If you are vacationing in Cancun, Mexico, do not miss a visit to Chichen Itza! The most famous and best restored of the Yucatan Maya sites, while tremendously overcrowded- every gaper and his grandmother is trying to check off the new seven wonders of the world- will still impress even the most jaded visitor. Many mysteries of the Maya astronomical calendar are made clear when one understands the design of the ‘time temples’ here. Other than a few minor passageways, climbing on the structures is not allowed.
At the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, the morning and afternoon sun produces a light and shadow illusion of the serpent ascending or descending the side of El Castillo’s staircase. The site is mobbed on these dates, however, making it difficult to see, and after the spectacle, parts of the site are sometimes closed to the public. The illusion is almost as good in the week preceding and following each equinox, and is recreated nightly in the light and sound show year round. Some find the spectacle fascinating, others think its overrated. Either way, if you’re in the area around the equinox and you’ve got your own car, it’s easy to wake up early for Dzibilchaltun’s fiery sunrise and then make it to Chichen Itza by midafternoon, catching both spectacles on the same day.
The heat, humidity, and crowds can be fierce; try to explore the site either early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Hold on to your wristband ticket; it gives you in and out privileges and admission to that evening’s sound and light show. The 45 minute show in Spanish begins each evening at 8 PM in summer and 7 PM in winter. It costs M$75 if you don’t already have a ruins wristband, and it counts toward the admission price the following day. Devices for listening to English, French, German, or Italian translations rent for M$39. Specify the language you need or it may not be broadcast.
I recommend a stop afterwards at the Pueblo Maya Restaurant and Craft Market in nearby Piste. http://www.pueblomaya.com.mx/home/ There you can eat authentic regional cuisine in their Mexican restaurant, have a cocktail, swim, and lounge around in a hammock. Then shop for high quality Mexican clothes, crafts and jewelry in their Mexican craft market. They also have a botanic garden featuring local plants.
You can stop at the Cenote Saamal on the way back for a swim! The water is clean and refreshing. Lockers are available to store clothes and purses, and life jackets are available as well.
The tour operator Cancun Passion- http://cancunpassion.com/en/ operates package tours which include transportation, visit to Chichen Itza, visit to Pueblo Maya for lunch and shopping, and a swim at the cenote. Their guides are local and knowledgeable of the Mayan history and culture (most are direct descendants of Mayas!). My guide was particularly inspiring. He had a Dystonia/ Parkinson’s like disease but still managed to give a flawless tour of Chichen Itza in English.
Sources: Lonely Planet Cancun, Cozumel & the Yucatan guidebook