We debated whether or not to go to Chichen Itza. Not because there was anything putting us off going, but because travel fatigue had hit in and we just weren’t sure that it would be more impressive than any of the other Mayan sites we’d already seen. It seemed likely that the main difference would be the number of other tourists. But, we couldn’t quite bring ourselves to not go to one of the seven wonders of the world, when we were staying only 45 minutes away.
In an attempt to avoid the tour buses we set our alarm early, and hopped in the first collectivo of the day. The other passengers were mostly the vendors who set themselves up within the park. We arrived at the gate 5 minutes before opening time, and were the only people there. We took great pleasure in being the first people into the site, and having it completely to ourselves. The temple was impressive, but not as large as some at other sites. The ball court, however, was by far the grandest we’ve seen and actually has the hoops in situ. We played with the acoustics, standing on opposite sides of the court and whispering messages to each other. There were hundreds of columns which is not something any of the other sites have seen. But everything was roped off. Not only could you not climb the steps of the temple, you couldn’t wander between the columns or explore inside some of the grander buildings. Whole sections at times were roped off so you could only gaze at structures from 10, 20, or 50 meters away. As we explored the different areas, the vendors were setting up stalls, trestle tables were brought out from the storage areas in the trees just off the path. Each tacky souvenir was carefully unwrapped and placed, just so, to entice the passing tourists. We were increasingly grateful to be there before they were fully set up.
The tour buses were just starting to arrive as we left, the main square filled with groups of tourists. Some tour guides quickly trying to whisk their group on to less crowded areas, whilst such places existed.
Are we glad we went? Yes, but also incredibly glad we made the effort to be there at opening time. I can understand it being so impressive if it is the only Mayan site you visit. But I truly believe it is only on the seven wonders of the world list because of it’s location, close to other heavily touristed areas (eg. Cancun). For my money if I was only going to go to one of the sites we’ve been to it would be Tikal. The temples were the largest, the paths wound themselves through jungle with monkeys swinging through the trees, and you could explore, get up close to the ruins. Climb them (oh, my legs!), touch them, sit at the top of the tallest temple and enjoy the view.