Ancient Cities: Chichen Itza

Of the three Mayan cities we were to visit over the next two weeks, Chichen Itza was the most desirable. For us the iconic temple was a figurehead for Mayan civilisation. Based in Mexico’s Yucatan province, the UNESCO World Heritage site is one of the more popular ancient ruins, with over a million people visiting the thousand-year old city every year.

However, despite our high expectations, standing in-front of El Castillo at Chichen Itza had us surprisingly unfulfilled. A few feet away was part of an ancient major city, a famous landmark of the Mayan empire and an over-rated tourist attraction.

Maybe we’d both been spoilt two years ago by the rawness of the Angkor civilisation’s ruins in Siem Riep, Cambodia. Being able to explore the temples at our own uninterrupted leisure by manoeuvring through, under and over the ruins made us feel like an aspiring adventure archaeologists.

However,  the same freedom of the unhindered and unaided discoveries in South East Asia were not prevalent in North America.

The moment our bus joined the other numerous vehicles in the car park we became overwhelmed with bragging tour guides. They were offering their questionable encyclopaedic knowledge which they professed could be delivered in a multitude of languages.

We moved through the turnstile into the boundaries of the Mayan city, paving the beaten paths were a seemingly endless amount of stalls selling the same identical souvenirs at inflated prices.

Our early arrival at the attraction did mean that we would avoid both the heat and the big crowds. Unfortunately it soon become hot and a continuous procession of tourists began to plough through the turnstiles equipped with huge umbrellas to deter the fiery burning ball’s effects. For us, the cool embracing shade from the gigantic age-old pyramid, El Castillo, was enough.

We left a few hours later with the sun at its peak. We had exhausted the attractions just as the ancient city was again alive with people.

We hoped that the next Mayan cities, Uxmal and Tikal, would offer something more.

© John Brownlie 2012

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