Chichen Itza & Tsukan Santuario: Hot Tips to Enjoy Your Trip

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Day 2 started at exactly midnight. I woke up sweating. I reached for the AC remote and pressed the button. And pressed. And pressed. Nothing. I rotated the switch on the lamp. Nothing. My hand reached around the nightstand in the dark until I found my phone. The numbers “1” and “2” on the small screen taunted me, saying “you’ll be exhausted tomorrow.” I lay in bed for several more minutes, hoping for an electricity miracle. But none came.

I grabbed my phone and stumbled down the giant, uneven steps that were built three hundred years ago, and pushed open the door to my sister’s bedroom. “Are you awake?” I asked, already knowing the answer. Her bedroom being on the first floor made her room just slightly cooler. There was no window to open in the apartment, since the only connection to the outside was the massive front door.

I dampened towels and and covered my body and my face, as I lay in bed next to my sister hoping to fall back asleep. Once my phone showed an hour I knew the sun would be up, I also got up to open that giant wooden front door, praying for a cool breezy, morning. I took a few steps outside to see the entire left side of the street with no lights. This was a much bigger issue.

We showered to the light on our phones, attempted to get ready with the small bits of light coming through the front door. Over the next hour, the AC and lights flickered on and off several times. Someone somewhere was working hard.

Normally this Airbnb would provide breakfast, but not this morning; our host was busy calling the electricity company, talking with guests in other apartments, and dealing with her own home without lights.

We left the apartment with droopy eyes, and empty stomachs. Too early for any panaderias to be open in Valladolid. Breakfast would have to happen on the road between here and Chichen Itza.

After about 25 minutes of driving, we slowed down as we started to see some options appearing. Smoke and steam was rising up from a small roadside restaurant to our left. So we parked the car and headed over. This family run restaurant had two options- homemade tacos, or tortas (like a sandwich with white bread). The choice was obvious. Two tacos each, plus a fresh cantaloupe juice. Thirty minutes later, we were back on the road.

A man is cooking at the roadside restaurant where we ate breakfast

Another half hour later, we were entering the parking area to Chichen Itza (parking 40 pesos/$2 USD). Ideally we would have arrived as soon as the doors opened, to avoid the intense heat, but our slow morning got us there as the tour buses were arriving. We entered with crowds. The total price for the entrance ticket was 533 pesos ($25 USD), however, there were two different amounts you had to pay separately: 80 pesos ($4) for the federal tax, which must be paid in cash, and 453 pesos ($21 USD) for the entrance, and can be paid in cash or with a credit card. Chichen Itza is open every day from 8am-5pm, though the last allowable entry is at 4pm.

Chichen Itza is a Mayan town that was built somewhere between 415-455 A.D. There are two parts- Old Chichen, and Chichen Itza (Itza refers to the cenotes nearby). Old Chichen has several of the structures such as a nunnery, a church, temples, etc. The newer part of Chichen Itza has what most people think of when they think of Chichen Itza- the Kukulkan Temple. This giant temple was built when a Toltec king took over the town somewhere between 967-987 A.D. The town of Chichen Itza began to decline around 1440, and then deteriorate; it wasn’t excavated until 1841.

Nicki standing in front of the Pyramid of Kukulkan

I have wanted to go to Chichen Itza since my 6th grade social studies project where we built a mini pyramid in the corner of Mrs. Sherman’s classroom. It is one reason I chose to stay in Playa del Carmen for one month over any other city in Mexico. Now, I am finally here, at one of the 7 man-made wonders of the world!

One of the first structures you’ll see upon entering Chichen Itza, is the giant Pyramind of Kukulkan. I’ve heard there was a time people could climb to the top, but that is no longer the case. You’ll have to observe from the bottom looking up. The Pyramid of Kukulkan is in the center of a large grassy field, surrounded by several other structures on the edges, such as a the ball field, the Jaguar Temple, and the Warriors Temple (Los Guerreros).

There is only one bathroom in use in the entire compound of Chichen Itza, and it’s in the visitor center when you first enter. I strongly suggest going first before heading out to see the sights. Also, if I were to take this trip again, I would get there when the doors open at 8am, see the structures that are in the center (Kukulkan, Juego de Pelota, etc.), and then head to the tree covered areas on the edges once it starts getting hot. Because it gets very hot!

Lindsay and Nicki on the grounds of Chichen Itza with the Caracol in the background.

We spent about 3 hours wondering the grounds, and on the way out, decided to stop and chat with one of the artisans selling wooden masks. There are several artisans here on the grounds, often calling out “one dollar” or “just ten pesos” to get you to stop. We stopped to see the work of one man, Alfonso, who was at work carving one of his beautiful masks. He explained to us the meaning of each animal on the masks (jaguar= family protection, serpent= fertility, etc.), and we ended up buying 4, for ourselves and as gifts. Alfonso also told us about a less popular cenote that had a restaurant, and could only be reached by car, and not by tour bus. He couldn’t remember the name of the cenote, but fortunately for us, we were handed a pamphlet about that exact cenote on our way out of Chichen Itza.

A mask of Alfonso’s creation (jaguar, serpent, and the duality of life & death)

The Tsukán Santuario de Vida is just 10 minutes away from Chichen Itza, in the direction of Merida. The pamphlet we were given at the exit of Chichen Itza provided us with 20% off at the cenote. You can only pay in cash at the cenote as well, so come prepared. There are two options: Cenote only, or lunch + cenote (lunch/cenote + discount = 390 pesos per person/$18; cenote only was 225 pesos/$10 USD). We were starving, and opted for the latter. The lunch option allowed you to choose one appetizer, one main dish, and one dessert.

Walking through the Santuario to get to the restaurant was like walking through the middle of a peaceful jungle. Surrounded on all sides by plants, flowers, birds chirping, etc. The restaurant was outdoors and we were served by a wonderful man and his son who taught us several phrases in Mayan while we tasted traditional Mayan dishes, such as poc chuc.

Nicki floating in the water at the cenote, staring up

Once we were full, we headed in the direction of the cenote, ready to relax and cool off. Life vests are required to enter the cenote, and we grabbed ours before heading down the stairs toward the cenote. When we arrived, there was just one other family there, and it was very quiet. The cenote was almost entirely covered, with just a few holes in the roof where we could see the sun coming through. Water dripped off of the stalactites and fell into the pool, as a few bats flew around the upper layers. We floated in the water, and stared up at the sun shining through the holes in the ceiling and felt incredibly at peace after a long day of walking around in the hot sun.

Nicki in front of the Tsukan cenote

Finally, we gathered our things and prepared to leave this jungle paradise, ready for the 45 minute drive back to Valladolid. The perfect conclusion to the day was returning to the Airbnb to find the electricity had returned. We would sleep well tonight. We then pulled our chairs out onto the sidewalk in front of the Airbnb, bought some fresh homemade sugary donuts from a woman passing by, and ate them as the rain began to fall.

My sister and I eating donuts in front of our Airbnb as the rain began to fall.


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