How to Have a Perfect 24 Hours in Chichen Itza - Travelerette

How to Have a Perfect 24 Hours in Chichen Itza

I am a native New Yorker, and so every once in a while, I get to feeling full of myself. “New York is the capital of the world!” I chortle. “It is the cream of the crop! The cat’s meow! The pinnacle of civilization! Look at our skyscrapers! Our subway system! Our Broadway musicals that star real lions! What people could be more sophisticated than we are?”

At least, I used to feel that way, and then I went to Chichen Itza. This wondrous place is a Mayan city that was built in the Yucatan region of Mexico about 1000 years ago. It features a giant pyramid with a magical serpent shadow, the world’s biggest rubber not-really-a-basketball court, a group of 1000 columns, and a terrifying platform of skulls. If Meso-Americans were able to accomplish all this 1000 years ago, I’m not sure New Yorkers have anything to be smug about. After all, we can’t even make our subway run properly on weekends. Join me on a tour of this fabled ghost city, and we will eat Mayan delicacies, hunt for drowned ladies in a limestone pool, and party until the wee hours. Viva Mexico!

Breakfast: Hotel Medio Mundo

I had not chosen to spend the night in Chichen Itza, instead preferring to stay in the Yucatan’s charming capital, Merida. Chichen Itza is not terribly far from Merida, but I wasn’t about to head there by myself because I don’t drive. Instead I chose to book a tour through Gray Line. The driver picked me up punctually from my hotel and a group of about 10 strangers and I embarked on a journey to the pyramids of old.

Since the lunch on the tour is scheduled for rather late in the day, I recommend getting a good breakfast before you head out. I further suggest staying at an adorable B and B called Hotel Medio Mundo. The rooms were cool and clean, there was a free vegan breakfast every morning (which was delicious and I am the world’s least vegan person), and the location was just a brief walk from the main town square. The breakfast is served in this oasis of a courtyard every morning:

My favorite part of the breakfast was the fresh baked rolls. One was sweeter and one was a little spicy and they were served with a variety of homemade spreads.

I have no idea what was in the spreads except that I assume the green has avocado in it. But all in all, it added up to a perfect breakfast.

Morning: Guided Tour of Chichen Itza

After our guide picked us all up in and around Merida, he took us on the two hour drive to Mayaland, which is a fancy resort within walking distance of Chichen Itza. I was glad for the stop because we got to use the facilities at the resort while our guide took care of the entrance tickets to Chichen Itza, so we did not have to wait on line. We did have a fairly lengthy walk past an inordinate number of people trying to sell us tchotchkes to get to the actual Maya land, Chichen Itza, from the resort Mayaland. Nothing looked worth buying, so we didn’t stop.

The first part of the tour is led by the guide, who took us around all the major sights of Chichen Itza. He had one of those tour guide photo books, so he could show us pictures of some of the things he was describing, like skulls and serpent-gods, which he was not able to physically carry about his person. I will not spoil his tour by sharing everything he said, so instead get ready for…

three fun facts about chichen itza

1) The most famous monument at Chichen Itza is the glorious step pyramid known as “El Castillo” or “The Castle”. Our guide said the pyramid demonstrates how mathematically advanced the Mayans were, and not just because of the construction of the pyramid itself. At the equinoxes, the shadows formed by the setting sun create a representation of the serpent god Quetzalcoatl. No one knows how they did it. Except for Quetzalcoatl, of course. He’s a winged snake-god, so pretty sure he knows everything.

2) The Great Ball Court is the other main attraction at Chichen Itza. The game was played with rubber balls and the goal was to move the ball past the other team’s goal. Our guide said that human sacrifice was practiced after the game, but that historians aren’t sure if it was the losers or the winners who were sacrificed. One of our more perceptive group members asked why anyone would try to win the game if the winners were sacrificed, and our guide explained that the Mayans would have considered being sacrificed a great honor. I’m really glad that my mother encouraged me to seek honor by getting good grades instead of being sacrificed to a winged snake-god!

3) This is the Skull Platform, where the heads of people who had been sacrificed would have been displayed. But these charming stone heads are not actual skulls, rather they are mere representations. Our guide helpfully informed us that you can tell which kind of people each skull was meant to belong to: the small skulls are Itza, the flat skulls are Maya, and the big skulls are Toltec. I think people should start bringing these stereotypes back into style! “You’re as big-headed as a Toltec” could really catch on!

Early Afternoon: Explore Chichen Itza On Your Own

Once the guided tour is over, you’ll have about an hour or so on your own to explore Chichen Itza. I recommend taking the time to go around and try to spot as many creepy stone snakes as you can. See how easy it is! Some big snakes here…

More creepy snakes here…

Even more snakes this way!

This whole place is basically Indiana Jones’s worst nightmare. But I guess if I worshiped an angry snake-god, I would put his image on everything too. Maybe if it looks like him, he’ll be reluctant to destroy it!

Travelerette Treasure: I really liked the Group of 1000 Columns, mostly because I became obsessed with figuring out whether the name was a misnomer or not. Were there really one thousand columns? If not, exactly how many are there? Are there more or fewer than one thousand? Why would someone want to put a thousand columns anywhere? So many questions, so many columns.

Lunch: Mayaland

After the tour, we headed back to Mayaland for an unlimited lunch buffet. There was everything from palm heart salad to poc chuc (Yucatecan grilled pork) to Veracruzian style fish to flan for dessert. We all stuffed ourselves silly because the buffet lunch was included with the tour, so the only thing we had to pay for was the drinks. (They offered Mexican beer, water, and soft drinks.) Sadly I was a silly and forgot to take pictures of the food, but you can see what the choices look like here. It was a great place to take an air-conditioned load off after being outside in the heat all day.

Afternoon: Yokdzonot Cenote

For those of you not in the ce-know-te, cenotes are natural limestone pools that can be found all over the Yucatan. Sometimes the ancient Mayans would use them as a dropping off spot for their victims of human sacrifice. The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza was especially famous for being the final resting place of many a lovely young lady. But despite this sordid history, when our guide offered to drop us off at one cenote on the way back from Chichen Itza, we all agreed.

Fun Fact: The Yucatan has more than 6000 of these beautiful cenotes. So that means if you visited one cenote a day, it would take you more than 16 years to see them all. Sounds like a project for the Travelerette!

The Yokdzonot Cenote is reachable by descending a long path, so we were able to get some lovely photos of the gorgeous aquamarine color of the pool before heading down the walkway to touch the water. It was too cold to actually go in, so we all just wiggled our toes in the cenote.

That’s my pedicure!

Travelerette Tip: If you see only one thing in the Yucatan, let it be the cenotes. I saw several when I was there, and I will never forget their gem-colored goodness. Also, though this cenote was a bit chilly, most of them are definitely warm enough to go swimming in, so I recommend having a swimsuit with you whereever you go in the Yucatan, so you can just bop into a cenote any time you want. Let my photos convince you if my words do not:

There! You are convinced! Hie thee to a cenote with great haste!

Once you are done, your guide will drop you off at your hotel for the night. Some of us were staying as far afield as Playa del Carmen, and some of us were staying in Merida, but we all got a safe ride back to our hotel.

Evening: Plaza Grande, Merida

I was dropped off at my hotel around 5, and I was pretty tired, but that’s still too late to turn in! How about a relaxing evening in Merida’s main square, the Plaza Grande? The Plaza Grande is just the main square in the center of town. Almost every Spanish colonial town has one of these. The Plaza Grande in Merida is special because there is a dance or musical performance almost every night. Check this calendar for details!

Travelerette Tip: If you go around sunset, you should be there for the nightly ceremony to lower the Mexican flag.

Travelerette Treasure: I was too full for a big dinner after the Mayaland buffet, so instead I stopped for a snack at the Dulceria y Sorbeteria Colon, right off the Plaza Grande. This is the most famous ice cream place in Merida, and they have oodles of local flavors. I opted for the elotes (corn) ice cream, which tasted like summer and was sweet but not too sweet. Plus it had veggies in it, so that makes it okay to eat ice cream for dinner.

Whatever the musical performance in the Plaza Grande is, it should be over around 10. Then you can head back to your hotel and collapse after a full day of trying to not think too much about human sacrifice and snake-gods.

And That’s How You Have a Perfect Day at Chichen Itza

What would you like to do with one day in Chichen Itza? Do you think your head is more large, small, or flat? Would you want to play the Mayan ballgame if it meant getting sacrificed even if you won? Please leave your thoughts below!

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Who is the Travelerette? I am a native New Yorker who doesn't know how to drive or ride a bicycle. I speak French very well and Japanese very badly. In five years I have traveled in six continents, 26 countries, and 86 cities. My next travel goal is to visit all 50 states (and DC) in five years.

I am here to provide perfect travel itineraries with 24 hours, 3 fun facts, and 1,000,000 laughs! I hope that I can motivate you to get out there, see the world, learn something, and have a sense of humor about it all.
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25 thoughts on “How to Have a Perfect 24 Hours in Chichen Itza

  1. Cori

    My wife freaks out when there are snakes in her Facebook feed (autoplay videos are her downfall) and apparently her and her brother were both terrified of the cenotes! So I guess Chichen Itza is a spot I’m going to have to visit on my own! It’s been years since I did my Cancun to Guatemala trip, so I’m long overdue to head back.
    Cori recently posted…Everything you need to know about CouchSurfingMy Profile

  2. Tamara - @ Girlswanderlust

    This sounds like such a great day with so many experiences! I can imagine it’s very impressive to explore the Chichen Itza. By going with a guide you’ll get much more information, but I can also see that it’s nice to have some free time to walk around yourself as well. Yokdzonot Cenote also looks really beautiful!

  3. Indrani

    So much historical ruins in Chichen Itza, really exciting for me. I love ruins. Reading about this place for the first time, it is really interesting. Skull platform! What a name! The snakes indeed creepy.

  4. Tom @ Adventurous Travels

    So amazing. I love to explore the ancient cities, have beento quite a few (Vardzia in Georgia, Angkor Wat in Cambodia, Machu Picchu in Peru, Petra in Jordan). But I still haven’t visited Mexico – it is my dream! Those pools are also very interesting – wow 16 years to visit them! I wonder how long we would have to live in order to visit the entire planet then…
    Tom @ Adventurous Travels recently posted…Amazing Trip to Crimson Red Katutau Mountains, Altyn Emel National Park, KazakhstanMy Profile

  5. Shane Prather

    I don’t know much about ancient civilizations so this would be a neat spot to visit! I am particularly fascinated by the Yokdzonot Cenote _- I’ve never heard of this natural feature before and looks so inviting for a dip!

  6. blair villanueva

    Each time am reading and seeing pictures of the Mayan civilization, I always think the mystery and how genius they are. The architectures that they built, and it would be curious to know what exactly they are thinking while building it. Are there still living Mayan these days?

  7. Carola

    That breakfast is a great starter of the day! I love the Oasis. Seems like the best start of day to just have a nice breakfast and look at this as well! I didn’t know that the most famous monument was also known as El Castillo. In the place where I live there’s this restaurant called ‘El Castillo’ haha. It’s a Mexican restaurant. Now I know why it’s called like that. Wow, all these snakes are impressive! These natural limestone pools are stunning! Would love to see those.
    Carola recently posted…Movie review: Fist FightMy Profile

  8. ROBERT LEE | Amazing Life Daily

    WOW. This has got to be one of the best destinations you have been to, Stella. No doubt in my mind. Seeing cities and others pale in comparison to seeing ancient wonders in such a glorious natural setting. It is an unbelievable experience you had there. One question, Chichen Itza, no way to get inside?

  9. Iza Abao, Two Monkeys Travel Group Writer

    I love your pedicure and dress. You should have taken a photo of your outifit too. I like the breakfast that they served you. It looked delicious. I haven’t been to this part of Mexico but I hope that I will someday. I love your quirky observations like about the snakes. I would love to eat some corn ice cream too. It was the best choice to have in your perfect day in Chicken Itza.
    Iza Abao, Two Monkeys Travel Group Writer recently posted…Digital Nomads! How to shop in the US from abroad and deliver worldwide! @usdeliveredMy Profile

  10. Rain | Words and Wanderlust

    Lost civilizations intrigue me very much. I am in awe of how seemingly advanced and almost other-wordly their ways were.

    Who knows, maybe the Chichen Itza was the New York of the last millennium, haha!

    P.S. I agree with you. Often, we have a smug belief on certain things, and then Travel happens, and we learn new things that topple our beliefs. I love that about Travel– about how it enables humility 🙂
    Rain | Words and Wanderlust recently posted…Siargao Travel GuideMy Profile

  11. KT Nielsen

    The cenotes looked alive to me – like they’re ready to swallow anyone whole and buried in their depths. It’s a little bit scary but it is quite an adventure to see them. I’ve never seen a real and natural cenote so this will be on my wish list. The “sacrifice” game sent chills to my spine because who would want to be sacrificed yeah? I’m glad we don’t practice such medieval norms now. Thank you for sharing yet another wonderful travel. By the way, you mentioned in your comment on my blog that you will be visiting Denmark in summer. We will be there as well so I hope to bump into you. Say hi! 🙂

  12. Jill

    This is an interesting read! I love historical structures and ziggurats are one of them! They say that they do the human offerings on top of those pyramids because it’s closest to the gods. I was able to watch a movie that the people who are being offered are slaves. I haven’t heard yet of those contestants in the human brawls you mentioned. And those cenotes! I haven’t heard of them yet, but I am certainly drawn to it. I hope you can visit them all! lol 16 years isn’t that long. hahaha

  13. Bhushavali

    The best thing I read as soon as I started reading was ‘best vegan breakfast’. Being a veggie, finding tasty food when travelling is always a challenge! Beside the oasis, sounds just perfect! Those Mayan structures have always fascinated me since childhood (much before it got popular in 2012!), but still haven’t got the chance to visit!!! Hope I’ll go!!
    Bhushavali recently posted…Day Trip to Berlin (Germany)My Profile

  14. Suruchi

    Another Interesting post with great fun facts. The most thrilling is Skull Platform. I am fond of places with histories and Chichen Itza will be a good visit for me. Those freshly baked rolls for breakfast also looks yummy.

  15. Chessica Mirasol

    It must feel surreal to see in person one of the wonders of the world! I wish I can also go to Mexico and experience this. Snake spotting sounds scary but fun! Bookmarking this article for future reference. 🙂 thanks for sharing!

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