In the last week of April, I took a tour from Cozumel to the Yucatán peninsula to visit the ancient Mayan archaeological site, Chichen Itza.Even though each way took three hours because of a ferry ride to the mainland and a shuttle service, it was well worth it.
Chichen Itza (At the edge of the well of the Itzaes) used to be one of the main Mayan cities. The site was settled largely in its present location because of its close vicinity to two cenotes, which are accessible areas that lead to underground pools of water. The site is historically significant due to the synthesis of Mayan and Mexican architectural stylization. The stonework and hieroglyphs on the buildings were painted with local colors, some residual colors can still be faintly seen.
The Kukulkan Pyramid or El Castillo is the iconic, large pyramid that attracts millions of tourists each year to learn about Mayan history and culture. Recently in 2017, it was established as a Wonder of the World. Although tourists are no longer able to climb up the stairs of El Castillo, the site is still impressive. A quirky feature to El Castillo is that if a group of people clap before it, the sound of a squawking bird will echo back.
Here are some other noteworthy areas on the complex to see:
Temple of Warriors with its many columns and a statue of Chacmool, where human sacrifices occurred.
The Great Ball Court and the North Temple (Temple of the Bearded Man)
The Osario Group is a short pyramid
The Observatory is a tower with a circular staircase that is thought to be used by the Mayan people to study astronomy.
Temple of Xtoloc
When I visited a few days ago, the temperature was beyond 90 degrees Fahrenheit It’s important to frequently drink water and apply sunblock. The ideal time to go is in the morning because the site will be overwhelmed by tourists in the afternoon. I heard the site was commercialized, however I was stunned by the persistent vendors that lined many main pathways on the outskirts of the site.
Don’t forget to taste Xtabentún, a local liquor made from honey and anise seed.
When I visited Manila, Philippines for work in October, I didn’t have much time to explore because of my schedule and the city’s unbelievable traffic. However I was fortunate to visit Fort Santiago and Cathedral Manila, and as my hotel was in the business district, Makati, I shopped in several of Manila’s well-known malls like SM Mall of Asia, Glorietta, Glorietta 5, and Greenbelt.
The highlight of my travels was seeing Fort Santiago, which sits within the walled city, the Intramuros. The Fort offers a wealth of history as it’s purpose changed throughout different time periods. While it was originally constructed during the 1590s by a Spanish Conquistador, it became occupied by the British, and then later seized by the U.S. Army. During WWII, the Japanese repurposed the site as a prison for Americans and Filipinos.
In its current state, the Fort has a park, ruins, and a museum dedicated to the author and national hero, Jose Rizal. Tourists can even intimately wander about the Fort’s historical remains, and overlooks the Pasig River and the Binondo skyline.
I spent over 3 hours at Stirling Castle with a few of my friends in my MSc program. We were impressed by the sheer size of the castle. It offers a variety of interactive modules such as – dress up in medieval regalia, games, instruments, movies, and impersonators. The castle has been owned by a myriad of hands and this influence is demonstrated architecturally.
The tapestries are impressive, and the unicorn decorations are a pleasant surprise.
If the weather is fair – go along the wall walk, a footpath that surrounds the parameter of the castle. The castle boasts many views of Stirling and the Wallace Monument. Cue my Game of Thrones reference, I felt very ‘watcher of the wall’ esque.
In no way was I compensated to do this review. I paid full price of 14.50£, as there is no student discount. However! If you find yourself touring throughout Scotland’s heritage sites, I will say that joining their membership program would be the ideal way to visit.