Last Saturday, I woke up at 6:00 AM, and quickly got ready for my next adventure – it’s not every day that we have an opportunity to visit the 7th Wonder of the World! I put on my sneakers, shorts, a T-shirt, and packed my sunscreen and umbrella. Don’t forget to rest before you go there, because you will walk a lot!
The pick-up of this tour was at 7 AM from Condo Hotels Playa del Carmen. They gave us a small breakfast at the bus that includes juice, coffee, bread, fruit and a sandwich. If you’re traveling with kids though or if you want to take a lot of pictures, I recommend not taking a tour, but renting a car, and once at the ruins, hire a guide to take you through this amazing ancient Mayan city.
You might be thinking what is the meaning of my story’s title, so I’m going to explain it through my experience at Chichen Itza. Chichen Itza means “at the mouth of the well of Itza.” According to Wikipedia, this derives from chi’, meaning “mouth” or “edge”, and ch’en or ch’e’en, meaning “well.” Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. One possible translation for Itza is “enchanter (or enchantment) of the water”, from its “sorcerer”, and ha, “water”.
It’s an ancient Mayan city, located on the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, between Valladolid and Merida, two hours from Playa del Carmen. It has been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, mostly because of its spectacular and symbolic Kukulcan or El Castillo, the most impressive pyramid. The Maya name “Chichen Itza” means “At the mouth of the well of the Itza.”
The road to the ruins was very comfortable, and our bus made one little stop at small colonial village, Valladolid, where you can buy Mexican art craft and traditional jewelry.
The next stop was Chichen Itza! I prepared my bottle water and umbrella, because the sun was very bright and it was really hot.
The guide explained that the ruins had different sections, Kukulcan pyramid being the most important and well-known. The temple has 365 steps (one for each day of the year.) Each of the four sides has 91 steps, and the top platform makes the 365th.
Mayan historical sources mention that a man who called himself Kukulcan arrived in Chichen Itza from the west (“Kukul” means “feathered” and “kan” means “serpent”) in the period that ended in 987 AD.
Twice a year, during the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, a fantastic phenomenon happens – at around 3:00 PM, the sunlight bathes the pyramid’s main stairway. It causes an optical effect imitating the body of a serpent going down, until it gets to the huge serpent’s head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.
One of the other impressive mysteries of this place is how the temple transforms echoes into sounds of nature. If you stand at the base of the staircase and clap your hands, some lucky clappers will hear bird-like sounds, which will be the voice of a quetzal – a sacred bird in Mayan culture.
After this, we continued our journey to the Great Ball Court, measuring 554 feet (168 meters) long and 231 feet (70 meters) wide, and totally open to the blue skies. In Mayan culture, the players tried to hit a 12-pound rubber ball through stone hoops set high on the court walls. As scary as it sounds, the losing captain was being decapitated in the spring renewal ritual.
The last place to visit was the observatory called El Caracol (the snail), because it has an interior staircase that spirals upward like a snail’s shell. One of the theories is that the Mayans used this place to calibrate their astronomical observations.
After this long but very interesting walk I was starving, and the guide took us to the Mayaland restaurant, where we enjoyed a delicious buffet that included Mexican food like cochinita pibil (slow roasted pork tacos), accompanied by a small folkloric dance show.
And this was still not the end of the adventure! Our last stop was the Ik Kil cenote, a big open natural water sink hole in the jungle, with a stairway down to the swimming platform. It’s a good idea to rent a lifevest, because the cenote is really deep. We stayed there just for half an hour, but it was so refreshing to submerge ourselves in the cool water after the long day of walking in the sun.
Next time you come to Playa del Carmen, don’t forget to visit this magical ancient place, and judge yourself why it was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World!