First thing first: The reason why we strongly recommend that you visit this place is because, you will be the only person exploring this place and you can do whatever you want including climbing up the pyramids. What they don't show you in those wonderful documentaries about Chichen Itza is how crowded that place is. Chichen Itza's architechure is far better than Mayapan but if you go to Chichen Itza, you are going to be constantly disturbed by peddlers, vendors and photographers who try to make some money off of you. Also, you can't touch the pyramid, can't take a tripod and so on.
Address: No exact address. It is located 28 miles south east of Merida city. The closest town is Mani.
Hours: 8 AM to 5 PM on all days.
Entrance Fee: 35 Pesos.
Remember: No nearby stores or vending machines! A restroom is available though.
Above: A panoramic view shot from the top of Mayapan pyramid
History of Mayapan:
Mayapan, means "The Flag or the Banner of the Mayas", and is the last great Maya capital.This Mayan city had an elliptical distribution and was surrounded by a stone wall with several entrances, covering over two and a half square miles with around 4000 structures. It is sometimes referred to as the "walled city". It is believed that this city once had a population of 15,000. Kukulkan II of Chichen Itza founded Mayapan between 1263 and 1283 AD. Mayapan continued to prosper until 1450 AD. In the mid-15th century, Mayapan was destroyed by war, later burnt and then abandoned.
Main Pyramid or The Kukulkan Castle:
The main building or the pyramid is clearly inspired by the Chichen Itza. If you look at it from one side, you can actually pretend that it is the Chichen Itza pyramid. However, when you go around the pyramid, you can see that there are many flaws in the design. For example, the steps on one side of the pyramid are completely off the center line.You can climb up the main pyramid which is about 49 feet and get an amazing view of the layout of the Mayapan City.
The main square was bordered by government, administrative and religious buildings, as well as the homes of the ruling class. These constructions were built over foundations of rows of columns, with temples and oratories, an altar at the back and benches along the sides.
Above: The Temple of the painted niches holds Optical illusory style paintings
Temple of the Painted Niches:
You can walk into this temple through the ruined stairway. Once you are inside the temple, you can see 5 murals on the walls. The paintings are done in Trompe-l'œil style which depicts three dimensional objects on (2 dimensional) walls. These optical illusion style paintings must have been a splendid view for the Mayans who lived centuries ago. These 5 niches are the symbolic entrances to the Temple. These paintings are excellent examples of the ingenuity of Mayan people.
Above: The Main Observatory of Mayapan
Observatories or Caracol:
Also found are the cylindrical buildings known as "Observatories". The main observatory was used for astronomical purposes such as tracking the planet Venus. Scholars have also discovered carvings that denote the position of Venus on this building.
You will find the ceremonial center in the west of the site with the most important structures like the noble class residences. You can observe the light phenomenon on this pyramid during the winter solstice on December 21st each year, just like in Chichen Itza.
Above: The Stucco relief without the head where a human skull was found instead
Decorations and Reliefs:
You will find one special wall decorated with Mayan glyphs and a mascaron, showing a circular opening instead of the mouth and with an elephant-like trump on one side, which is the symbol of Chaac, the Mayan god of the rain.
There are also stucco reliefs at the base of the Castillo de Kukulkán, which is the main pyramid. Here you can see carvings of complete Mayan figures, ant this one has an opening in the stone where the head should be. When the Mayapan ruins were discovered, they actually found a human skull in there.
Above: The steps and columns of Mayapan ruins
Other features of Mayapan:
On the premises you will see many smaller pyramids like structures with altars, smaller round observatories, colonnades, broken statues, and a large residential zone with numerous low platforms, which were once home to regular maya people. There is also a Cenote which provided water to this city. There are lots of Cenotes in this area, and they have been providing water to the Mayans for many centuries.
Above: The Church in Mani Town, where Mayan scriptures were burnt
The town of Mani:
The church and convent in Mani, Yucatan is the site of the infamous 1562 burning of the Mayan Codices and manuscripts by the Bishop Fray Diego de Landa. Like most Spanish colonial churches of Yucatan it was built by using the cut stones of Pre-Columbian Maya temples. The great bonfire Landa held turned to ashes almost all written records of the Maya. Only three codices are known to have survived. Landa proclaimed the books contained "nothing but the lies of the Devil" and he burned them to aid his mission, converting the Maya to Christianity.
Mani has been continuously occupied for approximately 4,000 years. In the postclassic Mesoamerican era, it was home to the Tutal Xiu Maya dynasty, which moved their capital here from Uxmal in the 13th century. The Xiu were the dominant power in the western Yucatan after the fall of Mayapan in 1441.
Virtual Tour of Mayapan Ruins (watch below):