I was here once before, 20 years ago, with my sister Jeanne. And what struck me most about this visit was how vastly different the whole experience was. When Jeanne and I were here, neither of us had ever been to Mexico before. We’d bought a really cheap package to come to Cancun with friends from my office for a weekend. Itching to get out of Cancun, the two of us rented a car and headed inland toward Chichen Itza. It felt like a bold thing to do, since neither of us had ever really driven in such an exotic place before.
Once we got to Chichen Itza we were rewarded with an intense storm that left the monuments drenched and glowing in beautiful light. We were free to climb anywhere we wanted, so we of course scampered up to the top of El Castillo, the pyramid that dominates the site. Despite the chains to guide our climb, it was still a bit scary to navigate the slick wet stone steps, especially as we watched the moody skies change colors. At the top we got some great photo opportunities.
Today, these monuments are swamped with over a million tourists a year. And this UNESCO World Heritage Site is far better protected from their ravages. Nobody is allowed to climb on anything. I am sure this is overwhelmingly a good thing for these awesome monuments to human achievement, but it sure made for a lot less fun.