48. Piste, Mexico - Chichen Itza Mayan Ruins

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June 2, 2007

Campsites in Mexico fall on a spectrum, ranging from full-service, American-style RV parks to the dusty parking lots of dilapidated motels and restaurants.

Our spot at the Pyramide Inn Resort in the town of Piste fell closer to the latter end of the spectrum.

It was really just the narrow front lawn of the hotel and was about 10 meters from what turned out to be a popular road for semis on the overnight long-haul.

Because they are often in a state of disrepair, Mexican vehicles can be extraordinarily noisy and it felt like the heavy trucks were driving straight through our skulls the entire night.

(To its credit, the Pyramide Inn Resort does have a large and attractive pool/deck area in the back that we shared with the other guests and the hotel’s five cats, dog, white duck, black caged chicken and numerous caged, tropical birds).

But we weren’t in Piste for the camping (or to sleep). We had come to see Chichen Itza, Mexico’s most famous Mayan ruins and a recent choice as one of the "New 7 Wonders of the World".

We had read that because of Chichen Itza’s proximity to Merida, Cancun and the rest of the Mayan Riviera that it could be overrun with visitors.

We woke up early and made the 20 minute walk from Piste to the site, arriving just after the gates opened at 8 am. We were the third and fourth persons through the gates, and had the site almost to ourselves for the first hour.

At its height in the 13th century, Chichen Itza supported over 35,000 people. It is now one of the best preserved, and extensively restored, Mayan sites on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The focal point of the site is the El Castillo pyramid, with stair running up each of its four sides. But perhaps because of the heavy visitor traffic that Chichen Itza gets, we weren’t allowed to climb on El Castillo, or the other structures, as we had done earlier in our road trip at the Teohuacan, Palenque and Uxmal ruins.

Chichen Itza was, however, the first Mayan site that we had toured in Mexico that had a ball-court, and it still has the two elevated and engraved hoops or rings that the players had to ingeniously get the ball through.

By the time we left, there were eight tour buses and a few dozen cars in parking lot.

A little later, as we sped along the highway to Cancun, we saw dozens and dozens of buses heading in the other direction towards the site.

Key Facts & Figures:

-Pyramide Inn Resort: $8/night
-Chichen Itza: $9.50/person