Published On: Fri, Mar 22nd, 2019

Chichen Itza: More than 1 million visitors a year

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CHICHEN ITZA, Mexico — He sits high atop El Castillo, the pyramid that dominates the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza. He has a magnificent view of one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, but apparently that means nothing to him.

Like the hundreds of thousands of visitors who flock to Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula in the winter, this spiny-tailed iguana wants to get warm. Sun-seekers stay in the high-end hotels at Cancun, or maybe they head to Playa del Carmen or Tulum, or any number of other picturesque small towns along the Mayan Riviera.

More than 1 million visitors a year come to Chichen Itza, a bucket-list destination and UNESCO World Heritage Site. The 740-acre complex of pyramids, temples and shrines dates back to A.D. 435. Its builders left 800 years ago, leaving questions unanswered about the hieroglyphics and carved stone panels of jaguars, serpents, skulls and warriors.

El Castillo demands center stage. It rises 100 feet at the center of the complex with a base that stretches 180 feet. Ninety-one steps on each of the four sides and one more for the entrance to the temple add up to 365, the number of days in the year. The Mayans were dedicated star gazers, as evidenced by the circular viewing tower El Caracol. The structure aligns to track Venus, a planet revered by the Mayans.

Dozens of other impressive structures capture interest. Sports battles in the Great Ball Court were ferocious, though the exact rules of the game are unknown. Conjecture is that opponents attempted to get a small rubber ball through one of two hoops each up 27 feet on walls that line both sides of the field. The field itself, at 490 feet long, is much larger than those used for football or soccer today.

Vendors sell carved masks, tapestries and noisemakers that mimic a jaguar’s growl. The bright colors of their wares and the chatter of buyer-seller exchanges contrast to the quiet dignity of the sun-beached limestone structures that long ago were painted in vivid hues.

Crossing through the scrubland after departing Chichen Itza, we enter rural villages where driving is slowed by sharing the road with people in large tricycles (triciclos), the Mexican version of a rickshaw, and liberally dispersed speedbumps (topes), a low-cost manner of enforcing speed control. Stores and houses painted in red ochre, turquoise and fuchsia edge the road.




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