Total immersion in the Mayan world — both ancient and modern — is the vibe at Chichén Itzá. The ruined city sprawls across the Yucatan jungle, just west of the Riviera Maya.
Make no mistake: Chichén Itzá is a long haul from cruise ports along the Riviera Maya. But the highway is smooth and safe. Plenty of companies offer all-inclusive, full-day excursions from Cozumel, Cancun, and Playa del Carmen. Or you can rent a car and drive yourself. The journey takes about 2.5 hours each way and allows you the freedom to witness the evening sound and light show at Chichén Itzá.
And it’s worth the ride: The stone pyramids, palaces, and ball courts reflect the height of Mayan civilization, an era from 600-1200 AD, when this was one of the largest and most dynamic cities in the Americas.
Chichén Itzá archeological park embraces dozens of structures, including the iconic El Castillo pyramid — proclaimed one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — the creepy Wall of Skulls, the elaborately carved Platform of Eagles and Jaguars, the Sacred Cenote — once used for human sacrifice — and the Great Ball Court, where Mayan warriors once battled to the death in a game that featured rubber balls.
An enticing blend of amenities means you can combine history with shopping, eating, or relaxing in the tropical shade. An outdoor souvenir market with Yucatan handicrafts sprawls along the path to the Sacred Cenote. The outdoor terrace at the Hacienda Chichen Resort is a great place to sample organic regional dishes like shrimp ceviche, fresh lime soup, and tikin xic (grilled fish). The nearby Yaxkin Spa offers holistic Mayan healing treatments, including a zumpul-che sweat-bath ritual.