Chichén Itzá is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Mexico. Having been named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988, the Mayan archaeological site attracts visitors in droves, who come to witness the outstanding structures and ruins from ancient times.
Located in the Yucatan Peninsula, over 100 miles from tourist hotspot Cancun, Chichén Itzá once served as the economic and political center of Mayan civilization.
Today, it is one of the New Wonders of the World.
The striking pyramid and temples are rich with insights into the ancient race, displaying astounding artwork and architecture, as well as demonstrating the astronomical knowledge the Mayan people possessed.
While it takes a little time to get to, it is well worth the journey.
Top 3 Highlights of Chichén Itzá
It’s a busy place most days of the year, so when you get to Chichén Itzá, it doesn’t hurt to have a plan, so you know what to look for.
Don’t leave without checking out the following:
Most visitors to Chichén Itzá come from either Cancun or Merida. With the former 125 miles away and the latter 75 miles away, it is a common day trip, which can be organized by tour agencies or hotels in either city.
Another option is to stay in a nearby hotel, allowing you to arrive at the temple grounds earlier in the morning, beating both the crowds and the sun.
For those interested in this option, the best idea is to stay in Valladolid. Founded in 1543, Valladolid is a pretty, colonial city, just about 45 minutes from the site. It has some great parks, museums, and markets to explore, as well as a host of good hotels and restaurants.
From Valladolid, there are several ways to get to Chichén Itzá:
These white passenger vans offer one of the most reliable ways to travel to Chichén Itzá, as it is safe, fast and comfortable, although that depends on how many people are packed into each colectivo.
Typically they take a maximum of 12 people to the site. There is no set schedule, but they tend to leave about every 30 minutes, from 7:00 AM until 6:00 PM. They will leave once enough people have boarded one.
The best place to find them is on Calle 46, on the north side of Calle 39. There is a little parking lot, which is just behind the ADO bus terminal. The fare is 40 pesos, one-way.
By ADO First Class Bus
The bus terminal in Valladolid is on the corner of Calle 39 and Calle 46. For a one-way fare, the ticket is 84 pesos, and the journey takes about 50 minutes.
You can see the bus schedule at www.ado.com.mx, but generally speaking the buses depart the terminal at 9:50 AM and 10:00 AM. The return bus leaves Chichén Itzá at 4:30 PM.
The first-class buses are a safe, reliable way of getting to the site, and the buses are also clean and comfortable.
By ADO Second Class Bus
If you want to save a little on transport costs, the second-class buses can get you to Chichén Itzá from the same terminal. These buses are still safe and comfortable. However, you won’t find the luxuries of on-board bathrooms, movies or air-conditioning on second-class buses.
That being said, you should expect a longer journey, as there are many stops in small towns on the way to the site.
By Car Rental
This is arguably the best option, as it gives you freedom to explore Chichén Itzá on your own terms without having to adhere to anyone else’s schedule.
You can hire a car from many airports and cities in Mexico, and then drive around the country exploring various ruins at your own pace.
Admission to Chichén Itzá
Before going to Chichén Itzá, you should be aware of the admission regulations.
Visitors to Chichén Itzá must pay a fee to enter the archaeological site.
For non-Mexicans, the cost is:
The site is open to public visitors every day. Access is permitted from 8:00 AM until 5:00 PM.
Visitors should allow several hours for their trip, with a typical visit ranging from anywhere between three hours to a full day.
Tips for Visiting Chichén Itzá
The site is very popular and also in a particularly hot area of Mexico. Turning up unprepared for these facts can lead to a rather unpleasant experience.
Before you go to Chichén Itzá, here are a few tips to ensure you enjoy your visit:
Wear loose-fitting clothes made with natural fibers, such as cotton or linen, and don’t forget a good hat with a brim. This will ensure you stay cool and protected from the sun.
Bring high-factor sunblock as well and reapply throughout the day, as there are not many shaded areas in Chichén Itzá where you can hide from the sun.
Furthermore, wear comfortable walking shoes and have a bottle of water to stay hydrated during your visit.
If you want to take a dip at the Ik Kil Cenote at the end of your tour, bring your swimwear and a towel. It costs 70 pesos to enter.
Avoid Guided Tours
To visit Chichén Itzá properly, you need about three hours minimum. On a tour schedule, you won’t get a lot of time, and most likely will have to sacrifice some interesting, off-the-beaten-track activities such as exploring the jungle.
Instead, you’ll be confined to the well-trodden path, in a herd of sheep lead by a tour guide hungry for tips. Further drawbacks with tour groups include a lot of waiting around for everyone else, and overpriced tickets and expensive meals. It’s simply not worth it.
While they do offer insights into the history and culture of what you are looking at, you can hire a personal guide on-site, or alternatively use a guidebook to explore by yourself.
Don’t Visit on Sunday
If you are Mexican, you can get in Chichén Itzá for free on Sundays. However, that means the site is insanely busy. It’s best avoided on Sunday.
Chichén Itzá’s high season peaks at around Christmas, as well as just before Easter and then again in late July, as many Mexican people visit during national holidays. During this time, hotel prices will skyrocket, and the site and nearby towns will be very busy. This can detract from the overall experience.
Regardless of when you visit, the key is to arrive early. Coming in the afternoon can be a disaster.
Chichén Itzá – Beat the Crowds to Make the Most of Your Visit
Chichén Itzá is undoubtedly one of the most popular places to visit in Latin America, and as such, it comes with all the frustrations of an extremely touristy area.
With large crowds, long queues and heavy traffic jams in the high season, some may feel that tourism has ruined this fascinating area.
However, there are very few areas still left on this planet that tourism has not already discovered.
If you’re in Mexico, Chichén Itzá is unmissable.
These mighty structures are very impressive, and wandering around them for a few hours on your own with a private guide or your own guidebook is a great way to transport yourself back thousands of years and imagine just how life was back then.
While many people do little more than get a good photo at El Castillo, there is much more to discover here.
Taking your time to venture away from the mighty pyramid is worthwhile, and you can break away from the crowds to learn more about smaller structures, admiring the great artwork and architecture throughout the Mayan site.
Get there early to beat the crowds, dodge the persistent vendors, and come prepared to protect yourself against the sun.
Chichén Itzá may be busy, but it’s still brilliant.