Even though there are so many ‘Wonder of the World’ lists now, it’s hard to keep up, I tend to use the 7 New Wonders of the World as my reference point so, as I arrived in the Yucatan town of Valladolid, I had only one thing on my mind – Chichen Itza. The ancient Mayan ruins would be my fifth Wonder (after the Great Wall, Taj Mahal, Colosseum and Petra) and I was looking forward to seeing how they compared.
Valladolid, which is kind of in the middle of Merida and Cancun, makes for a good base. It would be a pretty long journey to get to the ruins from either of the two bigger cities and, as we discovered, getting there early was pretty crucial. Me and some other travellers I had met in Merida headed to the Valladolid bus station early in the morning. Buses leave hourly, we grabbed a bus around 7am for the 40 or so minute journey to Chichen Itza. The bus was relatively busy but you could still buy a ticket on the day. Colectivos are also available outside the bus station if the bus is full and you’re in a group. As with most busy tourist attractions, it definitely paid to get to Chichen Itza early. When we arrived, there were quite a few people but not many tour groups had arrived yet. By the time we left, the car park was full of coaches and the whole site was pretty packed. I hate early mornings as much as the next guy but sometimes it’s definitely worth it.
As far as Wonders go, Chichen Itza isn’t too expensive, costing 232 MXN (around £7.50). They take cash or card though apparently the card machines can be a bit temperamental. Unsurprisingly, there’s a large shopping and souvenir area to walk through before getting to the site. In fact, quite a large chunk of the site has been turned into a market area selling the usual Mexican tourist souvenirs. I guess it’s aimed at the day-trippers coming from the Cancun resorts but it’s a bit of a shame.
The rest of the site is in a good shape, especially the iconic ‘El Castillo’ which was largely deserted when we came to have a look at it. There’s not too much in the way of information on the site so definitely take a guide book or research beforehand. Alternatively you can do what we did and just make up historical facts for each ruin. One of the coolest things is the grim ‘Skull Wall’, a wall with hundreds of creepy looking skulls etched into it, apparently representing the heads of killed enemies.
Another interesting area will be familiar if you’ve visited the Uxmal ruins near Merida; that is the ballcourt. Before the phenomena of football and basketball, the Mayans kept themselves entertained with a rather more bloody form of entertainment (they just loved death) known as ‘pok-ta-pok’. Although there aren’t any Mayan vloggers around today to make a YouTube tutorial video, the most common theory is that players had to get a rubber ball through a hoop, using only their hips. Apparently, it was so difficult that the game would end after only one goal. One of the weirdest elements is that in important games, it would be the winners who would be sacrificed and decapitated. Apparently this was a great honour – good job sports have changed, although the England team probably wouldn’t stand much chance of winning anyway.
Getting a bus back to Valladolid is easy enough, just head back to the car park and wait for the bus there. Again, they usually show up about every hour or so from a variety of different companies.
Overall, Chichen Itza is probably my least favourite of the Wonders I’ve visited – they seem to have focused a bit too much on commercialising it rather than making it an informative and interesting site. The stories behind the ruins and the Mayan culture are fascinating though so it’s definitely worth doing some research before, during or after your visit. Still, there’s no denying how impressive the pyramid is and I certainly didn’t regret going. Plus, it’s a good excuse to stop off in the charming colonial town of Valladolid. The ruins might not blow you away, but the whole experience is a worthwhile one for sure.