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The Mayans were a highly developed civilisation. Their empire, hidden in the rainforest, consisted of huge palaces and imposing pyramids. Although they had settled on the Yucatán peninsula of Mexico much earlier, they perfected their construction techniques around the year 900 A.D. The most important city in Yucatán dates back to this period: Chichén Itzá. Come explore this famous and beautiful Mayan city.
The Popol Vuh, the sacred religious book from the Classic Era of Mayan civilization, contains their story of creation. The Mayan gods created the earth, heaven and sun. They made people out of corn: muscles from corncobs, limbs from corn dough, the human mind from corn flour and human blood from corn juice. The corn people immediately left their mark on the world – somewhat hesitant at first with modest burial mounds, but much more elaborately after this, with complete cities filled with palaces, temples and pyramids and, later on, sophisticated structures covered with highly ornate decorations.
The Temple of Kukulcán at Chichén Itzá has joined such famous architectural wonders as the Great Wall of China, Machu Picchu and the Taj Mahal on the list of the Seven New Wonders of the World. This impressive pyramid symbolises the grandeur of the Mayan civilisation. The greyish white colossus is 30 metres high and has exactly 365 steps to the temple at the top – this was also the number of days in the Mayan calendar.
The Mayans were a highly developed society, with a strong culture of art and handicrafts, trade and science. They were particularly competent in mathematics and astronomy, independently inventing the number 0. Without computers or calculators, they created a unique phenomenon that takes place here 2 days a year: during the spring and fall equinox, the edge of the shadow from the sun is cast on the pyramid like a serpent slithering down the stairs.
That serpent, found in many adornments at Chichén Itzá, represents Topiltzin Quetzalcoatl, alias the ‘Feathered Serpent’. Around the turn of the last millennium, he ruled the Mayan empire and was later worshiped as a Mayan god under the name Kukulcán. He developed Chichén Itzá into a glorious capital city, with a market, holy spring, ball playing field, bathhouse, sacrificial altar and convent, an observatory in the shape of a snail’s shell and countless temples and palaces - the one structure more elaborately decorated than the other, with hieroglyphics and sculpted animals and gods, including the omnipresent rain deity Chac with his crooked nose. An entire day should be set aside in order to experience the grandeur of Chichén Itzá at its fullest.
The highlights of the Mayan empire are located along La Ruta Maya, which winds through Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and Belize and can be explored by rental car or public transport. Apart from ruins, there are also colonial towns, picturesque mountain lakes and colourful Indian villages to enjoy along the way. There are hotels in every price range, from Spartan posadas to luxurious haciendas. Travelling along the Ruta Maya takes around an entire month. Those with less time to spend can enjoy part of the route.
Yucatán has much more to offer than the historic sites of the old Mayan empire. Along ‘La Riviera Maya’ on the Caribbean east coast, Cancun and Playa del Carmen are the most popular bathing resorts. Here you will find lots of shops and restaurants and of course, a high-octane nightlife. Three colossal cruise ships call in at the holiday island of Cozumel daily, bringing plenty of crowds. However, there are also beautiful seaside resorts along the eastern coast which have not yet been taken over by tourists. These resorts, such as Puerto Morelos and Punta Bete, with exquisite sandy beaches with swaying palm trees have maintained their traditional atmosphere.