Ik Kil

Yucatán, Mexico


Majestic and pretty but crowded. It is right by the Chichen Itzá ruins.


One of the open mouths, Boca 3. You can swim to it from inside the cave, from Boca 1. Or jump in.
 

Ik Kil is a large cylindrical cave cenote open to the sky (the cave ceiling collapsed in the past). It looks and feels majestic and you can feel that straight away. Trees and stalactites hang down from the rocks, tree roots are suspended above the cenote waters and water dribbles down creating an effect of small thin waterfalls.

There are jumping platforms of different heights and people do challenge themselves to dive in. You can feel their adrenalin from a distance. You can also use the wooden stairs for easy access and there are ropes across the pool to hang onto and just relax in these sacred waters. I always feel rejuvenated after a swim in a cenote. You can snorkel but the water is not fully transparent here.

 
My friend Michelle on the steps to Boca 1.
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The steps to Boca 5.
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The rocky cylindrical walls around the pool are about 60m in diameter and 40m tall. The water depth is 18m. The colour of the water depends on the time of day. In full sunshine it is turquoise and the blue tint is due to the high content of limestone and plankton. But if the sun does not reach the bottom of the cylinder, it looks black and spooky. I have experienced both instances, as I have so far come here twice, in 2015 and then in 2018. I prefer the less spooky version so it is important to get the timing right. Morning and lunchtime swimming gives you more light. Also, a lot of tour companies bring tourists here after visiting the ruins of Chichén Itzá round the corner so it gets crowded from 2pm or so. There is a way to beat the crowds – come here at 10am (before the tours) or around 4pm (after they all leave), if you travel independently.

 
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Going down the steps to the cenote.
The cylindrical walls make the cenote impressive.

The cylindrical walls make the cenote impressive.

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Ik Kil is a Maya name and it means 'a place where the wind is born'. I am not sure where the reference to the wind comes from as the place does not feel windy. It might have been at the top of the pyramid and it would be a subtle way to describe a well-built city. This is only my speculation as I always like to know the meaning of the names of the places. Even the word cenote is of Maya origin. The Spanish conquistadors heard the Maya calling them 'dzonot' (meaning 'well') and they just mispronounced it as cenote.

 
A path to the main ruin atop a small hill.

A path to the main ruin atop a small hill.

Boca 5, with a wooden platform at the bottom, to access the water.
 

For me the bonus of the visit here is that the site has ruins. Well, basically it is an archaeological park with a cenote. Most people ignore the ruins (as they have just visited Chichén Itzá). I just loved walking about to see them on my last visit. They are pretty damaged, but still, it is exciting. One would presume they are a continuation of Chichén Itzá but I came across the view that Ik Kil was a vassal of the kingdom of Ek' Balam (well, it was then called the Talol kingdom). This would make it independent and would fit with the view that Ik Kil cenote was used by the ancient Maya as a location for human sacrifice to their rain god Chac, as an independent entity because the Itzá people of Chichén used their Sacred Cenote for that purpose.

 
Ik Kil ruins at the site.

Ik Kil ruins at the site.

Boca 1 from above.
 

A reference was apparently found here to king Ukit Kan Le'k Tok' saying that he oversaw the construction of Ik Kil. That would make Ek' Balam's king an overseeing lord. As a vassal, Ik Kil would have to pay a tribute to Ek' Balam (jaguar skin, food). Well, we all have to pay taxes…

 
Picnic area.
One of the viewing towers.
 

Even more amazingly, there are more ancient artefacts across the road! In any case, the town would have continued in all directions in the jungle. During our last visit, after a swim, we went with my husband to the restaurant Kasta Kan at the hotel Dolores Alba, right opposite the Ik Kil park. We wanted to avoid the crowds at the cenote restaurants and try their Yucatec specialties. To my delight, by the restaurant pool there are quite a few Maya artifacts from the Ik Kil site. The most exciting seemed to be the reliefs depicting personages, as I have seen on many other stelae, for example in Cobá, Ek' Balam, Calakmul etc. These were in a smaller format. The staff were unable to give me any details. While I can't conclude the independence of the Ik Kil site from Chichén, I think it is amazing just to have that possibility and one day the scientists may tell us more. Well, in any case living in such proximity they would have been allies and practising the same worship, based on the same mythology and cosmology. Their towns practically met (I don't want to speculate on whether they had a wall between them).

 
The restaurant across the road, with Maya artefacts around the pool.

The restaurant across the road, with Maya artefacts around the pool.

Madam Fate.
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Flaming Katy.
 

I also found appealing the ancient Maya costumes worn by the local villagers. They come here fully dressed, representing their gods and warriors. For example the one with large wings would be an Eagle warrior, second from top in the Toltec military hierarchy. The Toltecs brought this military ranking system to Chichén and you can see Eagles and Jaguars carved on stones in Chichén on the Platform of Eagles and Jaguars. An Eagle and a Jaguar warrior earned their position by capturing 20 prisoners, for which they got a noble title. That was the only way to get to the high class purely on merit.

 
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It is great to see an impersonation of ancient real people. The Maya with a skeleton body and face make-up represents the lord of Xibalbá (the underworld). He looks pretty scary, which is the aim of the costume, of course. After all, the ancient Maya considered the cenote a place where life was born but it also represented the underworld (where the deceased went to fight the dark lords before he was able to go to heaven). So such a costume is truly fitting for this place.

Their headdresses full of wonderful (and expensive) feathers have masks that represent ancient gods or animals. A jaguar motif is prevalent on the body painting, even for the Maya lady. They play music (drums and flute), giving the place a rather authentic atmosphere. I always imagine the ruin sites with music, fire on every structure and people in ancient clothing and here they do it for us. You can take photos with them (or of them), for a tip. They put a lot of work into their dressing up, body paint and make-up so they certainly deserve it.

 
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The entry fee is 80 pesos. To get down to the pool, you have to go down the stone stairs inside the tunnel, which curve down the wall in a spiral. There are also balconies from where you can enjoy views of the cave. Wooden steps will take you to the actual pool. Catfish are present in the pool but they will not bother you. This applies to all cenotes. There are benches in the park where you can rest after your swim.

Services are excellent here and the grounds are immaculate. If you are not comfortable swimming in such deep water, the park does have life vests. There are also changing rooms, lockers, clean bathrooms, two restaurants, and a couple of cabañas to rent for the night. The souvenir shop has some standard souvenirs but also pretty good jewellery. No hassle from the staff also makes it a pleasant experience. You can taste a tequila or two at the tequila stall by the entrance. When compared to other cenotes, which are mostly rustic, this park is a little bit commercial, but pretty and comfortable.

 
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Changing rooms, showers, lockers and bathrooms.

Changing rooms, showers, lockers and bathrooms.

The souvenir shop by the cenote restaurant.

The souvenir shop by the cenote restaurant.

One of the viewing balconies on the way down.

One of the viewing balconies on the way down.

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The restaurant inside the cenote park.

The restaurant inside the cenote park.

 

How to get there:

Ik Kil is just over 3km from Chichén Itzá, on the old road to Cobá. By car, you will reach it from highway 180D. A toll applies to parts of the highway and differs depending where you are arriving from. There is also an ADO bus service to Chichén Itzá but you will need to check the schedules depending where you are coming from. From there you can take a taxi to Ik Kil. If you need help with the return buses ADO has an office inside the entrance building at Chichén.

 
 
The car park.

The car park.

The entry to the cenote park.

The entry to the cenote park.

 

Mix & Match:

The obvious option is the combination with Chichén Itzá ruins (3.2km away). Another option is to combine it with a visit to Balamkanché caves, just down the road from Ik Kil (2.6 km).

Sources:

Michael D. Coe and Stephen Houston, The Maya, Thames and Hudson, 2015 (9th edition)