Seven Wonders Of The World

Are The Seven Wonders Of The World Truly That Wonderful?

Part I: Heading west to Latin America

Tikal Stepschichen-Itza.jpg

Of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World, only one remains – the Great Pyramid of Giza. But in 2007 after 100 million votes were cast by phone and internet, a revamped list ‘The New Seven Wonders of the World’ was announced.

Run by the New7Wonders Foundation, the campaign was not without controversy and was criticized as unscientific with multiple votes capable of being cast and even UNESCO eventually took a step back from the campaign.

So, the important question for independent travellers is whether the winners of this questionable popularity contest deserve your backpacking buck. Split into two parts, depending whether you head west (Part I – Latin America) or east (Part II – from Europe to Asia), here’s my view.

Chichen Itza – Yucatán, Mexico

Chichen Itza

Chichen Itza is a mammoth archaeological site riddled with Mayan ruins referred to as ‘chicken pizza’ by the gazillion tour touts roaming the streets of the holiday hotspots of Playa del Carmen and Cancun. As one of the largest Mayan sites in Mexico’s Yucutan Penninsula (the bit on the Caribbean Sea), with UNESCO World Heritage Site status, being one of Mexico’s most visited spots and home to the famous image of El Castilo pyramid, it certainly ticks all of the boxes.

Once a popular city and pilgrimage site, Chitchen Itza finally fell into decline and became overgrown. Today the jungle has been replaced by tourist-tat stalls and riddled with other entrepreneurs flogging their wares. Is it worth a visit? Yes, because the iconic image of El Castilo is one of those unmissable photo opportunities. However, if you are in the area (and by that I mean Central America), there are certainly better sites to see.

Still within Mexico, but further south, bordering Guatemala is Palenque. These Mayan ruins date back to 100 BC. Whilst no one temple matches the beautiful symmetry or grandeur of El Castilo, you will practically have this place to yourself with only a smattering of the tourism that seems to have seized hold of Chichen Itzen.

And seeing as you are on the border of Guatemala, the true recommendation is to cross and go to see Tikal. Now there is a set of Mayan ruins that will take your breath away. Not just because they are impressive, but because the Guatemalan government will still let you hike to the top (at your own peril) affording the kind of views you went travelling for – thick, broccoli looking jungle with exotic birds taking flight at a whim.

With the Mayan Calendar sparking the furore about 21 December 2012 marking the end of the world, you’d be advised to avoid visiting any of the Mayan sites at this time. Not through fear, but because doomsayers have had all the beds booked in the area for quite some time!

Christ the Redeemer – Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

Christ The redeemer

Yes, go see it. That is almost all I feel the need to say. With a regal position looking out across Rio, Christ the Redeemer, or, in local parlance, Cristo Redentor, takes pride of place atop Corcovado mountain keeping his city under permanent watch. Art Deco (think 1920s – 1930s), hitting nearly 40 meters and, with his spanning hands nearly as wide at 30 meters, it is probably the most impressive piece of concrete you’ll ever see.

As one of the world’s largest statues, Christ the Redeemer is visible across the city, but nothing can compete with putting your comparably miniscule body next to his. And that is not all that the visit gives. Rio is a land of beauty and from Christ’s spot you can take in the sparkling Guanabara Bay, bordered with the yellow streaks of Rio’s famous beaches, the Tijuca jungle-like forest and Sugarloaf Mountain. The helicopter rides around the statue are beyond most backpacker’s budgets and with the price to time ratio (11 minutes for about $200) doesn’t seem worth it, but being up the mountain will be enough. Go. Go now.

Machu Picchu – Cuzco Region, Peru

Machu Picchu

At risk of being shot, I’m going to say it. I was disappointed with Machu Picchu.

Shock, horror, recover, read on.

But here’s the good news. I appear to be alone in my opinion, and I think I know why. Before going to South America I’d stared at pictures of the magical image of Machu Picchu for so long dreaming of being there that by the time I arrived my expectations were high and my mind saturated with the image…which in reality looked just like it did in the picture. I expected spark and mystical delight but all I had after the four day trek was aching feet, sleep deprivation and a borderline case of B.O.

There is no denying that the isolated position of this 15th century Inca site located at an altitude-sickness-inducing 2,430 meters above sea level is hard to beat. Equally, the Inca Trail with its cloud forest, unforgettable Deadwoman’s pass and the toilets gives you some never to be experienced again moments (the toilets you won’t want to experience again). However, if you want to be surprised by this wonder, I’d recommend that you stop staring at it in 2D and go and see if for real.

See Part II for the remaining four of the New Seven Wonders of the World, heading east from Europe through to Asia.

But, ultimately, the only real way to decide if these sights are truly wonderful is to see them yourself.

[Or, if you have already been, we’d love to know what you think.]