Thousands of cenotes — sinkholes, some swimmable, some not — pepper the Yucatán peninsula. Cenotes are formed when limestone collapses into a subterranean water source. A vast costal aquifer resides under the Yucatán. Hence all the centoes. We crashed at one for a night in route to Chichen Itza.
We were famished when we arrived. Two competing taco stands across the street from the cenote entrance canvassed for our commerce. We chose the one on the right, mainly because there appeared to be actual cooking going on — the other stand appeared to be selling tacos and tamales from a Coleman cooler. We chose wisely. Some of the best tacos we’ve had in Mexico, rivaling the goat and fish tacos we had in Guerrero Negro.
After ingesting, we walked to the cenote. Then I inadvertently ordered the deluxe package for the family — I struggled with the Spanish — which was only two hundred pesos more and which included a zipline ride and kayak rental. We never used a kayak. But we did zipline across the cenote at a fairly dizzying height. Even the kids! See video below.
We decided to crash outside of the van for a couple nights, mostly because we couldn’t remember the last time we showered. That crash was Villas Arqueologicos, across the street from the more exclusive, more expensive Hacienda Chichen, yet still within walking distance to the side, less well-known Chichen Itza entrance.
For the money, about $60 USD per night, this is a fantastic hotel. A pleasant, albeit chilly, pool flanks a palapa-covered restaurant in the center of a lush courtyard. Unfussy yet fetching Mayan-themed artwork and sculptures adorn the courtyard and rooms. It even has a bibliotheca, featuring a emerald-green felt and mahogany pool table that occupied most of Everett’s free attention. He was a shark by the end of the stay.
The gates opened at 8:00am. We arrived minutes thereafter. The line, at the less well-known entrance remind you, was dozens long. It was also the most expensive archeological site we’ve yet visited. Chichen Itza is certainly aware of its proximity to Cancun.
Hundreds of tourists managed to enter (mostly from the main entrance) before us. Yet it still felt, relatively, calm. Relativamente tranquilo. We marched toward the main draw, El Castillo first.
Six iguanas were basking in the sun in front of the temple. Or basking in the attention they were receiving. As many tourists were snapping photos of them as the temple. Count us amongst those tourists. Then we turned our attention to the temple. It is, especially compared to the other ruins we’ve visited, remarkably well-preserved. Remarkably reconstructed really (they were able to find and fit most of the fallen stones). Only one side looks ruined. The other sides look like they’re ready for another human sacrifice.
We took a lap around the temple. Then, after crossing the finish line, we witnessed thousands of tourists charge the compound. It felt like the tourist zombie apocalypse. You couldn’t even move a few yards without joining someone’s selfie. So we retreated to The Grand Ball Court, the largest of the over thousand ball courts discovered in Mesoamerica, about two times the size of a football field, on the other side of the complex. Here, many hundreds, perhaps thousands, of ball players lost their heads. I lost my mind. It was awesome.
After that, we ventured to a cenote where young Mayan girls were sacrificed to their gods and then to The Plaza of a Thousand Columns, which unlike most of the exaggerations above, likely does have a thousand columns. This part of Chichen Itza felt more European, more Roman than previous sites. Some scholars think the design looks Spanish, though it’s clear it was built before the Spanish arrived. Regardless, business happened here. Lots of it. You can easily picture crafts and produce and decapitated heads being sold here.