Three Things You Never Knew About Chichen Itza

So you know that Chichen Itza is an ancient Mesoamerican calendar with 365 steps representing the days. And you know that during the spring and autumn equinoxes you can see the shadow of a serpent crawling down the pyramid. But do you know the more obscure trivia about Chichen Itza? If you really want to impress friends and family or just want something out of the ordinary to say the next time you’re stuck making small talk with a stranger, check out these three Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico that you probably never knew about.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins Mexico
Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico: Photo on Flickr by Daniel Mennerich / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico

There’s a temple buried underneath El Castillo

For many visitors, the highlight of Chichen Itza is El Castillo, the main step-pyramid which dominates the centre of the area. But few know that there’s a temple buried underneath it. In the mid-1930s, a staircase under the northern side of the pyramid was discovered during excavations. This staircase leads to a smaller temple chamber containing a Cha Mool statue and an ornate Jaguar-shaped throne inlaid with jade stones. It was a common thing to superimpose larger structures over older ones in Mesoamerican culture, so the discovery isn’t that unusual.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico: El Castillo, the biggest attraction in Chichen Itza
El Castillo, the biggest attraction in Chichen Itza. Image via Flickr, David Stanley / CC BY 2.0

There are 13 ball courts where the Mesoamerican ballgame was played

Much more interesting and exciting than football, the Mesoamerican ballgame saw two teams strike a solid rubber ball with their hips with the aim of somehow manoeuvring it through a stone hoop several metres above. These balls could weigh up to 4kg and were often as large as 30cm in diameter, so if you calculated your pass badly, you could easily break a bone. If that wasn’t motivation enough to play well, the captain of the losing team (or sometimes the entire losing team) were sacrificed to the gods. You can see a sacrificing scene with one player being decapitated on the walls of the ball courts at Chichen Itza.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico: The biggest ball court at Chichen Itza
The biggest ball court at Chichen Itza. Image via Flickr, Paul Mannix / CC BY 2.0

There are two beautiful cenotes onsite

Despite being located in one of the driest areas of southeast Mexico, Chichen Itza is home to two stunning cenotes, Cenote Sagrado and Cenote Xtoloc. The first cenote has been excavated many times to reveal a wealth of artefacts, including gold, silver, jade and obsidian. The skeletons of men and children have also been found, which suggests that Cenote Sagrado was used for human sacrifice to the Water God. Despite the dark history, this Cenote is beautiful beyond belief and it certainly worth your time whilst visiting Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins. Jumping off the ancient moss-clad stone wall and splashing into the crystal-like icy cool water below is the best way to freshen up.

Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins in Mexico: Cenote Sagrado
Cenote Sagrado. Image via Flickr, webponce / CC BY-NC 2.0

Cenote Xtoloc is the second biggest Cenote in Chichen Itza, and was used by the Mayans for freshwater. A ramp was constructed down to the waterhole to allow people to fill their water containers. There was a temple built beside it, used to offer human remains to the gods as part of the Mayan religious services.

Cenote Xtoloc Temple, Chichen Itza Mexico
Cenote Xtoloc Temple, Chichen Itza: Photo on Flickr by Daniel Mennerich / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

If all this has got you yearning to visit the ancient site yourself, book a holiday in Mexico (Playa del Carmen and Cancun are two of the closest holiday resorts to Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins, and don’t overlook the nearby Coba Mayan Ruins) or hop on a Caribbean cruise which skims along the Mexican coast.

About Nicola Quinn


Nicola is a travel and food writer living in the Canary Islands who loves exploring far-off places, pushing herself to the limit and trying local eats wherever she goes.

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2 Responses

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