Climbing The Pyramid When You Could – El Castillo in Chichen Itza

Sepia Mayan Pyramid – El Castillo as it looks without people climbing it

Chichen Itza came up in a discussion recently about how you use to be able to climb the great stairs of the pyramid all the way to the top. I was fortunate enough to have done that very thing when you still could. I’m not sure of the specific year when I did the climb, but it was somewhere in the very early 2000’s. My wife and I were down there with a group of people from work (annual reward trip). We were staying in Cancun and took a chartered tour bus to Chichen Itza. I love history, architecture and ancient ruins, so I was in my element. Of course I was not without my camera and took a ton of shots of the different ruins, El Castillo being foremost in my shoot. I was fascinated from a photography aspect of pictures with people walking up the steps of this famous pyramid.

Fast forward to 2007 and we were back down there with some close friends and our respective families. My girls had heard about climbing this pyramid and couldn’t believe their father who has a fear of heights actually did it. Imagine their disappointment when we found out you could no longer climb the pyramid. Due to an unfortunate death to a falling tourist in late 2005 and to the damage being done by the sheer load of people trudging up and down those steps along with the graffiti left behind by those same people, it was no longer permitted.

“Chichen Itza” El Castillo the day I climbed to the top

Those pictures suddenly started taking on a new element for me as something that will not be seen again. As I worked with them for my gallery I kept getting this circa 1930’s vibe and Indiana Jones feel from them. Sepia popped into my head and after converting them decided to add another element of that old vibe with some texture. What came from that process is these three captures converted to what I think looks like an old Indiana Jones element from that era (of course I realize he wouldn’t be discovering anything new in a place that had tourist climbing pyramid steps, but my vision of this look didn’t care about such details).

“Walking Up The Pyramid”   you can see people coming down using my technique and people walking down like it wasn’t an issue….but you get the visual impact of how steep those stairs actually are.

Now you can’t leave without me telling you about the wonders of that climb. I have a fear of heights such as the edge of the Grand Canyon (edge only), glass elevators that take you up more than 10 stories….I have some tolerance….ledges on mountains to name a few. I knew climbing the stairs wouldn’t be an issue as you are looking at the structure. I didn’t have any issues climbing to the top and was a little cautious about walking around by the edge at the top….ok…I stayed pretty close to the walls of the structure you see up there. The view is incredible and I was fascinated by the placement of the different windows in the top structure. Truly forgetting about how far up I was, it was time to come back down. You have no idea just how really steep and narrow each of those steps are until you go back down. For me it was literally too much to try and walk back down those steps…one trip or miss-step and you will literally fall all the way down (which is unfortunately what happened to the tourist I mentioned above). The best way is to sit down and slide your backside down each step.

I have toured the site multiple times and have learned new things each time. For more information about Chichen Itza – Wikipedia Here.   Chichen Itza is located in the middle of the northern tier of the Yucatan Peninsula between Merida towards the Gulf of Mexico and Cancun on the Caribbean side. Thoughts?

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41 thoughts on “Climbing The Pyramid When You Could – El Castillo in Chichen Itza

  1. Darlene

    It´s great that you actually got to walk up the pyramid. There is no way I could have done it, especially knowing I would have to go back down! The photographs are perfect.

    1. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

      Thank you very much Darlene!! I️ knew it was an opportunity of a lifetime…so tried to ignore my fear of heights😎 thanks for stopping by and have a great week Darlene!!

  2. IreneDesign2011

    Great post, Kirt 😀
    I would also have been able to climb up just for the view up there, but to go down again would be another case.
    I walked up at my first mountain ever here in Spain, soon 6 years ago. It was around 1000 meters high. All went well, even if it was winter and some snow and ice teased too.
    There are no mountains in Denmark, where I come from, so I haven’t had the chance before.

    1. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

      I’ll bet your hike was beautiful….a little chilly maybe, but beautiful!! I’m ok hiking up mountains as long as I’m in a forest so you don’t always see how far up you are..😎 have a great week Irene!!

      1. SD Gates

        My pleasure!!! We live down from Yosemite and people always seem to be plummeting off of things over there. It makes me wonder why people feel the need to clamber upon things.

      2. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

        Hiking here in Arizona on a well maintained trail…guy in front of me tripped and fell about 20 feet down to the lower switchback on the trail…being all desert here….nothing to stop his fall…thus I am sticking to hiking trails that climb up in elevation that have trees 🙂 (he wasn’t hurt fortunately, but scared him and all of us on the trail with him)

    1. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

      It was truly amazing Brad! The pyramid is stunning and is just s focal point for so many structures they have excavated…thanks for stopping by! Have a great week Brad!!

  3. Teagan R. Geneviene

    Hi Kirt. I think the texture element adds a lot to the images. I was just thinking that they made me think of the 1920s when I read your Indiana Jones comment — Yes, I can see that too. I really enjoyed your narrative. Yepper, I would have “fanny walked” on the way down too! Horsefeathers! Steep or narrow — either would have been bad enough, but both? Yikes!

      1. Teagan R. Geneviene

        I’ll analyze anything… I have to wonder if way back then they must have mastered shifting their center of gravity (with posture). Plus that long ago they would have been much shorter… okay a little shorter than me! LOL. And had smaller feet as a result. But still…

  4. saymber

    I think it’s awesome you captured an important part of the sites history and appreciate your sharing your experiences about a place I don’t know if I will ever get to visit! Thank you Kirt! Great pictures.

    1. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

      Thanks…we have grown up always thinking of pyramids in Egypt….yet we have them here in North America albeit down south in Mexico. Awesome experience which at the time I️ didn’t think it would be something no longer allowed. Thanks for stopping by!!

  5. Sue Slaght

    Kirt we too visited the area in the early 2000’s and Dave and our son climbed it as well. You may be interested to know that Dave took one of those photos, with a thousand of their closest friends all over the climb and photo shopped them out until only our son remained in the foreground.
    Good for you to make the climb given your fear of heights. I agree going down is always more challenging. One can see why they don’t let people climb it anymore. I wish I had gone along on the adventure that day. One that got away.

    1. Kirt D Tisdale Post author

      Thanks for stopping by Sue…such an experience, glad Dave and your son did it. I️ took a couple of courses in archeology during my college days…I️ am fascinated by the architecture of these types of ruins (Tulum included)…as I️ recall one of the windows on the top structure faces “magnetic north”. I️ came away wondering how they knew that…so much we don’t really know…again, thanks for stopping by!!

  6. reocochran

    I like the touch of sepia and golden reflected in the finishing fine treatment you were able to apply. You are a master at creating artistry with respect for your subject matter, Kirt. I was really impressed!!

      1. reocochran

        I have felt this since we “met” and became friends and wish my walls were not covered with my oldest daughter and brother’s art. If I ever have a little house, I would like to order one of your sepia and cream colored countryside (barn or train station or?) art prints. You have an amazing talent, Kirt.
        Hope you have lots of fun with your one year old sweetheart, wife and your family. 🎂

      2. reocochran

        Aww, I really hope to find a life partner who I may grow old with, hopefully have some shared space with blank walls. 😀 Glad to brighten your day, since you were quite special on my weeds and colorful sky photos. Thank you, Kirt.

  7. gillmorris

    Your pics are fabulous and the sepia definitely gives them a vintage look. Fantastic shots as well, particularly with the people and the close up on them going up and down. I was in Cancun in 2000 and back then I wasn’t really into architecture that much, so we missed a trip to Chichen Itza. I so wish I had gone now, it’s something I would have loved. I would have climbed up too, but I can imagine the way down is a little hairy! 🙂 Excellent post Kirt. Have a great weekend 🙂

  8. irinadim

    Fascinating description of the climb and even more frightening descent. Did you then come down sitting down and sliding your backside down each step?
    Great photos! Cheers 🙂 Irina

  9. Pingback: Vintage Sepia Photography – Featured Art prints | thewallgalleryblog

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