Mexico has long been considered a tourist haven and in recent years the Mayan Riviera has become a playground for sun worshipers from northern climates. Lately some of the press has been bad, however careful tourist should not encounter any problems. For those of you concerned about swimming in the ocean, the chance of a shark attack on humans is one in every 11 million.
As beautiful as the beaches are, a visit to the Yucatán Peninsula would not be complete without a day trip to Chich’en Itza and the Pyramid of the Sun, the giant pyramid near the center of the site. Nestled deep in the jungle, Chich’en Itza is possibly the most famous Temple city of the Mayan civilization and now one of the new Seven Wonders of the World.
At the city's heart lies the Temple of Kukulkan ( Feathered Serpent), which rises to a height of 24 metres. Each of its four sides has 91 steps - one step for each day of the year with the 365th day represented by the platform on the top. Two of its sides have been completely restored, the other two were left to show the condition before work commenced. Built around 600 A.D., the Temple has withstood earthquakes and invasions.
Originally the pyramid was built for astronomical purposes and during this the vernal equinox (March 20) and the autumnal equinox (September 21) sunlight bathes the main stairway. This causes seven triangles to form in the shape of a serpent that creeps downward until it joins the huge serpents head carved in stone at the bottom of the stairway.
Legend has it that the altar at the top was used for religious sacrifices, but there is no proof to support the theory. If you have watched Mel Gibson's Apocalypto you will see a graphic rendition of the sacrifices carried out by the Mayans.
The drive from Cancun to Chich’en Itza is 2 to 3 hours along a toll highway and a coach trip should run about $65, plus $10 admission. Make sure you convert Canadian dollars before you go, as no one south of Lake Ontario seems to have a handle on the exchange rate. It is possible to see the main structures on a day trip from Cancun and many tour buses do just this, resulting in a large influx of visitors around ten to eleven AM. Chich’en Itza is the most visited site in the Yucatán and can get very crowded, so if at all possible try and arrive soon after the 8 AM opening.
This will give you time to climb the pyramid before it gets too hot and will allow you to view the whole site from the top before the crowds swarm in. Let me caution you, the climb to the top is difficult but the descent is much worse. If you suffer from vertigo or feel you are not in the best of shape, think twice before you ascend the steep, 50 cm. (20 inch) steps. If you are planning on going in the near future check with your travel agent, as the pyramid has temporarily been closed to climbing while it undergoes construction.
For the more adventurous, there are dozens of hiking trails to explore to 30 or so structures still remaining. There are two resorts which offer accommodation, fine food and a number of activities. Chichen Itza, literally meaning "old Chichen", is the oldest part of the city; it has some interesting structures which date to the pre-Toltec times. If you stay at the Mayaland Hotel, you can also arrange for a horseback tour through Chichen Viejo. Book ahead and take plenty of suntan lotion. The heat of the jungle is much warmer than along the ocean.
You will not be disappointed by excursion to Chich’en Itza and will feel as if you have been transported 1400 years back in time to civilization very different from our own. We're certainly not in Port Perry anymore, Dorothy.