Ancient Astonishment: The Heart of Mayan Civilization

Chichen Itza Getting up at 3:30 in the morning may not seem like the proper way to relax on a vacation, but that’s the way we did it for our Chichen Itza tour, and that’s the way we’d recommend it. The ancient Mayan capital city, built starting in 600 AD, is about a 2.5 hour bus ride from Cancun. Chichen Itza We were the first tour bus to pull up at 8 a.m. on the dot, right when the site opened, and as a result, enjoyed sparse grounds, relatively cooler temperatures, and less oppressive humidity than the mid-day tours. It’s a long trek out there, but it’s worth it. The main step pyramid, El Castillo, stands 98 feet tall and towers over the main concourse with authority, its looming presence very out of place amongst the jungle. But aside from the impressive visuals of the stone structures, which are numerous, dig deeper and Chichen Itza will reveal many more fascinating layers of the ancient Mayans. Layers of math, astronomy, and engineering so complex, answers have yet to be revealed for many of their feats. Chichen ItzaThe great ball court, for instance, stands 545 feet long and 225 feet wide, a dramatic venue for visiting cities to compete in a team game of launching a solid rubber ball about size of a soccer ball over opponents and through stone hoops. The extraordinary part is the Mayans devised the acoustics of the court so that the sitting ruler, perched at the opposite side 500 feet away, could hear the visiting ruler’s voice at a conversational level. Every word of it. Of course, this form of surveillance was only one way, the visiting ruler being none the wiser they were the victim of eavesdropping. Intricate stone reliefs depicting other cultures, structures built to honor the Gods and reflect astronomical events, and sacrificial temples add to the alluring mysteries of Chichen Itza. But what does it all mean? The only way to decide is to visit there yourself.

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About the Author

About the Author: Pat Barcas serves as staff writer and photographer for RTX Traveler Magazine, based in Asheville, NC. In his spare time he enjoys photography, astronomy, hiking, hanging out with his family and dog, and of course, traveling! His favorite RTX spots to visit are Orange Beach, Alabama, Cape Cod, Massachusetts, and Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, but he's visiting new places all the time. .


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