The 25-meter-high (82 feet) Temple of Kukulcan, known as El Castillo, “the Castle” dominates the skyline as it rises majestically from the heart of Chichen Itza.
The enigmatic city of Chichen Itza (“Mouth of the Well of the Itzae”) has intrigued explorers, archeologists and historians since it was first described by Bishop Diego de Landa in the late 16th century.
El Castillo is so perfectly aligned that during the spring Equinox (around March 21) shadows of the rounded terraces form a serpent that seems to be slithering down the stairs, while in the fall (September 21) it is ascending the pyramid.
El Caracol means “Snail” or “Conch” in Spanish, alluding to the spiral staircase found inside the round structure, which is an observatory where the Maya watched the heavens. The slits in the dome and walls are aligned with certain stars and the Chac masks (the rain god) over its four doors face the cardinal points.
After sunset, visitors can travel back in time and discover the history of the Maya through a high-tech light and sound show staged nightly in Chichen Itza.
Ek Balam is located 30 kilometers to the north of Valladolid, Yucatan, (two hours inland from Cancun). Most of its impressive architecture dates from the Late Classic period of Mayan history, between 600 and 800 A.D.
Ek Balam means “Star Jaguar” in the Maya language. The site was opened to the public a few years ago, and restoration has been underway since 1997. Rising 30 meters (96 feet) above the forest, the Acropolis is the largest building restored to date. It was a palace with six levels and was inhabited by the city’s rulers and aristocracy.
Cenotes are scattered through the forest. The ancient Maya held these natural wells sacred, they were places where they worshipped the gods, communed with the spirit world and even buried their dead.
A cenote or sinkhole is a water-filled depression in the earth created by the flow of underground rivers and the erosive power of the rain.
Due to their beauty, cenotes have enormous potential as tourist attractions, thus benefiting the communities where they are located.
The majority of the buildings at the jungle site of Coba date from the middle and late Classic period, from around 500 to 900 A.D. Trees, bushes and vines cover all but a few of the temples and palaces. The principal groupings include Coba Group, the ball court with its bas-reliefs and La Iglesia or “Church” which is 24 meters high.
Coba is famous for its strategic network of ancient limestone causeways or sacbeob, the most important discovered to date in Mesoamerica. The sacbe linking Coba and Yaxuna runs for 100 kilometers and is the longest road the Maya ever built through the dense forest.
Coba, was mentioned in the Chilam Balm de Chumayel, a chronicle of Maya history related in Maya but written down in Spanish. At 42 meters high, the Nohoch Mul pyramid is the tallest in northern Yucatan, and its name means “big hill” or “mound” in Maya.
Coba is estimated to have had around 50,000 inhabitants at its peak, and the ancient buildings are scattered over an area of 80 square kilometers.
The ancient city of Coba (which means “Ruffled Waters” in Maya) may have prospered due to the cluster of five lakes: Coba, Macantox, Sacalpuc, Yaxlaguna and Xcanha, which are scattered as if by chance through the jungle.
Scientists believe that an asteroid hit the earth 65 million years ago, forming Chicxulub crater in the neighboring state of Yucatan, killing all the dinosaurs and contributing to the formation of all the cenotes in the region.