Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico will take you to one of the more confounding cities in the country.  It is the capital city of one of Mexico’s most impoverished states but you wouldn’t really know it if you were placed in the heart of Oaxaca and never ventured beyond the city limits. It is naturally and architecturally beautiful but that is only half of its story. In truth, Oaxaca is not just a site to see but it was the center of hot political action and still remains a place where intellectuals gather and where revolutions of the past still tinge the air.

If you are visiting Oaxaca, Mexico you have the daunting task of seeing and experiencing everything it has to offer in a limited amount of time but hopefully, I will be able to help with that…

While Visiting Oaxaca Mexico Taste the Food

At this point,  you should just assume that 99% of my articles are going to involve food.  Among the most enjoyable things to do in Oaxaca Mexico is to take advantage of the sumptuous cuisine.  If you are like me and enjoy dining outdoors, there is an excellent brunch/breakfast spot called Casa Oaxaca Café where you can enjoy freshly squeezed juices, Mexican omelets and chilaquiles in the open air courtyard under the fine Mexican sun.

Oaxaca is known as “the land of 7 moles” because quite simply, they make some of the best mole you will ever try.  You can find mole dishes in almost every restaurant that serves lunch or dinner in Oaxaca.

Enjoy Art

Oaxaca is well-known for its street art which can be seen on the adobe and concrete walls all throughout the town but it has made such an impact on the local artist scene that there are now proper galleries devoted to graffiti and street art.  One of these galleries is called the Espacio Zapata.  You can also catch poetry and essay readings at this same venue as well as take part in a workshop.

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Visiting Oaxaca Mexico

Attend the Festivals

Oaxaca has some of the most vibrant and colorful Day of the Dead festivals in Mexico.  If at all possible you should plan to be in Oaxaca in November when the Día de los Muertos is in full swing and colorful alters, and painted skulls can be seen all throughout the city.

July is also a nice time to go to Oaxaca because the Guelaguetza festival brings traditional dancers to the town in a lively celebration of culture and art.

Visit the Sites

Among the most popular Oaxaca Mexico attractions are all the excellent photo ops that can be taken advantage of in the region. First of all, Oaxaca is home to some of the most unique and artful Baroque cathedrals in all of Mexico.

Should you find yourself in Oaxaca be sure to devote some time to check out Santo Domingo De Guzmán which is one of the most outlandishly devised examples of Latin architecture.  Like many cities in Mexico, Oaxaca has some great ruins to look at but unlike other cities, Oaxaca’s ruins are not Aztec or Mayan influenced.  You will see astronomically correct pyramids and arenas among the ruins in Oaxaca.

Get Lost in the Nightlife

We love our nightlife, don’t we?  The answer is yes we do and Oaxaca is a great locale for taking in a night of Mescal and dance. Café Central is a great place to cut loose on the dance floor, enjoy the local spirit (Mescal) and even enjoy some late night munchies all in the same place.

The Chichén Itzá Pyramid

Top Tours to El Castillo, History and Pictures of Chichen

Wanting to visit the Chichén Itzá Pyramid? From experience, it helps tremendously to learn about its history, understand its symbolism and learn about the top tours to the temple of Kukulcán.

History of El Castillo

When Spaniards arrived at the Chichén Itzá Pyramid they called it El Castillo or The Castle.

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El Castillo at Chichén Itzá


This pyramid was the place of worship of the plumed serpent Quetzalcoatl. This serpent was the same god the Toltecs introduced under the name Kukulcán when the Itzaes invaded the ancient city in the 10th century.

The Maya built this pyramid over an earlier structure, the Temple of Kukulcán, which inside has the Jaguar Throne of this god adorned with jade stones and painted in red.

Symbolism of the Chichen Itza Pyramid

El Castillo has a strong relationship to one of the mayor practices of this ancient civilization, astronomy.
El Castillo like many call it is strongly related to the yearly calendar, which the Maya mastered.

At midday the shadow that covers the northeast angle of the pyramid reflects on the stairway showing a series of triangles that form a snake. This snake ends at the sculpted heads of Kukulcán at the bottom of the pyramid.

Each side of the pyramid had 91 steps and with the platform at the top there are 365 steps, one for each day of the year.

The new pyramid has nine terraces on each side of the stairways, 18 on each face, which represent the months in the Mayan solar calendar, the Haab.

An amazing show you should see is when Kukulcán, the feathered serpent appears when the Spring and Fall equinox happen.

When the Chichén Itzá pyramid was open for climbing, tourists were able to see a great view of the site and some carvings in the temple on top. Today climbing is prohibited.

Best Chichén Itzá Tours


 

Two words, Cosmos Tours. Well planned, comfortable transportation and educational.

The best way to decide what suits your needs is to do your research in advance.

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The head of Kukulcán at the base of the pyramid at the Chichén Itzá ruins

Check out some company tours and make sure you know what you want to accomplish. Sounds simple, right? I found that many people don’t realize how crowded, hot and uncomfortable it may be.

We toured the site with a 3 1/2 year old child, and the stroller wasn’t much help. So I strongly recommend you to find Chichén Itzá tour companies that you can book in advance, be comfortable and let them know your needs in advance you they can accommodate you or advise you accordingly.

Best Hotel Deals in Chichén Itzá


Searching for a great deal can leave your head spinning! Look no further, I have here a list of the best Chichén Itzá hotel deals.

Best of all you have the chance to see real reviews, along maps, prices and pictures. Also, if a hotel is not what you are looking for you can check out rentals.

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Enjoying typical Mexican instruments at El Castillo

Traveling with our son to see El Castillo was a great experience, even though the terrain was tough for the stroller, the day was hot, and on top of that we carried some food and water for him (water is expensive inside.)

I know he remembers the ruins and specially the pyramid since he recognizes it when he sees it. He still asks me from time to time: “Mami, when are we going back to see the Mexican ruins?” and that for me is priceless.

Pictures by Marcela Hede

Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins

Your Must Read Mini-Guide to Hotels, Tours and Activities for the Ancient City of the Maya

Wanting to experience the Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins? In this mini guide I share the best insider info to the ruins including history, location, map, Chichén Itzá tours, hotels, tips and what to see.

You have lots of ruins to explore, therefore it is very important to know in advance what to see and NOT to miss. Being there myself, I can recommend to you what to visit and provide you with a map you can print out to visualize the area.

This Chichén Itzá map will give you the knowledge on what to request when booking a tour or will help you decide how to use your time wisely if planning to tour the ruins yourself!

Main Points of Interest – Chichén Itzá Map


View Larger Map

Following in this order can help your visit:
Start with the castle or the Chichén Itzá Pyramid which was the place of worship of Quetzalcoatl.

El Cenote Sagrado is the Sacred Well where many sacrifices took place. It looks like any other cenote but what is impressive is the history behind it.

The Ball Court where the the infamous ball games took place. At the east end of the court you can climb to find the Temple of the Jaguars.

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Temple of the Warriors at Chichén Itzá
By Marcela Hede

The temple of the warriors is a pyramid carved with Toltec warriors on its 200 square columns that border the south and west sides of the temple.

On the columns, Mayan artisans were forced to create depictions of the Toltec victory at Chichén Itzá by their Toltec capturers.

Head north to the Observatory or El Caracol, the Spanish name for snail. This is a round building located at the south side of the castle where the great Mayan astronomers observed the skies.

Continue to the Nunnery or house of the nuns, how Spaniards called it after it reminded them of the convents in Spain.  At this point you can make your way to the Museum and be close to the entrance of the site.

 

Chichén Itzá Hotels and Bed and Breakfasts

There are many possibilities to start with. Staying close to the beach and simply taking one day to travel to the ruins worked well for us. We were able to visit several ruins and enjoy the beach in between days.

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Outside Sign at the Entrance of the Ruins
Chichén Itzá

I also like Chichen Itza hotels and bed and breakfasts because they are economical and mix with the local culture.

That is a true experience. They may not have all the amenities that an all inclusive may have but they are no short of character and friendly atmosphere. I find these hotels extremely welcoming to foreign visitors.

For budget conscious travelers, here is a list of excellent Chichén Itzá hotels with reviews, prices and distance from the hotel to the ruins. Do your research to Compare Chichén Itzá hotels, find the best deal, and read what other travelers have to say.

Even though all inclusive resorts can make travelers’ life easy and affordable, a more adventurous option is to go for a rental villa or private home which let you experience the real feel of being in Mexico like a resident.

Rentals in the Yucatan Peninsula – Close to the Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins

Feeling really adventurous? Imagining yourself by the pool sipping a Margarita? Then don’t think twice and rent a home in the Yucatan peninsula, close to Chichén.

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Casa Karlas – Rental Home in Progreso
through TripAdvisor

These are no simple homes, instead they are beautifully built and decorated places. Many with more bathrooms than you can use.

The majority are on the beach, which makes them excellent locations for ruins hopping and relaxation.

 

TIP – WHERE TO RENT
The best homes are in the northern and eastern portion of the peninsula. Rentals close to El Cuyo, Telchac, Progreso, Valladolid, and Playa del Carmen on the East side are good choices because you can also access Tulum south of Playa del Carmen, zibilchaltun close to Merida, Ek Balam close to Valladolid, the Coba ruins in Quintana Roo and the Chacchoben Mayan ruins south of Quintana Roo.
Chichén Itzá rentals

Here is a list of rentals if you are interested in vacationing in your own villa! Compare prices, see location and read what other travelers thought of their Chichén Itzá rentals so you can make the right choice!

Chichén Itzá Tours

If you decide to book one of the many Chichen Itza tours be aware of the variety of prices.

Most tours of the Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins booked through your all-inclusive resort cost more than $80 per person and include transportation, lunch and a guide in the most common foreign languages. The transportation is comfortable and air conditioned.

Tip-BEST Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins Tour
Cosmos Tours. Well planned, comfortable transportation and educational.The Chichén Itzá tours take you through a different road, the one that has tolls and it is express, making the trip a very different experience.

You can also book a Chichén Itzá tour by going to 5th Ave in Playa del Carmen, through one of the friendly Mexicans that stop you to offer their tours or through kiosks located there. These tours are less expensive and often include visiting Valladolid or other places of interest.

Make sure you visit these forums and see reviews about different Chichén Itzá tours to find the best one that suits your needs.

Other Tours You Should Know About

Remember this is a vacation and it can be also relaxing. Looking to do more than just exploring ruins? Here is a list of other tours that offer different activities. They are top quality without hurting your budget!

Top Recommended

Selvatica Canopy Expeditions and Adventure Tour. A perfect canopy adventure.
Rancho Baaxal.The Best horse back riding in Playa del Carmen.
Casa del Buceo. Best scuba diving in Isla Mujeres, close to Cancun.
Jungle Spa. Wanting to pamper yourself? Take a massage in an incredible setting!

Tips to See The Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins

Rent a Car and Be Adventurous
Think about staying at Playa del Carmen or other small towns like Valladolid, Merida, etc., to avoid Cancun completely. It all depends on your desire to enjoy the beaches and the ruins.

Trips from Playa del Carmen to the ruins take about 3 1/2 hours using the Carretera Libre or without tolls, and less time using the Caretera Cuota or the one with tolls as you can go a bit faster. You will pass two toll booths on the way to the ruins using the Carretera Cuota.

Ask at the Service Desk of Your hotel for Detailed Instructions
On how to get there using the carretera Libre.

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Fueling Close to Tolum

That is exactly what we did, although it took us more time to get there than expected we had the opportunity to soak in the culture.

Fueling off the Beaten Path
Remember to fuel early along the road because finding gas stations is difficult. Make sure you don’t comeback very late at night when gas stations maybe closed.

Eating Like the Locals
Along side the Carretera Libre you can find many food stands or puestos de comida which are homes on the side of the road where women prepare food for people in town and where locals go for a good meal. That is what we did and we loved it!

Beware of Vendors at the Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins
They can be pretty relentless. They will try to offer you anything under the sun. Be mindfull and polite. Understand their situation and be flexible. The ruins are worth visiting!

We ate breakfast at our resort and stopped alongside the Carretera Libre to eat the typical tortillas stuffed with pork and onions served with rice and beans.

You can see the women preparing them on the pan over the fire. Be prepared to eat along side locals even at the same table if space is limited.

History Behind the Chichén Itzá Mayan Ruins

Here I have compiled a small version of the wonders this Mayan ruins can offer. The Ancient City of the Maya is simply one of the new 7 wonders of the world.

I have the old habit of reading before going on a trip. I just don’t want to miss anything, and before I land at my destination I pretty much have a good idea of what I am going to see. Going to the Chichén Itzá Mayan ruins was no different and it made a huge difference.

Pictures by Marcela Hede

Cenote Sagrado Or Sacred Well at Chichén Itzá

This sacred Mayan place also known as the Water Well of the Sacrifices or Cenote Chenkú, is a natural water hole that was the main source of fresh water for the Maya civilization that established its home place at Chichén itzá.

At this sacred well, the Mayas performed many sacrifices including human ones. Archeologists recovered bones and artifacts from this sacred well, that now a days, are one of the best examples of excellent manufacturing and artistic capabilities of the Maya people.

From the samples recovered from the Sacred Well at the Chichén itzá ruins archaeologists saw that many of the sacrificed people had violent marks that were perpetrated at the moment of death. Also in 93% of the sacrifices mentioned in the documents of Sotuta y Homún-Hocabá (areas in the region,) heart extraction and disposal of it in a cenote was very common.

Overall the Yucatan peninsula possesses many natural water holes throughout the region. You may visit any while traveling by simply following signs you can see on the road while driving. This region does not have any rivers therefore its main source of water for people of a particular region were these types of water wells.

Cenote Chenkú  At Chichén

Cenote Chenkú
At Chichén itzá

A cenote was considered of great importance and was the center of temples and rituals offered to the fertility and the rain gods.  Chichén itzá is the best example of the importance these water wells with an impressive temple close by the Sacred Well called “El Castillo” where religious celebrations took place.

Edward Thompson from The United States was the first successful explorer of the Sacred Well. He recovered many artifacts, textiles, human remains and pieces of jade, and precious shell that remain at the Peabody Museum, in Cambridge, MA. His explorations concluded in 1909.

When visiting Chichén itzá make sure you see the Sacred Well as it is impressive and filled with ancient Mayan history. Just imagine… all that happened there as a way to worship the gods…

Chichén itzá Tours

I normally plan ahead and try to read what other visitors have to say about a particular site, region and tours.

I found advance planning to be quite rewarding because it makes our trips very smooth, and don’t get me wrong, we like adventure but hate wasting our time trying to find the places we want to go to and realizing we could have done many more things in advance that would have made our trip way more successful.

That is why I like Trip Advisor. I has many reviews by folks like you and me and you can look at everything there from finding a hotel to booking a tour company! Again, did I mention the reviews? Yes, invaluable…I am not talking about just a couple reviews, they are actually in the thousands for many Chichén itzá tours.







The Ball Court at Chichén Itzá

Chichén Itzá has the most well preserved and grandiose of the Ball Courts of the Mayan civilization. They used the place to play the famous “Juego de Pelota” -ball game, or “Pok-Ta-Pok” the original name given by the Maya people.

How did the Maya play their ball game? Nobody knows for sure how the Mayas played the game. Many believe it was with a rubber ball where the players of two teams had to throw the ball through the stone hoops sculpted alongside the slanted walls of the ball court without using their hands.  The Maya associated the ball game with the worship of the sun that is born every day abandoning the darkness.
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According to ArteHistoria, a site specializing in spreading the knowledge of art and history, the field represented the earth and the ball represented the sun, therefore a player who let the ball fall had to be sacrificed. The hoop represented the opening of the earth to the sun, and when the ball went through successfully the game was over.

In the Popol Vuh, which is the book that narrates the Maya creation story, twin heroes play against the lords of the underworld, the winners keep their lifes.

The Chichén Itzá Ball Court measures 272 by 199 feet, which is similar to the dimensions of a football field.

When arriving at the Ball Court at Chichén Itzá, you immediately notice the excellent acoustics of the place. It is amazing to hear a person talking at the opposite side when you are standing at the North Temple some 443 feet away.

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Ball Court at Chichén Itzá

The walls of the field have carvings showing Maya ball players with special attires and heavy protective padding.

One of the most impressive scenes is one depicting a headless player on his knees with blood coming out of his neck and another player holding the head.

Temple of the Skulls

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Temple of the Skulls at Chichén Itzá

When you come into the Ball Court you can see a temple at each end. The North Temple has sculpted figures and pillars, and some murals.

If you look at the southeastern corner you can see the Temple of the Jaguars with sculpted figures of jaguars and warriors alongside columns with serpents.

Directly opposite to the Temple of the Jaguars is the Temple of the Skulls. Careful inspection shows a row of skulls sculpted into the stone platform. These skulls are the heads of those who lost the game, therefore their heads were cut off and put on a pole to be displayed.

 

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Taking it all in…
while resting on the slanted walls at the Ball Court

What a great view. When you visit make sure you slow down and feel the energy of the place. That is what really makes the Chichén Itzá ruins an unforgettable experience, even for a little one like this one in the picture.

Chichen Itzá Best Rentals and Tours

Chichen Itzá Best Inside Info for Rentals and Tours to
The Ancient City of the Maya

Chichen Itzá is the ancient city of the Maya. Its history is fascinating and as a traveler myself, I recommend you experience it. But how to get there by car? What is there to see? and what Chichen Itzá tour tips can you take advantage of? Keep reading…

In August 2007, this city was selected as one of the new 7 wonders of the world. Who chose? Voters around the world who in a public internet competition, that lasted for eight years, casted almost a 100 million votes according to the article The New World Wonders published by Hispanic Magazine in August 2008.

Interesting Facts

  • The city was constructed with mathematical and geometrical precision.
  • It boasts an impressive observatory, a necessary structure for the Maya, some of the best astronomers ever known to mankind.
  • It has the biggest ball court in all Mesoamerica.
  • It is home of the famous pyramid or El Castillo , and the Sacred Cenote which witnessed Mayan religious sacrifices.
  • The name Chichen Itzá means At the mouth of the well of the Itza where Itza is the name of the ethnic group that dominated the northern Yucatan peninsula.

There are many more buildings in this ancient city that you should visit and they are located throughout the site. I just mentioned the most recognizable.

A Bit of History About Chichen Itzá

The Maya civilization built this UNESCO World Heritage site before 800 A.D., and it became an important economic, political, religious and cultural center of the Mayan empire.

Chichen Itzá is located in the northern area of the Peninsula de Yucatán in Mexico. The topography of the region is arid and has no above ground rivers. For the Ancient city of the Maya, the main source of fresh water was the cenotes or sinks holes that provided enough water for the inhabitants.

The most recognized sink hole is the cenote Sagrado or the sacred well. The region has many cenotes and you can see signs throughout when you drive towards the ancient city using the Carretera Libre.

This ancient city used its port site of Isla Cerritos to obtain locally unavailable resources from distant areas such as central Mexico and even gold from Central America.

Chichen Itzá fell by around 1000 AD and the city became unpopulated but not completely abandoned. The Cenote Sagrado continued to be a place of pilgrimage.

According to Robert S. Chamberlain’s book, The Conquest and Colonization of Yucatán 1517-1550, the Spaniards arrived at Chichen Itzá in 1526 trying to take the city with Francisco Montejo leading the operation. Initially the Spaniards encountered no resistance. Later on, the Maya pushed them out in 1534.

What Not to Miss

The Pyramid or El Castillo

Chichen Itza Pyramid

Chichen Itza Pyramid
by Marcela Hede

The main place of worship of Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.  The pyramid is the most representative place of the ruins.  It is impressive and inviting at the same time.

The temple has 9 square terraces, about 2.57 metres (8.4 ft) high, and at the top it is the temple.  The sides of the pyramid are approximately 55.3 meters (181 ft) at the base.  One tf the most interesting features of the pyramid are the stairways each side has, and of course, the carved heads of a serpent at the northeastern side.

Today you can’t climb the pyramid, after a tragic death of a woman while making her way down from the top, but it still is a site worth visiting!

El Cenote Sagrado

Chichen Itza Cenote Sagrado

Chichén Itzá Cenote Sagrado

The significance of the cenote is based on several stories. The one that fascinated me the most is the tale of a young man who dared the Mayan king to accept his challenge of letting him dive into the water well, and if he survived he was to become the Mayan king. The possibilities were null, and the king accepted, the you

ng man dove and came out alive! The throne exchanged hands.

The Observatory

Chichen Itza The Observatory

Chichén Itzá The Observatory

Round shaped and perfectly located to observe Venus. In the inside you can see a stairwell that leads to the top. Unfortunately it is no longer possible to go inside.

At the top, sky observers were able to remove some stones to have the perfect angle for their astronomy studies.

The Ball Court

Chichen Itza Ball Court

Carved Hoops at the Chichén Itzá Ball Court
by Marcela Hede

 

A place where the Maya played their ball game by passing a ball through the sculpted hoops at the top of the court without using their hands.

Good luck! You had to be skillful because the price to pay was your head if you didn’t win. Take a look at the walls of the ball court panels.

Finding the Best Hotel, Rental Villa or B&B

Part of the experience of visiting the ruins is seeing the sites surrounding the ancient city.

Find a hotel in Chichen Itza

Some people are afraid to stay outside of a resort because they don’t know the language or the areas. I recommend you to educate yourself. Be close to main towns that have resorts if you just want to experience the real Mexico without having to stay in one.

Read more about finding a perfect hotel close to Chichen Itzá. If you are interested in having a real Mexican experience think about renting a villa, home or hacienda. It is affordable, luxurious and convenient.

Keep in mind you have to cook, but the difference in price in comparison to an all inclusive resort will allow you to stay longer and more comfortably if you are a family of 4 or more. Go to the listing of Chichen Itza rentals so you can make the right choice!

Chichen Itzá Tours

There are many companies that offer tour services to tourists who stay in the Riviera Maya hotels.

Top recommendation? Cosmos Tours. Well planned, comfortable transportation and educational.

For us, having a native Spanish speaker in the family, me, and pretty much being accustomed to travel at our own speed we decided to tour the city ourselves.

On the other hand, it is very convenient to pre-book your tour. No worries, no delays, and no guess work. You can do it from home and it will all be set when you arrive.

Visit these forums for real comments and points of view about different Chichen Itza tours.

BEST Tours Beside Chichen Itzá Mayan Ruins

Keep an open mind, since the only thing in the Yucatan peninsula is not just visiting ruins. There are many options like horse back riding, scuba diving, other ruins besides Chichen, and canopy expeditions that are lots of fun!

the best Yucatan Peninsula tours with ratings, maps, direct linking to sites and all the relevant information to make your trip smooth.

Top Recommended Tours

Selvatica Canopy Expeditions and Adventure Tour. A perfect canopy adventure.
Rancho Baaxal.The Best horse back riding in Playa del Carmen.
Casa del Buceo. Best scuba diving in Isla Mujeres, close to Cancun.
Jungle Spa. Wanting to pamper yourself? Take a massage in an incredible setting!

When visiting The Ancient City of the Maya I recommend being adventurous. Take the Carretera Libre which means free or without any tolls. We did it and never regretted it.


We rented a car and traveled the Carretera Libre with our 3-year old son who loved seeing how different the towns look in comparison to the ones in the U.S. we lived at the time in Long Island, NY.

There are some small towns and many cenotes on the way where you can swim and enjoy.

TIP ABOUT PURCASING HAND MADE CRAFTS
Stop at stores on the side of the road. They have the beautifully hand crafted articles at at about 30% less than those offered at the boutiques in the resorts.

I was surprised to see how many people were bilingual Spanish and Maya, the ancient language of the Mayan civilization.

Pictures by Marcela Hede