One of the activities that stuck out the most on our recent trip to Mexico was visiting Chichén Itzá (chee-chen eet-sah). We love diving into the culture and history of the countries we visit and Mayan culture was one we were super excited to learn about. There are so many great Mayan ruins in Mexico you can visit, by far the most popular being Chichen Itza. Whether you are visiting Cancun or the Riviera Maya, we highly recommend you plan a day trip to Chichen Itza on your vacation.
To help you make the most of your day trip to Mayan ruins, we’ve put together a complete list of our best Chichen Itza travel tips. This is everything you need to know about visiting Chichen Itza Mexico.
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Quick Facts About Chichen Itza
Before we get into what to expect when visiting Chichen Itza, let’s jump into some quick facts about this historical phenomenon.
What is Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza is one of the most recognizable and photographed Mayan pyramids. It’s a world recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site. Chichén Itzá is the remains of a city that is made up of many important structures ranging from the most famous El Castilo pyramid (known as the Mexico Pyramid) to the lesser known Cenote Sagrado.
Chichen Itza was conquered during the Spanish invasion in the mid 16th century. It was then rediscovered in the 19th century only after the area was cleared of the surrounding jungle to unveil the now famous ruins. It wasn’t until 1988 that Chichén Itzá was recognized as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. This is a huge archaeological site sitting at around 10 square km (4 square miles).
Who built Chichen Itza?
There is a prominent Chichén Itzá cultural significance that is widely respected in Mexico. Chichen Itza history dates back to the fifth century and was built by the Maya, an ancient people that was native to the Yucatan region. It is believed that this site was chosen thanks to the cenote as it provided clean freshwater to the area.
Where is Chichen Itza?
Chichen Itza is located inland in the Yucatan Peninsula. The drive from Cancun to Chichen Itza is around 197 km (122 miles) or about a 2.5 hour drive inland (west). The closest city to the ruins is the small town of Valladolid around 44 km (27 miles) to Chichen Itza’s east. If you’re staying in Merida, it will be a 120 km (75 miles), 1 hour 45 minute drive east from downtown Merida.
How to get to Chichen Itza?
With Chichen Itza’s inland location not being on the typical tourist path, you will need to figure out a way of getting to the ruins. Most people will come from either Cancun, Merida, or the Riviera Maya region. There are a few different ways to get to Chichen Itza based on what experience you are looking for.
Chichen Itza Day Tours
Booking a day trip to Chichen Itza is one of the best ways to see the ruins. This will take all of the planning out of your day and remove the hassle of driving the long distance. Due to the driving distance and the size of the ruins, you can expect Chichen Itza day tours to take the whole day (10-12 hours).
Day tours are one of the most common ways to see Chichen Itza and depart from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, Tulum, and Merida. Most tours will include an air conditioned vehicle, entry to the ruins, a knowledgeable guide, a trip to cenotes, and lunch.
Chichen Itza excursions from Cancun and the Riviera Maya
When visiting Chichen Itza, many people are coming from Cancun. This full day combo tour includes round trip transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, and Tulum. You will spend the day exploring Chichen Itza, swimming in a cenote, and visiting the town of Valladolid. A buffet style lunch and tequila tasting are included in this all inclusive tour leaving you to just sit back and enjoy your day.
If you’re staying in Playa del Carmen, this private cultural Mayan ruins excursion is one of the best tours available. You will visit the ruins at both Chichen Itza and Coba – our favourite ruins in Mexico. You will have the opportunity to cool off with a dip in Chukum cenote and round off the experience with an included lunch in the quaint colonial town of Valladolid.
If you think that sounds like too busy of a day, this private Chichen Itza tour is very similar but skips visiting the Coba ruins. Instead, you will spend longer at Chichen Itza while still enjoying lunch in Valladolid and cooling off with a visit to a cenote. This tour includes roundtrip transportation from Cancun, Playa del Carmen, or Tulum.
Chichen Itza excursions from Merida
If you are coming from Merida to Chichen Itza and traveling with a group, this private full day tour is a great option. Private tours are great as you will have the flexibility to go at your own pace. The tour price fluctuates based on how many people are in your group and includes round trip pickup, cold drinks and lunch at a local restaurant, a knowledgeable guide to take you around the Mayan ruins, and a stop at the popular Cenote Ik Kil to cool off at the end of the day.
ADO Bus or Colectivo
One of the most cost effective ways to get to Chichen Itza is by taking the ADO bus. These buses are safe to take in the Yucatan Peninsula and are a great way to get yourself to the ruins. You can choose to catch a bus that will take you directly to Chichen Itza or one that will take you to nearby Valladolid. There are multiple buses that leave daily from Cancun, Tulum, and Playa del Carmen.
If you’re staying in Valladolid or Merida, you can take a colectivo to Chichen Itza. From Valladolid the Colectivo station is on Calle 46 and in Merida the station is on Calle 60. It is important to note that these are not on a reliable schedule as they simply leave whenever they are full. This is considered a safe and affordable mode of transportation throughout Mexico.
When visiting Chichen Itza you will want to get there as early as possible. If you choose this method of travel, we highly recommend staying overnight in Valladolid and catching the first bus or colectivo to Chichen Itza to make sure you get there bright and early.
If a tour isn’t right for you, you may consider renting a car and driving yourself to Chichen Itza. We rented a car on our road trip around the Mayan Riviera and ended up driving ourselves to Chichen Itza. While the drive is long and there are some toll roads along the way, it is quite direct and easy to get to. If you are not staying overnight in Valladolid, you will want to make sure you leave early to get to Chichen Itza before the crowds show up.
To park right at the main entrance of Chichen Itza, there is a paid monitored lot. For only 30 pesos ($2 CAD) you can have peace of mind that your car is safe as you spend your day walking through Chichen Itza. But get there early as the parking lot can fill up quickly. There are other parking lots but are maintained by locals and cost way more – with a longer walk to the entrance.
Best time to go to Chichen Itza
Let us be the first to warn you: the interior of Mexico is hot. You’ll quickly realize how much the ocean cools down the coastal cities you visit when you feel the heat at Chichen Itza. We visited Chichen Itza in April and even the locals were uncomfortable in the heat. We witnessed a tourist collapse from the heat and paramedics had to come to provide care. We recommend dressing lightly and timing your visit appropriately.
Best Time of day
To beat the heat (and the crowds) we recommend visiting Chichen Itza as early in the morning as possible. Getting there at 8 am when the gates open is the best way to see this historical site.
Like any other tourist attraction, we recommend avoiding visiting on the weekend when Chichen Itza sees the most visitors. Sundays are the busiest day in Chichen Itza. Like many other ruins in Mexico, Mexican residents get free access to Chichen Itza on Sundays.
Best Time of year
If you’re at the planning stage of your Mexican vacation to see Chichen Itza, the best time of year would be November to March. Even though the crowds will be larger than the summer it’s worth avoiding the heat.
The Spring Equinox (March 20-21) is also when the Serpent of Light appears. This is when the setting sun makes a serpent appear when the Mayan pyramid is looked at at the right angle.
The shoulder season is April, May, September, and October. These months are when the crowds are going to be less. But keep in mind September and October are hurricane season in Mexico and can bring strong winds and rain.
Where to stay when visiting Chichen Itza?
If you are not booking a day tour to Chichen Itza and are instead taking either a private vehicle or a bus, you’re going to want to book a hotel near Chichen Itza. This Mayan site is a few hour’s drive from the typical tourist hotspots of Cancun and Playa del Carmen making it a lot to get yourself to just for the day.
Valladolid is the most common city to stay in near Chichen Itza. This old colonial town is rich in history itself and is a great off the beaten path place to stay in Mexico for a night or two. Being off the tourist path, the city is very affordable, and hotels, food, and souvenirs are cheap. There are even a few cenotes nearby you can visit.
- If you’re looking for the best place to stay in Valladolid, Hotel San Clemente is a great option for those looking for midline accommodations. This is where we stayed and we really enjoyed it. There is a nice pool, a tasty restaurant, and the location is super central.
- If you’ve got a bit more money to spend, Hotel Zentik Project & Saline Cave is worth the extra dough. You will feel the luxury in every corner of this hotel from the stunning rooms to the amazing salt cave.
- Traveling on a budget is easy in Valladolid and Villa lirios is a great option to choose for the night to rest up before you visit Chichen Itza. The basic rooms are clean and comfortable and the price is right for frugal travelers!
Should I book a tour to see Chichen Itza?
Yes!! We normally like the freedom to explore ourselves but given the significance of this site, we truly believe that booking a guided tour is well worth the cost.
Booking a Chichen Itza tour is one of the best ways to see the ruins, especially if you’re wanting to stay in one of the coastal cities like Cancun or Playa del Carmen. You’ll have an early start to your day and having someone else take the hassle of driving out to the ruin is worth the price itself.
Combine that with the guide that will explain the historical significance of the site as you walk through and you will end up getting far more out of your experience than if you were to take yourself.
Visiting Chichen Itza
Chichen Itza sees millions of visitors every year. We found it incredibly interesting and loved our time here. You may be wondering how much time you need in Chichen Itza. Most people visit Chichen Itza and walk the grounds for 3-4 hours.
You’ll be happy to know there is a Chichen Itza restaurant (more like a concession) where you can fuel up on snacks and water. You cannot bring food and drinks into the site so be sure to finish up before you enter. We suggest grabbing a Chichen Itza map – the grounds are pretty big and it’s nice to know where you’re going. Once you get through the ticket booth there is a short walk to the site where you’ll go past many vendors selling trinkets and souvenirs.
Chichen Itza Cost and Hours
The Chichén Itzá’s entrance fee is $614 MXN for adults (13+). Check up to date pricing here.
This Mexican archaeological site is open Monday to Sunday from 8 am to 5 pm with the last entry at 4 pm. We strongly recommend getting there early as it gets very very hot on the grounds – we even saw people needing ambulances as they had extreme heat stroke.
What to see inside Chichen Itza?
You may not know that there is more than just the famous Mayan Pyramid to see at Chichen Itza. In fact, Chichen Itza has Old Chichen which includes 6 sites and Chichen Itza has another 20 that are connected by 75 roadways, all with their own importance.
Sacred Cenote (Cenote Sagrado)
This sacred cenote brought life to the civilization being used as a well and acting as the main fresh water source for the Chichen Itza people. There is a large opening where you can see this cenote which was thought to be the reason the civilization chose this location to build.
This has been an extensively studied cenote. Over 200 bodies have been discovered at this site – thought to be human sacrifices. Gold, jewels, and ceramics have also been found under the surface of the water.
It’s one of the larger cenotes we saw in Mexico – the Chichen Itza cenote is 200 feet in diameter and 89 feet of sheer cliff to the water.
El Castillo Pyramid (Kukulkan Pyramid)
The main attraction at Chichen Itza is El Castillo Pyramid (aka Kukulkan Pyramid). Between the 4 sides of the Chichen Itza pyramid, there are 364 steps (91 steps x 4 sides), one for each day of the year, with the top platform acting as the 365th step.
One cool thing we learned is that when visiting if you clap near the pyramid there’s a unique echo that comes back to you. It’s said to be the sound a sacred Mayan bird makes.
One of the coolest things we learned about this site is that a serpent appears when the sun’s shadow makes what looks like a snake coming down the steps of the Chichen Itza pyramid. This happens during the Spring and Fall equinox.
The Great Ball Court (Juego de Pelota)
One of the more interesting places at Chichen Itza is The Great Ball Court. It’s where the Mayan people played a game called pok-ta-pok. It’s a similar game to modern day basketball except the hoop is turned on its side and the players can’t use their hands and feet – instead, they use their hips, upper body, and thighs.
The importance of winning a match could dictate the outcome of everything from politics to sacrifices.
The court is an architectural marvel. You can whisper at one end of the arena and people at the other end could clearly hear what was said.
The Temple of the Warriors
One of the most impressive structures at Chichen Itza is The Temple of the Warriors. Even though the stonework has seen better days you can still tell the magnitude and engineering that went into creating it.
There is a statue called Cac Mool, that is said to be used for offerings. The Mexican temple also has many stone carvings of deities and warriors.
Other important sites at Chichen Itza include:
- Tzompantli (skull platform)
- The Platform of the Eagles and the Jaguars
- The Platform of Venus
- The Temple of the Tables
- The Steam bath
- Sacbe Number One (White Road)
- Group of a Thousand Columns
- Akab Dzib (Dark Writing)
- El Mercado
- The Osario
- Temple of Xtoloc (Maya word for Iguana)
- The platform of the Tombs
- House of the Metates
- House of the Mestizas
- Casa Colorada (Red House)
- La Casa del Venado (House of the Deer)
What to pack to Chichen Itza?
Whether you are visiting Chichen Itza with a day tour or driving yourself, you can count on this being a full day excursion. You will want to pack a day bag and dress appropriately to ensure you have the best day possible. First things first, Chichen Itza is BIG so make sure you wear good walking shoes (not flip flops like we did!). It is also very hot with minimal shade so be sure to dress cool.
Regardless of how you choose to travel here, we recommend bringing a day bag with a bathing suit and towel, a change of clothes, sunscreen, a hat, sunglasses, and a water bottle. There are souvenir stalls throughout the ruins with fun trinkets at a surprisingly affordable price so be sure to bring some cash (pesos for the best conversion) along!
Thanks for stopping by!
One of the things we love most about Mexico is how diverse traveling here is. You can spend one day enjoying the best beach excursions in Cancun and the next soaking up all the culture and history in the country. Chichen Itza is one of the largest and most famous Mayan ruins in the country and receives millions of visitors a year. It was one of the core memories from our trip to Mexico and we highly recommend stopping in for a visit! We hope that this guide to visiting Chichen Itza answered all your burning questions about this historical site.
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