Chichen Itza

UNESCO World Heritage Site

[history][attraction description][location & directions]

Chichen Itza Pyramid and Temple of the Warriors

photo: Bernard Gagnon


Chichen Itza's origins lie in the remote 7th century AD. Over the next 200 years, it would rise to become a major political and religious center in the region. For most of its history, Chichen Itza was a Mayan capital, but late in the 10th century it is believed that the area fell under the dominion of the Toltecs, a powerful tribe from central Mexico. Evidence for this incursion is found in the architecture, monuments displaying Toltec motifs and in the expansion of the Toltec practice of human sacrifice.

The city lost is dominance around 1000 AD and was no longer a major political, economic and ideological center.


Attraction Description

In its golden age, this was a city of some 35,000 inhabitants covering over six square miles. Of the many excavated structures, probably the most famous is the pyramid located known as El Castillo (the Castle) which towers above the center of the complex.

The Temple of the Warriors, an assortment of buildings grouped around another stepped pyramid, is flanked by a group of 1,000 stone columns, that originally supported a vast roof structure.

Also on the site are a number of ball courts the largest of which is The Great Ball Court measuring 545 by 232 feet. These courts were used for ritual games where players on two teams sought to propel a small rubber ball through an astonishingly small stone hoop mounted high of the stone walls running on either side of the court. The stakes were high: members of the the losing team were sacrificed and skulls were stored in the aptly named Temple of the Skulls.

Another particularly interesting building is El Caracol (the Snail), a round formerly domed building with a winding staircase which was believed to be a rudimentary celestial observatory.


Chichen Itza Site Map




100 miles inland from Cancun on the road to Merida which lies 1 1/2 hours further along.


If you're in a hurry, or just want to relax along the way, follow toll road 186 that runs from Cancun to Merida. About 160 km (100 miles) take the exit for the Chichen Itza site (Carretera Chichen Itza - Dzitas). Follow this south into the town of Piste. At this point the road bends back slightly to the southeast and leads promptly to the site.

Your other alternative is to to take the libre (free) road, which is also called 186. This is the old road and it travels through the center of dozens of small villages along the way. Be prepared to spend much longer taking this route and brace yourself for the innumerable topes (speed bumps) along the way. But if you have the time, the libre ("free road")will give you a real look into Yucatan life today.

Consider taking the toll road one way and the libre on the way back. Best of both worlds!


return from Chichen Itza to