When I first visited the ancient Mayan city of Chichén Itzá on Mexico's Yucatán Peninsula over 20 years ago, I was awe-struck by the dramatic scale of its temples, sculptures, and ceremonial platforms. There were comparatively few visitors in those days, and I can remember scrambling to the top of the towering Pyramid of Kulkucán and having the spectacular view of the ruins practically all to myself.
On a return trip in 2003, I was dismayed at the changes that had occurred. Fleets of tour buses idled in Chichén Itzá's main parking lot, and so many people thronged the archaeological site that it felt like a Mayan version of Disneyland. Consequently, I had mixed feelings when I heard that Chichén Itzá has just been named one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.
Archaeologists are already expressing concerns that a new invasion of tourists could permanently damage the fragile ruins. Some of Chichén Itzá's buildings might eventually have to be roped off in order to protect them, which means that visitors won't be able to explore the site as freely as they can now. I will no doubt go back to Chichén Itzá. But I'm glad that I saw it when I did, before the crowds and parades of tour buses arrived.
The Chichén Itzá archaeological site is open daily from 8 am to 6 pm (5:30 pm in winter). The ruins are least crowded in the early morning and late in the afternoon.