
, to the year 879 AD The principal group to
the south east includes the Castle of Old
Chichen and the Temple of the Jaguars . There
the Temple of the Sculptured Lintels is found,
as well as the cornice of the Birds Group,
and that of the three Lintels, and that of
Admission: $80 Pesos - $8.50 US (Free On Sundays)
Or "waters stirred by the wind", was built between two lakes
during the Classic period (600-900 AD). Its architectural style
is closer to the style of the Peten such as Tikal. During it's
peak, Coba had almost 50,000 inhabitants, and covered an enormous
area of more than 80 square kilometers. Even though hundreds
of structures still remain buried beneath the jungle, archeologists
believe Coba was one of the largest Maya cities in the Yucatán,
and probably functioned as an important link in trade between
the Caribbean and the inland cities.
One of the most interesting features of Coba is the raised roads
know as sacbes (Maya for white roads) which connected the entire
Peninsula. The roads were built in straight lines, 1 to 2 meters
in height, and between 3 and 20 meters wide. They were covered
with limestone plaster and frequently included ramps and intersections.
One road extends over 100 kilometers, starting at the base of
the main pyramid at Coba and ending at Xahuna, south of Chichen
Itzá. More than 50 sacbes have been discovered at Coba, all
originating at the central Plaza and stretching out in four
The great pyramid Nohoch Mul (large hill), 42 meters in height,
is the highest pyramid in the Yucatán. From the summit dozens
of structures covered by the jungle can be detected. The Iglesia
or Church is the second highest pyramid and grants a view of
Lake Macanox from its summit. Finally, the smaller pyramid of
Conjunto Las Pinturas is notable for the mural that once covered
its walls, of which traces can be still be seen.
While visiting this Mayan city you can walk up to 10 Km (6 miles),
depending on how many ruins you wish to see. They offer bicycle
rentals and it is not a bad idea if you really want to see the
site. The village itself has several small native markets and
restaurants. Plan to spend most of the day and come early to
avoid the jungle heat and beat the crowds. Remember to wear
sturdy shoes, insect repellent and bring water.
After visiting the ruins you will no doubt want to cool off.
Do not do this in the lake. There are crocodiles in the
lake which the local children feed pieces of chicken to in order
to entertain tourists and earn a few pesos. However, there
are 2 wonderful cenotes near by that very few tourists find,
which are fabulous for swimming or just cooling off. Choo-Ha
and Tamchaha-Ha are a short 10 - 15 minutes drive from the Coba
ruins. Follow the road around the far side of the lake.
In the little village turn left and follow this paved road out
of the village. You will come to a Y intersection.
Turn right and follow aprox. 3.2 Km (2 miles). You will
find a small sign and toll booth on the left side of the road at
the entrance to the cenotes. At this writing it was
$4. to enter one cenote or $6 to enter both. The first
cenote has a very nice, crystal clear pool that is ideal for
swimming, The cavern is quite highly decorated with
numerous stalagmite and stalagtite formations . The
second cenote is not so highly decorated but is quite
spectacular and even better for swimming. In this cenote
there is a very large, deep pool with 2 diving platforms.
Was first occupied in the Late Postclassic period, beginning
about a.d. 1200. Its principal structures are similar to those
found at Mayapan. Tulum was an important port and trading
center for the Yucatan's east coast Maya. Considered by many
as the most beautiful of the Mayan sites due to its location
on the 15 meter high cliffs above the Caribbean ocean. When
the Spanish first set eyes on the site in 1518, they considered
it as large and beautiful a city as Seville, Spain. They were
perhaps misled by their dreams of El dorado, by the glory of
its position, and by the brightly painted facades of the buildings.
Architecturally, Tulum is no match for these great cities. Nevertheless,
thanks to the setting, it sticks in the memory like no other.
You enter through a breach in the wall which protected the city
on three sides. The fourth was defended by the sea. This wall,
some 5m (16ft) high with a walkway around the top, may have
been defensive, but more likely its prime purpose was to distinguish
the ceremonial and administrative zone (the site you see now)
from the residential enclaves, which were mostly constructed
of perishable material. As you go through the walls, the chief
structures lie directly ahead of you, with The Castillo (The
Castle) rising on its rocky prominence above the sea.
At The Templo de los Frescos (Temple of the Frescoes), the partly
restored murals that can be seen inside the temple depict Mayan
Gods and symbols of nature's fertility; rain, corn and fish.
They originally adorned an earlier structure and have been preserved
by the construction of a gallery around them, and still later
(during the fifteenth century) by the addition of a second temple.
Characteristically, its walls slope outwards at the top. Carved
on the corners of the gallery are masks of Chac, or perhaps
of the creator, God Itzamna.
The Castillo, on the highest part of the site, commands imposing
views in every direction. Aside from its role as a temple, it
may well have served as a beacon or lighthouse. Even without
a light it would have been and important landmark for mariners
along an otherwise monotonously featureless coastline. You climb
first to a small square, in the middle of which stood an altar,
before climbing the broad stairway to the top of the castle
itself. To the left of this plaza stands the Templo del Dios
Descendente. The diving or descending god-depicted here above
the narrow entrance of the temple appears all over Tulum as
a small, upside-down figure. His exact significance is not known.
He may represent the setting sun, rain, lightning, or he may
since honey was one of
the Mayan's most important exports.
Opposite is the Templo de Las Series Iniciales (Temple of the
Initial Series), so called because in it was found a stela bearing
a date well before the foundation of the city, and presumably
brought here from else where.
Go early to avoid the bus loads from Cancun. You may want to
wear your bathing suit under your shorts since there is a nice
little beach within the site. Sundays have free entry.
or Muyil Ruins:
South of Puerto Aventuras on highway 307, 14.5 Km. past
the village of Tulum
Believed to be inhabited from 300 BC until the 16th century
when Francisco de Montero led the Spanish conquer of the Yucatan.
It is estimated that there are 75 temples in the main complex
waiting to be uncovered.
Today this archaeological site is mostly covered in vegetation,
however there are three temples that are quite interesting.
Muyil is currently being excavated by the University of the
Yucatan when money allows work to continue.
uncovered area is small and not nearly as impressive as the
temples of Chichen Itza, Tulum or Coba, however it is a very
nice site to visit since there are few visitors, the stroll
through the jungle as you visit the site is very nice and it
makes an excellent day trip when tied together with a visit
to the Sian Ka'an
biosphere or a visit to
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