Two of the largest, best known, and most popular Mayan sites in Mexico, Chichen Itza and Palenque offer quite different experiences.
Voted one of the ‘Seven New Wonders of the World’ in 2007, I think the classification is more a reflection of Mexican voting prowess, but Chichen Itza was still an impressive Mayan site to visit.
Far more open and restored than the jungle filled Palenque and Guatemalan Mayan sites, it gave a better idea of how things would have been at the time.
El Castillo is understandably the icon of the site, a striking sight from all angles.
Nearby is a huge ball game court, the largest round in the Mayan world. It’s worth looking on YouTube to understand how it works, not an easy game to play!
The Temple of the Warriors and Group of a Thousand Columns are also close by.
The southern end of the site is home to older structures, including more templates, the unusual round The Snail or Observatory, and the wonderful facades of the Monjas complex.
Close to Chichen Itza is the attractive Cenote de Yokdzonot, with wonderful tree roots / vines reaching down toward the fresh water below.
Palenque offers quite a contrast from Chichen Itza (except unfortunately in the number of visitors, both heaving during high season) with atmospheric less restored ruins in the jungle.
The Temple of Inscriptions is an impressive first sight upon entering the site.
The heart of the site is El Palacio, a sprawling administrative / residential complex of structures built in different periods, once home to exquisite carvings and plasterwork. Unfortunately to make a square metre of plaster required burning twenty trees, which helps explains why the Maya had serious deforestation issues (along with slash and burn agriculture).
Grupo de la Cruz is home to four temples around a plaza, offering views of the site, more carvings, and a reasonable workout climbing their steps.
After exploring the main excavated site we headed into the jungle, where there are thousands of unrestored Mayan structures mostly underneath earth and vegetation, though some remains can more easily be seen.
One temple has been partly restored. Above which an unusually quiet Howler Monkey was unfussed by the photographers below.