On a crowded afternoon at Chichén Itzá it may feel as if Cancún's three million annual visitors chose to visit the ruins at the same time you did, but, really, they did not. Located just a three-hour, air-conditioned bus ride from the resort's beaches, the reconstructed Mayan city of Chichén Itzá is the Yucatán Peninsula's top travel destination after Cancún. Despite the buses, the crowds and the trinket sellers, there's a reason tourists and Mayan purists continue to make the trek to Chichén Itzá: it is simply spectacular, like no other place in Mexico, or for that matter, in the world.
That rare beast, Chichén Itzá is both a critical and popular hit. The Mayan city was added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in 1988, possessing a "cultural and natural heritage having outstanding universal value." In 2007, after 7 years of furious campaigning and 100 million Internet votes, Chichén Itzá was selected as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. As New7Wonders Foundation President Bernard Weber put it, "The people have spoken, history was made."
And, so, the people continue to come – school children, couples, backpackers and retirees, Mexican grandmothers with tiny ones clutching their hands, day trippers clad in unnecessary jungle cargo pants. For most, this may be the one time in their lives they encounter an ancient civilization, and most are changed by the experience. Climbing El Castillo was halted in 2006 after an 80-year old woman fell to her death, ending a decades-long rite of passage for visitors. For those lucky enough to have done it before the ban, few will ever forget the thrill of reaching the top, gazing out across the Great Plaza to the Temple of the Warriors as only select ancient priests (and sacrificial victims) were ever allowed to do.
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