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Chichen Itzá
Chichen itza pyramid
Chichen Itza is considered the most important archaeological zone of the Mayan World in the region. Located 149 miles from Cancun towards Merida, it extends approximately 2.5 miles from north to south, and arose at the end of the Classic period in the year 900 AD until the start of the Postclassic in 1200 AD. Rediscovered in 1842, it is not until the twentieth century that its restoration begins along with its resurgence as one of the most important and valuable sites of Mayan culture and basically humanity.

Chichen Itza, which translates to "at the edge of the well of the Itzaes" derives its name from its sacred, large cenote (sinkhole). The Itzaes were a group that settled within the area during the Classic period (300 to 900 AD), in a preexisting city of Puc origin, whose original name is unknown. Chichen Itza's first constructive phases correspond to the Puc style that belongs to the group of structures called The Nuns and The Temple of the Initial Series located in what is known today as Old Chichen.

El Caracol or The Observatory, built at the end of the Classic period, contained a room that permitted the detailed observation of the vernal equinox. All of this must have been in full use at the start of the twentieth century before the arrival of the Itzaes, indicating the existence of important astronomical knowledge.

A significant number of pilgrimages to the city of Chichen Itza from the entire Mayan region including Palenque, Cozumel and Izamal, were occurring in this era. These people left a great number of offerings that have been discovered in the Sacred Cenote.

Chichen itza archaeological site

Later, near the year 1000 AD, the Toltecs arrive from central Mexico. They bring to the region the god of the "feathered serpent" known as Quetzalcoatl and referred to as Kukulcan by the Mayans. It is at this moment that the first great mestization, or mixing of races and cultures, between the Mayans and the Toltecs occurs, creating a very important group that enriches enormously the religion, art and culture of the region. Adopting the Mayan language, this group becomes one of ancient Mexico's most powerful settlements.

With their highly developed knowledge of natural resources, astronomy, mathematics, painting, sculpture, writing and other human activities, these Mayans flourished into one of the most advanced civilizations of their time.
It is during this time that the next constructive phase corresponding to the blossoming of the Mayan-Toltec mestization takes place, represented in the construction of the great pyramid of Kukulcan, or "El Castillo" (The Castle), and all of the most important buildings such as The Temple of the Warriors, the Market, the Platform of the Jaguars and Eagles and the Ball Game courts. This entire zone is known as Chichen or the Toltec Chichen that also comprises the ancient Sacred Cenote by means of a perfectly defined, great Sacbe (trail).

El Castillo is a temple dedicated to the Sun, of strong Toltec influence, that was constructed over another minor temple in which was found a throne representing a jaguar above which rested a solar disk made of turquoise and obsidian. It is as if the temple of the Sun was only resting over that of the Jaguar.

This important architectural relationship signals a mix of deities that do not lose their importance to the Mayan-Toltec people, coexisting in a type of colonization that has never been attempted at any other time in the history of mankind. Chichen Itza extends its power over all of the Yucatan Peninsula until 1250 AD when, though there is not a uniform theory, the great city was abandoned in order to become a sanctuary for the worship of the god Kukulcan, even long after the Spanish conquest.

In fact, today it continues to be a sacred site for a great number of people in search of the influence of the gods of nature that were supposed to live there. One of the area's main attractions is the observation of the equinoxes on March 21st and September 22nd. It is during this time that a serpent descending from El Castillo can be witnessed.

Likewise, the light and sound show that takes place every day starting at 8:00 p.m. is a must for anyone visiting the area.The archeological zone is open everyday from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free on Sundays and there are several tours that depart from the larger cities such as Cancun, Merida , Playa del Carmen and Chetumal or you may arrive directly in a rental car.

Cobá
One of the oldest Mayan cities, Coba was a grand settlement that developed in the jungle around a group of lakes and cenotes (sinkholes) that, like Tulum, belong to the Classic and Postclassic periods of Mayan culture.
The first traces are from 100 to 200 AD, although it flourished during the period between the years 300 and 900 of our era. Its political importance in the region lasted until 900 and 1200 AD.

Coba's importance in its time is linked to the great cities of Tikal and Copan. It may have been a center of crop production and the place from where goods and services were distributed between the coast and the interior of the Yucatan Peninsula--something like a commercial, political and religious capital.

Indicative of this is the existence of an enormous network of trails or sacbe that served to connect distinct groups of importance in Coba with other places in the region, reaching as far as the interior of the Peninsula.

There is a 62 mile-long Sacbe that extends nearly to Chichen Itza. Together this network is over 125 miles long.

Coba is associated with the Mayan sun god and, due to its architectural style and stages of construction, three groups of important buildings can be found there: Coba, Macanxoc and Nohoch Mul, home to the Yucatan Peninsula's highest pyramid (139 ft) which offers a magnificent view of the surrounding jungle. All of these sites have the famous Mayan steles: important structures depicting relevant information about ancient Mayan events and beliefs.

In order to reach Coba, located in the central part of the state of Quintana Roo and deep within the jungle, one must take the road from Tulum west for 25 miles and then turn to the road leading into the jungle found before the next urban area.

Further information on how to get there may be provided by your hotel's travel agency, including tours or renting a car. Coba is only 40 minutes from Tulum. We do not recommend taking a bus.

Bring very comfortable clothes and shoes since Coba covers an extensive area within the jungle. Do not wander off the main trails. There are no services of any kind found within the zone so bring whatever you may need including drinking water, sun block and insect repellent. Return to Tulum for lunch or dinner.

El Rey, El Meco and La Duna
Cancun's hotel zone is situated around the Nichupte Lagoon, whose name signifies "full of noses", in reference to a series of settlements dating back to the Late Classic period (1250 to 1550 AD) whose structures are strategically located over the coast and in certain places lining the lagoon.

The largest and best preserved is El Rey, a relatively small settlement, found in a natural land depression in the middle of Cancun's hotel zone, facing Km. 18 of Boulevard Kukulcan. Because of its location, it is practically isolated from the rest of the area, protected from strong winds and hurricanes, and generating a peaceful ambience amidst the hectic activities of this tourist zone within Cancun.

The site developed in the Late Classic period and contains characteristics very similar to those of Tulum and Xel Ha. It is composed of 16 structures, two plazas and two roadways and the remains of paintings have also been conserved there.

It is assumed that El Rey formed part of the commercial structure of the zone, receiving canoes that entered the lagoon through the Nizuc channel. El Rey can be reached by car or by taking any of the buses that circulate through the hotel zone.
Since it is within the city, there are no organized tours. Nevertheless, visiting this site is highly recommended and takes only one hour.

El Meco, located in northern Cancun in Mujeres Bay, played an important part in communication with Isla Mujeres and belongs to the Postclassic period. It is considered the departure point for the Mayas sailing to the island and as an important reference for coastal navigation even at night, including navigation through the lagoons.
The site has 14 structures with a main temple in good condition. El Meco, located between Puerto Juarez from where the ferries depart to Isla Mujeres and Punta Sam, was recently opened to the public. There are no organized tours. Rent a car or hire a taxi to reach El Meco. The visit will take no more than an hour.

La Duna is another site that is located along the coast, within the Sheraton Hotel's property. It has an outstanding structure that may have aided in coastal navigation.

Kohunlich
Possibly one of the most important sites in the state of Quintana Roo. Kohunlich is located within the jungle in an area that was populated for a long time-from the Early to Late Classic periods (250 to 950 AD). As a result of this, Kohunlich had various periods of construction, three of which have been identified due to their buildings.

One of the most important structures is the Temple of the Masks, whose staircase has eight stucco masks on its sides. This building is also known as the Temple of the Sun since its masks represent the sun god embraced by celestial motifs reminiscent of the Jaguar god. It belongs to the first phase of construction related to El Peten. The second phase is related to the Rio Bec style represented in the Acropolis, while the third phase of construction is characterized by its low platforms above which must have existed temporary constructions.

Tulum
Tulum view, Mexico
It is one of the most famous archaeological vestiges in the world and one of the most beautiful cities of the Mayan culture. Its construction atop off a cliff offers a unique and spectacular view of the Caribbean Sea.

Built in the Classic period of Mayan culture, around 465 BC, it reached its Golden Age between the years 1200 and 1500 AD in the Postclassic period. Originally named "Zama" (dawn), its location in the higher parts of one of the few cliffs found along the Mexican Caribbean coast.

Zama was renamed Tulum, meaning "wall," at the beginning of the twentieth century, since it was a walled city and considered an important commercial and navigational port for the Mayas in addition to being a fortified city-refuge, characteristic of eras of war. Various opinions exist regarding the reason for these walls: some think that they were built to protect from outside attacks, while others believe that they were put in place to separate the nobility and the ceremonial center from the rest of the city.

In recent years it has been discovered that Tulum was a primary point for nighttime navigation since lights were allocated in the windows of El Castillo, its principal building, perfectly orienting sailors traveling to the north and south and preventing them from hitting the reefs that line the coast.

This zone contains important representations of the gods Ixchel and Chac. In addition to El Castillo and La Muralla, there are other structures in Tulum such as the Temple of the Descending God, an important Mayan deity that represented the bee, giver of honey. According to the ancient Mayas, this deity also carried the sky, in this case the Western Sun (Sol Poniente), that falls into the horizon submerging itself into the underworld of the night. This temple also preserves the remains of paintings.

Tulum Archaeological Site, Mexico
There is also the Temple of the Initial Series, in which the beginning of the Tulum's construction can be dated, The Temple of the Frescos, The House of the Columns and the watchtowers rising out of wall western corners.

After the Spanish Conquest, this city remained populated for many decades, many more than any other place on the coast. It was newly occupied in 1890-1910 by a group of dissident Mayas.

You can reach Tulum easily from any place along the Riviera Maya and Cancun, practically all hotels and travel agencies offer tours to Tulum, or you may choose to rent a car or take a bus.The archaeological site is open all week from 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Entry is free on Sundays. Bring a bathing suit, sunblock and comfortable clothes and shoes. There is no first aid or food services at the site, but there are small handicraft stores. We recommend dining in the town of Tulum, only a few mile from the archeological zone.

Uxmal
Uxmal is an archaeological zone located 49 miles south of the city of Merida, and is farther still from Cancun and the Riviera Maya. If you are interested in Mexican archaeology, we recommend staying in Merida for a few days in order to visit Uxmal, one of the most gorgeous cities of ancient Mexico.

This Mayan city reached its height in the Late Classic period (600 to 900 AD) and was constructed in the purest example of Puc style, apparent in its main structures: the Pyramid of the Magician, the Nunnery Quadrangle and the Palace of the Governor.

The particular style known as "Puc" or Puuc, owes its name to the region of hills in which can be found the constructions and the cultural manifestations of those people who developed there.

Uxmal is located in the only mountainous or hilly region within the Yucatan Peninsula. The enormous artistic sense that characterizes the Puc style of this great city is exemplified not only in its exquisitely decorated buildings but also in one of its most important pieces: The Mask of Chac, the god of rain, that appears often in the facades of their constructions.

In addition, the existence of chultunes or cisterns, to take advantage of rainwater are characteristic of the site. Especially typical of the site is the construction of the Palace, in a horizontal form, above an embankment and covered in carefully polished adornments with fake columns on its outer walls.

This entire region flourished together with other important cities that were equally beautiful though smaller in size and form what is known today as the "ruta Puc" (Puc route):Kabah, Sayil and Labna. The Puc zone, with all its constructions, reflects a very high artistic and cultural level, of the greatest caliber as compared to other ancient Mexican cities.

The area seems to have been abandoned, probably due to the arrival of the Toltecs that occupied Chichen and ruled the Yucatan Peninsula around 1000 AD.

In approximately 1200 AD, the Xius people arrived at Uxmal, bringing the region to life and establishing their capital in the city of Mani towards the start of the year 1500 AD.

Afterwards, during the Conquest, Uxmal and the entire Puc zone remained forgotten until its rediscovery in the nineteenth century. Work to rescue a great part of it lasted until nearly the end of the twentieth century.

 

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