Area Attractions

Visitor Info Guide to the
Mayan Ruins of the Riviera Maya
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About the Maya
•Some Facts
Mayan Ruins

•Chichen Itza
•Muyil or Chunyaxche

About the Maya:

For information on the the Maya people, their ruins and their calendar, please follow these links:

Chichen Itza: 

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 Toltec-Hueytlapalanecas.

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 the world.

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 two serpentine 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 architectonic elements.

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 its size.

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 the Turtles. 

Admission: $80 Pesos - $8.50 US (Free On Sundays)

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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 general directions.

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.

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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 be the Bee God
, 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.

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Chyunyaxche 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. 

The 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 Grand Cenote

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