Canun’s Archaeological History

For most people, especially those on the west coast, Mexico is primarily a beach destination. They often think of fishing, beaches and golf, not history, culture and archeology. But life is very different on the other side of Mexico. Cancun is the premiere resort on the Yucatan Peninsula, and not only does it have all the pleasures and amenities of a Caribbean getaway, but an abundance of archeological relics as well.This perfect combination of centuries-old Mayan pyramids and sleek ultra-modern hotels makes Cancun an intriguing exploration. With over 1200 known sites scattered around Cancun and Merida, the Yucatan has more archeological sites than any other region in the Western Hemisphere. Many of these are world renowned and have been excavated and documented, but new sites are discovered nearly every year.

If don’t want to venture too far from the luxury of your hotel, but want to see some ruins, there are three small but interesting sites in Cancun’s resort zone. El Rey, the largest of the three, overlooks the lagoon near the Caesar Park Hotel; Pok-Ta-Pok is a small temple on Cancun’s golf course, and Yamil Lu’um is another small temple overlooking the Sheraton Hotel. These may pique your interest enough to look further and it is certainly worth your while to explore the biggest and the best -Chichén Itzá.

Chichén Itzá is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating sites in all of Mexico. About two hours by bus west of Cancun, this is one of masterpieces of the Mayan civilization. It is a combination of two cities: one under Mayan rule from the sixth to the tenth century; the other a Toltec-Mayan city that emerged around the year 1000 AD. Under the Toltec rule, the buildings were developed and the city came to life.

At the center of Chichén Itzá is the Castillo. This structure demonstrates a mixture of Toltec and Mayan influences and is known for its cosmological symbolism. As seen in many photographs, its four sides contain 365 steps (one for each day of the solar year), 52 panels (for each year in the Mayan century), and 18 terraces (for the eighteen months in the religious year). There is also an temple inside the Castillo which is accessible via a narrow stairway.

The Mayans at Chichén Itzá must have been intrigued by sports as well as the ancient ball court (framed by carvings) is the largest ever discovered. Also among the ruins is a sacred well, an observatory, the Temple of Warriors, and a nunnery along with numerous other structures. During the fall and spring equinoxes in March and September, the sun’s shadow forms an enormous serpent’s body across the giant staircase of the pyramid. It makes for an amazing sight.

Chichén Itzá is just the beginning, Coba and Tulum are also significant and an easy extension to your beach plans. There are literally hundreds of other sites, each unique, mysterious and steeped in ancient history. Cancun is a good starting point to begin a discovery of these tangible reminders of past civilizations.

Town and Country Tours offers direct, nonstop charters to Cancun. Ask your travel agent for details.