To properly narrate this journey, I must first admit something:
I am Mexican and had never visited this incredible pyramid before. I had even less idea about everything surrounding it.
I moved to the state of Quintana Roo, Cancún, four years ago and had never had the opportunity, nor the interest, in visiting a site like this—a strange departure from my usual self, given that I've always been a lover of the archaeological sites I've come across during my travels in this wonderful country that I am so proud of.
Every kilometer traversed in this astonishing country is an adventure, a new flavor, an aura of colors, and a variety of sensations that never disappoint. Such is the case with Chichén Itzá, a place simply breathtaking. After this visit, I am convinced why it is categorized as one of the wonders of the world. To tell you why, I'll narrate my adventure in this pyramid step by step.
Are you ready? Here we go!
Despite living in this region for four years, I must confess that the reason I, as a local resident of Cancún, hadn't been to Chichén Itzá is because I don't use a car. The reason for not using one is that I find great irresponsibility in the act of buying and driving a car, using gasoline and other resources that are very harmful to the environment.
Quintana Roo, Yucatán, and the southeastern region of Mexico are, in fact, one of the great lungs of the world. While tourism requires cars to operate, I believe there are mostly sustainable ways to function. One of them is not contributing to these issues and using public transportation or even walking as many kilometers as possible each day.
So, when I arrived at Chichén Itzá, I must confess, it wasn't by my own hand but rather thanks to Odigoo Travel, who invited me to write on their magnificent blog. Upon reading it and hearing their proposal, I didn't hesitate for a second to accept and take the trip.
The folks at Odigoo sent private transportation from my hotel to Chichén Itzá. This turned out to be a significant advantage, given that it's a type of transport I would never have considered using. However, with their characteristic expertise, they suggested it for several important reasons, which, with the aim of sharing this valuable knowledge, I will enumerate below:
While I'm not saying that the Mexican Caribbean area is unsafe, it's true that whenever we travel to unfamiliar territory, we should exercise due caution.
The private transport from Cancún to Chichén Itzá that Odigoo provided made me feel secure from the moment the uniformed driver stepped out of the van. He was always helpful, offered me a seat in the van, and drove safely. Javier, that's his name, was very professional when picking me up and throughout the entire journey.
Now, as time has passed and I've taken other transports like this via Odigoo, I can add that the transportation vans they use are extremely clean. In Javier's shuttle, who picked me up at my accommodation, the vehicle's aroma was always pleasant, despite carrying more than 10 people inside.
One of the aspects I loved most about traveling in a shuttle from Cancún to Chichén Itzá is that I met people from many places around the world. This not only allowed me to travel but also to form meaningful friendships that I continue to cherish today, whether it's sharing a glass of wine, afternoon coffees, or simply whenever they visit this wonderful country.
Javier demonstrated, from the very beginning, a tremendous knowledge of the streets of Cancún and the routes he needed to take to get us to our destination. Of course, as in any place that calls itself a city, traffic is a daily occurrence. However, this driver showed us that knowledge of a city and its streets is crucial for easy mobility between places.
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Honestly, as far as I'm concerned, I didn't have to pay because I am a special guest of Odigoo. However, from what I understood from some of the attendees on this magical Chichén Itzá tour, the costs of these private transports from Cancún to Chichén Itzá are genuinely low. Walter, an Argentine attendee with whom I now share morning mate sessions, told me that he found the cost of this service to be up to 300% more expensive, being a foreigner. This left me with the impression that, considering the quality of service, the comfort of our journey—always in the coolness of air conditioning, with Javi's professionalism at the wheel, and the music we could take turns controlling—the provider of this service is one of the best in Cancún.
After the pleasant journey through Cancún and crossing the Coastal Gulf Highway to Yucatán, and having met the incredible people who composed it, we arrived in the vicinity of the pyramid and began walking toward it.
When we started the path to the pyramid, we reached the Great Plaza, a perfect expanse to begin the walk to the Temple of Kukulkán. Even though I could already see it in the distance, the impression it gave me was enormous. It became even more significant when I stood underneath it and could admire it in detail for the first time.
I could describe it in many ways, but the feeling it gave me had more to do with absolute silence. Everything around me faded away, like when we mute the TV volume: suddenly, all the noises, the murmur of people, and the constant hum of my thoughts ceased to exist, replaced by an almost complete silence.
In the distance, I could only hear drops of water, as if there were a body of water nearby where drops were falling constantly. This gave way to the rhythm of the wind, which sometimes whispered and sometimes roared, capturing my attention.
I walked a bit closer to see it up close; I couldn't believe how impressive it is, with its white stone, almost like an ancient palace, and that staircase that clearly resembles a stairway to the heavens. Ironically, it's the same staircase that the great Kukulkán, in its snake form, descends every spring and fall equinox (in this case, we visited during the fall).
Therefore, the guide explained a bit more to us as we waited for the descent of Kukulkan, the great feathered serpent. However, as I don't recall his words precisely, I will use a text from the National Geographic website, which, if my memory serves me right, explains in a somewhat more complex manner what the guide was telling us that day:
"The design detail of the temple allows the nine levels to project seven isosceles triangles of light: a luminous and magical serpent topped by the stone head at the beginning of the lintel. This is known as the hierophanies of the equinoxes, a fascinating play of light and shadows that lasts about ten minutes and repeats each year during the fall equinox (between September 22 and 23) and the spring equinox (between March 20 and 21), about three hours before sunset. It is worth noting that, although Chichen Itza's case is the most famous, it is not a unique phenomenon, as similar occurrences are recorded in Uxmal or Tulum. This demonstrates the special calendrical symbolism in Mayan culture."
Afterwards, he explained the relationship between the steps and the calendar, as the pyramid consists of 91 steps and a final level with a total of 91, which, when multiplied by the four faces of the pyramid, makes 364. Adding the last level of the pyramid results in 365, like the number of days in their calendar, as well as ours.
While explaining all this and keeping us engaged with anecdotes of Mayan mythology, the feathered serpent, its mysterious origin, and its similarities with other cultures, the moment was approaching. So, we strategically positioned ourselves to observe the equinox phenomenon.
After a few minutes, the first traces began to appear:
The shadow of the triangles on the staircase began to form gradually until the great Kukulkan became visible in all its splendor, allowing us to witness its passage through this land and its journey to the underworld.
Not without marveling first, I took my camera to not forget such an important moment. I wanted to capture a memory of how impressive it was, so I took some photographs
After this, we walked to the Platform of Venus, where we observed this small temple dedicated to the planet Venus and the death chambers of the mysterious Chac Mool.
Next, we visited the impressive Tzompantli, a structure composed of representations of stacked skulls representing the enemy dead in battles. In this place, the Mayans impaled their heads to offer them to the gods.
The Temple of the Eagles and Jaguars impressed me, where figures of eagles and jaguars holding hearts as if devouring them caught my attention. But the tour guide explained these were not hearts, but rather offerings they were doing to one another, parting from the idea of syncretism created during the mix between Mayans and Toltecs, a different culture that came from the center of the county and united in peace with the Mayan culture.
Then, we were taken to the Mayan Ball Game, which has its peculiarities. In addition to being the largest ballcourt in Mesoamerica, it also had a ritual and political influence. Similar to today, significant decisions depended on the games. From the north of this enclosure, the elite watched the game from the Temple of the Bearded Man.
One of the most impressive places in the entire Chichen Itza complex is the Temple of the Warriors, surrounded by a thousand columns, which are actually only 200 but create an incredible effect, imagining warriors hidden among the columns, ready to fight unwanted visitors.
Afterwards, we attended the Observatory, one of the most important structures for the Maya, as many of the decisions they made were consulted with the stars within this structure.
We also saw La Casa Colorada, which, in the same way, surprised me due to the detail of the designs on the four faces of the building, as well as the reddish tone, which is very different from all the other buildings.
Then, we headed to the Osario or Tomb of the Great Priest, which is a simile of the great pyramid of Kukulkan but in a smaller version and displaying some mythological figures. What intrigued me about this monument is the thought of the opening at the center, which travels up to 10 meters underground. It is said that perhaps this structure is a tunnel that connects to the Cenote beneath the great pyramid of Kukulkan. However, to this date, access remains blocked, so it continues to be a mystery.
A place we visited later within the great city of Chichen Itza is La Casa del Venado (House of the Deer), a site that gets its name due to some paintings found inside the building. Although this structure appeared a bit deteriorated due to the passage of years.
Finally, the tour concluded at the House of the Nuns, which obviously receives its name from the Spanish, who claimed that this place resembles a convent. The style is impressive because it is very similar in design and views to other archaeological zones that I will probably write about in the future, such as Uxmal and Kabah, both also great representations of the Mayan empire.
Unknowingly, I was living an experience that I had never anticipated, that I had never thought of. A journey in my mind was never present for some unknown reason, but I can say, without fear of being wrong, that it changed my life forever.
After this thrilling spectacle, the guide led us to another part of the complex, where we found yet another surprise while…
After a few minutes, we arrived at the location.
If you were to ask me, "How to get to the sacred cenote in Chichén Itzá?" I could guide you with my eyes closed because everything along the way is so wonderful that it's hard to forget how to get there. Beyond finding private transportation from Cancún to Chichén Itzá, the path to the Sacred Cenote is on foot, making it much more interesting. Despite the high temperatures, the truth is that it doesn't feel like much due to the fascination generated by this great Mayan city. Also, the premise of the cenote is to refresh, of course.
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After a short walk at the end of the lateral path from the great pyramid, we arrived at Cenote Sagrado. This cenote is representative of Chichén Itzá, as our guide explained, as sacrifices were offered to the gods here. Cenotes were considered by the Maya as portals to the underworld.
Paraphrasing the guide and his wise words, he shared this valuable information with us:
"The ancient Maya called these water formations ts’onot. With time and the mix of languages after the arrival and settlement of the Spaniards, the term Cenote was born. The ts’onot was the place where the Maya established communication with water deities, offering various types of gifts, including human sacrifice anchored to a specific prophecy related to virgins and their return to the earthly plane after the sacrifice."
"This cenote has a diameter of approximately 60 meters and a depth of 14 meters. Archaeological objects of great cultural value, as well as human remains, have been found at its bottom, indicating periods of use during the peak of the Mayan empire in Chichén Itzá. Later in history, it became a place of worship and pilgrimage, as some objects, dating their origin, come from Guatemala and Costa Rica, to the southwest of the USA."
At the end of the tour, we left this cenote since, although the view is beautiful, it's not suitable for swimming due to its vegetation, and it is now a UNESCO-protected site.
Just three kilometers from Chichén Itzá, in the area near the magical town of Valladolid—about which I'll write for you soon—Javier transported us in his secure cab to Cenote Ik Kil.
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Translated into Spanish, this Mayan word means "Place of Winds", and the site has some peculiarities that I love. For example, the fact that the staircase descending to this ts’onot was built by the hands of 80 men without using any explosives or modern technology, making the construction process hold a very interesting artisanal magic.
Additionally, an important symbolic detail is that there are 91 steps that make up the entrance path or "stepped tunnel" to the underworld, referencing the four staircases of the Temple of Kukulkán, or in other words, the great pyramid of Chichén Itzá.
According to the official site of Cenote Ik Kil:
One thing I didn't like was that I couldn't fly my drone. Generally, when I visit places, I fly it to preserve panoramic memories of everything my eyes see.
However, upon seeing the signs indicating the prohibition of turning on or flying the drone, the staff kindly explained to me that there is an unexplainable electromagnetic phenomenon studied between Chichén Itzá and this site. This mysterious situation hinders the proper functioning of these devices.
So, I packed up the equipment and began my descent through that tunnel of 91 steps, whose construction, our guide told us, took approximately 18 months. I'm not a person who suffers from vertigo, but I must add that this staircase is so perfectly constructed that it could be said to be foolproof. In the end, after a few minutes of cautious descent (you always have to be careful in unfamiliar places), I reached the cenote.
What impressed me the most about this place was the vegetation, the way those long vines descend, in search of water, a considerable distance (30-40 meters), and seem like living snakes that, for a moment and thinking with the detail provided by the descent, could well be a natural symbol of Kukulkán himself descending to the underworld. After this strange reflection and sharing it with our guide and foreign friends for some philosophical laughs, we decided to jump from the 4-meter platform.
I must admit that the water in a cenote is much cooler than I would have expected, given that the ambient weather was quite hot. However, the refreshing water can be even a bit cold at first, so I recommend keeping that in mind before jumping to avoid a surprise that takes your breath away for a few seconds, as it did to me.
Come on, after a few seconds, the sensation of cold changes to one that is much more imposing and incredible—the feeling of looking down and swimming in water so crystal clear that it seems to come from a movie scene.
Swimming in a cenote is one of the most highly recommended things in the world. Even if you don't intend to travel to Chichén Itzá or you already know it, I recommend looking for private transportation from Cancún to Cenote Ik Kil and taking a stroll through this incredible place and trying its buffet, which is truly amazing.
While all these places share the characteristics of towns, the difference among these three lies in simple yet noticeable distinctions between them:
Putting them in this context, and knowing all that we've learned so far about Chichen Itza and all of its incredible corners, we could start talking about Valladolid, but not without first making it clear:
A Magical Town is a place chosen for its commercial and touristic qualities at the state and regional levels. It should engage in activities that reflect culture, historical value, accessibility, and safety.
Additionally, it must have a population of at least 20,000 inhabitants and a tourism committee committed to a 3-year or longer development plan for traveler and tourist activities. The committee should be capable of conducting statistics and evaluations, as well as innovations in tourism products and services.
After completing all the necessary activities to meet the bureaucratic aspects, the town must undergo an evaluation to determine if the historical events that occurred there are relevant enough for the development of all the aforementioned points.
Thus, with the enormous history that this town possesses, Valladolid became one of the chosen towns to become a Magical Town. It is a place that bears witness to the arrival of the Spanish and other nations to the Mexican country, especially to the Caribbean and the southeast, where there were enormous estates engaged in various activities, and the locals mixed with the conquerors in the task of successfully managing the local economies.
Upon arriving in the town, we were greatly surprised to see the tropical colonial architecture a type of architecture very characteristic of places like Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, or Haiti, among others.
It is also surprising that Valladolid’s downtown is completely uninhabited by the locals, who travel from the outskirts every day to attend and serve the commercial places in the area, as well as to consume the goods and services offered there.
Although this was a quick stop, we were able to access the cathedral located next to the zocalo, a Catholic place of worship where some wooden rivets and sacred sculptures make up a very peculiar space.
Leaving the church, we went to the small square, where we found different delights to try:
After a short time and after enjoying a very Mexican craving called "Tostiesquites" (which is basically the same as E squites but inside a bag of tortilla chips, garnished with sour cream, nacho cheese, and optional habanero sauce), we regrouped and took the private transportation from Valladolid to Cancun.
Javi indicated that it was time for us to leave the cenote. We helped each other exit, like the happy international community we had formed in just a few hours, and began the ascent of the 91 steps to reach the surface. The heat assisted in drying us off, providing a delightful thermal touch. We returned to the secure shuttle to Cancún and started the journey back.
During the trip, Javi's attentive and culturally enriched conversation made the stretch very light and enjoyable. He kindly allowed us to make a stop to buy some refreshing drinks, maintaining an air-conditioned environment at a temperature friendly and democratically agreed upon by the inhabitants of the transfer from Ik Kil to Cancún. Finally, we reached our destinations. If I could add something about this experience, it would be that the service we received was completely...
At no point did they make us feel uneasy or unsafe. On the contrary, they always kept us entertained, provided us with the best advice and secrets of experienced travelers.
In the end, I can conclude that this experience with Odigoo, like others I will narrate in time, did not disappoint. I must also add that Odigoo's service is highly reliable, and I appreciate them for giving me the confidence to write this piece and for gifting me this magnificent trip that I would repeat as many times a year as possible.
Thank you for reading, to Odigoo Travel for giving me the opportunity to visit such a powerful site as Chichén Itzá.
Until next time!