Seeing Chichen Itza while I was in Mexico was non-negotiable for me. So much so that I booked the tour when I booked my flights so I could work the rest of the trip around that activity. The tour shuttle was scheduled to pick me up at 7am, so I got up super early to get ready and run to the lobby for coffee and a sweet roll. I was the first to be picked up, so William, my tour guide for the day, gave me the pick of the seats in the van. He gave me the rundown of what we were doing that day and then started off towards the next hotel. There were ten other people on the tour with me, and I soon found out that I was the only English-speaking participant. This was only a problem in that I only understood every third or fourth word of everything William said. Luckily, he didn’t say a whole lot during the two hour drive to Chichen Itza. This post could also be entitled “The One Where I Didn’t Learn Enough Spanish Like I Should Have and Got In A Tiff With The Tour Guide”.
The Mayaland Hotel is the gateway to Chichen Itza and also happens to be a beautiful oasis of a resort. The ticket stand/gift shop for Chichen Itza is just to the side of the hotel, so we all piled out and milled around for awhile. There was another tour group waiting for their guide to the ruins and somehow, without me knowing it, I was pushed into that group. This was ultimately for the best, because they were an English speaking group, but at the time, I was a little concerned because all of my things were in the other bus and I wasn’t quite understanding if I was with them for the rest of the day. Off we went down the path to the ticket counter, where I discovered I didn’t have the right ticket, because I was switched around between the two groups. I was annoyed but determined not to let it ruin this tour that I was looking forward to, so I ran back to the trailhead, bought my ticket and ran back. I got stamped in, and followed Carlos, our Chichen Itza expert down a path that was lined with vendors selling straw hats and blankets and trinkets.
Carlos (pictured above) led us through each exhibit of the Mayan culture, including a cenote that would have provided most of the water to the old city and a replica of a typical home with a thatched roof. We kept walking, past yet more vendors who yelled over each other to exclaim to us how low their prices were. The group moved through the tree-lined path into a clearing, where the majority of the ruins sat. It took my breath away. I had waited to see this for so long, and I was just so grateful to finally be there. It was so beautiful.
Carlos gave us some time to take it all in and take all the pictures we wanted. Once we all gathered back around him, he went on with his tour, pulling laminated photos out of his backpack to illustrate his points. The Temple of Kukulkan (the main pyramid associated with Chichen Itza), named for the Mayan feathered serpent deity, stood in the middle of all the other buildings. Carlos walked us over there and showed us how if we clapped in the right place in the right way, the sound would ricochet off the building and replicate the sound of the serpent’s wings. It did sound like how I can imagine a winged serpent might sound, if I’d ever heard such a thing. In the midst of him showing the other buildings, we got stuck in a rain storm that came and went pretty quickly, but there was no shelter to speak of so we quite literally just weathered the storm. Carlos showed us the ball court and a few other points of interest, and then we started the walk back to the hotel for lunch.
I met a really nice couple from South Carolina on the tour, and we sat down to lunch together. The hotel’s dining room was set up in stations that were mostly self serve. There a traditional Mayan cuisine, tacos, a salad bar, “international foods” (sliders, pizza, hot dogs) and dessert. I hit the taco station first and got a chicken taco with pineapple and a bowl of the Mayan cuisine which consisted of rice, beans, peppers, and Adobo pork and a Mexican Coca Cola for good measure. It was a fantastic meal in a beautiful setting. The courtyard we sat in was so pretty, and there was a peacock wandering around the diners.
The group I originally started with took a lot longer touring the ruins, so I spent an hour looking through the gift shops and buying some souvenirs for my family. Finally, I ran into my original guide, who basically apologized (“sorry, we just get so many tourists”) for passing me off and then loaded us all back onto the bus to head to Cenote Ik Kil. It was just a little ways down the road from Chichen Itza. We were allotted an hour to swim, and were to meet back at the bus, so we all hurried off to make the most of the time. It was set up like a theme park, with turnstiles, ticket takers, rent-by-the-hour lockers and changing rooms. I got a locker and changed into my swimsuit. The cenote was set into the ground, and it took approximately sixty steps to get to the bottom. The vines hung down from the top of the crater and it was dark and mossy toward the bottom. There were four ladders lined up to climb in and out of the water on one side and a staircase that went upwards for the more adventurous guests to jump from.
It doesn’t look very high, but once you got up towards the top…it was pretty high. I made a beeline for the stairs and jumped in right away, I had to or I would have lost my nerve. It sure felt high once I was in the air. Once I was in the water, I paddled around happily. What a beautiful place for a swim! I felt something brush against my foot, and noticed these fish swimming around everyone – they looked like little sharks. I swam over to the ladder and waited my turn to pull myself out, all the while anxiously looking around me for the pseudo-sharks. I pulled myself up and decided the best course of action would be to jump again, but from a higher stair. There was a little girl putting everyone else to shame, but climbing up to the top stair and jumping in over and over again, putting grown men to shame as they jumped from the lower stairs. It was amazing. I swam up until it was almost time to leave, and then I ran back to my locker to grab my camera to get some good pictures. It really was one of the most magical places I’ve ever been.
I could have stayed there all day, but I had to meet the group back at the bus. Everyone fell asleep for the ride home, and of course I was the last one to be dropped off. After one last awkward interaction with William, our bus driver, I was home free. I showered and got ready for dinner, which consisted of the semi-authentic Italian food. The food wasn’t so good, but I made it taste better with lots of wine. I finished my last night in Mexico in the outdoor bar, where a live band was playing. I settled down into a comfy chair off to the side and ordered a mojito to enjoy with the music. It had been a long day, but it truly was one for the books. This trip had been incredibly healing and enlightening and wonderful; I was glad for every moment leading up to it and every moment there.
Have you ever toured Chichen Itza? What company did you use and did you enjoy the experience?