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4th April 2004
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 Holiday | Programmes | 50

Chichen Itza

Best time to go: The plateau and high mountains are warm for much of the year, while the Pacific Coast has a tropical climate

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Craig Doyle
In at number 13 of the top 50 was Chichen Itza.

Found in the heart of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico and surrounded on all sides by a vast rain forest, Chichen Itza is a ruined ancient city occupying an area of four square miles (10 square kilometres), which was first populated around the sixth century AD by the Mayans. They were famed for their advanced mathematical knowledge and incredible understanding of the solar system.

El Castillo, the most famous structure in Chichen Itza dominating the site, may be a simple looking building, but it is in fact the Mayan calendar, made in stone. It is a square structure rising in nine receding terraces to resemble a staggered pyramid.

Each face has its own monumental staircase, and each staircase has 91 steps, which added to the single step at the main entrance to the temple amounts to 365.

At the top of the pyramid is a carving of a plumed serpent representing Quetzalcoatl, a Mayan deity.

Other structures to explore include the Akabtzib (House of the Dark Writing), the Chichanchob (Red House), the observatory El Caracol (The Snail), The Iglesia (Church) and the Casa de las Monjas (Nunnery).

The city has hundreds of buildings, many of them partially restored, but some still covered with jungle vines and bushes. A stroll through the city will give you a fascinating insight into Mayan culture, but the best view can be found at the top of El Castillo, if you are brave enough to attempt the climb.


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Price: Flights about £700

Approx flight time: 11 hours, 25 minutes from London to Mexico City

  • El Castillo is 79 feet (24 metres) high
  • the name Chichen Itza means "opening of the wells of the Itza"
  • the tallest pillars ever erected by the Maya can be found in El Marcado (the market) in Chichen Itza
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