The world-famous ancient Mayan site of Chichen Itza is one of the major highlights of Central America. The ancient Mayan city, dominated by the iconic El Castillo pyramid, was built between the 8th and 11th Centuries CE and became a major regional capital during this time, dominating political and cultural life in the lowlands of northern Yucatán. It exhibits numerous architectural styles inspired by many different areas of Central America, and is thought to have been the home to one of the most diverse populations in the Mayan world.
Chichen Itza was one of the largest Maya cities, with a relatively dense cluster of well-preserved buildings in the core linked by paved causeways called 'sacbeob'. The colossal pyramid of El Castillo dominates the area known as The Great North Platform - it houses a huge staircase to an upper crypt housing a throne in the shape of a jaguar, painted red and inlaid with eyes and spots of pure jade. The steps up the exterior of the pyramid famously project a serpent-shaped shadow every spring and autumn equinoxes, thought to be a representation of the Mayan feathered serpent-god Kukulkan.
Nearby there is a Great Ball Court, once used to play a unique ancient game similar to basketball but using knees and elbows to strike the ball. Nearby to this is the Sacred Cenote, otherwise known as the 'well of sacrifice', which offered up treasures of jade, copper and gold as well as many human and animal bones when it was excavated. There are many other fantastic areas of the site to be explored, including the Temple of the Warriors and the Group of a Thousand Columns.
In 2007 the phenomenal Mayan site was declared one of the New 7 Wonders of the World after a worldwide vote.