Plan your Mexican vacation in the Mayan Riviera
Mexico has a great deal going for it as a holiday resort with many lovely holiday villa rentals available in popular locations. Mexico is known for its long sandy beaches, tropical sunny climate, affordable food, great water sports and it is very easy to reach from North America. It has a fantastic heritage with many Mayan sites, hidden for centuries by the pervasive jungle and now excavated and open to visitors. Mayan sites are particularly interesting in 2012 as the Mayan calendar ends in December 2012, possibly suggesting they believed it would be the end of the world.
One of the largest and most popular Mayan sites to visit is Chichen Itza. It can easily be reached on a day trip from the popular resorts of Cancun or Playa del Carmen and the best way to visit is with a guide. “Chichen Itza” means “mouth of the well” and its fresh water source would have been the deciding factor for the Mayans in choosing to build one of their largest cities here. You can visit the two “cenotes” or natural sink holes which would have provided water for the Mayans.
The ceremonial and religious site dates back to 850AD, and possibly even earlier. It was abandoned and then returned to many times over the centuries by the Mayans. It is filled with the well-preserved remains of temples, buildings, altars, platforms and a massive ball court. The two main attractions are the pyramid-shaped Temple of Ku’kulkan and the El Caracol observatory.
Ku’kulkan, also known as the Castillo, was built in honor of the serpent-god Ku’kulkan. It stands 23m (75 feet) high and each of the four sides has 91 steps. With the top platform, this totals 365 steps and it is no accident that this is the number of days in the year. The structure is built with remarkable precision and knowledge of the sun, as each year at the spring and autumn solstices the sun casts a shadow down the pyramid steps which resembles a moving serpent with the carved head at the bottom.
The other must-see is the remarkably designed observatory, El Caracol. The rounded tower stands on a rectangular platform and is 14 metres (48 feet) tall. It has eight windows pointing to the mid-points of the compass, but perhaps more significantly, they locate the position of the planet Venus which is visible from the earth eight times a year. The Mayans believed that the stars and planets controlled their existence and they held rituals and sacrificed both animals and humans to the heavenly “gods”.
Other attractions to discover at Chichen Itza are the Great Ball Court, the Platform of Venus, the Temple of the Warriors, the Steam Bath, the 1000 Columns and the Ossario pyramid, also known as the High Priests’ Temple. Finish your visit at the local craft stalls that line the entrance and exit to the site.