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 tourists 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 Chichen Itza and the Pyramid of the Sun, the giant pyramid near the center of the site. Nestled deep in the jungle, Chichen Itza is possibly the most famous temple city of the Mayan civilization, and now one of the 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 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 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 Chichen Itza is 2 to 3 hours along a toll highway. A coach trip should run about $200, plus $18 admission. Chichen 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.
Unfortunately you are no longer able to climb the pyramid. I have had the opportunity of climbing it once and found it very difficult. Nothing however, prepared me for the descent, which was much worse, as I tried to navigate the steep, 50 cm. (20 inch) steps.
For the more adventurous, there are dozens of hiking trails to explore the 30 or so historical constructions still remaining. There are several 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 (12th century CE). 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.