Stairs Leading up to the Gran Basamento Chacchoben

Stairs Leading up to the Gran Basamento Chacchoben

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Tikal Temple I

Tikal Temple I is the designation given to one of the major structures at Tikal, one of the largest cities and archaeological sites of the pre-Columbian Maya civilization in Mesoamerica. It is located in the Petén Basin region of northern Guatemala. It also is known as the Temple of the Great Jaguar because of a lintel that represents a king sitting upon a jaguar throne. [1] An alternative name is the Temple of Ah Cacao, after the ruler buried in the temple. [nb 1] Temple I is a typically Petén-styled limestone stepped pyramid structure that is dated to approximately 732 AD.

Situated at the heart of a World Heritage Site, the temple is surmounted by a characteristic roof comb, a distinctive Maya architectural feature. Building Temple I on the eastern side of the Great Plaza was a significant deviation from the established tradition of building funerary temples just north of the plaza in Tikal's North Acropolis. [2] [3]


The Maya name "Chichen Itza" means "At the mouth of the well of the Itza." This derives from chi', meaning "mouth" or "edge", and chʼen or chʼeʼen, meaning "well". Itzá is the name of an ethnic-lineage group that gained political and economic dominance of the northern peninsula. One possible translation for Itza is "enchanter (or enchantment) of the water," [5] from its (itz), "sorcerer", and ha, "water". [6]

The name is spelled Chichén Itzá in Spanish, and the accents are sometimes maintained in other languages to show that both parts of the name are stressed on their final syllable. Other references prefer the Maya orthography, Chichʼen Itzaʼ (pronounced [tʃitʃʼen itsáʔ] ). This form preserves the phonemic distinction between chʼ and ch, since the base word chʼeʼen (which, however, is not stressed in Maya) begins with a postalveolar ejective affricate consonant. The word "Itzaʼ" has a high tone on the "a" followed by a glottal stop (indicated by the apostrophe). [ citation needed ]

Evidence in the Chilam Balam books indicates another, earlier name for this city prior to the arrival of the Itza hegemony in northern Yucatán. While most sources agree the first word means seven, there is considerable debate as to the correct translation of the rest. This earlier name is difficult to define because of the absence of a single standard of orthography, but it is represented variously as Uuc Yabnal ("Seven Great House"), [7] Uuc Hab Nal ("Seven Bushy Places"), [8] Uucyabnal ("Seven Great Rulers") [2] or Uc Abnal ("Seven Lines of Abnal"). [nb 3] This name, dating to the Late Classic Period, is recorded both in the book of Chilam Balam de Chumayel and in hieroglyphic texts in the ruins. [9]

Chichen Itza is located in the eastern portion of Yucatán state in Mexico. [10] The northern Yucatán Peninsula is karst, and the rivers in the interior all run underground. There are four visible, natural sink holes, called cenotes, that could have provided plentiful water year round at Chichen, making it attractive for settlement. Of these cenotes, the "Cenote Sagrado" or Sacred Cenote (also variously known as the Sacred Well or Well of Sacrifice), is the most famous. [11] In 2015, scientists determined that there is a hidden cenote under Kukulkan, which has never been seen by archeologists. [12]

According to post-Conquest sources (Maya and Spanish), pre-Columbian Maya sacrificed objects and human beings into the cenote as a form of worship to the Maya rain god Chaac. Edward Herbert Thompson dredged the Cenote Sagrado from 1904 to 1910, and recovered artifacts of gold, jade, pottery and incense, as well as human remains. [11] A study of human remains taken from the Cenote Sagrado found that they had wounds consistent with human sacrifice. [13]

Several archeologists in the late 1980s suggested that unlike previous Maya polities of the Early Classic, Chichen Itza may not have been governed by an individual ruler or a single dynastic lineage. Instead, the city's political organization could have been structured by a "multepal" system, which is characterized as rulership through council composed of members of elite ruling lineages. [14]

This theory was popular in the 1990s, but in recent years, the research that supported the concept of the "multepal" system has been called into question, if not discredited. The current belief trend in Maya scholarship is toward the more traditional model of the Maya kingdoms of the Classic Period southern lowlands in Mexico. [15]

Chichen Itza was a major economic power in the northern Maya lowlands during its apogee. [16] Participating in the water-borne circum-peninsular trade route through its port site of Isla Cerritos on the north coast, [17] Chichen Itza was able to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as obsidian from central Mexico and gold from southern Central America.

Between AD 900 and 1050 Chichen Itza expanded to become a powerful regional capital controlling north and central Yucatán. It established Isla Cerritos as a trading port. [18]

The layout of Chichen Itza site core developed during its earlier phase of occupation, between 750 and 900 AD. [19] Its final layout was developed after 900 AD, and the 10th century saw the rise of the city as a regional capital controlling the area from central Yucatán to the north coast, with its power extending down the east and west coasts of the peninsula. [20] The earliest hieroglyphic date discovered at Chichen Itza is equivalent to 832 AD, while the last known date was recorded in the Osario temple in 998. [21]


The Late Classic city was centered upon the area to the southwest of the Xtoloc cenote, with the main architecture represented by the substructures now underlying the Las Monjas and Observatorio and the basal platform upon which they were built. [22]


Chichen Itza rose to regional prominence toward the end of the Early Classic period (roughly 600 AD). It was, however, toward the end of the Late Classic and into the early part of the Terminal Classic that the site became a major regional capital, centralizing and dominating political, sociocultural, economic, and ideological life in the northern Maya lowlands. The ascension of Chichen Itza roughly correlates with the decline and fragmentation of the major centers of the southern Maya lowlands.

As Chichen Itza rose to prominence, the cities of Yaxuna (to the south) and Coba (to the east) were suffering decline. These two cities had been mutual allies, with Yaxuna dependent upon Coba. At some point in the 10th century Coba lost a significant portion of its territory, isolating Yaxuna, and Chichen Itza may have directly contributed to the collapse of both cities. [23]


According to some colonial Mayan sources (e.g., the Book of Chilam Balam of Chumayel), Hunac Ceel, ruler of Mayapan, conquered Chichen Itza in the 13th century. Hunac Ceel supposedly prophesied his own rise to power. According to custom at the time, individuals thrown into the Cenote Sagrado were believed to have the power of prophecy if they survived. During one such ceremony, the chronicles state, there were no survivors, so Hunac Ceel leaped into the Cenote Sagrado, and when removed, prophesied his own ascension.

While there is some archeological evidence that indicates Chichén Itzá was at one time looted and sacked, [24] there appears to be greater evidence that it could not have been by Mayapan, at least not when Chichén Itzá was an active urban center. Archeological data now indicates that Chichen Itza declined as a regional center by 1100, before the rise of Mayapan. Ongoing research at the site of Mayapan may help resolve this chronological conundrum.

After Chichén Itzá elite activities ceased, the city may not have been abandoned. When the Spanish arrived, they found a thriving local population, although it is not clear from Spanish sources if these Maya were living in Chichen Itza proper, or a nearby settlement. The relatively high population density in the region was a factor in the conquistadors' decision to locate a capital there. [25] According to post-Conquest sources, both Spanish and Maya, the Cenote Sagrado remained a place of pilgrimage. [26]

Spanish conquest

In 1526 Spanish Conquistador Francisco de Montejo (a veteran of the Grijalva and Cortés expeditions) successfully petitioned the King of Spain for a charter to conquer Yucatán. His first campaign in 1527, which covered much of the Yucatán Peninsula, decimated his forces but ended with the establishment of a small fort at Xaman Haʼ, south of what is today Cancún. Montejo returned to Yucatán in 1531 with reinforcements and established his main base at Campeche on the west coast. [27] He sent his son, Francisco Montejo The Younger, in late 1532 to conquer the interior of the Yucatán Peninsula from the north. The objective from the beginning was to go to Chichén Itzá and establish a capital. [28]

Montejo the Younger eventually arrived at Chichen Itza, which he renamed Ciudad Real. At first he encountered no resistance, and set about dividing the lands around the city and awarding them to his soldiers. The Maya became more hostile over time, and eventually they laid siege to the Spanish, cutting off their supply line to the coast, and forcing them to barricade themselves among the ruins of the ancient city. Months passed, but no reinforcements arrived. Montejo the Younger attempted an all out assault against the Maya and lost 150 of his remaining troops. He was forced to abandon Chichén Itzá in 1534 under cover of darkness. By 1535, all Spanish had been driven from the Yucatán Peninsula. [29]

Montejo eventually returned to Yucatán and, by recruiting Maya from Campeche and Champoton, built a large Indio-Spanish army and conquered the peninsula. [30] The Spanish crown later issued a land grant that included Chichen Itza and by 1588 it was a working cattle ranch. [31]

Modern history

Chichen Itza entered the popular imagination in 1843 with the book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan by John Lloyd Stephens (with illustrations by Frederick Catherwood). The book recounted Stephens' visit to Yucatán and his tour of Maya cities, including Chichén Itzá. The book prompted other explorations of the city. In 1860, Désiré Charnay surveyed Chichén Itzá and took numerous photographs that he published in Cités et ruines américaines (1863).

Visitors to Chichén Itzá during the 1870s and 1880s came with photographic equipment and recorded more accurately the condition of several buildings. [32] In 1875, Augustus Le Plongeon and his wife Alice Dixon Le Plongeon visited Chichén, and excavated a statue of a figure on its back, knees drawn up, upper torso raised on its elbows with a plate on its stomach. Augustus Le Plongeon called it "Chaacmol" (later renamed "Chac Mool", which has been the term to describe all types of this statuary found in Mesoamerica). Teobert Maler and Alfred Maudslay explored Chichén in the 1880s and both spent several weeks at the site and took extensive photographs. Maudslay published the first long-form description of Chichen Itza in his book, Biologia Centrali-Americana.

In 1894 the United States Consul to Yucatán, Edward Herbert Thompson, purchased the Hacienda Chichén, which included the ruins of Chichen Itza. For 30 years, Thompson explored the ancient city. His discoveries included the earliest dated carving upon a lintel in the Temple of the Initial Series and the excavation of several graves in the Osario (High Priest's Temple). Thompson is most famous for dredging the Cenote Sagrado (Sacred Cenote) from 1904 to 1910, where he recovered artifacts of gold, copper and carved jade, as well as the first-ever examples of what were believed to be pre-Columbian Maya cloth and wooden weapons. Thompson shipped the bulk of the artifacts to the Peabody Museum at Harvard University.

In 1913, the Carnegie Institution accepted the proposal of archeologist Sylvanus G. Morley and committed to conduct long-term archeological research at Chichen Itza. [33] The Mexican Revolution and the following government instability, as well as World War I, delayed the project by a decade. [34]

In 1923, the Mexican government awarded the Carnegie Institution a 10-year permit (later extended another 10 years) to allow U.S. archeologists to conduct extensive excavation and restoration of Chichen Itza. [35] Carnegie researchers excavated and restored the Temple of Warriors and the Caracol, among other major buildings. At the same time, the Mexican government excavated and restored El Castillo (Temple of Kukulcán) and the Great Ball Court. [36]

In 1926, the Mexican government charged Edward Thompson with theft, claiming he stole the artifacts from the Cenote Sagrado and smuggled them out of the country. The government seized the Hacienda Chichén. Thompson, who was in the United States at the time, never returned to Yucatán. He wrote about his research and investigations of the Maya culture in a book People of the Serpent published in 1932. He died in New Jersey in 1935. In 1944 the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that Thompson had broken no laws and returned Chichen Itza to his heirs. The Thompsons sold the hacienda to tourism pioneer Fernando Barbachano Peon. [37]

There have been two later expeditions to recover artifacts from the Cenote Sagrado, in 1961 and 1967. The first was sponsored by the National Geographic, and the second by private interests. Both projects were supervised by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH). INAH has conducted an ongoing effort to excavate and restore other monuments in the archeological zone, including the Osario, Akab Dzib, and several buildings in Chichén Viejo (Old Chichen).

In 2009, to investigate construction that predated El Castillo, Yucatec archeologists began excavations adjacent to El Castillo under the direction of Rafael (Rach) Cobos.

Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities, with the relatively densely clustered architecture of the site core covering an area of at least 5 square kilometers (1.9 sq mi). [2] Smaller scale residential architecture extends for an unknown distance beyond this. [2] The city was built upon broken terrain, which was artificially levelled in order to build the major architectural groups, with the greatest effort being expended in the levelling of the areas for the Castillo pyramid, and the Las Monjas, Osario and Main Southwest groups. [10]

The site contains many fine stone buildings in various states of preservation, and many have been restored. The buildings were connected by a dense network of paved causeways, called sacbeob. [nb 4] Archeologists have identified over 80 sacbeob criss-crossing the site, [10] and extending in all directions from the city. [38] Many of these stone buildings were originally painted in red, green, blue and purple colors. Pigments were chosen according to what was most easily available in the area. The site must be imagined as a colorful one, not like it is today. Just like gothic cathedrals in Europe, colors provided a greater sense of completeness and contributed greatly to the symbolic impact of the buildings. [39]

The architecture encompasses a number of styles, including the Puuc and Chenes styles of the northern Yucatán Peninsula. [2] The buildings of Chichen Itza are grouped in a series of architectonic sets, and each set was at one time separated from the other by a series of low walls. The three best known of these complexes are the Great North Platform, which includes the monuments of the Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo), Temple of Warriors and the Great Ball Court The Osario Group, which includes the pyramid of the same name as well as the Temple of Xtoloc and the Central Group, which includes the Caracol, Las Monjas, and Akab Dzib.

South of Las Monjas, in an area known as Chichén Viejo (Old Chichén) and only open to archeologists, are several other complexes, such as the Group of the Initial Series, Group of the Lintels, and Group of the Old Castle.

Architectural styles

The Puuc-style architecture is concentrated in the Old Chichen area, and also the earlier structures in the Nunnery Group (including the Las Monjas, Annex and La Iglesia buildings) it is also represented in the Akab Dzib structure. [40] The Puuc-style building feature the usual mosaic-decorated upper façades characteristic of the style but differ from the architecture of the Puuc heartland in their block masonry walls, as opposed to the fine veneers of the Puuc region proper. [41]

At least one structure in the Las Monjas Group features an ornate façade and masked doorway that are typical examples of Chenes-style architecture, a style centered upon a region in the north of Campeche state, lying between the Puuc and Río Bec regions. [42] [43]

Those structures with sculpted hieroglyphic script are concentrated in certain areas of the site, with the most important being the Las Monjas group. [21]

Architectural groups

Great North Platform

Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo)

Dominating the North Platform of Chichen Itza is the Temple of Kukulcán (a Maya feathered serpent deity similar to the Aztec Quetzalcoatl). The temple was identified by the first Spaniards to see it, as El Castillo ("the castle"), and it regularly is referred to as such. [44] This step pyramid stands about 30 meters (98 ft) high and consists of a series of nine square terraces, each approximately 2.57 meters (8.4 ft) high, with a 6-meter (20 ft) high temple upon the summit. [45]

The sides of the pyramid are approximately 55.3 meters (181 ft) at the base and rise at an angle of 53°, although that varies slightly for each side. [45] The four faces of the pyramid have protruding stairways that rise at an angle of 45°. [45] The talud walls of each terrace slant at an angle of between 72° and 74°. [45] At the base of the balustrades of the northeastern staircase are carved heads of a serpent. [46]

Mesoamerican cultures periodically superimposed larger structures over older ones, [47] and the Temple of Kukulcán is one such example. [48] In the mid-1930s, the Mexican government sponsored an excavation of the temple. After several false starts, they discovered a staircase under the north side of the pyramid. By digging from the top, they found another temple buried below the current one. [49]

Inside the temple chamber was a Chac Mool statue and a throne in the shape of Jaguar, painted red and with spots made of inlaid jade. [49] The Mexican government excavated a tunnel from the base of the north staircase, up the earlier pyramid's stairway to the hidden temple, and opened it to tourists. In 2006, INAH closed the throne room to the public. [50]

Around the Spring and Autumn equinoxes, in the late afternoon, the northwest corner of the pyramid casts a series of triangular shadows against the western balustrade on the north side that evokes the appearance of a serpent wriggling down the staircase, which some scholars have suggested is a representation of the feathered-serpent deity, Kukulcán. [51] It is a widespread belief that this light-and-shadow effect was achieved on purpose to record the equinoxes, but the idea is highly unlikely: it has been shown that the phenomenon can be observed, without major changes, during several weeks around the equinoxes, making it impossible to determine any date by observing this effect alone. [52]

Great Ball Court

Archeologists have identified thirteen ballcourts for playing the Mesoamerican ballgame in Chichen Itza, [53] but the Great Ball Court about 150 meters (490 ft) to the north-west of the Castillo is by far the most impressive. It is the largest and best preserved ball court in ancient Mesoamerica. [44] It measures 168 by 70 meters (551 by 230 ft). [54]

The parallel platforms flanking the main playing area are each 95 meters (312 ft) long. [54] The walls of these platforms stand 8 meters (26 ft) high [54] set high up in the center of each of these walls are rings carved with intertwined feathered serpents. [54] [nb 5]

At the base of the high interior walls are slanted benches with sculpted panels of teams of ball players. [44] In one panel, one of the players has been decapitated the wound emits streams of blood in the form of wriggling snakes. [55]

At one end of the Great Ball Court is the North Temple, also known as the Temple of the Bearded Man (Templo del Hombre Barbado). [56] This small masonry building has detailed bas relief carving on the inner walls, including a center figure that has carving under his chin that resembles facial hair. [57] At the south end is another, much bigger temple, but in ruins.

Built into the east wall are the Temples of the Jaguar. The Upper Temple of the Jaguar overlooks the ball court and has an entrance guarded by two, large columns carved in the familiar feathered serpent motif. Inside there is a large mural, much destroyed, which depicts a battle scene.

In the entrance to the Lower Temple of the Jaguar, which opens behind the ball court, is another Jaguar throne, similar to the one in the inner temple of El Castillo, except that it is well worn and missing paint or other decoration. The outer columns and the walls inside the temple are covered with elaborate bas-relief carvings.

Additional structures

The Tzompantli, or Skull Platform (Plataforma de los Cráneos), shows the clear cultural influence of the central Mexican Plateau. Unlike the tzompantli of the highlands, however, the skulls were impaled vertically rather than horizontally as at Tenochtitlan. [44]

The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars (Plataforma de Águilas y Jaguares) is immediately to the east of the Great Ballcourt. [56] It is built in a combination Maya and Toltec styles, with a staircase ascending each of its four sides. [44] The sides are decorated with panels depicting eagles and jaguars consuming human hearts. [44]

This Platform of Venus is dedicated to the planet Venus. [44] In its interior archeologists discovered a collection of large cones carved out of stone, [44] the purpose of which is unknown. This platform is located north of El Castillo, between it and the Cenote Sagrado. [56]

The Temple of the Tables is the northernmost of a series of buildings to the east of El Castillo. Its name comes from a series of altars at the top of the structure that are supported by small carved figures of men with upraised arms, called "atlantes."

The Steam Bath is a unique building with three parts: a waiting gallery, a water bath, and a steam chamber that operated by means of heated stones.

Sacbe Number One is a causeway that leads to the Cenote Sagrado, is the largest and most elaborate at Chichen Itza. This "white road" is 270 meters (890 ft) long with an average width of 9 meters (30 ft). It begins at a low wall a few meters from the Platform of Venus. According to archeologists there once was an extensive building with columns at the beginning of the road.

Sacred Cenote

The Yucatán Peninsula is a limestone plain, with no rivers or streams. The region is pockmarked with natural sinkholes, called cenotes, which expose the water table to the surface. One of the most impressive of these is the Cenote Sagrado, which is 60 meters (200 ft) in diameter [58] and surrounded by sheer cliffs that drop to the water table some 27 meters (89 ft) below.

The Cenote Sagrado was a place of pilgrimage for ancient Maya people who, according to ethnohistoric sources, would conduct sacrifices during times of drought. [58] Archeological investigations support this as thousands of objects have been removed from the bottom of the cenote, including material such as gold, carved jade, copal, pottery, flint, obsidian, shell, wood, rubber, cloth, as well as skeletons of children and men. [58] [59]

Temple of the Warriors

The Temple of the Warriors complex consists of a large stepped pyramid fronted and flanked by rows of carved columns depicting warriors. This complex is analogous to Temple B at the Toltec capital of Tula, and indicates some form of cultural contact between the two regions. The one at Chichen Itza, however, was constructed on a larger scale. At the top of the stairway on the pyramid's summit (and leading toward the entrance of the pyramid's temple) is a Chac Mool.

This temple encases or entombs a former structure called The Temple of the Chac Mool. The archeological expedition and restoration of this building was done by the Carnegie Institution of Washington from 1925 to 1928. A key member of this restoration was Earl H. Morris, who published the work from this expedition in two volumes entitled Temple of the Warriors. Watercolors were made of murals in the Temple of the Warriors that were deteriorating rapidly following exposure to the elements after enduring for centuries in the protected enclosures being discovered. Many depict battle scenes and some even have tantalizing images that lend themselves to speculation and debate by prominent Maya scholars, such as Michael D. Coe and Mary Miller, regarding possible contact with Viking sailors. [60]

Group of a Thousand Columns

Along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors are a series of what are today exposed columns, although when the city was inhabited these would have supported an extensive roof system. The columns are in three distinct sections: A west group, that extends the lines of the front of the Temple of Warriors. A north group runs along the south wall of the Temple of Warriors and contains pillars with carvings of soldiers in bas-relief

A northeast group, which apparently formed a small temple at the southeast corner of the Temple of Warriors, contains a rectangular decorated with carvings of people or gods, as well as animals and serpents. The northeast column temple also covers a small marvel of engineering, a channel that funnels all the rainwater from the complex some 40 meters (130 ft) away to a rejollada, a former cenote.

To the south of the Group of a Thousand Columns is a group of three, smaller, interconnected buildings. The Temple of the Carved Columns is a small elegant building that consists of a front gallery with an inner corridor that leads to an altar with a Chac Mool. There are also numerous columns with rich, bas-relief carvings of some 40 personages.

A section of the upper façade with a motif of x's and o's is displayed in front of the structure. The Temple of the Small Tables which is an unrestored mound. And the Thompson's Temple (referred to in some sources as Palace of Ahau Balam Kauil ), a small building with two levels that has friezes depicting Jaguars (balam in Maya) as well as glyphs of the Maya god Kahuil.

El Mercado

This square structure anchors the southern end of the Temple of Warriors complex. It is so named for the shelf of stone that surrounds a large gallery and patio that early explorers theorized was used to display wares as in a marketplace. Today, archeologists believe that its purpose was more ceremonial than commercial.

Osario Group

South of the North Group is a smaller platform that has many important structures, several of which appear to be oriented toward the second largest cenote at Chichen Itza, Xtoloc.

The Osario itself, like the Temple of Kukulkan, is a step-pyramid temple dominating its platform, only on a smaller scale. Like its larger neighbor, it has four sides with staircases on each side. There is a temple on top, but unlike Kukulkan, at the center is an opening into the pyramid that leads to a natural cave 12 meters (39 ft) below. Edward H. Thompson excavated this cave in the late 19th century, and because he found several skeletons and artifacts such as jade beads, he named the structure The High Priests' Temple. Archeologists today believe neither that the structure was a tomb nor that the personages buried in it were priests.

The Temple of Xtoloc is a recently restored temple outside the Osario Platform is. It overlooks the other large cenote at Chichen Itza, named after the Maya word for iguana, "Xtoloc." The temple contains a series of pilasters carved with images of people, as well as representations of plants, birds, and mythological scenes.

Between the Xtoloc temple and the Osario are several aligned structures: The Platform of Venus, which is similar in design to the structure of the same name next to Kukulkan (El Castillo), the Platform of the Tombs, and a small, round structure that is unnamed. These three structures were constructed in a row extending from the Osario. Beyond them the Osario platform terminates in a wall, which contains an opening to a sacbe that runs several hundred feet to the Xtoloc temple.

South of the Osario, at the boundary of the platform, there are two small buildings that archeologists believe were residences for important personages. These have been named as the House of the Metates and the House of the Mestizas.

Casa Colorada Group

South of the Osario Group is another small platform that has several structures that are among the oldest in the Chichen Itza archeological zone.

The Casa Colorada (Spanish for "Red House") is one of the best preserved buildings at Chichen Itza. Its Maya name is Chichanchob, which according to INAH may mean "small holes". In one chamber there are extensive carved hieroglyphs that mention rulers of Chichen Itza and possibly of the nearby city of Ek Balam, and contain a Maya date inscribed which correlates to 869 AD, one of the oldest such dates found in all of Chichen Itza.

In 2009, INAH restored a small ball court that adjoined the back wall of the Casa Colorada. [61]

While the Casa Colorada is in a good state of preservation, other buildings in the group, with one exception, are decrepit mounds. One building is half standing, named La Casa del Venado (House of the Deer). This building's name has been long used by the local Maya, and some authors mention that it was named after a deer painting over stucco that doesn't exist anymore. [62]

Central Group

Las Monjas is one of the more notable structures at Chichen Itza. It is a complex of Terminal Classic buildings constructed in the Puuc architectural style. The Spanish named this complex Las Monjas ("The Nuns" or "The Nunnery"), but it was a governmental palace. Just to the east is a small temple (known as the La Iglesia, "The Church") decorated with elaborate masks. [44] [63]

The Las Monjas group is distinguished by its concentration of hieroglyphic texts dating to the Late to Terminal Classic. These texts frequently mention a ruler by the name of Kʼakʼupakal. [21] [64]

El Caracol ("The Snail") is located to the north of Las Monjas. It is a round building on a large square platform. It gets its name from the stone spiral staircase inside. The structure, with its unusual placement on the platform and its round shape (the others are rectangular, in keeping with Maya practice), is theorized to have been a proto-observatory with doors and windows aligned to astronomical events, specifically around the path of Venus as it traverses the heavens. [65]

Akab Dzib is located to the east of the Caracol. The name means, in Yucatec Mayan, "Dark Writing" "dark" in the sense of "mysterious". An earlier name of the building, according to a translation of glyphs in the Casa Colorada, is Wa(k)wak Puh Ak Na, "the flat house with the excessive number of chambers", and it was the home of the administrator of Chichén Itzá, kokom Yahawal Choʼ Kʼakʼ. [66]

INAH completed a restoration of the building in 2007. It is relatively short, only 6 meters (20 ft) high, and is 50 meters (160 ft) in length and 15 meters (49 ft) wide. The long, western-facing façade has seven doorways. The eastern façade has only four doorways, broken by a large staircase that leads to the roof. This apparently was the front of the structure, and looks out over what is today a steep, dry, cenote.

The southern end of the building has one entrance. The door opens into a small chamber and on the opposite wall is another doorway, above which on the lintel are intricately carved glyphs—the "mysterious" or "obscure" writing that gives the building its name today. Under the lintel in the doorjamb is another carved panel of a seated figure surrounded by more glyphs. Inside one of the chambers, near the ceiling, is a painted hand print.

Old Chichen

Old Chichen (or Chichén Viejo in Spanish) is the name given to a group of structures to the south of the central site, where most of the Puuc-style architecture of the city is concentrated. [2] It includes the Initial Series Group, the Phallic Temple, the Platform of the Great Turtle, the Temple of the Owls, and the Temple of the Monkeys.

Other structures

Chichen Itza also has a variety of other structures densely packed in the ceremonial center of about 5 square kilometers (1.9 sq mi) and several outlying subsidiary sites.

Caves of Balankanche

Approximately 4 km (2.5 mi) south east of the Chichen Itza archeological zone are a network of sacred caves known as Balankanche (Spanish: Gruta de Balankanche), Balamkaʼancheʼ in Yucatec Maya). In the caves, a large selection of ancient pottery and idols may be seen still in the positions where they were left in pre-Columbian times.

The location of the cave has been well known in modern times. Edward Thompson and Alfred Tozzer visited it in 1905. A.S. Pearse and a team of biologists explored the cave in 1932 and 1936. E. Wyllys Andrews IV also explored the cave in the 1930s. Edwin Shook and R.E. Smith explored the cave on behalf of the Carnegie Institution in 1954, and dug several trenches to recover potsherds and other artifacts. Shook determined that the cave had been inhabited over a long period, at least from the Preclassic to the post-conquest era. [67]

On 15 September 1959, José Humberto Gómez, a local guide, discovered a false wall in the cave. Behind it he found an extended network of caves with significant quantities of undisturbed archeological remains, including pottery and stone-carved censers, stone implements and jewelry. INAH converted the cave into an underground museum, and the objects after being catalogued were returned to their original place so visitors can see them in situ. [68]

Chichen Itza is one of the most visited archeological sites in Mexico in 2017 it was estimated to have received 2.1 million visitors. [69]

Tourism has been a factor at Chichen Itza for more than a century. John Lloyd Stephens, who popularized the Maya Yucatán in the public's imagination with his book Incidents of Travel in Yucatan, inspired many to make a pilgrimage to Chichén Itzá. Even before the book was published, Benjamin Norman and Baron Emanuel von Friedrichsthal traveled to Chichen after meeting Stephens, and both published the results of what they found. Friedrichsthal was the first to photograph Chichen Itza, using the recently invented daguerreotype. [70]

After Edward Thompson in 1894 purchased the Hacienda Chichén, which included Chichen Itza, he received a constant stream of visitors. In 1910 he announced his intention to construct a hotel on his property, but abandoned those plans, probably because of the Mexican Revolution.

In the early 1920s, a group of Yucatecans, led by writer/photographer Francisco Gomez Rul, began working toward expanding tourism to Yucatán. They urged Governor Felipe Carrillo Puerto to build roads to the more famous monuments, including Chichen Itza. In 1923, Governor Carrillo Puerto officially opened the highway to Chichen Itza. Gomez Rul published one of the first guidebooks to Yucatán and the ruins.

Gomez Rul's son-in-law, Fernando Barbachano Peon (a grandnephew of former Yucatán Governor Miguel Barbachano), started Yucatán's first official tourism business in the early 1920s. He began by meeting passengers who arrived by steamship at Progreso, the port north of Mérida, and persuading them to spend a week in Yucatán, after which they would catch the next steamship to their next destination. In his first year Barbachano Peon reportedly was only able to convince seven passengers to leave the ship and join him on a tour. In the mid-1920s Barbachano Peon persuaded Edward Thompson to sell 5 acres (20,000 m 2 ) next to Chichen for a hotel. In 1930, the Mayaland Hotel opened, just north of the Hacienda Chichén, which had been taken over by the Carnegie Institution. [71]

In 1944, Barbachano Peon purchased all of the Hacienda Chichén, including Chichen Itza, from the heirs of Edward Thompson. [37] Around that same time the Carnegie Institution completed its work at Chichen Itza and abandoned the Hacienda Chichén, which Barbachano turned into another seasonal hotel.

In 1972, Mexico enacted the Ley Federal Sobre Monumentos y Zonas Arqueológicas, Artísticas e Históricas (Federal Law over Monuments and Archeological, Artistic and Historic Sites) that put all the nation's pre-Columbian monuments, including those at Chichen Itza, under federal ownership. [72] There were now hundreds, if not thousands, of visitors every year to Chichen Itza, and more were expected with the development of the Cancún resort area to the east.

In the 1980s, Chichen Itza began to receive an influx of visitors on the day of the spring equinox. Today several thousand show up to see the light-and-shadow effect on the Temple of Kukulcán during which the feathered serpent appears to crawl down the side of the pyramid. [nb 6] Tour guides will also demonstrate a unique the acoustical effect at Chichen Itza: a handclap before the in front of the staircase the El Castillo pyramid will produce by an echo that resembles the chirp of a bird, similar to that of the quetzal as investigated by Declercq. [73]

Chichen Itza, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is the second-most visited of Mexico's archeological sites. [74] The archeological site draws many visitors from the popular tourist resort of Cancún, who make a day trip on tour buses.

In 2007, Chichen Itza's Temple of Kukulcán (El Castillo) was named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote. Despite the fact that the vote was sponsored by a commercial enterprise, and that its methodology was criticized, the vote was embraced by government and tourism officials in Mexico who projected that as a result of the publicity the number of tourists to Chichen would double by 2012. [nb 7] [75] The ensuing publicity re-ignited debate in Mexico over the ownership of the site, which culminated on 29 March 2010 when the state of Yucatán purchased the land upon which the most recognized monuments rest from owner Hans Juergen Thies Barbachano. [76]

INAH, which manages the site, has closed a number of monuments to public access. While visitors can walk around them, they can no longer climb them or go inside their chambers. Climbing access to El Castillo was closed after a San Diego, California, woman fell to her death in 2006. [50]

A Short History Of The Maya

Agricultural people by nature, the Mayan civilization harvested crops such as maize and beans, clearing jungles for farming as they developed more sophisticated techniques to expand their production.

Spiritually, the Maya worship more than 150 Gods who they believe their Kings are related to with one God ruling over every subject associated with their lives, for example, the God of Rain, the God of Agriculture, and the God of Death.

Though it may seem complicated to us, this extensive list of deities actually resulted in huge advances in math and astronomy plus the development of the famous Mayan Calendar.

Although the original Maya Empire was destroyed many centuries ago (due to drought, warfare, and/or overpopulation), the Maya people still exist today.

The modern-day Maya hide in plain sight, so to speak, living in Mexico while keeping much of their own traditions and culture from the past.


Experience Mayan history and a jungle retreat with an open bar & buffet lunch. Your tour begins when your bilingual guide meets you at the end of the pier and escorts you to your air conditioned transfer vehicle waiting on site. Listen to your guide and learn about the interesting local area and culture from onboard commentary as you pass through the fishing village. Continue this tour inland to visit “The Place of the Red Corn”, Chacchoben, learn about the fascinating Mayan culture during the journey from our knowledgeable guides.

Enjoy a guided tour of this unique archaeological site set in beautiful surroundings still partially covered by the rain forest. Climb to the top of the “Gran Basamento” taking you above the tree line and visit two sacred temples. Before leaving, you will have the opportunity to buy souvenirs from shops on site. Your journey continues to a buffet lunch waiting for you at our Blue Lagoon Restaurant, the most beautiful lagoon with fresh water, located 20 minutes away from Chacchoben Mayan ruins. After your meal, sunbathe on a sun lounger, take a swim and enjoy all complimentary drinks including your favorite cocktails. Feeling fully relaxed, well fed and in good spirits your transfer awaits to return you to the ship.

Need to Know:

Note: Guests must be at least 21 years old to consume alcohol. Alcohol will be distributed under a watchful tolerance to everyone. An adult must accompany children under 18 years old.

Medical restrictions apply to guests wishing to swim at the lagoon. Guests with sight or hearing conditions must be accompanied by an interpreter/friend or family member and they will not be permitted to swim. There is a $5.00 USD (approx). Government imposed fee for the use of video cameras on the Archeological site. Guest may purchase additional soft drinks, chips & cookies at the archeological site. This excursion features a fair amount of walking over uneven surfaces and climbing. Guests will have between 10 to 15 minutes for purchases at the local market inside the Archeological site. Wheelchair guests – please note that the area is uneven and bumpy. Guests must be able to be transferred to a seat on the bus and climb steps.


You’ll journey to the ancient place of Mayan pilgrimage known today as Chacchoben, also known as "The Place of Red Corn". At the pier, you’ll be greeted by a bilingual guide who will direct you to an air-conditioned bus. Onboard the bus your guide will brief you on the interesting history and unique attributes of this sacred Mayan site. Upon arrival at Chacchoben you’ll be surrounded by jungle. Your guide will escort you through the ruins, giving you a complete explanation of the sacred temples and other structures seen there.


The ruins of Coba lie 43 km (approx. 27 mi) northwest of Tulum, in the State of Quintana Roo, Mexico. The geographical coordinates of Coba Group (main entrance for tourist area of the archaeological site) are North 19° 29.6’ and West 87° 43.7’. The archaeological zone is reached by a two-kilometer branch from the asphalt road connecting Tulum with Nuevo Xcán (a community of Lázaro Cárdenas, another municipality of Quintana Roo) on the Valladolid to Cancún highway. [3]

Coba is located around two lagoons, Lake Coba and Lake Macanxoc. A series of elevated stone and plaster roads radiate from the central site to various smaller sites near and far. These are known by the Maya term sacbe (plural sacbeob) or white road. Some of these causeways go east, and the longest runs over 100 kilometres (62 mi) westward to the site of Yaxuna. The site contains a group of large temple pyramids known as the Nohoch Mul, the tallest of which, Ixmoja, is some 42 metres (138 ft) in height. [4] Ixmoja is among the tallest pyramids on the Yucatán peninsula, exceeded by Calakmul at 45 metres (148 ft). [5]

Coba was estimated to have had some 50,000 inhabitants (and possibly significantly more) at its peak of civilization, and the built up area extends over some 80 km 2 . The site was occupied by a sizable agricultural population by the first century. The bulk of Coba's major construction seems to have been made in the middle and late Classic period, about 500 to 900 AD, with most of the dated hieroglyphic inscriptions from the 7th century (see Mesoamerican Long Count calendar). However, Coba remained an important site in the Post-Classic era and new temples were built and old ones kept in repair until at least the 14th century, possibly as late as the arrival of the Spanish.

The Mayan site of Coba was set up with multiple residential areas that consisted of around 15 houses in clusters. All clusters were connected by sacbeobs, or elevated walkways.

Six major linear features were found at the Coba site. The first feature that was often found at Coba was the platforms that were connecting the clusters to the sacbeobs. These were found at almost every single cluster of houses. Single or doubled faced features that were found around the majority of the household clusters. These were often linked to the platforms that led to the sacbeobs. A lot of features found tended to connect to something or lead to something but the other end was left open-ended. Coba has many features that are platforms or on platforms. The last major linear feature that was constantly found was sacbeob-like paths that were someway associated with natural resources of the area.

Cobá lies in the tropics, subject to alternating wet and dry seasons which, on average, differ somewhat from those in the rest of the northern peninsula, where the rainy season generally runs from June through October and the dry season from November through May. At Cobá, rain can occur in almost any time of the year, but there is a short dry period in February and March, and a concentration of rain from September through November. [6]

Sacbeob (Mayan plural of sacbe), or sacbes, were very common at the Coba site. They are raised pathways, usually stone paths at this site, that connected the clusters of residential areas to the main center of the site and the water sources. These paths were the connecting points to most areas of the Coba site and the major features discovered and preserved. Sacbeobs were the main reason why maps of Coba could be created. The sacbeobs were one of the ways anthropologists figured out how to excavate the site and transect the area. The sacbes also were used by the anthropologists to help determine the size of Coba. Although Mayans used wheels in artifacts such as toys, anthropologists note that without indigenous animals suitable for draft, [7] they did not implement the wheel for transportation of goods or people.

Archaeological evidence indicates that Cobá was first settled between 50 BC and 100 AD. At that time, there was a town with buildings of wood and palm fronds and flat platforms. The only archaeological evidence of the time are fragments of pottery. After 100 AD, the area around Coba evidenced strong population growth, and with it an increase in its social and political status among Maya city states which would ultimately make Coba one of the biggest and most powerful city states in the northern Yucatán area. Between 201 and 601 AD, Coba must have dominated a vast area, including the north of the state of Quintana Roo and areas in the east of the state of Yucatán. This power resided in its control of large swaths of farmland, control over trading routes, and — critically for a Mayan city — control over ample water resources. Among the trading routes, Coba probably controlled ports like Xel Há.

Coba must have maintained close contacts with the large city states of Guatemala and the south of Campeche like Tikal, Dzibanche, or Calakmul. To maintain its influence, Coba must have established military alliances and arranged marriages among their elites. It is quite noteworthy that Coba shows traces of Teotihuacan architecture, like a platform in the Paintings group that was explored in 1999, which would attest of the existence of contacts with the central Mexican cultures and its powerful city of the early Classic epoch. Stelae uncovered at Coba are believed to document that Coba had many women as rulers, Ajaw.

After 600 AD, the emergence of powerful city states of the Puuc culture and the emergence of Chichén Itzá altered the political spectrum in the Yucatán peninsula and began eroding the dominance of Coba. Beginning around 900 or 1000 AD, Coba must have begun a lengthy power struggle with Chichén Itzá, with the latter dominating at the end as it gained control of key cities such as Yaxuná. After 1000 AD, Coba lost much of its political weight among city states, although it maintained some symbolic and religious importance. This allowed it to maintain or recover some status, which is evidenced by the new buildings dating to the time 1200-1500 AD, now built in the typical Eastern coastal style. However, power centers and trading routes had moved to the coast, forcing cities like Coba into a secondary status, although somewhat more successful than its more ephemeral enemy Chichén Itzá. Coba was abandoned at the time the Spanish conquered the peninsula around 1550.

The names of fourteen leaders, including a woman named Yopaat, who ruled Cobá between AD 500 and 780, were ascertained in 2020. [8]

The first mention of Coba in print is due to John Lloyd Stephens where he mentioned hearing reports of the site in 1842 from the cura (priest or vicar in Spanish) of Chemax, but it was so distant from any known modern road or village that he decided the difficulty in trying to get there was too daunting and returned to his principal target of exploring Tulum instead. [9] For much of the rest of the 19th century the area could not be visited by outsiders due to the Caste War of Yucatán, the notable exception was Juan Peón Contreras (also used the nom de plume Contreras Elizalde) who was then director of the Museum of Yucatán. He made the arduous journey in September 1882, and is now remembered for the four naive pen-and-ink sketches that he made at the ruins (prints made from them exist in the Peabody Museum and in the collection of Raúl Pavón Abreu in Campeche). Teoberto Maler paid Coba a short visit in 1893 and took at least one photograph, but did not publish at the time and the site remained unknown to the archeological community. [10]

Amateur explorer (and successful writer of popular books wherein he described his adventures and discoveries among Maya ruins) Dr. Thomas Gann was brought to the site by some local Maya hunters in February 1926. Gann published the first first-hand description of the ruins later the same year. [11] Dr. Gann gave a short description to the archeologists of the Carnegie Institution of Washington (CIW) project at Chichen Itza, he spoke of the large mounds he had sighted, but not visited for lack of time, lying to the northeast of the main group. It was to examine these that Alfred Kidder and J. Eric S. Thompson went for a two-day inspection of the site in March. Two months later Thompson was again at Coba, forming with Jean Charlot the third CIW expedition. On this trip their guide, Carmen Chai, showed them the "Macanxoc Group", a discovery that led to the departure of a fourth expedition, since Sylvanus Morley wanted Thompson to show him the new stelae. [12] Eric Thompson made a number of return visits to the site through 1932, the same year he published a detailed description. [13]

In 1932 H. B. Roberts opened a number of trenches in Group B to collect sherds [14]

In 1948 two graduate students in archaeology, William and Michael Coe, visited Coba, intent on seeking the terminus of Sacbe 15. They were unaware that E. Wyllys Andrews IV already reported it ten years prior. In an editor's note following their report [15] Thompson blames himself as editor for failing to detect the repetition of prior work in their contribution, while excusing the young authors for ignorance of a paper published in a foreign journal. But the Coes reported the previously unknown Sacbes 18 and 19 and mapped the large mound at the terminus of Sacbe 17, which they named Pech Mul (they were unlucky again in failing to complete their circuit of its platform, or they might have discovered the sacbe leading out of it, no. 21). [16]

The site remained little visited due to its remoteness until the first modern road was opened up to Coba in the early 1970s. As a major resort was planned for Cancún, it was realized that clearing and restoring some of the large site could make it an important tourist attraction. The Mexican National Institute of Anthropology & History (INAH) began some archeological excavations in 1972 directed by Carlos Navarrete, and consolidated a couple of buildings. Expectations of new discoveries were borne out when El Cono (Structure D-6) and Grupo Las Pinturas came to light, among other features. In the same year, much of Grupo Coba was cleared on the instructions of Raúl Pavón Abreu not even its tall ramón trees were spared.

In 1975 a branch road from the asphalted highway being built from Tulum to Nuevo X-Can reached Coba (the road engineers heeded objections by archaeologists and abandoned their original plan of incorporating Sacbe 3 in the roadbed). A project camp was built in 1973, and in 1974 the Project Coba proper, under the auspices of the Regional Center of the Southeast of INAH was able to begin its operations. During the three-year existence of the project, portions of the site were cleared and structures excavated and consolidated, (the Castillo and the Pinturas Group by Peniche the Iglesia by Benavides and Jaime Garduño El Cono by Benavides and Fernando Robles) the sacbes were investigated by Folan and by Benavides, who added 26 to the list of 19 previously known the ceramics from test pits and trenches were studied by Robles [17] and Jaime Garduño [18] surveyed two transects of the site, one of 10 km north–south and another of 5 km east–west.

At the start of the 1980s another road to Coba was opened up and paved, and a regular bus service begun. Coba became a tourist destination shortly thereafter, with many visitors flocking to the site on day trips from Cancún and the Riviera Maya. Only a small portion of the site has been cleared from the jungle and restored by archaeologists.

As of 2005 [update] the resident population of Coba pueblo was 1,167. [19] It grew to 1,278 by the 2010 census.

In the past, the people of Coba had traded extensively with other Mayan communities, particularly the ones further south along the Caribbean coast in what is now Belize and Honduras. It utilized the ports of Xcaret, Xel-Há, Tankah, Muyil, and Tulum as well as the many sacbeob that sprout from this cultural center. Typical items of trade of the Mayans of this area were: salt, fish, squash, yams, corn, honey, beans, turkey, vegetables, chocolate drinks and raw materials such as limestone, marble, and jade. [20] There was specialization in different areas on the site which were because of who was living and working where and what their trade was. Almost all of the commerce was controlled by wealthy merchants. These merchants used cacao beans for currency, and the beans had a fixed market price. [21] Today's economy is based on the rising popularity of tourism to the archaeological site. [22]

What to Buy in Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Honey at Melitza’ak

A honey store run by a local Mayan women’s collective group. Honey is a local product here and turned into various healthy and beauty products.
Calle 67 2 blocks from Central Plaza

Craft at Maya Ka’ab

A craft store supporting the local Maya communities, it’s a great place to find souvenirs.

A Cookbook at Na’atik Language and Culture Institute

A portion of the proceeds to run the Spanish Immersion Program goes to a school teaching local children (and some adults) English. American born Sonja wrote the cookbook/memoir “The Painted Fish” for which the proceeds go to the school.

5. Calakmul Mayan Ruins

Calakmul Ruins in Campeche

The Mayan ruins of Calakmul house two very large pyramids and an extensive system of reservoirs that once provided water to 50,000 Mayans.

Located far away from most tourist attractions in the heart of the Calakmul Biosphere Reserve, a massive protected jungle near the border of Guatemala with wildlife like howler monkeys and jaguars.

Visitors can still climb to the top of these structures and take in the surrounding tropical forests, the expanse of the central plaza and the multiple palaces that lie around it.

Of all the Mayan sites in Mexico, this one is my personal favorite. You can get lost for a full day exploring the site, and due to its remote location, there aren’t many visitors.

Shore Excursions Uncover the Mystical Mayan Civilization on Mexico Cruises

When it comes to ancient ruins, there’s more to explore than just Europe and South America. Mexico boasts some of the most incredible and significant ruins in the world. The Mayan civilization spanned more than 2500 years, and hundreds of ruins in Mexico have been documented. In fact, there are so many sites that it’s believed that more than 4,000 undocumented sites exist.

On western Caribbean cruises that call at Cozumel and Costa Maya, Mexico, guests have the opportunity to take a shore excursion that steps back in time and walks the footsteps of those who lived in the Mayan era. If you’re taking a western Caribbean cruise that visits Mexico, the shore excursions can be pre-booked so you get the tour of your choice.

Some of the most famous ruins can be visited from Cozumel. Probably the most well-known, guests can explore one of the new Seven Wonders of the World — the Mayan ruins of Chichen-Itza. Chichen-Itza is one of the most important and exciting archeological sites on the American continent — the home of one of the great Mayan empires — and it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. These awe-inspiring monuments were left as a reminder of the incredible Mayan culture. The guide will escort guests through this legendary city, which extends over six square miles and contains hundreds of structures throughout the area. You will visit the Pyramid of Kulkulcan, the largest and best preserved Mayan ball court, the mystical Cenote where human sacrifices were performed, the Temple of the Warriors and the Observatory, where Mayan priests accurately calculated celestial events from over a million year span. This is the premier site for Mayan culture and certainly is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Admittedly this is very long excursion but it is well worth it. Everything was very well organized overall and I would highly recommend this trip … Once we arrived we were each given a bottle of ice water as well as a choice of which guide to go with. We went with Carlos for a slower paced tour of the site. He was superb and I feel I learned so much more from him than we did on our first trip there. After he was finished we were left to wander about Chicen Itza for an hour. This site is very large and you may not have time to see it all but you can always take another cruise to see what you have missed! — Guest Nancy1006

Chichen-Itza is a must-see for guests looking to explore Mayan ruins.

From Cozumel, guests also can visit the Coba Mayan Ruins. Coba is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most picturesque and popular archeological ruins. The site is around 30 square miles in size and is swathed in jungle. A tender ride to Playa del Carmen is followed by a motor coach ride to the ruins. The guide will share the secrets of this mystical place and you’ll explore newly restored structures that have only recently been opened to the public. Make your way on foot along a pathway flanked by jungle to the first excavated ruins, which consist of a large pyramid, Grupo Coba and a ball court. See the second-tallest temple in the Mayan world, Nohoc Mul, which is around 136 feet tall with 120 steps to the top. Stop along the way to admire La Iglesia — the small but lovely ruin of church that resembles a beehive.

Coba is one of the Yucatan Peninsula’s most picturesque and archeological ruins.

The city of Tulum is a popular site to visit from Cozumel. The walled city of Tulum is the only Mayan city built right on the coast, overlooking the Caribbean Sea. The adventure begins with a 45-minute ferry transfer to Playa del Carmen. The guide will lead you on a scenic and informative one-hour drive to Tulum. Once there, your guide will escort you through the ruins, offering a complete narration along the way. See more than 60 restored temples and some of the mysterious hieroglyphic writings still visible today. Visit the Temple of the Frescos, famous for the detailed carved figures and original paints. And perched on the edge of the Caribbean and rising high above all of the other ruins is El Castillo, with its breathtaking view of the aqua-colored water below.

Well run tour, professional driver and tour guide. Chance to view/buy local artifacts is possible. Tulum is a post card perfect site for pictures of Mayan ruins, the Caribbean surf & beach, and a good historical review of Mayan culture and the Tulum site. — Guest FlyOverCountry

Tulum is the only Mayan city built right on the coast.

For a shore excursion that combines history, nature discovery and beachside relaxation, the San Gervasio Archaeological Site & Beach tour is ideal. Head into Cozumel’s jungle interior where you’ll explore the site of an ancient Mayan settlement. Immerse yourself in the mystical feeling that pervades the San Gervasio archaeological site as you walk limestone roads through the vestiges of Mayan construction with native trees and plants all around you. Keep your eyes open for butterflies, birds, iguanas, and other local residents. Once the island’s center of culture and religion, this is the only protected Mayan site on Cozumel and the natural setting offers a real sense of the Mayan life. Your guide will share fascinating stories about the incredible civilization that thrived here 1200 years ago, when Cozumel was a trade stop and center of worship for the goddess of fertility. Next, travel to a beautiful beach club where you’ll have free time to relax on the white-sand beach, swim in the sea, and enjoy the tropical surroundings.

The tour at San Gervasio combines sunshine and history.

We did this tour on our recent Nieuw Amsterdam cruise. We really enjoyed it. The tour is very well organized and our tour guide, Mimi, did an extraordinary job explaining the background and details of the Mayan ruins. After the stop at the ruins, the goes to a nice little beach with a restaurant – where you can get a full meal or you can simply relax and have a cold Mexican beer. — Guest Richard1s

Our guide Daniel (a full-blooded Mayan he proudly told us so) was superb. Unlike some guides, he gave interesting information on the way back to port — not just going to and on the tour. We viewed numerous fascinating ruins and gained an understanding of the marvelously accurate Mayan calendar — more accurate than the one we use routinely! — Guest ew2103

Guests at Costa Maya also can visit the Kohunlich Mayan Ruins. Situated in a secluded jungle setting near the border of Belize, guests view detailed Mayan temples combined with the lush green manicured gardens. See the Temple of the Large Masks, the Plaza of the Acropolis, the Plaza of the Estelas, Plaza Hundida and Plaza Merwin. Kohunlich may have been one of the most important sites in the lower Peten region. In today’s world, Kohunlich’s broad range of architecture, natural beauty and expansive, uncrowded seclusion sets it apart from the more widely visited sites.

This day-long excursion to a Mayan archeological site was enhanced by our wonderful tour guide Manuel. We were pleasantly surprised to learn that he was a retired history teacher with a wealth of knowledge on Meso American history. As we strolled along the site his colorful detail made the tour come alive for us. We returned by bus to a wonderful local restaurant where the entire group enjoyed fajitas and cool beverages on an inland lake. A very beautiful setting indeed. We would highly recommend this excursion to any interested in ancient Mayan culture. — Guest ddhodnik

The Kohunlich ruins are nestled in the jungle.

To write a review on a shore excursion, visit the shore excursion page on the Holland America Line website and click on the “review” tab. To read more reviews, visit the individual tours to see what your fellow travelers think about the experience.

Other Important Mayan Sites

While much of the historic Maya empire was based in present-day Mexico, you can still find many ancient Mayan cities in countries like Guatemala, Honduras, and Belize too.

If you plan to continue your travels to these parts of Central America, I also recommend you stop by sites like:

Tikal – Guatemala

Tikal is one of the largest Mayan settlements in the Americas, located in Guatemala’s Peten basin and Tikal National Park. It was probably called Yax Mutal when it was a thriving city.

The Great Plaza is particularly impressive, flanked on the east and west sides by two great temple-pyramids.

Caracol – Belize

The Mayan site of Caracol in Belize was built around 330 AD, becoming one of the most important political centers of the Maya lowlands through 600-800 AD.

Copan – Honduras

The Copan Ruins feature large open plazas, as well as many altars and monoliths. It is also home to the world’s biggest archeological cut, revealing many layers of the floor beneath the Great Plaza.

It’s also home to the Hieroglyphic Stairway Plaza, with the longest known Mayan inscription (made up from over 1800 glyphs).

Watch the video: Story Poles for Stairs: Precision Stair Layout