Visit Chichen Itza, ruined Mayan city
The immaculately preserved pyramids, courts and temples that make up this 1,500-year-old site are perhaps the most impressive collection of Mayan structures anywhere. Their bas-reliefs and sculptures reveal much of the bloody and ritualistic side of ancient Mesoamerican life, as will your knowledgeable guide who will help to decipher the mysteries of the ancient city.
The imposing pyramid of El Castillo – recently declared one of the new wonders of the world – is the most arresting feature of the site, occupying a vast central plaza where giant iguanas nonchalantly bask beneath the fierce sun. Following in the footsteps of ancient worshippers, modern-day visitors flock here on the spring equinox to watch the shape of a sacred snake appear from the shadows to ascend the stone steps of the pyramid.
Also of great interest is the large ball court where ritual sports were played: you can still see the intact stone rings through which teams had to hit the ball to ensure the rising of the sun. Bas-reliefs of decapitated players suggest the ultimate sacrifice for the losers (or winners, according to some theories).
This is far from the only gruesome tale you’ll discover on your tour, as you examine sacrificial altars, podiums etched with hundreds of realistic skulls and the sacred cenote where it’s thought human sacrifices were thrown directly into what the Mayans saw as an entrance to the underworld of Xibalba.