Earlier this week, a tourist was scolded and physically attacked by an angry crowd after climbing the historical pyramid of Chichen Itza in Mexico. After the incident went viral on TikTok, numerous users began wondering why her behavior was so strongly reprimanded and, most importantly: what exactly are the rules for visiting an ancient site?
Chichen Itza is a large archaeological zone in the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico, comprising the ruins of a 1,272-year-old city dotted with Late Classic architectural gems. Its most iconic symbol, the Temple of Kukulcan, is a traditional Mayan step pyramid where sacrifices and other pre-Columbian religious practices were carried out.
Purely out of respect and due to local conservation efforts, tourists must refrain from entering areas closed for visitation or face the consequences:
A Woman Faces An Angry Mob After Breaking Visitation Rules In Mayan City
If you follow all the latest Cancun and Riviera Maya news closely on our sister website The Cancun Sun, you know by now a tourist identified as Abigail Villalobos made headlines after reaching the very top of the Temple of Kukulcan, a sacred Mayan pyramid that’s part of the Chichen Itza complex, which dates back hundreds of years.
Visiting Chichen Itza as a whole, you will find several signs indicating which paths and attractions are open to tourists and which are not. The pyramid itself is usually cordoned off to remind day-trippers climbing is not permitted, but this was no impediment for Mrs. Villalobos, who proceeded to climb and ungraciously dance atop the monument:
Ce n’est pas parce qu’il y a des marches qu’il fallait les emprunter…la touriste en question a été arrêtée par la police et risque une amende de plusieurs dizaines de milliers de pesos.
Making her way down, she was greeted by an angry crowd of onlookers, who started booing, pulling her hair, and chanting ‘jail, jail, jail‘, or even ‘sacrifice‘. Mrs. Villalobos was escorted away from the mob by local staff and has been issued a fine of US $250.00, or the equivalent of 5,000 Mexican pesos, for breaking visitor rules.
Unlike other pyramids in Mexico, most notably the temples in Teotihuacan, the sacrificial chambers of Kukulcan remain off-limits since 2006, when an elderly tourist from California fell down the UNESCO-listed building and tragically died. Nowadays, ticket-holders can only walk around the pyramids but not ascend the steep steps due to security concerns.
What Are The Rules For Visiting A Historical Site?
These may vary depending on a site’s state of preservation, but there is an ‘Etiquette’ that should be followed when touring ancient sites. The Society for American Archaeology lists a few of them, and although they refer specifically to monuments found in the United States, they may also apply to Chichen Itza, and any other ruins of historical relevance in Mexico:
- Visitors must avoid moving or disturbing anything from the site, as they may be ‘evidence’ left by its former inhabitants;
- When finding an artifact, examining it from a distance, drawing it, and photographing are allowed, but it must be left in its original position;
- Unless there is proper infrastructure in place, such as boardwalks, avoid stepping on ancient structures and mounds, as you may inflict damage;
- Leaning, sitting, standing, or climbing on ‘prehistoric’ walls is strictly forbidden;
- Staying on tourist paths and trails is advised, as it helps preserve the site for future generations;
- Waste should always be disposed of appropriately: any food leftovers, cigarettes, or trash in general lying on the ground can attract wild animals, known to be ‘very destructive’;
- Whenever possible, pets should be left behind when entering archaeological zones (for the exact same reason as the one listed above).
Other additional rules that are exclusive to Chichen Itza include, obviously, not scaling the temples. This may be permitted across other archaeological zones in Mexico, but for the sake of this specific Mayan city’s conservation, as well as due to safety, some monuments must be observed from afar – and security tends to be very strict, as evidenced above.
Additionally, camera tripods are not permitted, irrespective of size, as they are considered ‘professional equipment’. In order to bring tripods and/or video-cameras to the site, visitors must arrange a permit in advance. Bringing your mobile phone, tablets, and other smaller devices with the sole purpose of taking pictures is allowed.
You Don’t Need To Conquer Summits To Soak Up The Incredible Mayan History
Fortunately, most of Chichen Itza can be explored by foreigners, albeit with limitations as to which temples can be approached. Conquering the summit of the pyramid is no longer possible, but Americans are free to closely examine other landmark buildings, such as the Akab Dzib, with a perfectly preserved, well-cut stone facade.
The Nun’s House is another inviting attraction, described as ‘one of the most imposing of all the architectural groups in Chichen Itza‘. The main section is about 33 feet high, featuring an elaborate staircase that, in primeval times, connected the upper and lower temples. The exterior is richly decorated in the Chenes style, with the usual ‘monster mouths’ framing the entrance.
Like most Mayan cities, Chichen Itza was built in close proximity to cenotes, a complex system of submerged caves the Mayans believed to be the gateway to the underworld. Unlike the Kukulcan Temple, tourists can both access and swim in them. As you can see, there are a lot of ways to soak up a place’s History and have an amazing time without being disrespectful.
If you’re flying to the Mexican Caribbean this winter, discover our top 3 historical Mayan ruins for an incredible day-trip from Cancun.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com