Chichen Itza, the greatest of the Yucatan Peninsula’s Mayan ruins, was a mandatory stop for me when I was in the area – and not because it’s made one of the Seven Wonders of the World lists. Rather, I had explored Tulum just a year earlier, Chichen Itza’s little sister several hours away on the Riviera Maya. Although Tulum is spectacular in itself, I had felt I was missing the big time.
Now, how to go about seeing these most ancient of ruins? Take a tour bus and follow a guide around for hours and hours, or board a public bus and see the sights on my own? Hmmm.
The public bus journey was long but air conditioned and completely comfortable. The scenery, though, easily could be beat. The only relief from viewing a straight, flat road plodding pragmatically through never-ending trees were a couple of toll booth stops, where armed militia men were on the scene – always an entertaining sight. On-the-bus entertainment came in the form of, naturally, movies – first an American film in Spanish, then an American film in English. If you’re not a movie-watching type, bring a book or someone to talk to because this will be you only relief from hours of sameness.
Fifteen-hundred-year-old Chichen Itza, with its famous Kukulkan pyramid, Thousand Columns and the largest-known ballcourt in Mesoamerica, was indeed the big time. Parts of it are somewhat worn away by the weather of the centuries, but the ruins for the most part are an intact and commanding presence in the middle of isolated territory. Scores of vendors were selling their wares almost every step of the way (amazing what they were offering for only a dollar), but they really didn’t detract from the enjoyment of exploring the grandeur of the structures. I discovered once I left, that from April 29 to May 8 the site had been closed due to the fear of swine flu. Chichen Itza is such a don’t-miss sight. I’m glad I didn’t try to go a week earlier.
Sabina Lohr finds that home is not where the heart is, and a good chunk of her life revolves around plotting her next trip, or traveling. She has a Bachelor of Arts with a major in German which, like many liberal arts degrees, has gotten her nowhere except overseas to study. Unlike so many other travelers, she has never kept track of the number of countries she’s traveled to but knows her continent count stands at only three. The other four are calling.